Whitefield Elementary School teacher Karen McCormick’s classroom was abuzz with activity on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 19, when members of the Whitefield National Junior Honor Society and volunteer seamstresses from the community gathered after school to make fabric hearts for delivery to the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The event was part of the honor society’s Preemie Project, which is in its third year.
The soft fabric hearts – many of them made from colorful flannel material – are used in the incubators of premature babies to help soothe them when their parents are not there. Mothers and fathers hold the cloth hearts to their bodies to transfer their scent to the material. The heart thus offers the baby the familiar smell of his or her parent when the parent is away.
“We usually do 1,000 of these in one year,” McCormick said of the hearts as she manned the fabric table, where she and eighth-grader Miranda Northrup were busy selecting pieces of cloth to be cut and sewn into hearts. “We hope to deliver (hearts to Maine Medical Center) twice this year,” in early February and at the end of the school year.
McCormick and the National Junior Honor Society members will also deliver tiny knitted and crocheted hats made by community members. “We have 75 hats to take down,” McCormick said, noting that some of the babies receiving them weigh less than a pound.
At a nearby table, volunteer seamstresses Phyllis Buck, a retired nurse, and Whitefield Elementary School middle-school math teacher Clarissa Howard sewed the two sides of each fabric heart together on sewing machines they had brought with them. Howard noted that part of the reason she was there was because she had had a premature baby.
Howard and Buck received the heart-shaped pieces of cloth from a table near theirs, where seventh-grader Kristina Vaillancourt cut out hearts from pieces of fabric using a heart-shaped paper pattern.
Howard and Buck’s completed work was sent down the production line to another table, where seventh-graders Bryce Lincoln and Tyler Margitan trimmed excess material from the completed hearts before turning them right-side out.
McCormick was often on the move, checking on progress and answering questions from participants. She said there is a growing need for what the Preemie Project has to offer. This is the first year the Preemie Project will make two deliveries of hearts and hats to Maine Medical Center. “They seem to have a need for them,” she said. “The parents really appreciate it.”
“We do a lot of community service stuff,” said Isaac Hayden, who is co-president, along with Northrup, of the Whitefield National Junior Honor Society.
“It feels good to help out other people that need it,” said Northrup.
“It’s for babies,” said Hayden, smiling. “Their hands are the size of our fingernails. There’s a picture of a dad’s ring and it fits the baby’s entire arm!”
“These kids do a lot of community service,” McCormick said, mentioning, among other things, the honor society’s November Color Run that raised $2,100 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and a dodgeball tournament on March 2 that will be a fundraiser for a student from Palermo who has cancer.
“Everything they do doesn’t really benefit them directly – it’s for someone else. We are trying to help kids to have empathy for others,” said McCormick of the members of the honor society, which she described as a “leadership group.”
“This year is my biggest group,” McCormick said. “There’s 20 of them!”