Lisa Gordon’s home economics students pose with the bears. Photo supplied.

Mark R. Isfeld students knit for a cause

Lisa Gordon’s home economics students have been knitting “Izzy Bears” for a dozen years

Dozens of young children in Honduras are smiling a little wider thanks to the sewing skills of students at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School.

For the last 12 years, students in Lisa Gordon’s home economics classes have been sewing and embroidering “Izzy Bears,” which were sent to the small rural community of Rio Negro in Honduras earlier this winter.

The initiative is connected to the legacy of the school’s namesake. MCpl Mark “Izzy” Isfeld was a Canadian peacekeeper from the Comox Valley who died in the former Yugoslavia on June 21, 1994 while removing landmines during the Balkan War.

Isfeld’s story is well known in the Comox Valley. One day while out on his duties, he came across a doll lying in the rubble of a destroyed home. He told his mother in a letter about the incident, and how it struck him that it meant there was a little girl somewhere who had lost her doll.

As his mother (Carol) was a prominent crocheter, she started knitting wool dolls that Mark would hand out to the children he met while on his peacekeeping missions.

The “Izzy Dolls” tradition has been kept alive since Isfeld’s death. Carol continued making the dolls and recruited more knitters to maintain her son’s legacy. The initiative picked up and other agencies got involved. According to the Canadian Military Engineers Association, more than 1.3 million Izzy Dolls and “Comfort Dolls” were distributed by ICross Canada in war-torn countries by the end of 2013.

Video courtesy Canadian Military Engineers Association

Lisa Gordon, the home economics teacher at Mark Isfeld Secondary, decided years ago to combine Isfeld’s story with the common bear shape used to teach different textiles techniques to create a donation project for her students.

She dubbed the knitted products “Izzy Bears.”

“This bear pattern has been around for a long time in home economics classes for learning fine motor skills, learning curves, clipping, notching, etc.,” she said.

“Our school mascot is the white bear. I thought, ‘well cool, why don’t we [knit] our school mascot and why don’t we do it as a donation project?”

She said the project evolved over the years to incorporate the embroidery and appliqué skills that her students learned in her class as well.

“You give kids an idea and then they take it somewhere else — which is what is so exciting about teaching, in a sense. And it’s always cool ideas that you don’t think of,” she said.

She said students would spend more than three weeks knitting and embroidering their bears.

Gordon estimates her students have collectively knitted over 100 Izzy Bears over the last decade. Dozens were recently shipped out to Honduras with the school’s Interact Club.

“It’s sort of to put a smile on a kid’s face who is maybe not living in the best situation,” she said.


Some examples of the bears. Photo by Scott Strasser.

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