"Women use their knitting skills to give comfort to children "
The Villages' Daily Sun
By Caroline Klapper, Daily Sun
THE VILLAGES — As Jamie Schwartz contemplated the teddy bear she had nearly finished knitting, she decided it needed one more addition.
The bear was a girl; therefore, it needed a skirt — a purple skirt.
Such extra touches are common on the bears handmade by those who volunteer for the Mother Bear Project, a worldwide nonprofit organization providing knitted and crocheted bears for children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Dominican Republic.
A special kind of comfort
The project began in Minneapolis and since has spread all the way to The Villages, where a group gathers twice a month to make the bears.
For Schwartz, who said she likes to keep her hands busy, the project offers the perfect opportunity to do something good with her knitting skills.
“I enjoy the idea of giving, and I ran out of children (in my family) to knit for,” the Village of Palo Alto resident said.
Although all of the bears made for the Mother Bear Project are the same basic shape and size, it is easy to see that a lot of creativity goes into each one.
A colorful scarf here and a striped shirt there are just a few of the little extras that make every bear special to the child who gets it.
“In a hospital situation, they have all these bears and you want it to have personality,” Schwartz said. “Then they can say, ‘That one’s mine and that one’s hers.’”
The group in The Villages began with Village of Santiago resident Mary Alice Schueler, who found out about the Mother Bear Project through a book about knitting for charity.
Early in 2009, Schueler invited friends and neighbors to her home to knit bears for the project, but that location soon became overcrowded with interested volunteers.
The group now meets 1-3 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month at El Santiago Recreation Center.
Interest in the project has continued to grow and gather support in The Villages, said Village of Orange Blossom Gardens resident Judy Little.
As Schueler’s sister, Little has taken over running the project while Schueler is away for the summer.
“I think you’ve got this concentration of grandmothers in The Villages, and this is a grandmother kind of thing to do,” she said of the project’s popularity. “So many of us are transplanted. Our grandchildren are not nearby, and I think it (Mother Bear) makes us still feel connected to children.”
Since starting in February, volunteers have made more than 150 bears, which were sent to the organization’s central headquarters in Minnesota.
The bears are then distributed to one of several countries where they are given out to the children.
The bears come with no political or religious message, and their only role is to comfort a child.
“This is just an act of caring, with no attachment to it other than that somebody loves them,” Little said. “It’s just a comfort-type thing. It doesn’t feed them. It doesn’t clothe them, but it tells them someone cares about them.”
Giving back by getting back to knitting
Several of the volunteers were so inspired by the project that they have taken up their knitting needles after a long hiatus from the craft.
One such member is Mary Gsellman, of the Village of Sunset Pointe.
She said she stopped knitting years ago, but decided the Mother Bear Project was a worthwhile reason to start again.
“I’m retired. I don’t have anything to do. It’s just to pass the time with something good,” Gsellman said.
Gsellman had to take a break from bear making when she had pacemaker surgery, but only three weeks later, she was back to work at a Thursday meeting and already had completed three bears.
And in keeping with the spirit of making something special for the children, Gsellman also tries to make her bears unique.
“They’re just like a little character, all their own, I think,” she said. “Each one is a bit different.”
For information or to donate yarn or money, call Judy Little at 350-6199 or visit motherbearproject.org.
Caroline Klapper is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9018, or email@example.com.