Hats off to Cork teens for helping premature babies

Two Togher teens will be among 2,000 youths attending a national awards ceremony this month. CHRIS DUNNE talks to the duo who are lovingly making crochet hats for tiny babies
Hats off to Cork teens for helping premature babies
Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty from Togher Youth Development Project. Picture Dan Linehan

A STITCH in time saves nine... and for Alannah Hegarty and Jade Barrett, crocheting little hats for tiny new-born babies in Cork University Maternity Hospital is helping the two teenagers bond with the wider community.

“We made separate squares for a baby blanket so that we could practice the crochet stitch, then sewed the squares all together, before starting making the hats for the premature babies,” says Jade.

“The blanket took us three weeks to make, each hat for a premature baby takes us less than an hour to complete.”

The 17-year olds, pupils at Bishopstown Community School, and part of Togher Youth Development Project, are putting their creative project forward for the Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards, taking place in Dublin on April 13.

The pair are intent in their ambitions to have a positive impact on others — not just one small person, but the whole community.

Alannah and Jade collaborated last year with Togher Social Community group to enter the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards, sponsored by Aldi, developing a unique cookbook, A Taste of The Past, with favourite recipes handed down from generations.

Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty from Togher Youth Development Project learned how to to crochet in order to make blankets for the premature baby unit in Cork University Hospital as part of their citizenship community project sponsored by ALDI. Also included are youth worker Patricia Corcoran and teacher Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan
Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty from Togher Youth Development Project learned how to to crochet in order to make blankets for the premature baby unit in Cork University Hospital as part of their citizenship community project sponsored by ALDI. Also included are youth worker Patricia Corcoran and teacher Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan

“We got the Silver Award and ‘The One to Watch’ award for the cookbook project,” says Alannah.

The girls, never doing things by halves, didn’t rest on their laurels.

“We went on to develop the cookbook as a start-up business idea. The ladies from the social community group were brilliant, helping us put the book together, even though they were a bit nervous at first! When we got a prize, they were thrilled.”

The interaction between the generations, each learning from the other in a joint effort, forged and enhanced relationships.

“We all became good friends!”

Now Alannah and Jade, flushed with success and fired up with enthusiasm, are going for gold at the upcoming awards, proving a powerful force for the good of their community.

Where did the novel idea for crocheting hats for premature babies come from?

“My mum, Geraldine, was already knitting hats for Féileacain, the association supporting people who are affected by the death of a baby,” says Alannah.

“Our school arranged for us to meet the nurse in the maternity ward in CUMH, Alison Long, who was very supportive.

“Next week, we are presenting the hats to the unit.”

The girls set themselves the task of creating a little bit more love for tiny, often sick, babies to have a fighting chance, cocooned in cosy wool, supplementing them in a heated environment to keep the noise out and the warmth in.

The girls, researching their joint project, did their homework. They were fast learners.

“We looked up the sizes for premature babies; the patterns were easy, using a single crochet hook.

The casting on was the hardest part!”

Their tutor, Kay Collins, master craftswoman, unravelled any knots the girls might encounter.

“They came up with the idea themselves,” says Kay.

“They were thinking outside the box. It was a fabulous idea. Alannah and Jade were really eager to learn how to crochet.

Teens Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty, along with Patricia Corcoran and youth worker Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan
Teens Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty, along with Patricia Corcoran and youth worker Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan

“It was a pleasure to work with the girls. They are two great workers, putting in the time and huge effort making the tiny hats,” says Kay.

The team were industrious.

“Crochet grows fast, so it was wonderful for us to see it all come together,” she added.

The basket on the table is brimming with colourful tiny hats destined for their new owners in the neonatal unit at CUMH.

“Some of the wool was donated to us,” says Kay. “And we bought some more wool.”

The spools unravelled, weaving fairy-sized baby hats as Alannah and Jade crocheted for hours in their free time.

“It was all their own work,” says Kay, as I marvel at the sheer workmanship and creativity that went into each little item. There is even a tiny red and white hat for a future Cork GAA fan!

“There was a great sense of pride and achievement when the hats were completed,” says Kay.

“The Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards is a fantastic platform for young people to showcase their projects that make a positive impact on the community.”

Alannah and Jade are destined for greater things.

“If they keep it going, they’ll soon be able to make jumpers and throws for the couches in here!” says Kay, speaking to me in the bright, cheerful workshop where enthusiastic young people create magnificent things.

“The boys here are currently involved in creating a puppet show,” says Youth worker, Patricia Corcoran, who has been working with Togher Youth Development Project for four years.

“The Project, under the umbrella of Foróige, ETB granted, is a great hub for young people to develop their ideas.

Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty from Togher Youth Development Project with youth worker Patricia Corcoran and teacher Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan
Jade Barrett and Allanah Hegarty from Togher Youth Development Project with youth worker Patricia Corcoran and teacher Patricia Corcoran. Picture Dan Linehan

“The Youth Citizenship Awards is a great opportunity for young people to showcase their talents as well as their projects, making a positive impact on their local communities, making them a better place.

“It is great to be involved this year considering the awards are in the 50th year.”

The Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards, champions young people, celebrating their inspiring projects and making their local communities a better place.

“The encouragement is a really positive way to empower and to celebrate young people,” says Patricia.

“And to make them believe in themselves. They take on tasks they never knew they were capable of, achieving things they never thought possible.

“These days, young people often get a bad name. But so many of them are doing so much good. It is great to see.”

Old skills and old favourite games are being revived at Togher Youth Development Project in the bright, bustling building opposite Way of the Cross Church, Togher.

“We love the old-fashioned board games and card games,” says Patricia. “The youngsters enjoy playing hop-scotch and skipping outside.

“Our healing garden was created by the girls and boys.

“The projects we run here are all age appropriate, from age eight or nine years up to 18.

“The kids take great pride in the garden and they tend it well.”

Alannah and Jade gave up their half day afternoon from school on Wednesdays to give the project their all, creating wonderful things for wonderful new-born human beings.

Are they looking forward to the bus trip to Dublin so showcase their wonderful creations?

“Yes, it’ll be a great day out,” says Jade.

“The awards are a great opportunity for young people to display the things that they are good at. It’s very exciting for us to be involved.”

The girls have big plans to become meaningful citizens in the future.

“I want to be a criminologist,” says Jade.

“And I want to be a primary school teacher,” says Alannah.

No doubt their set of amazing skills, honed as caring teenagers, will serve them well.

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