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Hats off to them

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- When Hannah Williams created the "Hats of Hope" knitting club at Winfield High School two years ago, she had no idea the impact it would have on its participants.

After Williams taught Kayleigh Kleppinger, 17, to knit, she decided to make a hat for a young family friend.

"He's 2 this year, and I didn't know, but he doesn't let anything touch his head, not even if it's raining," Kleppinger recalled. "I knitted him an orange hat and when I gave it to him, his mom said, 'Oh, thank you, but he won't wear it.'

"He put it on immediately and now they'll tell me, 'Logan had to wear his hat to eat breakfast,'" she said with a laugh.

Amanda Schwartz, 18, who is Williams' cousin and also helped start the club, remembers when the group made hats for a school project around the Christmas holiday to help underprivileged kids in McDowell County.

"I have pictures of one girl when she received her hat," Schwartz said, smiling. "She put it on right away and just beamed."

Since it began, "Hats of Hope," a group of about 20 Winfield students, has knitted more than 200 hats for various organizations. The group has sent hats overseas with churches on mission trips, delivered them to men's shelters, donated them to struggling mothers to keep their babies warm and to cancer patients, some of whom lose their hair during treatments.

Many in the club didn't know how to knit before joining, so Williams and Schwartz taught them.

"It's easy," Williams said, holding a circular yellow loom. "You just wrap the yarn around the pegs and go around twice. ... It pretty much makes itself, so we'll usually just do it while we watch TV and chill out."

The looms come in different sizes. Larger ones are used to make men's hats, some are medium sized and tiny ones are used to create hats that fit a baby.

"When we make hats for cancer patients, we try to buy softer yarn," Williams said.

Mary Jorgensen, 18, said after she joined the club and learned how to knit, her mother, who had always been a fan of crocheting, wanted to learn.

"She became obsessed with [knitting]," Jorgensen said, laughing.

The hats make for good personalized gifts: "I love to pick out the colors," Jorgensen said.

Last year, Williams was visiting a friend in North Carolina whose grandfather wasn't expected to live much longer. Williams instructed her friend's family members to each knit several rows of yarn for a hat.

"Everyone worked on it and he loved it," she said.

The group helped Hannah Warner, 14, make close friends during her first year of high school.

"I actually made [a hat] I was going to donate, but I kept it [because] I liked it so much," she said.

The group often sells hats and holds fundraisers to purchase yarn.

On Tuesday, the girls dug through a box of brightly colored hats, some finding the first one they made as a club member. Williams said that after she graduates this spring, she hopes others will continue the group.

"We definitely will," other members said at the same time. Williams smiled, and put both thumbs in the air.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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