10 Tips to Crafting Your Own Community Project

I consider myself lucky to have the time and yarn to contribute to amazing yarn installations, charity events, and awareness campaigns across the country.  If you’re like me, you totally idolize the folks with enough organization and know-how to put these events together.

But I have a secret – you can do it, too, and you don’t need a ton of money or a huge network of friends or even an original idea.  All you need are these 10 tips based on the experiences of real event organizer and all-around inspiring folks.  But don’t take my word for it…

A Garden in Winter - courtesy Val Dale on hijennybrown.com

Courtesy Val Dale

 

1: IDENTIFY A NEED (OR JUST A WANT)

If no ideas come immediately to mind, scroll through your Facebook feed, roam down Main Street, or talk to friends about the needs of your community (and yes, beautification and public art are needs).  Think about your specific talents and how that could help people in your community – just passing along the knowledge you have is enough.

Still haven’t come up with something? Right now I’m going through New Tech City’s Bored and Beautiful Project, which features 5 challenges in small audio snippets to help you put down your phone and turn on your boredom, and eventually, your great ideas.

2: SHARE YOUR IDEA

You’ve got an idea, but you’re not completely sure how to implement it.  And deep down, there’s some nagging part of you that worries it’s not even a good idea.  That’s OK – share it anyway!

Sarah & Ella - courtesy Sarah Worth on HiJennyBrown.com

Courtesy Sarah Wirth

 

You may have seen yarnbombers attaching scarves to statues and trees as a gift to those who are cold or homeless.  Sarah Wirth (an old high school buddy – Hi, Sarah!) shared one such picture on Frederick’s Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership Facebook feed, which caught the eye of SHIP’s founder, Ed Hinde, and Val Dale, who offered to start a Facebook event page.  The freezing temperatures in January encouraged them to act quickly, so they encouraged folks to collect new and gently used scarves, hats, gloves, and jackets to be distributed the next week. Val worried that the event might not have enough time to go viral with such a tight timeline: “I expected 40 to 50 to attend, with maybe a couple hundred invites.  Instead, it truly caught on fire…I think the idea just really resonated with folks. It was something they could do that would make a first-hand impact.  It was visual in its symbolism.  There has been a lot of focus on poverty and homelessness in our community.  It gave folks something tangible they could do together.”

A Garden in Winter Hat Donation - Hi, Jenny Brown

It was so successful, in fact, that organizers started to worry there would be too many people and donations.  Luckily, the Rescue Mission offered a truck to collect more donations, participants identified additional locations for leaving donations in advance, and a local police officer monitored traffic.

3: DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT

It sounds cliché, but no one has your same unique mix of experience, talent, and connections.  As Stacey Monique would tell you: Why Not You?’

knit hat - HiJennyBrown.com

If you need more convincing, Emily’s Hats for Hope Initiative, which has distributed over 15,000 hats to people who needed them, was started by a then 17-year-old.  I think you can do it.

4: GET OVER YOURSELF AND ASK

There might be a little part of you that thinks you’re not cool or popular enough to pull this off, but friendo, this ain’t high school.  The only difference between you and the fancy event organizers you see on the news is that they actually asked for help.  That, and they have way more expensive nail polish.

I’ve contributed to a few yarnbombing projects lately that I learned about on Instagram, of all places.  They make it easy by spelling out specifically what they want, where it should be sent, and how it will be used.  I think Yarnbomber is probably the best example of this: he announces his projects using one of his many beautiful scenic photos, gives a firm deadline, and let’s people be creative.  He also lets folks know that their items may not be used at all, which helps manage everyone’s expectations while also adding an exciting air of mystery.  When I saw my square in his latest installation, I was ecstatic!.

It also doesn’t have to be a “thing.” Ask a fellow blogger to share your event.  Ask your English snob buddy to read over your invitation.  Ask your local craft store to put event fliers in every bag.  The worst they can say is no.

If you’re still a little scared to ask, practice on me.   I promise to say yes.

5. GIVE PEOPLE MULTIPLE WAYS TO HELP

The most successful events allow people to contribute in a way that’s easiest or most rewarding for them.  For the A Garden in Winter event, people could contribute by buying new warm weather accessories, donating gently used items, or making their own (which is of course what I did).  Folks could also come to the kick-off event and tie donated items, or they could just offer support on the event page.

A Garden in Winter Hat Donation - Hi, Jenny Brown

With Knit the Bridge, the largest yarn bomb in the world, You could make a piece or a full panel, you could sew panels on during the installation, you could zip tie machine-knit panels to snow fencing, help direct a crane, donate cash, buy t-shirts, or help tear the thing apart.  Really, there were no bad options (and Craft Husband and I did quite a few).

craft husband on knit the bridge - hijennybrown.com

6. RECOGNIZE YOUR VOLUNTEERS

This is your chance to be the mushy, enthusiastic person that usually only comes out when you catch “The Princess Bride” on cable (still at the Wesley part? Awesome!).  Whenever you can, post about donations coming in, or include stories about the folks you intend to serve on any social media stream available to you.  I was so excited to see the picture NaomiRAG posted when she received my crochet crocuses for her upcoming installation (I am so looking forward about that one!) And don’t forget to check volunteers’ feeds and like the heck out of their posts (not just the ones about you).

Crochet Crocus for NaomiRAG by Hi Jenny Brown

Don’t forget to tell them thank you in person, and don’t worry about throwing in a few extra exclamation points here and there! Also drop the names of any government officials, organizations, or businesses that helped you into press releases, blog posts, or tweets.  Don’t be spammy, but it’s OK to be sincerely grateful.

7. BE SENSITIVE

Some projects, like A Garden in Winter, may require a little more forethought and sensitivity on your part.  Sometimes folks get so wrapped up in the “good” they’re doing that they forget about the end recipient.  Leading up to the event, the A Garden in Winter organizers posted in their Facebook group that participants should treat what some would call encampments as the “homes and neighborhoods” of residents who are homeless. As Val said, “Homelessness is a condition, not a person.”

Contact organizations who also help the people you are planning your project for, and ask them about the language they would use.  They might also be able to review invitations or press releases for you or help identify how best to help a variety of populations.

8. FIGHT THE URGE TO SAY IT’S NOT ENOUGH

No one’s saying you have to solve all the world’s problems with your first event.  When the Young Preservationists decided to decorate abandoned or at risk historic building in downtown Wheeling, my group jumped at the chance to decorate a beautiful Victorian building.  The event and decorations caught the eye of Glenn Elliott, who had recently moved back to Wheeling and couldn’t resist the vacant building.  A couple hearts downtown didn’t save an entire town, but it did save one building and helped a man move from advocate to owner. (Why is this not a romantic comedy yet?  Lifetime Channel, are you listening?)

Heart Party - hijennybrown

Oh gosh, I miss these guys.  We were so glad the Professional Building had a new owner that we went back a year later to give her a little more love.

2-9-2014 Professional Building Hearts-9855

Knitteapolis recently got permission to yarnbomb the Mall of America sign in red panels & hearts for Wear Red Day with the goal of raising awareness about heart disease in women.  The final result was so pretty, MoA allowed it to stay up longer and pictures and videos of the event were EVERYWHERE I looked that day.

I’ve seen people afraid to volunteer to organize or participate in events because they’re not “doing enough.” As Val said, even events that have a direct benefit, like providing warm clothing or food, can have a bigger effect: “I think whenever we engage the community, it raises awareness.  News coverage, which there was, reaches an even broader audience. You want the word out in as many venues as possible.  While the news covered it after the event happened, I do think that people who saw it would then consider the topic and what they might do to be involved in the issue.  It would be my hope that it will increase participation.”

9. PLAN THE NEXT STEP

Once your successful campaign or project is over, you’re going to be on the highest high…and you want to capitalize on that before you lose momentum.

Hi, Jenny Brown Flowers for Pop des Fleurs

Knit the Bridge has Pop des Fleurs, A Garden in Winter is using their event page to discuss other actions they can take, and everyone’s favorite giver of crochet hearts, Nallie Radloff, is adding some wood love.  Don’t wait until it’s over to think about what’s next because you want to feel like this forever.

10. Now Just Do It!

I can’t say it any better than Val did: “We can all think of 15 reasons why something won’t work.  Instead, think of HOW it will work and then ‘just do it!'”
BONUS TIP: Make friends with a good photographer!  Thanks to Erin Markan of @fcollected for her great photos of all our projects over the years (and happy early birthday, friendo!)
Bye,
Jenny Brown

  9 comments for “10 Tips to Crafting Your Own Community Project

  1. June 13, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Thanks so much for mentioning us! It’s always fun to see what people are saying about our project. We hope to reach 20,000 hats by fall.

    • hijennybrown
      June 14, 2015 at 1:22 am

      You’re welcome! It’s great to be a part of it and I’m hoping to donate more hats soon. Thanks for all you do to provide hats to those who need them!

  2. February 13, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Great post! My week got so busy that I couldn’t make it to the mall to see the bombing. :( These tips make yarnbombing sound so doable.

    • hijennybrown
      February 14, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Luckily there were lots of good videos! Yarnbombing is super doable – and fun!

  3. February 12, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Yay! Jenny Brown! This was such a great post! You read my mind :) So many times, I think “it isn’t enough” or “people will be insulted that I thought this was appropriate” (example: I didn’t give a homeless person a place to live, just a hat). And that makes no sense! I can’t solve homelessness at the moment, but I CAN give someone a hat. As the saying goes, “Something is Better than Nothing”. That is a saying, right? xo, J

    • hijennybrown
      February 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks, Jen! I know that’s something that used to hold me back, too – but I’ve just started donating anything I can (I mean, I gave someone pom-poms, for goodness’ sake!) Hopefully all these little things lead to bigger action, right?

  4. Sarah I Wirth
    February 12, 2015 at 1:50 am

    You rock! Thank you.

    • hijennybrown
      February 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      No, you do! Thanks, Sarah!

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