Emma Neary learned to sew about a year ago, but she’s already creating designs at a record pace.
Neary has made and donated over 500 scrunchies to kids in pediatric hospitals across the country for her support project, Scrunchies for a Cause.
“They’re basically just a hair band with cloth around it and it adds a more stylish flair to your outfit,” Neary said.
The 17-year old took a modern approach to the craft, learning everything she knows from watching YouTube videos.
Her style, on the other hand, is more of a throwback.
“My first video was a skirt-making tutorial,” she said. “That’s really what inspired me to get into sewing was to make my own clothes.”
Neary said she likes making costumes and clothes with a retro feel.
“I guess you would say I love vintage,” she said. “I don’t like today’s style at all.”
Scrunchies gained popularity in the 80s and were popular for about a decade, but the style has made a comeback in the Instagram age.
Neary described the fabric she uses as playful and fun. Sitting at her work station, she’s surrounded by enough material to keep her busy for weeks. Patterns include holiday themes, Disney and other popular cartoon characters.
“My brother jokes around that this is scrunchie land,” Neary said. “They’re always laying around.”
The scrunchies get packaged up 100 at a time, destined for places like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and others across Central Florida.
"I think it's more of a surprise because it's not something they would expect in the hospital," Neary said. "You can always use a hair tie in the hospital."
And Neary would know. She was diagnosed five years ago with a heart condition that has required surgery, countless visits to hospitals and routine doctors visits.
Neary said during one visit she was given a personalized pillow by a volunteer organization. It was something she remembers, and she said it inspired her to do the same.
"I wanted to give back," she said. "I've been fortunate to have all the opportunities I've been given."
She was nominated for the Getting Results Award by her father, Kevin Neary.
“Every parent thinks their child is unique and special,” Kevin Neary said. “But I knew she was giving back so much, and with her situation, this was something she could share with others that have also been affected.”
Emma Neary said that although she can’t give the scrunchies out to each patient herself, she knows from experience the potential impact such a small item can make.
Each scrunchie is packaged with an encouraging quote from her favorite character, Winnie the Pooh. It’s a quote she said helped her stay positive and one she recites from memory.
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think,” Neary said. “That quote has always been very inspirational to me, so I hope that maybe it would give them hope, too.”