Barbara Hughes, 82, works on an afghan Thursday afternoon at her house in Lewiston. She has worked many hours making items she donates to the Catholic Charities Maine SEARCH Program. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — To say Barbara Hughes keeps busy would be an understatement.

On any given day, the longtime Lewiston resident can be found teaching ceramics, knitting and crocheting various items for a local seniors program and taking care of her Shih Tzu puppies she breeds. She is also 82 years old.

Recently, Hughes was named in the Maine Volunteer Roll of Honor, an annual list compiled by the state’s Volunteer Maine organization. While the 204 adult honorees averaged 871 volunteer hours for the year, Hughes logged 1,550. That is about 30 hours a week.

Hughes said that after she retired at 74, someone asked her if she found it hard to stay busy.

“I just looked at them and said: ‘Are you serious? I’m more busy now than I’ve ever been,'” she said. “But, it’s good to keep busy.”

Hughes said she does not notice — or keep track of — the hours she spends making afghans and other items. For the past 11 years, Hughes has volunteered with the Catholic Charities Maine SEARCH (Seek Elderly Alone, Renew Courage & Hope) program in Androscoggin County.

As a volunteer knitter, she makes items that are distributed to seniors in need and several regional agencies. The work has continued through a shortage of yarn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendy Russell, director of the Catholic Charities Maine SEARCH Program, said the program has had about 10 volunteer knitters over the past few years, and a volunteer like Hughes has been “so valuable.”

She said the work from Hughes and others provides “special knitted items, made with love and care, to those in need of a warm afghan, or hats and mittens for children, to keep them warm during their outside play.”

Items that do not go to seniors are given to organizations, such as Safe Voices, the Trinity Jubilee Center, New Beginnings and others. Knitters also make hats, scarves, baby sweaters, dish clothes, lap robes and socks and slippers.

“They have supported hundreds of people with their donations in Androscoggin County for over 15 years,” she said.

Russell said any yarn that comes in is distributed to the volunteers, but, according to Hughes, there has been a yard shortage. The coronavirus pandemic also halted some of Hughes’ weekly outings with friends, but they have returned.

Hughes was teaching a ceramics class Wednesday, which she said was mostly a group of her friends. The group also meets regularly to play cards. She said making ceramics has been like a “savior” to the group.

Hughes, who was born in the Bronx, New York, but grew up in Maine, worked as a nurse’s assistant for several years at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. She said she learned to knit in her early 20s from her mother’s friend, and has been doing it for the past 60 years.

Today, she prefers crocheting because she can do it faster.

The SEARCH program provides seniors with companionship and socialization activities, transportation support and referrals to help them be “less isolated and lonely and more connected to their communities, and have services that can support them in living in their homes longer and age in place.”

Jenni Tilton-Flood, chair of the Volunteer Maine Commission, said the Roll of Honor program is “just one small way we as a commission can honor and thank these service-minded individuals, all of whom are so deserving of recognition.”

“Volunteers play an essential role in our Maine communities,” she said. “Every day, across our state, you can find examples of people using their time and talents to improve the lives of friends, neighbors and fellow Mainers.”

Hughes said she has no plans to end her volunteer work. She is also awaiting arrival of her great-great-grandson, to go along with her great-great-granddaughter.

“I don’t know what I’d do,” she said, “if I just sit here and do nothing.”

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.


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