Catharine Blaine K-8 School PTA

Location: Seattle
Community: population 582,454; urban
School size: 490 students, grades K-8
Annual budget: $140,000

When room mother Annette Godon started contemplating the upcoming auction at the Catharine Blaine K-8 School and how to make it special, she thought of the hand-knitted hats she had in a bag at home, awaiting donation to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Traditionally, the Seattle school’s 5th graders made an art project to be auctioned off. But the usual suspects—such as a bookcase, mirror, or table—had already been done, and Godon couldn’t get enthusiastic about doing them again. What if the school’s annual auction, however, were combined with a community service project that would have meaning for the children? That idea, and the results that followed, made the Catharine Blaine PTA the winner for Outstanding Community Service Project in PTO Today’s 2007-08 Parent Group of the Year search.

Godon’s daughter had received a knitting loom for her sixth birthday. Godon marveled at how easily her daughter learned to knit, a craft she herself had developed a passion for years ago. PTA parents gathered enough looms to start teaching the 5th graders at Catharine Blaine how to knit hats. “The kids were amazing with their creativity,” Godon says. “Boys liked multicolored hats. They did a lot of stripes. The girls stayed with softer colors.”

Before long, Godon and the PTA had pulled off a memorable and inspiring service project and netted a tidy sum through the school’s auction. The idea of merging school fundraising with philanthropy struck a chord with parents, teachers, and kids and will be replicated.

Catharine Blaine PTA’s recognition for Outstanding Community Service Project is an extraordinary accomplishment for an effort that Godon acknowledges came together with little of the planning usually characteristic of successful parent group projects. “I could not have done any of this without all the parents’ support,” she says. “The teachers, too, were so enthusiastic.”

But mostly the project was successful because of the kids. “I was hoping we could get 100 hats,” says Godon, adding that students took to the rhythmic nature of knitting. She lost track of the exact number, but she estimates they ended up with about 400 hats in sizes from preemie to teenager and in all possible color combinations.

“The kids were cranking out hats left and right,” she says. “It was like a need was filled for them to sit down and make something with their hands.”

Students had grown restless with traditional art projects. They rushed to finish their homework so they could knit. “This project made them feel good about themselves,” Godon says. “These kids sacrificed their lunchtime and many recesses to make hats for sick kids. Their energy was contagious, and the PTA continued to supply the kids with yarn.”

As further motivation, teachers arranged a visit to the children’s hospital oncology ward so that students could meet the recipients of their efforts. The tour helped the children make a connection and see that they were making a difference.

Meanwhile, a challenge for Godon was to figure out how to turn the knitting project into an auction item. First she thought parents would bid on the collection of hats, and the winner would then donate them to the hospital in their family’s name. “That concept was hard for the auction staff to get their brains around,” she says.

Instead, she photographed the hats and made two collages, which she had enlarged and framed. In addition to the collage, she included a DVD of kids working on the project, a scrapbook, and a whole bunch of hats. Two packages were auctioned off. A teacher bought one package, and a parent bought the other.

A board member from the hospital came to the school to receive the donation during a pizza party for the school’s 60 or so 5th graders. The board member, a former teacher, commanded the classroom, teaching the children about the concept of giving back. The kids were so moved by the experience, they immediately asked what they could make the following year. Someone mentioned the idea of giving every child at the hospital a blanket. Godon thought of colorful, inexpensive fleece and the fun students could have tying off the ends to make fringe.

Next year, she’ll do more planning. But she learned that making lists and following a schedule isn’t essential for success. “Sometimes,” she says, “a little impulsiveness leads to creativity.”