U.Va. Students Take a Break from Their Studies -- to Crochet

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Rebecca Arrington:

March 15, 2010 — "We're a tight-knit group," said Ariel Talts, founder and president of one of the University of Virginia's newest student groups, Crochet for Cancer.

Talts, a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, started the group last fall. Its members already have crocheted more than 300 hats to warm the heads of pediatric chemotherapy patients at the ASK Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. 

In high school in Danville, she led a similar initiative and thought that by opening the club to the entire U.Va. student body, there was potential to make an even larger impact.

"Cancer is something that everyone can relate to," said Talts, whose mother had breast cancer. Whether it is a family member, a neighbor or a friend, nearly everyone knows someone that has struggled with this disease, she said.

At last fall's Student Activities Fair, Crochet for Cancer got an overwhelming response from students looking to join a new club. More than 100 signed up to receive e-mail notices of club events. Of these, about 40 have come to meetings, and there are about 15 regular members. Aside from Erin Gee, the group's vice president, Ariel did not know any of the members before starting the group.

At the first of the group's weekly meetings, Talts singlehandedly taught about 35 eager members to crochet. It was frustrating at first, she recalled, but soon members got the hang of the stitch. Before long, the meetings were filled with chatter and laughter, as the crocheting became second nature.

Every Sunday at 4 p.m., members of Crochet for Cancer gather for one hour in Cabell Hall, room 432 – which, unlike most classrooms, has a large round table that allows members to work and talk. Talts tries to keep the atmosphere relaxed, and welcomes regulars and newcomers alike.

"I know they're there for the right reasons," she said.

The meetings allow members a chance to catch up with each other. "It's a nice time to do something totally creative and different," Talts said.

Everyone crochets at the meetings, but Talts said that most of the work is done on the members' own time. They bring in completed hats every Sunday to add to the collection of caps to be sent to VCU.

(Talts looked into forging a partnership with U.Va.'s Cancer Center, but soon found that there were not enough patients to accept the large number of hats that Ariel hoped to produce.)

Some members have really taken to the hobby, creating hats with unique patterns. One has started crocheting everything – she has made a cover for her iPhone and a beret.

Plans are now being made for a visit to the VCU clinic, where group members will have a party with the patients and deliver some of the most recently made hats. Talts has worked primarily with Katie Barber, a VCU social worker, to organize these visits as well as the first shipments of hats.

"The hats are given out to our kids while they're here in clinic," Barber said. "They always want their favorite color or a hat that'll match the outfit they have on that day."

She also commended the U.Va. students for their initiative. "Our families have to endure so much during the time their child is receiving treatment that it makes their day a little easier to know that there are young people doing something special for their child," she said.

Crochet for Cancer gets some funding from U.Va.'s Student Council, but Talts said she shoulders some of the costs herself. Instead of making members pay for their own yarn and hooks, Talts makes sure that there are plenty available.

Crochet for Cancer was recently nominated for an award that recognizes exceptional fledgling student organizations sponsored by the U.Va. Student Council. Talts said she hopes to further publicize the organization and recruit new members – and hand over the presidency. Though she plans to remain active in the club, she is eager to see what other members can do with the organization.

Many of the group's members says they look forward to Sunday afternoons as their favorite time of the week – a chance to take a step back from the stress of schoolwork and hang out with friends, while simultaneously making hats to help children get through the difficult effects of chemotherapy.

"We really are best friends," Talts said.

— By Katie Andrew