JOHNSON CITY – Students, employees and visitors to the East Tennessee State University campus who strolled University Commons recently enjoyed a colorful – and meaningful – sight: a special tree wrapped in a lovingly crafted “sweater.”
“Sweaters for Cameron” is the brainchild of Abigail “Abby” Simpson, a sophomore rehabilitative health sciences major from Church Hill who is a student in ETSU’s Roan Scholars Leadership Program. Through the Roan Impact Focus Project, students read a book over the summer that centered on healthy habits and were encouraged to do meaningful projects using the healthy habits they picked up as a result.
“I picked up crochet this summer, and it helped me with my stress levels, and so I wanted to do crochet for my healthy habit,” Simpson said. “But I just didn’t know what to do with it.”
She learned from Dr. Jennifer Adler, associate director of the Roan Scholars program, about a school in Indiana where students stood and crocheted coverings around trees. Simpson loved the idea, and, hoping to involve more people than standing around a tree would allow, started a crochet and knitting circle that met on Thursday evenings during the fall semester.
Previous experience was not a requirement for the Sweaters for Cameron Circle. Simpson said that when the effort began, only she and two others knew how to crochet or knit, and so they gladly taught the newcomers how to get started. About 10 to 15 participants came every week.
Circle participants, along with university employees and community members who heard about the project, crocheted 96 8-inch squares. These were ultimately crocheted together and wrapped around the Cameron Tree as a “sweater,” which stayed in place for several days for members of the campus community to enjoy.
The Cameron Tree, a large oak in front of Hutcheson Hall, is named after the late son of an ETSU faculty member and dedicated in recognition of the personal losses experienced by members of the university family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t want to just put the sweater on just any random tree on campus – I wanted something that had meaning,” said Simpson, who learned about the special dedicated trees at the University Commons from Jeremy Ross, chief operating officer of ETSU. “I thought it was best suited for the Cameron Tree. I think this sweater represents it wrapping around and showing love for people we’ve lost in the community.”
Simpson plans to start the Sweaters for Cameron Circle back up around the second week of the spring semester in January, and will announce the regular day, time and location of meetings through campus channels once those details are set. Students and employees will be welcome to bring their own yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks and enjoy fellowship while creating squares for other trees on campus.
In addition, Simpson hopes to widen the scope soon to make Sweaters for Cameron a community project. “We’re talking about getting more people in the community involved and taking it off-campus,” she said, “allowing people who have lost loved ones to COVID to dedicate squares to those they’ve lost.”