Knit Hats Warm Babies, Raise Heart Awareness - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Knit Hats Warm Babies, Raise Heart Awareness

January 18th, 2019 SanTan Sun News
Knit Hats Warm Babies, Raise Heart Awareness

By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

Handmade red knit hats are being created by volunteers in Chandler and around the country to warm little ones’ heads and boost awareness of congenital heart defects.

OptumCare Network of Arizona – through its Chandler Community Center and community centers in Goodyear and Deer Valley – is part of the American Heart Association’s Little Hats Big Hearts initiative.

Volunteers knitted and crocheted red hats for babies last month and will give them to newborns in February.

They are helping the American Heart Association and Children’s Heart Foundation celebrate American Heart Month.

OptumCare Network of Arizona’s Chandler Community Center at 985 W. Chandler Heights Road is one of the three centers in Arizona taking part in the cap-making and donations.

About 15 to 20 volunteers at each center made the hats.

The centers offer free preventive wellness activities including blood pressure checks and yoga, Pilates and other fitness classes, parties, as well as computer, stress management and foreign language courses open to the public.

Denise Ali-Duchemin, 65, of Chandler, frequently comes to the community center and learned how to crochet hats from others who participate in events at the center. She enjoyed giving back.

“I’m just so happy that I found Optum because it really changed my life,” Ali-Duchemin said.

“It’s really a good thing because when you have a baby you want something, like a keepsake,” she added. “Optum was the best thing that happened to me. I moved here, I didn’t know anybody. The staff is wonderful. The people I’m meeting are very nice.”

She retired from the Department of Education in New York and moved to Arizona to be closer to her son, Herve Duchemin, 38, who lives in Studio City, California.

Ali-Duchemin said she saw a flier about the Little Hats Big Hearts Initiative and some ladies she met at the Chandler Community Center showed her how to crochet during an art class. She also takes exercise classes and participates in arts and crafts activities at the community center.

Ben Brock, associate director of community programs at OptumCare Network of Arizona, said the hat-making effort is a “win, win, win.”

It not only raises awareness of congenital heart defects, but also supports the American Heart Association and benefits people like Ali-Duchemin.

“Someone like Denise learned a new skill,” Brock said. “Learning a new skill is super good for our brain. Then we also have that socialization of getting to know other people. It’s just something nice to give them purpose.

“To be able to work on something that they know is for a good cause increases that sense of purpose.”

Garell Jordan, president of OptumCare Network of Arizona, agreed.

“Knitting these caps for Little Hats Big Hearts is not only a wonderful way to support the American Heart Association, but it also brings so much joy to our members,” said Jordan said, adding:

“Men and women at our centers are coming together as a community for a common purpose. Last year’s participation from the centers far exceeded our expectations, we were so proud to be able to make such a significant contribution to our local community.”

The hats will be donated to all babies born at many hospitals in the Valley, including Chandler Regional Medical Center.

“It’s just more of a symbol to bring awareness to heart health for babies,” Brock said.

A congenital heart defect is an abnormality that occurs when the heart or blood vessels near the heart do not develop normally prior to birth, according to the American Heart Association.

Congenital heart ailments comprise the leading birth defect in the United States and at least nine out of every 1,000 infants born each year has a heart defect, the association said.

Last year, men and women at the three Valley OptumCare community centers made over 1,300 red hats for newborn babies in the Phoenix area.

Volunteers are trying to beat that number this year. They made the hats in various sizes to accommodate premature and larger babies.

“We hear from the American Heart Association how thrilled that the parents are” to get the red hats, Brock said.

OptumCare bought the yarn for the volunteers to make the hats.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Ali-Duchemin said. “They’re made with love. It’s not just a store-bought hat.”

To learn more about OptumCare, visit For more information on the American Heart Association’s Little Hats Big Hearts initiative, visit