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Hats off for community service

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Ryleigh Doar, 13, shows off one of the hats he knitted in his skills class at Madison Middle School. The class of students with autism donated their hats to Presbyterian Foundation on Friday, which will distribute them to premature and newborn babies and kids with cancer. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A group of autistic kids at Madison Middle School know the value of community service and the meaning of compassion.

Starting in November, 15 kids – 13 eighth graders and two sixth graders – spent part of their 25-minute-long skills class, knitting or learning to knit with a hand-held loom and hooks.

On Friday, they donated 200 hats, 140 that they made and 60 made by one of the student’s aunts and her coworkers, to the Presbyterian Foundation, which will use them to warm the heads of premature and newborn babies, as well kids with cancer.

“It’s actually very relaxing for them, and it gives them a skill they will have for life,” said their teacher, Zayda Raimundi. “While they are knitting, they need to concentrate, which means everything else, all the troubles, concerns, stresses are gone, or else they make mistakes, and I’m the teacher who makes them repeat it. They have to do it again.

“It’s also a community project, and it’s important for them to understand that they are part of a community and they can help their community.”

Madison Principal Debora Garrison, said the school has three different programs for kids who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and all of the students with autism are mainstreamed into regular classrooms with support.

And the kids who made the hats said they enjoyed learning the new skill and were clearly excited that the hats would be put to good use.

“This is actually my first time knitting a hat, and it was really, really fun,” said Ryleigh Doar, 13. “At first, it was very difficult, but then after I got the pattern, it got really fun. My grandmother knits a lot of things, and she taught me that knitting is really, really important. You can make stuff and fix clothing. I’ve almost finished my second hat. I’m actually hoping that a kid some day will wear my hat.”

Katy Balko, 14, learned how to knit last year in the seventh grade class. “It’s pretty fun,” she said. “It’s a good thing to do whenever you have free time or are just really bored or just want to relax. And I think it will be pretty helpful to some of the kids in the hospital.”

Russel Ureta, 15, is a knitting machine, churning out nine hats in his skills class last year and six more this year.

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Some of the hats knitted by autistic kids at Madison Middle School, sit atop shelves Friday waiting to be collected and sent to the Presbyterian Foundation for newborn babies and kids with cancer. Knitting is used as a method to teach the kids skill, concentration, relaxation and community service. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

“I think the hats helped the kids so much because the cancer made them lose their hair, so this keeps their heads warm. We made hats for newborns, too,” he said.

“I do, too, have autism sometimes, and my autism is misspeaking,” he explained. “I’m shy, too. This program really helps my autism, because I don’t get along with people and don’t go outside so much, but I’m really honored to help other people. Knitting helps me to focus, and if I pass high school and college, I could make a store and teach people how to knit and sell hats.”

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