Despite ever-sunnier days, the trees on Durham’s Main Street are all bundled up, wearing what might at first appear to be an assortment of colorful, hand-knit sweaters. A closer look at the decorated downtown, however, reveals that the garb was provided not by sweater-weather holdouts, but by a local charity looking to bring fun and awareness to the area.
Oyster River Womenade, serving the towns of Durham, Lee, Madbury, and Newmarket, is a nonprofit organization that provides short-term financial aid for women, men, and families in crisis. Womenade board member Lyssa Bayne-Kim explained the nature of the group.
“If an Oyster River community member realizes that they have a time-sensitive need, one that has become emergent due to a sudden change in personal or financial circumstances, they can work with a community validator to make a request for funds via Womenade’s website,” she said.
A “validator” is simply a community member with intimate knowledge of the situation — often a teacher, social worker, nurse, or pastor — who can speak to the family’s or individual’s needs. The board then looks over the request and allocates funds that have been raised through events and donations.
Since its inception in 2006, Oyster River Womenade has donated almost $300,000 to people in need, according to its website.
Bayne-Kim said most of the families and individuals assisted by Womenade might normally “fall through the cracks” of traditional financial-assistance programs. But with Womenade, extenuating circumstances like sudden family illness, car troubles, or other struggles can be taken into account when assistance is offered on a small, local scale.
The needs Womenade provides assistance for “are typically not covered by traditional avenues of support, items such as car repair or a crib,” Bayne-Kim said, “or the individual or family doesn’t otherwise qualify for said traditional financial support because they are normally solvent, or the need is time-sensitive. … Womenade can provide finances within days.”
So what does all of this have to do with downtown Durham’s trees looking like something out of a Dr. Seuss book? The goal of “Yarn Blooming” is simply to build awareness.
May 26 marked the first day of Oyster River Womenade’s second annual Yarn Blooming event. The idea spread from the organization’s Greater Squamscott chapter (Womenade has at least eight branches in New Hampshire). The project uses existing structures and acrylic yarn to light up streets and bring awareness to the organization. In conjunction with The Makery, an artisan craft store just off of Main Street in Durham, Womenade worked to hand-knit pieces for trees, benches, and posts along the road.
“The point is to be eclectic and colorful,” said Makery co-owner Sarah Grandy. She said there were about 30 knitters involved with crating the swatches and decorations, a group of volunteers made of locals, members of the Makery’s weekly knitting classes, and Womenade members.
“This is our first year with our own pieces,” Grady said. Last year, the Greater Squamscott group lent out its knitting, she said. “We had everyone use acrylic yarn so that it can stand up to the elements and be washed after. That way we can reuse them next year and keep building up more.”
The knit pieces are whimsical and bright, even after a full day of rain. Some feature flowers, stripes, and pom-poms, while others, like the pepperoni-and-cheese-adorned tree outside of Durham House of Pizza, correspond to the businesses around them.
Walking down Main Street, Bayne-Kim pointed out some of the more complex pieces, including a bench bearing the name of Oyster River Womenade and a tree intricately decorated with knitting by Kari Lazerowich and other members of the Greater Squamscott group.
“Not being a knitter myself, I find these really impressive,” Bayne-Kim said.
With downtown Durham decorated, Bayne-Kim and the other members of the Oyster River Womenade board are looking ahead to their next big event. The Harvest Moon Music Festival, a festival and concert held at the Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth, isn’t until mid-September, but the group is already planning festivities and looking for volunteers. To anyone interested in getting involved, Bayne-Kim recommends getting in touch with the group through their website at orwomenade.org.
Meanwhile, Womenade board members hope the Yarn Blooming decorations will bring awareness and funds to the organization. They have left donation jars in many businesses along Main Street.
The most important thing is being able to provide assistance to neighbors in need and giving members of the community the help they need to stay on their feet, Bayne-Kim said
“Oyster River Womenade’s belief is that by helping someone with a short-term crisis, we can help the situation from spiraling out of control,” she said.