It's not every child, especially at the age of 12, who finds herself teacher to people six decades her senior and relishing every single minute of it.
But Lara Haase has the enviable position of teaching her favorite pastime -- crochet -- to a small group whose company she has found she just plain enjoys.
Three afternoons a week you'll find the Harper's Choice Middle School student at the Lorien Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center leading a small group of the residents in a crochet project.
"I'm having an awful lot of fun," says Lara.
After first teaching the residents the basics of the knitting craft, she now has them making afghans that will be given to nursing home residents in need of blankets.
The seventh-grader's project highlights the contributions students are making to their communities through what's called "the enrichment program," in area schools, says Richard Frankel, resource teacher for the gifted and talented program at Harper's Choice Middle school.
Enrichment programs are part of the public schools gifted and talented programs. Students with exceptional grades are offered advanced, honors-type classes through the gifted and talented program. All other students can participate in the enrichment program, which requires students to match an area of personal interest with a community or school need.
About 70 of the 500 students at Harper's Choice Middle participate in the enrichment program. Projects range from deterring student drug and alcohol abuse to working on getting legislation passed.
While students don't earn school credits for their activities, a review of their project is entered into their school records.
In Lara's case, she wanted to find a way that her skill and affinity for crochet could serve the community. Last year she taught a crochet class at a local senior center and found she really enjoyed teaching the skill to adults. "Initially, she came to me and thought she could knit afghans and other items for homeless shelters," recalls Mr. Frankel.
"But we brainstormed a bit and decided it might be more fulfilling for her if she wasn't just knitting items but actually using her skill to interact with others. We decided to expand on her experience teaching the seniors class."
After contacting several organizations in the community to see how Lara's interest in crochet and serving the community could be put to work, the two decided she could fill a need for an activity leader at the Lorien Nursing Home. Val White, volunteer coordinator at Lorien Nursing Home, says Lara's project has made a positive contribution to the six residents participating.
"The need we had here was to find an activity that might be something residents here had been involved with before they moved to the nursing home and to get them socializing in a fun activity," says Ms. White.
"Lara's project offered all of that, but I think the biggest benefit has been that the people working with Lara just love her company. They love being around someone so young and enthusiastic." While the deft hand movement required of crochet is painful or challenging for some of the residents working on the afghan, Lara's "patience and kindness" bolsters their confidence and enjoyment, notes Ms. White.
"The thing I really think is special about Lara's project is that she brings a lot of dedication to it. She's prepared and ready to go with it every single time she needs to be there," says Mr. Frankel.
"The other thing I like about it is it works the opposite way of what you'd expect. You would expect a grandmother to be teaching younger generations crochet, but here you have it reversed. Everyone's really having fun with it."
So far Lara's group has about 35 squares completed for a bed-sized afghan that will consist of 88 knitted squares when complete.
Says Lara, "Watching the afghan come together has been neat, but the thing I find I really enjoy is the time spent in the company of the people in my group. I like all of them a lot; it's been neat making new friends who I probably would never have met without doing this."