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Volunteers team up to make books come alive
A mature volunteer holds a book posing with a young boy she reads to while he waits for his pediatric rehab program appointment smiling and holding a teddy bear beside her.jpg
Decon Gaffney and Joyce Cowley

Volunteers team up to make books come alive

By Baker Maultsby on December 31, 2019

Every Thursday, 5-year-old Deacon Gaffney arrives early at his Spartanburg Regional Pediatric Rehabilitation appointment for an important reason. Volunteer Joyce Cowley will be there to read books with him and other children in the waiting area.

Cowley used to work in a school library, and she has a natural way with children. Deacon, who snuggles right up to her, points at pictures in the books and talks about his favorite stories.

“He really enjoys it so much,” said Deacon’s mother, Emily, who brings him each week from Union for occupational and speech therapy.

But reading is only part of the fun: Deacon and the other patients get to hold stuffed animals representing characters from the books, made by volunteer Betsy Farr.

Farr taught herself how to knit when her sons were young. She now makes an array of stuffed creatures that are as cute and snuggly as anything you’d find in a store.

Farr and Cowley met as part of the Witty Knitters, a volunteer group that creates knitted items for patients each Wednesday at the Beaumont Administrative Services Building.

As they knit, the volunteers discuss books Cowley is interested in reading to the children at pediatric rehab, and Farr selects characters to create in stuffed animal form. Farr then works on basic designs, decides on appropriate fabric combinations and considers how much creative license to take.

Finished pieces include a stuffed Shelldon, Spartanburg Regional’s pediatric mascot; a bunny rabbit with a disability who’s in training to become the next Easter Bunny; a rainbow fish with removable scales; and a musk ox that Farr knitted in its entirety.

Farr is humble about her work.

“I guess I just play around with things, and sometimes it’ll come out the way I want,” she said.

Cowley believes there’s more than trial and error.

“Betsy has such talent and creativity,” Cowley said. “One of the stuffed animals she has made was from ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ She was concerned that it might be scary for the children, so she put these little bunny shoes on it. That made it cute.”

Cowley calls the books and stuffed character combinations her “reading kits.” She considers the time she spends with the pediatric rehab patients a highlight of her week.

“They love the attention, and they’re very sweet little people,” she said.
Sharon Caston, director of the pediatric rehab program, is grateful for Cowley and Farr’s efforts.

“It’s awesome,” Caston said. “It gives the children something extra to look forward to when they come for their rehab appointments. We are very grateful for all they do for these children and families.”

Support the Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Pediatric Rehab Fund.