Students at West New York School No. 3 didn’t need a lot encouragement to start knitting once they found out the project would help educate new mothers about the dangers of shaking infants too hard.
“Once they started, they motivated me,” said Nikki Casey, a social worker who helped organize the knitting effort that resulted in the production of more than 200 purple hats.
On Sept. 30, when they unveiled their accomplishment, many students, teachers, and secretaries wore purple to celebrate the school’s commitment to helping save lives of infants who die as a result of being shaken.
Every year, thousands of infants are shaken and abused at the hands of a frustrated parent or caregiver. Frustration with a crying infant is the number one trigger for the shaking and abuse of infants. Shaking a child can be fatal, as it causes head trauma.
Currently, six New Jersey birthing hospitals offer the “Period of PURPLE crying” program, which provides education, a video, and a booklet about infant crying to every parent who delivers at the hospitals. Each parent at one of these hospitals who gives birth in November and December will also receive a purple cap to support this message to keep babies safe.
“Once they started, they motivated me.” -- Nikki Casey
In an effort to educate parents and caregivers about normal infant crying and reduce frustration, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey (PCANJ) is partnering with knitters and crocheters throughout New Jersey to make the purple-colored baby caps to remind all caregivers to keep babies safe.
On Sept. 30, representatives from the group came to Public School No. 3 in West New York to collect the hats that took about a year for the students to make. This is part of a statewide effort that will provide as many as 4,000 by the end of October.
The hats that the kids knit are given to new parents at the same time they get the program – which is during the first two weeks after a baby is born.
Beneficial all around
Clare Warnock, principal of PS No. 3, said this was one of the innovations that came from the social worker, and something that encourages civility in students, how they can learn to be nice to each other and to help people who are less fortunate than they are.
“I’m willing to say yes to things that I think will benefit our kids and will help kids be nice to each other,” she said. “This is about being a good human being.”
She also said, “I’m thrilled that we have money to pay for our social workers. Without them, I don’t know what we would do.”
Casey said she kept a tally of the amount of hats as they created, first 40, then 80, and eventually, they wound up with more than 200.
The students propelled the program ahead, often showing up early and on free time. Many worked at home, some more prolific than others, but all bearing the same commitment.
Ashley, one of the students involved, said she had created four hats, but that she had only just started.
Johanna said she had made eight hats.
“I’m doing it for the babies I wanted to help, and to do for others,” she said.
Michele knitted five caps for the program, which said is designed to help caregivers calm down.
Nacheily was working on his first, saying that he wanted to help people, but had to learn how to knit.
Haley, however, has done about 10 hats.
“The hardest part is closing,” she said. “There’s a lot of string at the end.”
Depending on how much time a student dedicates to the project at one sitting, a hat can take as little as a half hour. Haley usually does it after homework on the bed at home or over the weekend.
“I love doing these,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun and it relieves stress.”
Christine Citera, community education specialist for Prevent Child Abuse, said she knew Casey from college.
“It’s a great way for kids to help other kids,” she said.
Casey said the program combines both doing good and providing kids with a hobby. She said she got the kids started last year, but there was no stopping them once they got into it.
The students not only work towards a common goal, but talk to each other, sharing ideas and helping each other.
Students who already knew how to knit helped students who are new. The looms for several students proved challenging, with some finding it difficult to start a hat, and others not knowing how to finish it off. One students said she had worked on four hats, but hadn’t been able to finish one. She was still determined.
Ashawnda Fleming, director of Development for Prevent Child Abuse NJ, said the hats are bound for St. Barnabas Hospital, to be distributed in November and December, but that the program is looking for other partner hospitals in Hudson County and elsewhere so that every parent of every baby can get educated.
Casey said the students have advanced the program beyond its original scope.
“Some of them are creating larger hats and scarves that can be given to the homeless,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.