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Health care administration major James Graczyk crochets hats for cancer patients because of his mother Mary. Because she was a really nice person. And because he watched her go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments and he knows how much cancer patients need comfort and care. 

A couple years after his mother passed away Graczyk knew he wanted to give back. He started calling around to non-profits and ended up volunteering with Pencils of Promise which provides educational opportunities in the developing world.   Today he has his own initiative, “Mary’s Angels” where he crochets hats and writes anonymous handwritten cards with words of encouragement for those who are going through cancer treatments. “I try to do one letter a day.” Each year he starts to put the gifts together when the weather starts to get cold around Thanksgiving or Christmas.  

Even one of his professor’s, Jeff Egnatovich, coordinator of Caldwell University’s Health Care Administration program, has gotten in on the program.   Egnatovich, who has a background in nursing critical care and flight medicine, recently dropped off 19 of Graczyk’s hats and letters at the oncology unit at Hackensack Meridian Health Ocean Medical Center.  Egnatovich’s wife is director of patient care at Ocean Medical and he occasionally does shifts as a nursing supervisor.  Egnatovich says that at a time when we are seeing the “dark sides of a pandemic and political unrest,” it is nice to be a part of a random act of kindness. He first learned of Graczyk’s volunteer project when he would see him crocheting in class.  Graczyk says he does not get distracted and has always been adept at taking in a good amount of information. He has enjoyed Egnatovich’s classes–“he always made it interesting” and he hopes to pursue a career in health care administration. He has worked in health care offices before, is organized and is “good at pushing paper around,” says Graczyk with a chuckle.   

Graczyk hopes his crocheting is giving patients a boost.    “People get depressed with the diagnosis; it is not easy to get cancer treatments.” He has also felt a need to reach out to patients especially since his family and friends already have hats and scarves he made. “They don’t want my stuff anymore,” says Graczyk with a laugh.  He is looking for more “angels” who can knit or crochet to expand “Mary’s Angels” so they can emulate his mother’s kindness. “Maybe as a collective we can fill her shoes.”  Next year he would like to put together holiday “hope boxes”.  If you would like to help knit or crochet contact James Graczyk at