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Meet Jenny Bessonette of Warm Up America!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Bessonette.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jenny. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Warm Up America! is a 501C3 nonprofit organization that is committed to motivating, training and coordinating volunteers to knit and crochet afghans and clothing for people in need. Warm Up America! was founded in 1991 by Evie Rosen. She owned a yarn shop in small-town Wisconsin and along with her neighbors, would knit and crochet afghans for people in need. She came up with the idea of people knitting and crocheting small 7″x9″ sections and then others joining those sections together into completed afghans.

The idea quickly caught on and today Warm Up America! is part of the Craft Yarn Council and distributes afghans, hats, scarves and other knitted and crocheted items to people locally and around the country thanks to the generosity of knitters and crocheters who donate to our foundation. We do not have official “chapters,” but knitting and crocheting groups across the country, as well as individuals, donate handmade items to our organization and sometimes choose our organization as their charitable cause.

Our best estimate is that between 10,000 to 100,000 volunteers country-wide are working on Warm Up America! initiatives at any time. We currently have several ongoing initiatives and campaigns, including our Build-A-Bed program with Morehead State University, our partnership with Parkland Hospital in Dallas, our work with Hills Bros., our partnership with the Los Angeles Youth Network and more.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There was a time when we weren’t able to fulfill all of our needs because we didn’t have enough volunteers. We’ve seen incredible growth the past couple years and now we have a network of volunteers around the country and we are doing more than we’ve ever been able to do.

Another challenge is assembling sections into afghans. Again our volunteers have helped to eliminate this backlog as well. What has also helped tremendously is that thanks to financial donations, we were able to hire a part-time coordinator for Warm Up America!, who keeps the donations organized and shipments delivered on a timely fashion.

Warm Up America! – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Warm Up America! accepts 7″x 9″ knit/crochet sections, finished afghans and accessories year-round. However, we often have specific needs that require help from our incredible volunteers. WUA! donates to places like the Red Cross, hospitals, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, social service agencies, and nursing and veterans homes. In the past, we have partnered with Hills Bros. Hot Cocoa, the Los Angeles Youth Network, and the Build-A-Bed program with Morehead State University.

We have an ongoing Hurricane Harvey campaign where we are working with churches and schools in south Texas to provide Afghans to people who lost their homes as a result of the devastating hurricanes last year. We also have an annual charity event called Made With Love, where volunteers help us hang hats and scarves on fences and trees in low-income neighborhoods around Dallas and Fort Worth. This year we collected over 3,600 items and worked in West Dallas and Downtown Fort Worth to distribute the items to those in need.

Volunteers donate their time to crochet and knit sections, which are either joined by individuals or groups in a community and donated locally or sent to Foundation headquarters for joining and distribution. The beauty of so many different participants is that a WUA! afghan resembles a patchwork quilt of many colors and textures, just as the participants and recipients represent the varied faces of America.

We also like to give our volunteers and those who donate to us an inside look at what we do. Every Tuesday at noon we go “live” on Facebook and unbox some of our donations. We use this time to update our audience on our campaigns and on what’s going on at the office as well as to show some of the donations we receive. We started last fall and it’s been a huge success!

We are also proud of the fact that we have introduced WUA! to more than 240,000 students across the country. Working with the Craft Yarn Council and JoAnn Stores, WUA! was presented as a community service project in which students not only learned a skill that would last a lifetime but helped people in need in their communities.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
We have grown immensely in the last couple years and have spearheaded several campaigns that have impacted many different people. Last fall we partnered with the University of California at San Francisco for their Tiny Hats for Tiny Babies Campaign, where we collected 14,000 hats, with an original goal of 1,100. These hats were presented to representatives from several health ministries in East Africa and donated to hospitals to help save the lives of premature babies.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Sarah Guenther, Katelyn Sorensen and Jalyn Bessonette, WUA! volunteers, Katelyn Sorensen and Warm Up America! Coordinator April Sorensen, Cheri and Katie Prachniak, McKenna Jacoby, Jessica Jacoby, and Director of Administration Brent Jacoby

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