Lake Norman & Mooresville

Close-knit group spins its talent for causes

What began more than two years ago as a small group of seniors trying to make an afghan has blossomed into a wholesome social club with a true intergenerational flair.

According to Phyllis DeRespinis, 80, of Huntersville, a donation of some yarn, a survey of seniors and an overheard conversation started the ball rolling.

"It was April of 2008, and I had just recently moved down here from New York and joined the Senior Center," said DeRespinis. "The center had just completed a survey asking interested seniors if they would like to start a sewing/knitting club. And, I also heard one of the members say they loved to crochet. My ears perked up."

DeRespinis, who first learned to sew in 1970 in the corner of a small fabric store in Astoria, Queens, thought sewing and knitting would be a nice way to spend part of her time at the center. So she and several other center members gathered one Monday afternoon and, using some wool donated to the center, began their first project.

"We knew that the center was holding a luau later in the year, so we thought maybe we could make some afghans, sell them at the luau and donate the proceeds to the Senior Center," said DeRespinis.

By the time the luau came, the North Mecklenburg Senior Center Knit/Crochet Club - whose membership continued to grow steadily - had completed three afghans, which they sold at the show. Having passed their first test with flying colors, DeRespinis suggested they do something for charity. Center Director Joanne Ahern determined there was a need for prayer shawls at a nearby hospice, as well as baby hats at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville.

With a need clearly defined, the club members continued to gather each Monday afternoon at 1 p.m., striking up interesting conversations as they made the shawls and hats.

Two years later, the club boasts more than 15 members; some 50 prayer shawls and 300 baby hats have been donated, and more are in the works. Members also work on their own projects.

The club recently began making lap robes for veterans at the VA Hospital in Salisbury.

So who are these hardworking individuals who donate their time and talent each Monday afternoon? Most are women 55 and older, many retired from careers in teaching and nursing. A few did sewing and knitting for soldiers during World War II.

And then there's Larry Arnold.

"I originally came here just to accompany my mom, who has Alzheimer's" Arnold said. "I figured I would read while she sewed.

"But then, as I watched the women work, I thought, 'Why not try it?' ... It seemed pretty simple to pick up."

It didn't take long for Arnold, 55, a retired iron worker and truck driver, to fit right in.

"This has become a rewarding experience and gives me a different perspective on life. I also love to hear the stories these women have to tell. They are amazing," he said.

The club is an all-volunteer operation in the truest sense. Other than the room where the members meet, most everything is donated, including yarn. DeRespinis says the group always is looking for donations of more material from generous residents and businesses.

The recipients' feelings toward the club are perhaps best summed up by a note written by Misty Molloy, volunteer coordinator at the Levine/Dickson Hospice House:

"Thank you so much for the 16 beautiful prayer shawls. ... It's evident that a lot of love went into them and we are fortunate to be the recipients of these handmade gifts. Special touches like these help to make our house a home."

As for the club members, they derive great satisfaction from simply knowing their hard work is appreciated.

"I feel like God has been good to me, and I want to give something back" said DeRespinis.