Jessica Milne has been giving back to others for most of her life, the volunteer spirit having been first instilled in her as a Girl Scout. It’s no surprise that she has continued serving her community in a myriad of ways well into adulthood.
For the past six years, Jessica has worked on her own charity knitting project, making hats for premature babies to donate to local neonatal ICU wings. She spends usually a few nights each week knitting, and has spent well over 500 hours working on this project. Seven years ago, she founded LGBTeen Advocacy, a program where she meets with and educates high school and middle school students on their rights and protections in the school environment. Additionally, she and her mother are currently fundraising for Race to Erase MS alongside Rally North America.
Describe your charity knitting project.
I started that probably five or six years ago now. I focus on making baby hats sized for preemies to donate to local neonatal ICU wings. I also do some baby blankets, but mostly it’s baby hats.
How did you first become involved with this?
I learned how to knit after my sister took it up and would make these beautiful blankets. I wasn’t ready to do anything quite so large, so she showed me some simple patterns and one of them was baby hats. Down the line, I learned about statistics with premature births and the fact that when you have a baby shower, you start getting things in newborn sizes, so if you have a premature birth, you don’t have anything sized for them. You just go home with all the standard things the hospital has. I thought it would be a nice gesture if you could have at least one handmade thing during that time.
Can you discuss your work with the LGBTQ community?
I started a program call LGBTeen Advocacy probably seven years ago now, based on my own experiences and things I went through when I came out in high school. … It focuses on ensuring schools are a safe and productive learning environment for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. I’ve been most recently working as Miss Philadelphia County USA in the Miss Pennsylvania USA program to raise more awareness for this.
What exactly are you doing with the schools?
One of the things I like doing is meeting with GSAs, which is Gay Straight Alliance, or whatever the school calls their queer-youth programs, clubs or activities they get together with. One of the most important things is helping students understand what their rights are and what their protections are in school, and identify people they can go to in the case that they’re being bullied or being harassed. Some schools keep it at that level. Some schools let me speak to the entire student body, tell my story and relate to them like that.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
It seems so small when I’m working on individual hats, but when I sit there and I have huge bin full of them, it hits me just how many there are, and how many premature babies are out there who need things like this and the families that appreciate it. When I see it all in one group, it hits me.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
The biggest one is there is always something you can do that can fit in your schedule. I was feeling stressed about finding a way to keep giving back, but I realized there are options that already fit into my schedule. I don’t have to make some big, sweeping changes to help my community.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
You never know when the tables might turn and you might need the community’s help. I really feel we’re nothing without our community and without the support system around us. This is one way I can help other people in the situation that they’re in, but I never know when I might need my community’s help and you want people to be there for you, too.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
You can always make time in some way. Volunteerism doesn’t have to be a boring thing they tell you about in high school — you do a required community service project and then that’s it. You can find ways to give back that feed into your interests. I genuinely love knitting, so for me, it’s not tedious and it’s not a chore to do.
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