The Red Thread Project: Connecting Hundreds of St. Louis Children

On November 4, the grounds of Laumeier Sculpture Park will be filled with 500 elementary school students from across the St. Louis area. These incredible children, many of whom have never met one another, will experience a life-changing connection – through their laughter, their dance and one very, very long red cord.

Since 2007, Springboard, the region’s largest provider of in-schools arts and enrichment programs, has been the local outlet for The Red Thread Project®. Started by Lindsay Obermeyer, a fiber artist from Chicago, The Red Thread Project® is a national community art project in which participants knit hats that are eventually attached to a ½ mile red thread. Participants then wear their creations for a “Dance of Hats” in which they are connected to one another. The hats are then disconnected and given to individuals in need. Over the past seven years, more than 6,000 hats have been donated to charity.

The idea for The Red Thread Project® came to Obermeyer after the adoption of her daughter. “We are a family, but very much connected by invisible bonds back to her home country and her birth parents. We have no contact with them, but we feel connected. It got me thinking about all connections I have with others across my community.”

“As to the hats and not another accessory, such as a mitten, you could say I have a hat fetish. I had cancer as a child and lost all of my hair. During that time, family and friends gave me a variety of scarves and hats to keep me warm and stylish, making the hair loss seem like a bonus, not a negative.”

According to Emily Fisher, program director for Springboard, the organization was excited to bring the project to St. Louis to allow children to experience the fiber arts and build community connections. Originally, the project was self-contained at local schools, but has expanded into a metro-wide “Dance of Hats,” which has impacted the lives of hundreds.

“The effect of the knitting spread in ways we had never anticipated,” remarked Fisher. “The father of one of the participating teachers learned to knit and created numerous hats, a grandmother who realized how focused her grandson was when he worked on his hat bought a loom for his brother too and watched in amazement as they peacefully knit, and bus drivers requested that all classes learn to knit after noticing how quiet and calm their commute was when the ‘knitting kids’ were on board.”

A sense of community at every step

In St. Louis, The Red Thread Project® follows a series of steps ending in the culmination of the “Dance of Hats.” Using donated materials, Springboard staff members introduce kids to the inspiration behind the project and teach them how to knit their own hats.

As a class, the children then research local charities and identify personal connections to decide where they would like to donate their creations. This year, hats will be going to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Friends of Children With Cancer, Martha’s Hall, Almost Home, Gateway 180 and St. Louis Homeless Winter Outreach.

“Many of the students, especially those from underserved schools, have received donations, but have never been able to give something to someone else,” said Fisher. “It is very empowering to those students to realize that children can make a difference, and that whatever challenges they may have in their lives, they have the power to help someone else in need.”

In addition, children build their photography skills to capture their experience of the project and are taught a West African dance for their big “Dance of the Hats” performance.

Throughout The Red Thread Project®, the main emphasis is on demonstrating to participants how their personal actions can affect an entire community. It’s this focus that truly hits home for the children.

Said Obermeyer, “In a world that is often conducted virtually, there is value in just making and added value in making for others. The act of coming together to dance while interconnected underscores our connections and that we have to pay attention to all members of our community, including those we tend to ignore. For children who are adopted, in foster care or whose parents are divorced, it demonstrates that they are loved, valued and very much a part of a community.”

To experience The Red Thread Project® for yourself, join Springboard St. Louis and 530 local elementary students at Laumeier on November 4 at 12 p.m. for the “Dance of the Hats.” More information can be found at www.springboardstl.org.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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