VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Karen Aalund and her disabled students

Two years in a row, Karen Aalund and her students from Northeast Metro School District #916 have donated hats to Team Yarn's efforts.

In March 2013, our first year, they sent us over 93 hats. This past February, they donated 48. That's a total of 141 hats in two years, making them our largest single contributor! Wow!

What makes this even more amazing is that these students have their own challenges and face a variety of various disabilities and mental health needs. Yet, they are choosing to give back to their greater community. These individuals with needs of their own are recognizing that others have health needs, and they want to help, to show their support. It makes me teary-eyed every time I think of their work.

I chatted recently with Karen via email about their contributions. Here's what she had to say:

All of my students have either a cognitive disability, emotional disability, or mental health need.  They are an amazing group of students who work hard and enjoy learning.  I teach a class called PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System).  It is a simulated work environment where students complete a variety of different work tasks.  At the end we have a good idea of what their skills and interests are, so they can find employment that match those skills and interests.  As part of our school, we focus on professional development of students.  Part of what I thought of as professional development was giving back of ourselves and our time.  Another staff offered to lend me her looms and teach me how to knit so I could then teach my students.  Between buying some yarn and having some donated we were off and running.  When I began the venture, I figured I would call around and see who was in need of hats.  At the time, I lived in Isanti and was reading the local paper and saw that Team Yarn was collecting hats, mittens, scarves and donations could be dropped off at a local real estate office.  I thought “Perfect!”  I didn’t know at the time that a colleague, Kelli McCully, was part of Team Yarn.  After our first donation she contacted me to say “Thank you.”  All I could think of was what a small world we live in.

The students are given a choice to knit or take part in other volunteer activities.  This year all chose to knit.  They find that it’s something that they can do without too much difficulty.  They say that it’s relaxing and something they can do at home while watching TV.  Since they are not my looms, I don’t allow them to go home with the students, but some end up buying looms to continue the activity after our Month of Service.  Last year I had a student who was very gender-biased in his thinking and thought knitting was for girls.  I didn’t make him knit, but after he heard everyone rave about how fun it was, he gave it a try.  He loved it and was able to complete a hat.  His mom was thrilled, as she had looms at home and had tried in the past to get him to attempt it, but with no success.  I see the value in this activity because the students recognize that they are able to give something of themselves to others in need. No matter what their disability, all have found success knitting and they feel proud of their accomplishments.  They learn a life-long activity that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Some decided to make an extra hat for a friend or relative that was having a birthday.  I also like that they see the project through from beginning to end. 

I think it’s a great thing that you all do and will continue the tradition of donating to Team Yarn. 

Karen Aaland (Green hair) and her EA (blue hair).  Students were able to choose a color to spray their hair for reaching their goals in the #s of hats knitted and lbs. of food donated.


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