When I was about eight years old, my great-grandma taught me how to knit. She was infinitely kind and patient, giving bits of advice in her calm, Dutch-accented alto voice and resisting what must have been a tremendous urge to take over for me, as I knitted into the wrong holes and dropped stitches and accidentally wove pieces of my own long auburn hair into the sparkly pink garter-stitch swatch I was making. Needless to say, my first attempt at learning to knit didn't go very well, and I was soon back to passively accepting knitted and crocheted gifts from my older relatives.
Although my knitting career didn't begin auspiciously, I loved hand-knitted items. Hand-knitted socks are warm and strong in a way no store-bought socks ever will be, hand-knitted mittens are likewise made to last, and long hand-knitted scarves -- possibly the best of all -- are a sure sign of someone's love for you, like a warm embrace made brightly visible. (A scarf project, in fact, was what started me knitting again in high school. Back in 1985, probably inspired by Doctor Who reruns on PBS, I knitted a long, long cream-colored scarf with tassels and wore it around Provo High nearly every day for the next two years. 28 years later, it's still going strong and will probably outlast me.)
Well, that's not the way it works if you're a kid growing up in foster care.
You never know where you'll be living, where you'll be going to school, where you'll sleep. You can't know in advance whether your newest foster parents -- the people you depend on for food, clothing and shelter -- will be loving, aloof, strict, easygoing, hovering, neurotic, absent or abusive. You have no idea whether you'll ever be adopted and find some love and permanency in your life, or whether you'll simply age out of the system and be dropped head-first into an uncaring adult world. And in the whirlwind of constant uncertainty and frequent fear that is life in foster care, it is a small but telling thing that most foster kids have never received a handmade article of clothing -- something that was made just for them, by someone who loves them.
That's why The Red Scarf Project exists.
Foster Care to Success is an American charitable organization that aims to support former foster children on the road to adulthood. Very few foster children who have not found a permanent family by age 18 go on to attend college, and those who do have none of the family support most college students take for granted. That means no letters from home, no care packages, no money for books and school supplies, and certainly nothing handmade. FC2S provides some of these grace notes to struggling former fosters who are going to college. They ask needleworkers to make and donate a hand-knitted or hand-crocheted red scarf, which they include in their Valentine's Day care packages to college students. It may seem like an insignificant thing, but if you've grown up seeing mostly the cruel and callous side of humanity, there's something lovely about opening a package in the dead of winter, unrolling a beautiful crimson scarf, wrapping its softness loosely around your neck and realizing that someone out there cared enough about you to make something solely for your comfort.
If you like to knit or crochet and you don't already have a fall project in progress, may I suggest a red scarf? It can be as simple as a long garter-stitched rectangle or as fancy as you care to make it (remember that the final design should be suitable for either men or women). You can work a few rows on the bus, in the doctor's office, or while you wait to pick up a kid from school. All the information you'll need to make and donate a scarf can be found here.
Go on, make your great-grandma proud of you!