Los Angeles Times, CA
July 4 2005
Group Knit Together by Aid Project
Language and cultural barriers fall as a diverse assortment of
seniors unites behind a common cause and a shared talent.
By Ann M. Simmons, Times Staff Writer
A cacophony of Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Armenian and English filled
the room as a gaggle of seniors armed with crochet and knitting
needles huddled around a long table piled high with woolen garments
and multicolored yarn.
Their mission is to knit and crochet clothing that will be donated to
homeless shelters and battered women’s homes.
But the effort – known as Project HANDS, or Helping Angels National
Donated Support – is giving these seniors more than just a chance to
let their fingers work for charity. It is exposing them to ethnic
diversity and helping them to foster friendships and cultural
understanding they might otherwise have missed.
“That side is Mexicans,” said Baidzar “Sunshine” Sanossian, pointing
to two Latinas sitting across the table from her one recent Friday.
“There’s the Philippines right next to me here. We are Armenian. But
we like to join and make one family.” At 93, Sanossian is the most
senior participant of the chapter of Project HANDS, which meets once
a week in a community room at the Vistas retirement housing facility
in Van Nuys.
It is the camaraderie that most appeals to Sanossian, a retired
registered nurse. An ethnic Armenian who was born in Lebanon and
educated in Israel, she mainly associates with pals Armine Bezdjian,
82, also from Lebanon, and Janet Kasparian, 73, a native of the
former Soviet republic of Armenia.
But meeting for a few hours each Friday afternoon to knit with 20 or
more residents from different ethnic backgrounds has exposed
Sanossian to a cultural kaleidoscope. She showed off a scarf of
baby-blue wool she recently finished knitting and playfully draped a
bright orange shawl over her head, causing her knitting partners to
gesture and chuckle.
“It brings all the languages, cultures, races and generations
together,” said Judy A. Shaw, service coordinator manager for
Retirement Housing Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides
services for older adults and runs Vistas. “They can’t speak the same
language. They don’t all have the same cultural background. But the
thing they have in common is good hearts. And they have commonality
in that they know how to knit and crochet.”
At Vistas, located along a busy thoroughfare, 22% of residents are
Korean, 19% are Latino and 15% are Russian speakers, according to the
facility’s manager, Suki Kim. The remaining hodgepodge of
nationalities includes immigrants from Lebanon, Iran, China, Cuban,
Chile and the Philippines, to name a few.
“They may speak different languages, but they are all in their senior
years, and they are in the same boat no matter where they came from,”
Kim said. “They see different people in the same situation, and they
get comfort from that.” It is clearly easier for the elderly
participants to communicate with those who share a common tongue. But
many choose to employ the physical lexis of handicraft.
They peak and point over their colleagues’ shoulders and advise about
stitching methods and styles by touching and showing. They take turns
inspecting or trying on the neatly folded mounds of women’s hats,
shawls, scarves and gloves, the children’s vests and sweaters, and
babies’ blankets. Vistas’ residents have so far donated six boxes of
such items to two Los Angeles-area shelters for battered women.
Kesun Kim, 78, originally from Korea and a 12-year resident of the
83-unit Vistas, used to associate mainly with Korean speakers before
joining Project HANDS. Now she proudly recites a few words that she
picked up from her knitting mates.
“Uno, dos, amigo, poquito, frio,” she said, giggling as she chirped
the Spanish words for one, two, friend, very little and cold. The
fellow knitters, who happened to be from Cuba and Chile, raised their
eyebrows and shyly smiled.
Filipina Josefina De Leon, 78, one of a handful who can converse with
relative ease in English, merrily chimed in that she also knows the
Spanish word for tomorrow, manana.
“And I can count to a million in Spanish,” she said with a laugh.
When Ok Whan Chang, 82, read about Project HANDS in a local
Korean-language newspaper, she couldn’t stay away.
Not a resident of Vistas, she has to travel for an hour on two buses
from her home in Northridge each Friday.
“I don’t mind the trip,” said Chang, an ethnic Korean who was born in
Manchuria in northeast China and now has friends from Cuba, Chile and
Mexico. “I want to help other people. And knitting is my talent.”
Chang proudly held up a gray sweater and a burgundy vest that she
made in just four days.
Hundreds of seniors from 49 Retirement Housing Foundation communities
have adopted Project HANDS and have given more than 2,430 articles of
clothing to homeless children, according to Shaw. The average age of
the participants is 80.
At least 19 other senior facilities have expressed a wish to start
the project, which relies on donated yarn. The bulk so far has come
from Dai-Ho Choi, president of the Korean Apparel Manufacturers Assn.
He estimated that the thousands of balls of brightly colored wool he
has contributed totaled about $10,000.
“It’s Korean tradition to respect older people,” said Choi, a
first-generation American-born Korean, while visiting Vistas
recently. “My father is 78 years old. These people here are like my
As the babble of various tongues blended with the faint clicking of
needles, Carmen Glenn, one of a few American-born Project HANDS
participants at Vistas, circled the table covered with recently
completed clothes and blankets, and cream, blue, pink, red and
A native of New Mexico who is fluent in Spanish, Glenn helps
translate the accented English banter about wool texture and
stitching methods for participants like Rosalia Baghetti, 71, of
Chile and Carmen Naveira, an 82-year-old Cuban mother of five,
grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of 10.
Arthritis keeps Glenn and her best friend – Jessie Azali, a
78-year-old Indonesian-born Chinese fluent in Dutch and Chinese –
from actually knitting or crocheting. But it hasn’t stopped them from
doing their part and having fun.
“We put on name tags and fold and laugh and talk,” Glenn said.
Suddenly a chorus of “oohs” and “ahs” rang out as someone tried on a
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress