February 16, 2018

HHC patients form tight-knit community through knitting group

Knitting lessons

Knitting has been one of our most popular classes, says Behavioral Health Consultant Kristin Alexander: “I think the number one thing the class is doing is building community,” she says. Photos are from one recent knitting class.

Julia and Diana knitting

Heartland Health Centers patient Tasneem Qureshi started coming to yoga, nutrition and other classes at our Devon Avenue location because she was afraid of needles.

“I’m a diabetic, so I have to keep myself busy,” says Qureshi. She has been managing her blood sugar with pills for 11 years. But recently her primary care physician at Hertland told Qureshi she would have to inject insulin unless she could reduce her blood sugar levels.

“After that, I attended a bunch of Heartland’s wellness classes,” she laughs. Those included yoga, tai chi, nutrition and knitting. So far, so good: she continues to manage her diabetes with pills under her doctor’s care.

Insulin injections may terrify Qureshi, but a different kind of needle bothers her not at all: the knitting needle. She learned to knit at age 13 in Pakistan, where she grew up. “My mom taught me knitting sweaters, jackets, hats, socks” and more, she says.

Today Qureshi continues knitting for her family while also teaching others in the knitting group that Heartland Health Centers started at Devon Avenue in November to help patients reduce stress. “I think Tasneem can knit anything,” says Community Health Education Coordinator Claire Brady.

Brady, Americorps member Madeline McGovern, and Behavioral Health Consultant Kristin Alexander brew tea, bring yarn — some people bring their own while others use materials donated by community residents and area knitting shops Close Knit, Knit 1, and Nina — and help others in the class. The group also practices breathing exercises and explores other approaches to managing stress.

McGovern, who helped create the knitting class, says she learned from her mother while growing up outside New York City.

At one recent Tuesday meeting, Qureshi was teaching Ezequiel Gonzalez, who also received a referral to join the group. Although Gonzalez has never knitted before, he catches on quickly. A videographer by profession, he also casts small sculptures that he shares with the group. One of his pieces, a replica of a baby’s foot, is a hit with fellow knitter Ifeoma Ezunagu, who is expecting her first child in June.

Ezunagu is knitting a hat using a technique Qureshi showed the group in a previous class, and already has completed a one-inch-long piece. She says the group offers a great chance to get out of the house, serving as her main social outlet besides church, since she is new to Chicago.

Across the table from Ezunagu, Julia Houska is knitting a scarf for herself. Houska recently moved to the area from Ohio for graduate studies at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Houska, who also attends Heartland yoga classes, says she likes having a designated time each week to knit. “I promised a blanket to my sister two years ago,” she says. “But I saw this yarn and I really like it!”

It is too soon to tell the impact the knitting group has had on participants’ health, Brady says. But nutrition and other wellness groups Heartland runs have had a clear success in reducing blood sugar levels and other health effects. Alexander, who also facilitates walking and gardening groups at Devon, says knitting has been one of the most popular classes so far. “I think the number one thing [the class is doing] is building community,” she says. “People feel comfortable coming to Heartland.”

Learn more about our Health Education and Wellness classes online here, or please call 312-718-0660.