FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) — At first, Sandy Eager wasn’t sure her students would embrace knitting.
"So when I first started knitting, I actually had to show them videos of men knitting, because there was a stigma that knitting was for old ladies," Eager said.
After all, these students at the Allen County Juvenile Center have let their anger get the best of them before, but the students were hooked.
Probation Officer Cheryl Bartnick says each tiny stitch can have huge mental and emotional benefits.
"The kids love it. I can take the hardcore kids, guys, and they’re just knitting away," Bartnick said. "And what I love about it is I have an opportunity to talk. We just talk about life and how to make changes."
They discuss improving their lives, and the lives of others.
Eager and Bartnick shared with them the story of Jessie Keesler and her son Finnley.
Finnley passed away as a newborn last October.
"So I did keep Finnley with me for a couple days in his cocoon, and it really put some love and normalcy into something that is not normal," Keesler said.
Keesler kept that cocoon as a token of her son’s short life. She then created The Finnley Project on Facebook to help hospitals provide momentos for other families in grief.
That’s when Eager got involved.
"Miss Sandy has taken this project much further than I ever imagined it would be," Keesler said.
Since working on The Finnley Project, ACJC students have knitted almost 200 hats and cocoons for infants of various sizes.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that after my son passing away, he could make an impact in this world still even after being gone, and bring comfort to families during the most isolating and dark time in their life," Keesler said.
Bartnick hopes her students can weave the lessons they’ve learned from knitting into their own futures.
"What they learned a lot from Miss Jessie, that this helps with the grieving process," Bartnick said. "The kids that we work with have so much trauma in their life, and it comes out through anger and behaviors, so doing something, focusing on something else can help work through that."
Eager says the project has been so successful, they’ve already decided to start it again next Spring.
ACJC students also work on knitting projects for local homeless shelters and humane societies.
The Finnley Project has an Amazon Wish-List for anyone interested in donating.