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Our Community: Knitting program helps others help themselves

For a group of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens whose lives have unravelled, the introduction of a knitting and crochet program has resulted in many of them discovering peace and hope close at hand.
Volunteer Angela Young, Rose Stehr, program director Karen Palmer and Grace Lemieux are part of the From Our Hands to Yours program.

For a group of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens whose lives have unravelled, the introduction of a knitting and crochet program has resulted in many of them discovering peace and hope close at hand.

From Our Hands to Yours is a new knitting/crochet group that meets at Our Place, a home for Victoria’s poor, disadvantaged and homeless population.

The weekly program, which started in November, has connected with the community with more than 15 participants turning up regularly for the two-hour Sunday-afternoon class.

The program is the brainchild of Melanie Norman, who taught herself how to crochet by watching YouTube videos. She was already involved with the North Park Charity Crochet and Knitting Group, teaching single moms and marginalized people how to knit and hook. Expanding to Our Place seemed a natural fit for people looking to draw positive memories from their past.

“Knitting and crocheting are tangible, familiar memories for most people. Most people can remember their mother or themselves doing it,” Norman said. “It reconnects them to a place in their lives when they were happy. The repetition of the activity is like meditation — it helps bring a sense of calm, gives them confidence and provides a distraction from the pain in their present lives.”

She said the activity lifts people’s spirits because, even though they are down and out, their knitting or crocheting is producing a piece of warm clothing that they can give to someone else in need.

While the community-service organization provides food and shelter to the needy, it also strives to provide activities that help bring hope and self-esteem to its clients.

“For people used to being knocked down and around, a program like this gives them a sense of accomplishment,” said Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place. “It makes them feel that they can get involved and is a great ego boost. They can say: ‘I did this. I took this ball of yarn and made a scarf out of it.’ ”

He said it is important to have programs with a broad appeal as the organization experiences an increase of both younger and older people. People enrolled are given a kit that includes hooks, needles and enough yarn to make simple items, such as hats.

Norman would like to teach First Nations clients how to knit traditional Cowichan sweaters, but she needs to find a volunteer teacher first.

Young or old, once those needles and hooks start flying, there is no doubt the activity is popular.

“Once they realize they can be productive, it changes how they see themselves. It brings smiles to their faces,” Norman said. “When they give the finished product to someone they care for, it puts a smile on another face.”

The program is always looking for donations of cash or material for participants to use. People can drop off unused yarn, hooks and needles at Our Place, 919 Pandora Ave. For more information, go to

Grad formal-wear program proves popular

A non-profit program that started by lending formal wear for graduation ceremonies to students from financially challenged families is now increasingly sought out by students from families in other financial brackets as well.

Since its inception in 2001, the Magic Wand Project has helped almost 600 students with gowns, tuxedos and all the accessories needed to fit in with their peers.

But these days organizers are finding students from lower-income families looking to ease the burden of escalating graduation costs.

Students who use the Magic Wand Project “would rather put their money towards furthering their education, travelling, or have been educated to be responsible consumers, and would rather reduce, reuse and recycle,” said spokeswoman Lesley Solunac.

The program, started by Elizabeth Surerus, is run by a small team of volunteers who often pay for things out of their own pockets. Every year a volunteer drops off a poster for local high school grad bulletin boards, along with a sheet of information for staff members.

The grassroots program has inspired similar projects across Canada and the United States.

This year, the first Boutique Days, where students can check out what is available, is next Saturday and Sunday. To find out where and when, students can call 250-658-0246, or go to

Community projects awarded grants

Four community projects have each been awarded a $5,000 infrastructure grant by the Western Financial Group and Coast Capital Insurance. The four include a Rotary Park field expansion and fencing project, Belmont High School’s relocation and historical preservation, the rebuilding of Royal Oak Middle School’s jogging trail and a First Nations art project for new schools.

“At Western and Coast Capital Insurance, we wanted to find new ways of giving back to the communities in Victoria and Sidney, and we have been able to do that with these infrastructure grants,” said Mark Dutton, president of Coast Capital Insurance Services.

A total of $100,000 will be distributed to 20 projects in Western Canada in 2014. In its 12-year history, the insurance company has raised more than $1 million and distributed the funds to more than 80 infrastructure grants to communities through its charitable arm, the Western Communities Foundation. For more information, go to

Bake a cupcake for animal pals

The B.C. SPCA is offering people a guilt-free reason to break their New Year’s resolution — National Cupcake Day, which takes place Monday.

They want people to “bake” a difference at their easy and delicious fundraising effort supporting animal welfare. All people have to do is bake their favourite cupcakes and have a cupcake party at work, home or school.

“Everyone knows I love chocolate, baking and my dog, Ruby. National Cupcake Day is an ideal way to bring them all together in one feel-good activity,” said Kristina Matisic, co-host of Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag and a celebrity Cupcake Crusader for the event in B.C.

“As a longtime supporter of the B.C. SPCA, I encourage everyone to whip up a batch of cupcakes and feed your body, your soul and your friends with treats that make a difference.”

All proceeds will support furry friends, big and small, who have been abused, abandoned or in need of help. For more information, go to or

New play equipment coming to Alexander Park

Children and parents who use Alexander Park last week attended an open house to “show and tell” City of Victoria Parks planners the type of play equipment they would like to see in their park.

The city plans to upgrade the aging playground, located on Bay Street between Fernwood Road and Oregon Avenue, to meet national safety standards and to better meet the needs of the community.

At the meeting, which took place at the Fernwood Community Centre, parents and their children had an opportunity to view displays of the proposed play equipment, draw their vision for the play area, meet parks planners and complete a short survey. Additional surveys can be submitted up to March 31.

Community input will help determine the playground improvements that are expected to be completed by this summer. For more information, go to

Age doesn’t have to be travel barrier

An active octogenarian who just followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great was the featured speaker at the Metchosin Community House last week. His 45-minute talk, part of the Metchosin Community House speakers series, was to let elderly people know that travel is still possible.

In his 35-year career with the Navy, Chris Pratt has sailed around the world a few times. His wanderlust continued in his retirement, taking him to the far corners of the globe. Recently, the 89-year-returned from a 24-day guided tour along the famous Silk Road.

“Age doesn’t rule travel out,” said Pratt, who was in the first graduating class at the former Royal Roads Military College in 1943. “But don’t leave it too long. I would recommend people do as much as they can, as long as they can.”

He also had good things to say for ElderTreks, a travel company specializing in adventure tours for people 50 and older. His travel companions hailed from the U.S., Germany, Australia and Canada.

For more information on other speakers, go to the website

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