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LAKE ELMO, Minn. - Knitting was once associated only with elderly women, but a trio of Minnesota pre-teenagers have turned that idea on its head. They used simple looms to weave volunteering into the fabric of their family. They make hats and sell them to raise money to donate to charity.

The Gaertner children decided to construct the knit caps to raise money for Haiti relief, instead of keeping the cash for themselves.

"We decided we did not really need the money and we decided it would be a good cause to donate it. We do not need it as much as the kids in Haiti do," commented Karl Gaertner, 9.

Karl, brother Adam, 7, and sister, Hanna, 11, are students at Rutherford Elementary Schoolin Stillwater. They spent an hour after school many days quietly letting their fingers do the work transforming colorful yarn into crafty hats.

"When you are making hats," said Karl, "you just kind of wander off into la-la land." The trio does not even have to look at the hand-held looms to position the yarn. Thus far, they have put together about 200 hats, selling for $15 apiece.

The hats, however, are only the most visible example of the Gaertner kids' volunteering. Along with their parents, Mark and Karin, they are coaches for the "Flames"Special Olympics team. The Gaertner's coach the Flames in golf, bowling and the family's "passion", skiing.

"Now we are going to put our hands up in front and ski down the hill and squeeze the juice in the front of your boots," Karl told a group of Special Olympians on an Afton Alps ski slope. He held his ski poles horizontally and urged his charges to mimic his movements in traversing the hill.

"They take the kids, their coaching tips and their advice, they take it pretty seriously," insisted Karin Gaertner. "They have seen our children race and they have seen that they are good racers and that they know that they are talking about."

Karin said the team's times have improved "drastically" under Hanna, Karl and Adam's tutelage. Moreover, Karin is delighted with the long-term benefits of volunteering.

"I think the best part is to watch my children interact with Special Needs people in such a familiar and comfortable way. There is nothing condescending about it. It is just a pure friendship in every sense of the word. They have made some life-long friends," said Karin.

Mark Gaertner is proud of the progress the Flames have made under the children's coaching. "They can show all the athletes how to make the turns, how to go down the hill, how to do it the right way and they have a lot of fun with it."

Hanna, Karl and Adam are living proof that volunteering has no minimum age requirements. All that is required is an open heart and a willingness to help others. For that reason, they are 2012 Eleven Who Care winners.

If you would like to support the Flames team or are interested in becoming a coach, contact Mark Gaertner at m.gaertner@comcast.net.

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