Local teenager turns hobby into mission through unique nonprofit
By Deb Alberto
For Hometown News
BREVARD -- Natalie Barton had a dilemma.
She was just 11 years old when she learned to knit, but enjoyed it so much that by age 13, she had accumulated more knitted baby caps than she knew what to do with.
As a way to give back to her community, the Palm Bay resident asked around and was able to donate them to the neonatal unit at a local hospital.
The gesture was well-received, so she continued knitting. It was nice to know someone would appreciate her labor of love.
Then, the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, and Natalie knew she had to do more. In three short years, her simple hobby grew into Caring Caps, a global nonprofit organization, comprised of knitters in 12 states and two countries.
Now 16 years old and a senior at Bayside High School, Natalie's organization, Caring Caps, was recently granted its official nonprofit status.
Natalie, who teaches local knitting classes, creates online tutorials for her own YouTube channel and stays busy recruiting new members and keeping her blogs and website updated, said she gets a warm and fuzzy feeling of satisfaction, knowing her simple gesture has inspired so many.
To date, 775 handmade caps have made their way to villages in Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Thailand, Romania and the Dominican Republic.
"From the feedback we get, these items are really treasured," Natalie said. "For some of the children, it is the only handmade thing they will get from outside of their village. It's nice to know many of these caps will be passed down from generation to generation."
When she saw a potential for growth, the tech-savvy self-starter designed her own website, www.caringcaps.org, began recording tutorials on YouTube and recruited others to join her mission.
Now, with chapters in Virginia, Maryland, Texas and Oklahoma, Natalie hasn't slowed down one bit.
The popularity of the project inspired Natalie to set up chapters throughout the United States.
Knitters around the country have joined the cause, knitting headbands, baby booties and teddy bears to send around the world.
"We developed a really cool system, where we send out the supplies to our knitters, including a needle, a loom and yarn, then we cover the shipping, so they can send it back to us," Natalie said.
The organization's logo - a heart at the center, spreading light and love - represents Natalie's mission.
"We have found that these items are a really easy thing to donate because the missionaries and people, who travel, can take them in their suitcase," she said. "There's no expensive shipping fee involved."
For more information about the organization, or to join Caring Caps, contact Natalie Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.caringcaps.org.