Statesboro resident Debbie Keenan crocheted dozens of blankets for the homeless in the midst of her own struggles, offering a message of hope and perseverance: “Don’t let anything stop you from doing good.”
Despite serious and painful physical challenges—Keenan has undergone multiple operations since 2017, as doctors try to repair her vertebrae—she was determined to find a way to make a positive impact in the community.
Keenan first came to Statesboro in 1993 and returned in 2004 when her husband, who was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps due to a life-threatening illness, passed away. She was only 34 when she became a widow.
In the following years, she found purpose and healing through her demanding career at Georgia Southern University, the friendships she formed there, and her cats who were like children to her. But, after nearly 20 years of providing administrative support for a variety of programs and fundraising initiatives, her own health began to decline. Eventually her physical limitations prevented her from doing the job she loved, and a judge ruled that she was fully disabled, forcing her to retire.
Without her work or physical health, she felt lost. Her lifelong dedication to serving others through her job, her pets, and volunteering no longer seemed possible. These were some of Keenan's darkest days, and she struggled to see a path forward. But as she healed, she suddenly remembered a long-forgotten skill that she could use to help others: Crochet. When she was in her 20s, she’d learned the basics from a coworker during their lunch breaks together and, in spite of her depression, she found the strength to pick up her hook and hope for brighter days.
It worked. She’d found a way to give back in spite of her circumstances, and her zest for living returned. She started buying up yarn, looking for the softest, warmest textures, eventually filling her entire guestroom skein by skein. For Keenan, there could be no scratchy scarves and no plain ones either. Crocheting afghans and scarves provided a new outlet for her lifelong attention to detail. With the same care and dedication she’d given her career, she crafted handmade works of art in beautiful, coordinated colors that she carefully selected and lovingly stitched.
In August, Keenan gave Open Hearts Community Mission nearly 40 afghans and more coordinating scarves than she could remember counting. Most of the afghans were large enough for adults, but she made some for children and even infants. She chose to give her creations to Open Hearts because of their mission to help Statesboro’s homeless population. Keenan said she has always been sensitive to those in need, so it felt like a natural decision for her to give Open Hearts her crochet work.
“I wanted everyone to have something to keep them warm and to see that it was made special, there were no plain or solid colors, I made each one unique,” she shared.
Delia Mobley, executive director of Open Hearts Community Mission, said they were able to let each of their 18 residents choose an afghan for their beds, and they saved the rest to give as Christmas gifts. “It meant a lot to our residents to see the amount of work Debbie put into making something special with them in mind,” Mobley said.
At the time of Keenan’s donation, one of Open Hearts’ residents was expecting a baby girl and, as if it was meant to be, one of Keenan's donations was a beautiful pink and white infant-sized afghan perfect for the occasion. Mobley added, “When our residents move out, they bring Debbie’s blanket with them. It’s one of the first possessions that they take to their new home.”
Not just any crocheted afghan, Keenan’s workmanship speaks volumes about her dedication and talent: “My mother crocheted, so I can see the quality of Debbie’s crochet work—there are no loose stitches, they are all neat and even. She is very skilled,” Mobley mentioned.
Keenan plans to continue making a difference through her crochetwork, and she is determined not to let her medical challenges stand in the way. Looking back at everything she’s been through, she shared this advice for anyone considering how they might help others: “If you are thinking about doing something good for someone else, just do it. Don’t let anything stop you.”