Once a month the homeschoolers gather around a table in a small classroom in the family center at Victorious Life Church. Typically a half-dozen or more young girls happily chat as they sift through plastic bags filled with skeins of yarn and plastic looms and winter hats already in the making. The knitting circle is on the small side, but its mission is large. "Hats of Hope," as they call it, is meant to help warm the less fortunate in a wider community.
Knitters have been at it for awhile. In September the group, led by homeschool mom Becky Cowdery, boxed up 50 hats and shipped them to children living on an American Indian reservation in South Dakota. On Feb. 5, the young knitters will pack up 50 more and make bologna sandwiches and hand them out on the streets of Ybor City with members of the church's Soul Saving Street Ministry.
The goal, said Cowdery, is for youngsters to learn a hands-on skill and have a hands-on outreach experience.
"It's just wonderful," said Victorious Homeschoolers president Sherry Clegg, as she watched her daughter, Jadyn, work. "It gets kids involved in serving. It builds self-confidence. I really believe that true joy comes when you serve someone else."
At latest count, the Victorious Knitters were a little more than halfway to reaching their goal of 50 more Hats of Hope. They work fast, using plastic looms, rather than traditional knitting needles.
"The looms are easier for smaller hands," said Cowdery, who found a "how-to" video on the Internet. "And it goes much faster."
That means more hats for more heads.
So after a prayer and a snack, it's back to work for the youngsters, who already have plowed through skeins of yarn donated by parishioners, and much of what they bought at local craft stores.
There's Jadyn Clegg, 9, who is quiet and intent in her task, using a small hook to weave brown and purple yarn around the pegs on the circular loom. And "the two Isabels" — best friends Isabel Perdomo, 8, and Isabel Bork, 9 — who share lots of laughs along with their sisters, Victoria, 5, and Elizabeth Bork, 7, and Melina Perdomo, 6. She likes to stay close to her mom, Dawn, who helps with the hatmaking.
There's Deja Roberts, 13, who comes with her grandmother and teacher, Rita Woods. Deja can whip up a hat in record time and has already completed 30 — some for giving away and some she hopes to sell in a neighborhood business she plans to start.
And there's Joy Cowdery, 14, who is quick to help her mom and some of the younger knitters because she knows how to knit with needles and a loom.
"I think it's great — I can't wait to go out and distribute them," Joy said of the hats. "I can't wait to actually meet the people that are going to wear them."