PORTLAND — Too often we only hear about juvenile corrections when something goes wrong.

My experience as a volunteer of over 20 years at Long Creek Youth Development Center has shown me that much good occurs at Long Creek, and I’d like to share one of those positive stories of which I have had the good fortune to be a part.

About 10 years ago, a boy who had been taught to crochet by his grandmother asked me if I would volunteer with him so he could crochet. Residents cannot possess scissors, hook or yarn unless they are under direct supervision.

I said “yes,” and if you were to visit me during “Crochet Group” today, you would find about 20 boys ages 13 to 20 crocheting blankets and hats for family, friends or groups in need in this country and others. They are giving back to the community in one of the only ways they can.

In 2004, I observed a staff member making “cut and tied” blankets. I asked her if she would be willing to show the kids how to do this process.

She did, and six years later the boys of Long Creek have tied over 2,800 blankets which have been donated to the community. The blankets have gone to the Portland Family Shelter, the Head Start programs in Portland’s Kennedy Park and Sagamore Village, Westbrook Head Start, Lewiston Head Start, Gorham Head Start, East End day care and Preble Street day care, The Root Cellar, the Salvation Army of Greater Portland, my own group, Learning Works, and many, many other organizations serving children and families in need.

None of this would have happened had it not been for the dedicated work of the residents of Long Creek and the support of the Long Creek administration. Nor would this project have been possible had it not been for a $20,000 donation by the Eagles Club of Greater Portland.

While working with the kids has been an amazing opportunity for me – even though 10 years later I still don’t know how to crochet or how to tie blankets – the kids teach each other.

Even more amazing has been listening to their thoughts and feelings as they are engaged in the process, things that might also be characterized as learning.

Some of their thoughts seem to linger over the group for all of us to consider; they seem to touch each resident and volunteer in some way. I’d like to share a few of these thoughts with you:

“My family struggles a lot, so I know what it feels like to be helped and I’m glad I can give that feeling to others.”

“Growing up we all had our favorite blankets, I still have mine. Wouldn’t it be cool if one of the blankets we made was a little kid’s favorite and he kept it forever?”

“When I volunteered at the soup kitchen I saw lots of families that needed stuff, but I never thought I’d really be helping them, but now I do.”

“When I come to the library to make blankets it’s like I’m in a different place, not in jail. I’ve never left here in a bad mood. I’m proud of myself; I’ve made some little kid happy.”

“When I’m making blankets for someone else, it helps me forgive myself.”

These quotes just begin to scratch the surface of things said while making blankets.

But the conclusion is found in the stories from former residents who say that as they were walking down the street on a cold day, they would see a baby covered by a blanket and they immediately knew: “I made that blanket.”

They can see the difference they made in a child’s life. That’s community service that’s real and that works.


– Special to The Press Herald


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