Stitched with love
College of Nursing launches program to provide comfort shawls to patients
By Kathy Pierre
During her final semester at the UF College of Nursing, Rebekah Smith, D.N.P., was hospitalized three times. After the first time, she packed a bag to have ready just in case she had to go again. The most useful thing that she packed was her shawl.
The shawl comforted her each time she went to the hospital.
“To be able to have something that keeps you warm and isn’t from the hospital is good,” said Smith, a recent graduate from the college’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.
Now, Smith is knitting shawls as part of a new College of Nursing program that aims to provide handcrafted comfort shawls to patients receiving care from the UF Health Shands Palliative Care team.
A comfort shawl is given to someone who is in the hospital with a serious illness to symbolize caring, comfort and healing in an otherwise unfamiliar environment, said Toni Glover, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Nursing who started the program after reading about a similar program at the University of Oklahoma. With the help of professors Joan Castleman, M.S., R.N., and Ann Horgas, Ph.D., R.N., the comfort shawl project grew rapidly.
“When we sent an email announcing the service project, we were surprised at the robust response. From this email alone, we have 40 volunteers representing students, staff and faculty. When the project was shared on social media, College of Nursing alumni from all over the country were excited to contribute,” Glover said.
Last spring, Castleman’s students had a community nursing rotation at the Thelma Boltin Senior Activity Center in Gainesville and several were learning to knit and crochet from the expert craftswomen there. Other students have expressed interest in helping with the project for their senior honors service project.
“The goal is to provide comfort shawls to patients receiving palliative care, involve nursing students in a service project and create intergenerational learning opportunities,” Glover said.
Palliative care aims to relieve suffering, improve quality of life, optimize function and assist with decision-making for patients with advanced illness and their families. Each comfort shawl comes with a note with the first name of the person that made the shawl and a quote emblematic of the project: The threads of our lives are our connection to one another.
The project not only helps patients, but also helps knitters. Emerging research indicates that knitting and crocheting not only increase concentration, but reduce stress. For example, a 2013 study showed that 81 percent of knitters reported feeling happier after knitting.
As part of the program, Glover said she plans to hold knitting circles, in addition to having people knit on their own. Students who don’t know how to knit or crochet will have the option to connect with experts at the Thelma Boltin Senior Activity Center and other volunteers to learn. Glover, a self-taught left-handed knitter, said that people who don’t know how or don’t want to knit or crochet can help by donating supplies or money that will directly benefit the project.
Ashley-Marie Bodor, a recent accelerated nursing graduate, heard about the project through Castleman and was immediately interested.
“I really like the purpose of the program and being able to do something relaxing for the palliative care patients,” she said.
Bodor learned to knit when she was 10, so making comfort shawls will be a refresher course in knitting for her. Bodor graduated in August but plans to continue her involvement with the project by knitting shawls and mailing them to Gainesville.
Although purchasing a shawl would be easier and faster, it is more expensive and lacks the special touch of someone hand-stitching it, Bodor said.
“Knowing who made it, and knowing they care — it’s more personal,” Bodor said.
The goal is to have a continual supply of comfort shawls available and involve nursing students in gifting the shawls to patients, Glover said. Patients will be able to select a shawl from pictures and have it delivered.
“I think there’s something really nice about getting something handmade and knowing someone who doesn’t know you thought about you,” Smith said.
If you are interested in knitting a shawl or donating to the program, please contact Anna Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352-273-6360.