How an NCCF social worker turned a hobby into a life lesson
Inside the JC Nalle Community School in Southeast DC, just before lunchtime, a 5th grader named Kamar is practicing his crochet stitches. “Double, single, double, single,” he says.
He’s more concerned about the pattern he’s working on than whatever might be bothering him at school. He started crocheting with NCCF social worker Ivan Aryee just a few months ago, and he’s already stitched three hats on his own. He gave one to his favorite teacher.
“This helps me when I want to calm down,” Kamar says. “I just forget about things and focus on this.
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The crocheting happened by accident. “I meet with Kamar twice a week to give him extra support and help him with anger management,” says Aryee, who worked with children and adults who have autism before joining NCCF. “One day I showed him a hat I’d made in college and he said, ‘You didn’t really make that!’ He didn’t believe me, so I made him a deal. I told him if he stayed on task and behaved in class, I’d teach him how to do it.”
Aryee knew Kamar liked to learn with his hands. The 12-year-old talked about the fun he had in science class and the pet frog he kept at his house. But he wasn’t expecting him to pick up crocheting so quickly. “You have to have a certain temperament and a lot of patience to sit and crochet. It only took Kamar a few lessons. Then he was like, ‘Can I have my own yarn?’ ”
They crochet together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings–if Kamar is having a bad day, they might crochet in the afternoon. While they stitch, they talk. Many of the students at JC Nalle are facing difficult situations at home–the school is located in the Marshall Heights neighborhood of Ward 7, an area with high rates of poverty, illiteracy, crime, and drug abuse. “A lot of the students that come here just don’t talk about these things. They internalize it,” Aryee says. “I think Kamar having his hands occupied, with his eyes glued on that stitch, that’s allowed us to have good conversations. I’ll ask him to do a row, he’ll do the row, and we’ll talk about what’s happening in the neighborhood, how school is going, what he’s doing over the weekend.”
Kamar’s teachers have told Aryee they’ve seen an improvement in the boy’s behavior. “When I crochet, it makes me feel better,” says Kamar. “When I go to my class, it feels like I started a whole new day because I got all the bad things out of my mind.”
Aryee’s seen something even better happen–a boost in Kamar’s self-esteem. He can start a beanie-style hat one day and finish it the next. A few of his friends have asked him to teach them. He talks about starting a business called Money K’s Hats. “The crocheting has empowered him to say, ‘Okay, I’ve proven to myself that I can do this,’ ” says Aryee, 33. “I try to turn that into: Yes, you can do this, so let’s translate that confidence into your academics and everyday life.”
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Aryee bought Kamar a hook and some yarn so he could crochet at home. That was his reward for doing so well.
“I have faith that you’ll keep going with this,” he tells Kamar, who will attend Kelly Miller Middle School this fall. “You’re almost as good as I am!”
He’s hoping to teach Kamar how to mix and match colors so he can crochet belts and hats with stripes in them. Kamar has a bigger goal in mind: He wants to make his own T-shirt, something even Aryee can’t do. That will be hard, Aryee tells him, but not impossible. “Think you can pull it off?” Aryee says. “If you pull it off, take a picture. I want to see it.”