Earlier this month, we were invited to the Newtown Senior Center to meet with one of their dedicated volunteers, Jane Sturgis. Jane has been running a knitting group at the Center for over 20 years and she not only spoke to us about her passion for the craft, but also her commitment to helping those within her community.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I have lived in Newtown, CT for basically all of my life. My family moved to Newtown when I was five and I attended all of the schools here as well as graduated from Newtown High School. I just love this town and it was the best place for my husband and I to raise our daughter.
With regards to my career, I originally went to school for elementary education. I wanted to be a teacher and I ended up getting a pre-school position at Newtown Congregational Co-op Nursery School. I taught at the nursery school for thirteen years, and, even though I loved the children and loved teaching, I decided it was time for a change. So, I pursued my passion for fibers and I opened a yarn shop in the fall of 1988. Originally, my shop (deemed the Sheep’s Tail) was in Monroe, but I ended up moving the shop to the flagpole in Newtown.
Unfortunately, due to business being slow, I had to close my shop in 1993. After that, I decided to go back to school for nursing. I have been working at Danbury Hospital for 27 years now. I am a nurse at the impatient psychiatric unit, which I absolutely love!
How did you get involved with the Newtown Senior Center?
So, when I was closing my yarn shop, all of my regular customers were coming in and asking me what to do or where could they go if they needed help in the future. I started looking for a central place in town where we all could meet and that would be easy for everyone to get to. I talked with Marilyn Place, the Director of Senior Services here at the Center, and she was kind enough to let us meet at the Senior Center.
We started having our meetings in 1993, so I have been running the knitting group for 25 years.
Can you tell us more about the knitting group?
It is opened to everyone. All seniors are welcome and all skill levels are welcome. Also, we are not just a knitting group. You can bring any type of needlework –be that knitting, sewing, embroidery, or crocheting. We meet every Friday here at the Center from 12pm to 2pm.
Besides being a great way to practice your needlework, our group has become a wonderful social outlet for those who have gotten involved. As you get older, it gets harder to make friends and remain active socially. It can get lonely and this group has helped people to connect and make friends. We talk, we laugh, we share stories, and we just connect with one another. This group is just a great support network for those who come and we always try to invite new people to join us. When we see someone sitting out in the common area by himself or herself, we always ask him or her to come sit with us and chat for a while. This group is an amazing social network and I’m so happy to be a part of it.
It sounds like this knitting group has also greatly impacted you.
Definitely. Running this group has been a wonderful experience for me. Its funny. When I started the knitting group, I wasn’t a senior citizen, but now I guess that I technically am (I am 66 years old). I have always had a passion for knitting and I have always loved working with fibers. This group has been my way of sharing my passion with others as well as a way for me to give back. I absolutely love organizing the group and getting to connect with the ladies and fellas who come every week.
I also just love being able to give something back to this community. When I closed my yarn shop, I went through some hard times and I had a lot of wonderful people offer their help and support. I am just glad now that I can return the favor and offer my support to those who need it. For me, it is not always the things that you get paid for in life that bring you the most joy. If everyone gave a little bit of themselves to something in their life, it would be a much better world.
You are clearly very passionate about your knitting group and giving back to your community. Where does this passion come from?
Thank you for the compliment! I guess it comes from the way that I was raised. Both of my parents were very giving people. My mom was a very generous person. She worked hard all of her life and if someone came over to our house and said that they liked something, it went home with them. And my dad was the same way. He was a mechanic and he would always help people in the neighborhood if they had car trouble. He never charged anyone for the work he did and he was always willing to lend a hand.
I always find that, in life, things come back to you in other ways. So much good has come to me a difficult points in my life and being able to give back is my way of repaying for this good or kindness that was shown to me. Nowadays, we live in a very self-centered world. People really are not aware of what is going on in their own communities and the need that is out there. I think that it is important we take the time to get to know our communities and find ways to help out and give back.
“For me, it is not always the things that you get paid for in life that bring you the most joy. If everyone gave a little bit of themselves to something in their life, it would be a much better world.”
We are sure that this passion for helping others and giving back is also a big part of your work as a nurse.
Most definitely. Especially in the unit I work in. I don’t think I would be able to do the job I do if I didn’t care about the patients and want to help them get better. Mental illness is not something that is talked about much, but it is very prevalent. It is something that doesn’t discriminate across socio-economic levels. Anyone can have a mental illness and it can affect you at any time in your life. But, there is no shame in getting the help and support that you need. I cannot stress this enough. There are people out there who truly care and want to help. As you can tell, I really love my work as a nurse and I am going to keep doing it until I can’t anymore.
(To learn more about the mental health services in your area, please see our Senior Resources)
You are truly an inspiration. When you are not running your knitting group or working, what do you like to do for fun?
I love going to concerts. I love live music, especially rock n roll from the 1960s and 70s. I also like to garden and make my own jewelry and pottery. I try to stay active too. I enjoy walking and I try to get out and walk about 4 to 5 times a week.
Also, I am the proud mom to not only one daughter, but also to three dachshunds. Their names are Homer, Jezebel, and Ziggy and they are just the loves of my life.
Before you go, do you have any mottos or words of wisdom you try to live by?
I think Ben’s Bells said it best, “be kind.” I think that is so important. We don’t think about being nice and kind to others as much as we should anymore. There are a lot of great people in this world and I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of them. And, I have tried to carry the kindness and warmth that they have showed to me and pass it on to others.
Has Jane’s story inspired you? Check out our local Senior Center pages for ways that you can get involved in your own community.