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Featured Student Knits Community Together

Carissa Winter, Featured Student for February 2011

There exist special individuals whose selfless service strengthens the fabric of their community. Waubonsee Community College freshman Carissa Winter is such an individual, and her gift to the community revolves around her passion for knitting and crocheting. As part of its Student Recognition Initiative, Waubonsee Community College recognized the freshman’s numerous accomplishments at the college’s board of trustees meeting Feb. 16.

Winter, who is studying psychology at Waubonsee, has overcome a hearing impairment to thrive both in and out of the classroom. A Gustafson Scholar, she founded and is president of a new student club, One Stitch at a Time, which provides an outlet to learn and embrace the art of knitting and crocheting while donating its handmade goods to worthy organizations.

“I’ve always been interested in knitting and crocheting, as well as being involved in community service,” she said. “Helping other people is like a powerful medicine.”

A resident of Aurora, Winter has always had a passion to give back to her community through service. While she attended West Aurora High School, she volunteered her time for a variety of organizations including Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets (HELP). She served as a Student Ambassador and was a member of the varsity bowling team as well.

While still in high school, Winter developed the kernel of the idea that would become One Stitch at a Time. She brought that idea with her to college, knowing she wanted to combine her twin pursuits — crocheting and giving back. An initial discussion with Student Activities Manager Cherie Westfall prepared her to draft the bylaws for her new student organization before her first fall semester even began.

“Cherie gave me the courage to go in and get started,” she said. “She’s been there to walk me through everything I needed to do to start the club.”

Winter enjoys sharing her love of knitting and crocheting with others — especially those who may be new to the art.

“I find it very relaxing — very stress relieving,” she said. “If I’ve had a bad day, I can pick up my hook and feel better an hour later. Seeing what you make really makes you feel proud of the work you put into it.”

The club now holds regular meetings for its 10 members and succeeded in its first project to make 200 handmade gifts for the residents of the Countryside Care Center in Aurora. In fact, the group exceeded their goal, enabling the additional donation of gifts to the residents of Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, also in Aurora. These gifts included beautiful wheelchair and walker bags, gloves, lap shawls and blankets. The generosity completely overwhelmed the recipients. The group is now working on an ambitious project to make blankets, hats, booties and other items for the babies in Rush-Copley Medical Center’s Level Three Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Through her work in class and in founding One Stitch at a Time, Winter has found her niche at Waubonsee.

“I’m glad I came to Waubonsee,” she said. “I’ve really bonded with my teachers and the other Gustafson Scholars.”

Winter’s love of knitting and crocheting came from her grandmother, who taught her the craft when she was just 5 years old. Though One Stitch at a Time is a student group, Winter’s sister, Lindsey, along with her mother, aunt and grandmother, have all contributed to the group’s significant output. Seeing the time and energy Carissa and Lindsey devoted to helping others, the sisters’ grandmother nominated them to be members of Oprah Winfrey’s audience during her recent “Heroes” show.

“My grandma is a huge fan of Oprah and always wanted to go on the show,” Winter said. “She’s always been supportive of me and my community service.”

With their grandmother’s nomination, the sisters did receive an invite to the show. Not only was it an honor to attend the show, but the episode also rewarded audience members as part of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” events. In November, the sisters received a bounty of gifts from Oprah including a 52-inch Sony flat screen 3-D TV with BluRay player, a Caribbean cruise they plan to take this summer, a Nikon camera, a diamond watch, Nike shoes for their whole family and much more. Not surprisingly, Winter and her sister gave away some of their prizes to friends and family — most significantly, a pair of sapphire earrings to their grandmother as thanks for her nomination.

“I’m most excited about the trip,” Winter said. “I’ve never even been on a plane. This has all been the time of my life.”

In addition to her studies and community service, Winter also works part-time as an Inclusion Aide with the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association. Her work there contributed to her decision to study psychology with the ultimate goal of receiving her doctorate in the field. She would like to work in pediatric psychology, specializing in children with autism.

“I love seeing the kids improve,” she said. “One child I worked with came such a long way in a year. I feel like I played a big role in that.”