The brightly lit hallway of the Higginsville Senior Center is at capacity on a recent Monday morning as women perched in chairs crochet, knit, sip coffee and exchange compliments on individual works in progress.
Ruth Schumacher’s 86-year-old nimble fingers and the crochet needle she holds are a rhythmic blur.
An emerging blanket dangles from the flexible needle, gently swaying in time to Schumacher’s graceful movements.
“My, isn’t that lovely,” Yvonne Colbert, crocheting a blanket, exclaims to Schumacher. “Someone is sure to be comforted by that.”
Schumacher nods, keeping her eyes on the soft, pink blanket taking shape. Scrutinizing her workmanship, she holds up to the light a tiny pink square that will soon swaddle an unknown Research Medical Center Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) baby.
In no time, Schumacher and Colbert fall silent and resume crocheting.
Colbert and Schumacher are part of a small but mighty army of 16 women dedicated to creating comfort for not only critically ill premature babies at Kansas City’s Research Medical Center NICU, but also snug wool caps for soldiers to wear under chafing helmets and items for the Salvation Army and other organizations in need of blankets and caps.
Since Happy Hookers was formed in Feb. 2009 by Higginsville residents Colbert and Colleen Summers, the volunteers have handcrafted more than 6,000 hats, 712 blankets, 350 infant burial buntings, 500 military caps and assorted other items.
“It’s amazing to add up those numbers,” Colbert smiled. “We never meet the people who receive our work, but in our hearts we know it makes a tough situation maybe just a little easier.
According to Colbert, most of the Happy Hookers are retired with the exception of a few members and surprisingly, most didn’t know how to knit or crochet. The women use yarn and materials donated by individuals and area businesses to create items that not only offer NICU babies comfort, but also become precious keepsakes for parents
“I have a neighbor who was a nurse practitioner and she knew I did handwork,” says Colbert. “I didn’t know what to do with everything I made and she suggested hospital NICU’s could benefit.”
Colbert and friend Summers, who worked at the Higginsville Senior Citizens Center, collaborated and started recruiting women passionate about giving back.
“The Lord blesses us, and our hope is that we bless others as we pay it forward,” Colbert said.
The Happy Hookers first donated items to the Centerpoint Medical Center’s NICU in Independence and then developed a relationship with Research Medical Center where Happy Hooker Gloria Boehmer’s daughter, Lisa Thaller, is the Women’s Services Manager. Both hospitals are part of HCA Midwest Health System, Kansas City’s leading healthcare provider.
“Parents love the blankets and hats,” Thaller said. “The intricate details and softness create a homey environment in the NICU and enhance the personalized care each baby and their family receive. It’s overwhelming to think that volunteers take the time to make something so special.”
Thaller adds that if a baby is lost, the knitted or crocheted item becomes a keepsake that ultimately promotes healing.
The Research Medical Center Women’s Services department recently honored the Happy Hookers with an appreciation lunch and tour of the unit where the NICU team, including 30 nurses, cares for up to 22 babies.
“It’s important to let volunteers like the Happy Hookers know how important they are to our mission of providing high-quality and compassionate care,” Thaller said. “We want Yvonne, Ruth and the other women to see firsthand the difference they make in people’s lives.”
During the tour Colbert, Schumacher and seven other Happy Hookers toted their works of comfort to the Research Medical Center NICU. They placed blankets in the isolettes and saw the technology and equipment used to help tiny, fragile neonates gain strength and health to join their families.
“It was so touching,” Colbert said, pausing, crochet hook in midair. “I may never meet the babies or the families, but I could feel the embrace of the Research Medical Center NICU staff. That was good enough for me.”