Knitting for Newborns Warms Babies, Brings Community Together

elgar-richards.jpgThe Colonial newspaper of Montgomery county and Bucks county Pennsylvania (suburban Philadelphia) recently wrote a profile on Landmark Education graduate Elgar Richards. In his Self-Expression and Leadership Program, Richards has created "Knitting for Newborns", a team of people who are knitting clothes for the winter months to be given away to newborns at Norristown's Montgomery Hospital. The article tells the story of how Richards took the Landmark Forum and how he has gotten involved with the local knitting community.

Service knits elderly, newborns together

by M. English

When Elgar Richards signed up for a Landmark Education Forum, his motivation was simple.

"A good friend of mine had taken the course, and he kept after me to take it … so I really did it just so he'd stop talking about it," Richards recalls drily.

Looking back now, the Conshohocken man "can't believe the impact" the program -"basically, a leadership course" – had on "my entire outlook on life."

"It removed the blinders of how I was living my life and showed me the impact I can have on other people's lives … the world, even," Richards says. "It was very, very profound. It opened up this whole new world of possibility to me and gave me a whole new outlook on the power of the individual … the idea that each one of us is capable of creating change when you expand your awareness and look at the big picture."

Richards' big picture conjured up images of knitting.

"I started thinking, 'What can I do to make a difference … to give back?'" he explains. "I didn't have anything specific in mind, but, then, this idea just came to me randomly. I had always had an affinity with and a respect for senior citizens, and, at first, my idea was to do [something] that would integrate older people into the community and let them be proactive. Then, I couldn't even tell you how or why, the idea of knitting – this whole concept of creation, of creating something from nothing … from people's time and hearts and hands – came to mind and just evolved from there."

Richards, 26, doesn't pretend that evolution was easy. For starters, he's the first to admit he was virtually clueless about the plethora of service groups – among them, well-established knitting circles – that already exist. Conversely, he's totally nonconnected. Unaffiliated as it were. And that made people skeptical. He persisted anyway – making cold calls and enduring his share of raised eyebrows and rude rejection before piecing together something he calls Knits4Newborns. It works this way. Richards doesn't know the first thing about knitting, but he's inspired numerous area crafters to put their needles to work fashioning hats, booties, sweaters and all manner of cozy garb and gear for babies and kids treated at the Ob-Gyn Family Center at Norristown's Montgomery Hospital. And although he isn't sure how many volunteers are currently involved in the effort, he hopes "anybody who reads this and knows how to knit might be kind enough to make even one thing…that will help keep a baby a little bit warmer this winter."

Contributions may be left with Anita Barton, owner of Crafty Me Yarns, 515 Maple St., Conshohocken, or H & A Auto, 1804 W. Marshall St., Norristown. Pickups can also be arranged.

Because "getting this clothing will mean so much to the people who receive it in time for the cold winter months," Richards asks that all items be turned in by Dec. 20. As an added incentive, he's secured a pair of roundtrip tickets from Air Jamaica ("Philadelphia to anywhere Air Jamaica flies…any of the islands…even England") as a prize for the person "who contributes the most."

Although the uniqueness of Richards' approach has made pitches to some potential donors problematic, he remains unfailingly good-natured and optimistic.

"Oh yeah," he laughs. "I've gotten my share of 'Who are you, again?' and 'Why are you doing this exactly?' Actually, that's been quite an education for me … especially the idea that some of the people I initially contacted about donating these items told me they didn't need anything. How can that be?" In fact, much about Richards makes him unique. His name, for starters. Classically trained pianist dad Evan Richards – a highly-regarded reggae performer – named him after one of his own favorite music makers: England's legendary composer Sir Edward Elgar. And although many of us may not be able to hum Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius" or "Cockaigne," we all know "Pomp and Circumstance."

Richards – also a pianist – says he and five brothers were named for musicians and "each of us plays an instrument." A number of his siblings appeared with their father as the wedding band in 2005's Cameron Diaz – Toni Collette – Shirley MacLaine film "In Her Shoes." Remember the guys whose joyous Caribbean stylings gave new life to old standards in a Philly backyard?

Richards' family … aka Sons of Ace.

His Jamaican-born father and British mother, Joy, – a singer – lived in England at the time of his birth but moved to Philadelphia when he was 3. The family eventually relocated to the King of Prussia area, where Richards attended Upper Merion Elementary and middle schools before transferring to Harriton High School and graduating with Harriton's Class of 2001. Along the way, he developed the wrestling skills that would earn him top honors at 2002's Ironman World Championship in Nashville. These days, Richards works "in the real estate field" and – with brother Sebastian – runs Musical Artists Development Enterprise. For now, though, he's devoting most of his spare time to Knits4Newborns…something that's made Ana Judith Santiago, maternal-child health social worker at Montgomery Hospital's Ob-Gyn Family Center "very, very happy."

"We need all the help we can get here at the clinic," she says. "We refuse nothing because so many of the people we serve here need everything. We treat the most vulnerable, needy people here at the center, and so we are grateful for anything people can do to help…monetary donations, transportation tokens, gift cards to local stores so they can buy basic baby supplies … so many things. My hope is that people will hear about what this young man is doing and continue to help us. Can you imagine how wonderful that would be?"

For additional information, call Richards at 610-564-1234. Barton can be reached at 610-828-0216 to arrange drop-offs at Crafty Me Yarns in Conshohocken. The shop's Crafty Me knitting circle meets Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. To arrange drop-offs at H & A Auto, call 610-539-2905.

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