Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"I had to learn to live again"

I thought this was a touching and fitting story for Joyful News on Ministry. This is from the Shreveport Times:
Cathie Dodson was hurrying to a church service in December when something caught her eye.

A woman appeared to be selling a craft at a sidewalk stand. Dodson was late, though, so she kept going. But the image of the woman nagged at her throughout the church service, so she decided to stop on her way home.

It would be a life-changing decision for Dodson and the woman. What would come from this accidental encounter — or maybe it was a divinely driven encounter — would reach far beyond these two women. And it would be far more than either would have ever expected.

On a sunny but chilly morning in January, Dodson, a former schoolteacher, steps onto a porch where a woman waits with a bag of brightly colored crocheted caps.

Call the woman Dee. She does not want her real name published; she prefers no publicity at all. She has many needs but does not complain. She would rather not have a lot of government or social service agency help in her life. She trusts few people.

The exception is Dodson.

"She came back," Dee says. "Without challenging me or questioning me."

On that day in December, Dodson did indeed come back. Dee's makeshift stand was gone, so Dodson was leaving a note on the door when Dee appeared.

Dee had been selling her crocheted hats for $1. Dodson bought all she had — $10 worth — and asked Dee if she would make more if Dodson would bring her yarn.

Dodson went home and returned with more yarn, just like she had promised. She was already thinking of all the people she could sell caps to, for $5 each, and give the money to Dee.

Dodson sold them to members at First Presbyterian Church, which keeps the proceeds of Dee's cap sales in a fund at the church. Churchmembers also have donated yarn.

"I'm a little afraid people are going to stop making eye contact with me for fear I'm going to try and foist another hat on them," Dodson says, laughing.

She took them to her painting class, where one of her classmates, Frances Fontaine, volunteered to take a bunch to Riverside Elementary in east Shreveport where she teaches art. First, she sold them in the teacher's lounge, mostly for children of the teachers. Then, she appeared on the school TV program, sharing a little about Dee's hard-luck life.

That's all it took for students to decide they wanted to help.

"I couldn't keep enough caps," Fontaine says.

"We don't have wealthy kids; we have middle-America kids. Some came with nickels and dimes and pennies.

Really, they were touched.

Some talked their parents into buying them. All the girls said they were giving them as presents at Christmas."

Students aren't permitted to wear caps in classrooms but can during recess or going outside to the gym or cafeteria.

Principal Christy Terrill says with each day, "more and more and more" caps were being bought.

Mary Douglas, 9, a third-grader, likes her brown and blue cap. "It's really cute."

Nathan Jagot, 8, also a third-grader, says he wanted one because it was "cool."

He's an LSU fan so his cap is purple and gold. Spencer Payne, 6, a first-grader, says "Everyone was getting them."

Taylor Beavers, 6, also a first-grader, said she kept begging her mother for one.

The pestering paid off with a bright purple and cream-colored cap that is not only pretty but "it keeps my ears warm," Taylor says.

There also was a humanitarian lesson in the cap trend. "I like helping this person," Taylor says.

And Nathan says that knowing he's helping someone support herself, "makes me feel proud."

After hearing from a teacher about the situation of a local woman who is crocheting caps to earn a living, students at Riverside Elementary in Shreveport began buying the caps to help out and because they say the caps are "cool." Now dozens of students wear the caps to school and the woman's small business is growing. Photo by Jim Hudleson/The Times

The cap campaign is now stretching beyond Shreveport. Dodson, a born marketer, is mailing caps to relatives in Colorado, Massachusetts and New York, where winters — and cap needs — are longer than here.

She's also thinking about finding gift shops that might want to sell the caps — small ones are perfect for babies — and how Dee could expand into lap robes nursing homes might buy.

"She's got the ability and talent to do it," Dodson says.

Dee says she taught herself to crochet decades ago after an accident temporarily confined her to a wheelchair.

She discovered she was a natural at crocheting.

"It helped my mental state," Dee says. "I had to learn to live again."

She also can make afghans and blankets.

She shows a visitor how to make a complicated stitch. Sometimes one hand stiffens — a result of that long-ago injury — and she has to stop and relax her hand.

Then she's back to whipping her blue needle through and around the soft threads of yarn so fast her hands are a blur.

The caps are a rainbow of colors — Easter pastels, local school colors. She might have 30 caps ready each time Dodson comes by.

"It blew me out of the sky," Dee says of the response to her caps.

Dodson has begun including a slip of paper with each cap.

It reads: "This is a gift that gives twice; its purchase helps make self-sufficiency possible for a talented woman who has faced many of life's difficulties."

Dodson's relationship with Dee is not totally out of Dodson's comfort zone, though the two women live starkly different lives, socio-economically.

Before Dodson taught English for 14 years at Byrd High, she was director of the diversion program for Caddo Juvenile Court, now known as Volunteers for Youth Justice.

She had worked with children and families whose lives were often filled with many needs.

"We're to live in community with one another," Dodson says. "We're all children of God."

Last summer she attended a church conference that challenged her to return home and see who her neighbors were, even those far, financially, from her east Shreveport home.

Unexpectedly, Dodson got that chance when she met Dee.

"It's not hard for me to advocate for her," Dodson says.

"She's given me an opportunity to live out my faith. I'm going to give her the opportunity to trust people."

Dodson realizes that may be a long time coming.

Dee's situation could be improved if she asked for help, but for now she seems more willing to do without than to take a chance on someone.

"I get up in the morning. I take a drink of water, and I say my prayers. I thank God for the day," Dee says.

She later declares, "I'm a survivor."

But Dodson wants more for Dee, envisioning that her talent combined with skillful marketing could make that happen.

She tells Dee that she deserves so much more.

"One of these days," Dodson says, "she'll believe me."

For information on how to purchase a cap or to help sell them, e-mail

Check the gallery for more pics.

What a great story! Thanks Cathie and First Presbyterian of Shreveport, Louisiana for keeping heads warm and hearts joyful!

1 comment:

Stushie said...

That's a beautiful story John.