It’s typical for companies to hold annual conferences and retreats to get their employees together, share information, and build unity. Provo-based EdTech company Imagine Learning follows this pattern, holding their company-wide annual Vision Conference each July. But at this year’s conference, something seemed a little different. No matter where you were—during team-building activities, key-note presentations, or break-out sessions—you couldn’t help but notice many of the company’s 500 employees knitting hats.
“Each year we incorporate a service project into our Vision Conference,” explained Carol Nibley, Vice President of Human Resources at Imagine Learning. “This year, our employees knitted hats for children.” In all, the company’s employees knitted 1,119 hats to be donated to the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City and other local hospitals.
“The goal of the project was to bring employees together to make a difference in the community,” explained Nibley. “It was a unifying effort for many reasons and was universally enjoyed by our employees. However, it seemed to grow into something even more than we expected.”
Knitting inspiration: Kids giving to kids
The idea for the company project originated from a classroom strategy that Lisa Willey, Executive Assistant at Imagine Learning, implemented when she taught fifth and sixth graders in Heber City and Midway, Utah. “I had a few students who were a bit active and needed something to keep them busy and help them concentrate. So, I brought looms to school and let them knit simple child-sized hats during class,” Willey explained. “You don’t think they’re listening when they’re knitting but they were actually more engaged and made great insights.”
Willey explained that the knitting project turned into a lot more than something to just keep kids focused and learning. The class made enough caps to donate to local homeless shelters.
“Kids often feel like they can’t make a difference but when they do service like this—something that impacts kids their age—it changes the way a child feel about what they are able to do in the world,” explained Willey. “By letting kids serve other kids, it expands their world. All they need are the tools.”
Alli Yeager, Barbara Badgett, and Nicole Walden were serving on Imagine Learning’s Great Place to Work committee and looking for a service project to include in this year’s company Vision Conference. After talking to Willey about her experience with her fifth and sixth graders, they knew they’d found a project that everyone could participate in.
“The hat-knitting project meets you where you are comfortable participating,” explained Walden. “If you could just donate yarn, that was helpful. If you could knit fifty hats, that was great. Everyone was able to make a difference and participate at their level.”
Willey donated the hat looms from her class project and Imagine Learning purchased baby-sized looms. All the yarn was donated by employees or purchased with the $2,000 in contributions collected from employees. Experienced employee knitters held lunchtime knitting tutorials for weeks leading up to the conference so that employees based at the Provo headquarters could teach field employees who were flying in from all across the country for the conference.
“We had these big macho guys knitting all through Vision Conference,” described Nibley. “It took a few of them to make it cool for others. Many of them actually said, ‘I can concentrate so much better while doing these,’ so apparently that’s true for kids and adults.”
Personal ties to children’s hats
What made the project more meaningful was that Imagine Learning employees have personal ties to PCH and the impact the hats can make.
“As a mom who has had a child in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), I know the difference these little hats can make,” shared Yeager. “My daughter was born premature and stayed in the NICU for seven weeks. You can’t dress a baby until they reach a certain size, but you can put a hat on them. Getting to choose the color of the hat and putting it on my baby was the closest I could get to dressing her up. It meant a lot when there wasn’t a lot of happiness to be had.”
Additionally, Willey’s son recently went through treatment for cancer. “There is a basket of hats at the end of the chemo pods,” explains Willey. “You see people look through the basket and it’s the one thing you can take home that tells you, ‘Someone thought of me today and there’s some goodness in the world.’”
Stewart Craig, an artist at Imagine Learning, designed cards to be delivered with the hats and to decorate a hospital room. Craig said he thought about creating the cards after an experience he had with his own child in the hospital. “My son was in the hospital for a few days and I laid down in the hospital bed with him. We were looking up at the ceiling together and there were these cards attached to the ceiling. I’d never thought of doing something like that, and it touched me. It was a relief to see all the drawings and well wishes from other children and parents. I wanted to do the same thing for another child.” Craig designed and printed the cards while employees colored them.
More than a project
Employees shared that the hat knitting project impacted them beyond the conference. Julie Robison, License Management Team Lead at Imagine Learning, told about how her neighbor who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer gave all her yarn to Julie for the project because “she wanted to help someone else in need.” The neighbor ended up dying before the conference was held, making one of her last actions a selfless one.
Another Imagine Learning employee’s wife was flat on her back with a health concern. Her husband brought her yarn and a loom so she could stay busy even while she couldn’t do much else. “It gave her a way to feel like she was helping others at a difficult time in her life,” shared Willey.
Some employees got so involved in the knitting project, that they mapped out patterns like college logos and story book characters into the hats. “We got as much out of this project as the people who will receive these hats,” shared Badgett. “And I don’t know what it is about knitting, but people start sharing and talking while their hands are working away.”
“It started as a project for Vision Conference, but it became bigger than that,” shared Walden. “For many of us, it was a life changing event. Some people have since joined knitting groups outside the company. Others have researched their heritage in relation to knitting and textiles.”
“We plan to do it again for our Winter Conference [in January],” explained Nibley. “A lot of people want to continue knitting hats to donate so we thought we’d do it again, this time to donate to local homeless shelters during the winter months. We might even start knitting scarves.”
For more information on how you can knit and donate caps for local hospitals, go to: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/locations/primary-childrens-hospital/giving-volunteering/intermountain-foundation/
About Primary Children's Hospital
Primary Children's Hospital is a not-for-profit, free-standing children's hospital providing quality healthcare for children with complex illnesses and injuries from across the United States. To learn more about Primary Children’s Hospital, visit https://intermountainhealthcare.org/locations/primary-childrens-hospital/
Watch this video to learn more about Imagine Learning knitted hats project.