Neighbors stitch together to help new families

Amid cups of coffee, yarn, muffins and knitting needles, volunteers gathered at the Stitch House on April 10 to help the Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts’s Welcome Baby program. Participants knitted pairs of baby mittens that will be included in gift baskets given to local families with newborns.

Since July 1997, Welcome Baby has reached out to over 5,000 families in Dorchester, Roslindale and Allston-Brighton. The program’s home visitors receive referrals from hospitals, pediatricians, community groups and especially friends who have told friends about the program. Trained visitors make stops in the three areas of the city; some speak other languages as well, helping families who may not speak English.

Visitors contact the family and set up a time to meet with them, bringing along a basket filled with a blanket, mittens, a new outfit, a health or safety item, a book and a resource packet for parents. If there are older siblings, they receive a book as well, furthering program goals to promote family literacy and to encourage families to read to their children. Welcome Baby also opens doors to many other available community resources, including the family resource center at the John Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester.

Colleen McGuire is the Allston-Brighton Welcome Baby Coordinator and has served in the program for six years. Upon receiving the basket and a visit, she says, families feel that their community cares and parents feel “that they’re not starting parenthood in a vacuum.” The program is universal in that it supports all families in the community, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be.

“The work they do is really great and I just wanted to help and it seemed like an easy way for me to do it,” says Cathy Moylan, who picked up knitting about a year ago.

Though seen as a feminine craft throughout its history, knitting has attracted men as well as women and children as well as adults.

“It’s actually a very mathematical and engineering thing, crafting and knitting, because it’s construction. It just happens to be with yarn,” says Stitch House owner Annissa Essaibi George.

“It’s really great to have my own business in my own neighborhood,” she adds. She lives just blocks from the colorful Dot Ave. shop.

She says it was an easy collaboration with McGuire. Essaibi George, a lifelong Dorchester resident, put up fliers and told customers about this past Sunday’s event. Volunteers responded - about 20 knitters came to contribute their time and talent. Other volunteers who were unable to attend made the mittens at home and sent them in.

“This is really the type of program that benefits from the goodwill of many, that whole many hands make light work. [The mittens are] tiny pieces of support,” McGuire says. “No gift is too small.”
The knitting session exemplifies local organizations and businesses coming together for the benefit of the community.

“Part of building a community is knowing about resources in your community so that you in turn can be an advocate,” McGuire adds. “And you will be talking to more moms, more parents just because that’s kind of the new hat you wear. It’s about creating community.”

The pairs of little mittens will go to Dorchester families with newborns up to four-months-old.
“A lot of times, people think, well, it goes somewhere off to somebody else in need and actually, it comes to your neighbor,” McGuire says. “It’s kind of nice to be able to do a project that you know is going to have an impact on the community you live in.”

For more information, visit familynurturing.org.