La Crosse crochet sensation Jonah Larson has since January 2019 continued his skyrocketing rise to fame and with it, deepened his commitment to educating Ethiopian youth.
Jonah, who became a local and national star by following the Tribune’s profile on his speed crochet skills, is the founder of the Jonah’s Hands brand, which includes crafts, fashion, books and more. Popularity came quickly, with fashion collaboration and appearances in magazines and countless high-profile TV shows. Through it all, Jonah has maintained his philanthropic vision, continually supporting Roots Ethiopia.
Jonah, 13, was born in Durame in southeastern Ethiopia and was adopted as an infant by Jennifer and Christopher Larson of La Crosse, also parents to son Leif and daughter Mercy. In late winter 2019, he launched a Go Fund Me to help Roots Ethiopia build a library and science center, with donations coming in from around the world. Drew Barrymore, whose eponymous talk show on which Jonah is a regular correspondent, contributed several thousand dollars.
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Jonah’s Hands Library, which serves over 2,000 students, was followed by the recently completed Jonah’s Hands-on Science Lab at Teza Gerba School. Ato Meharu, awarded a National Teachers’ Day Teaching Excellence Medal in 2020/2021, serves as an instructor.
“I can’t begin to describe what it’s like to know that all these kids are able to learn in a well-equipped science lab. The real hero is Mr. Meharu, who won a gold medal for teaching excellence,” says Jonah. “Without Mr. Meharu, the science lab is just a room full of equipment. I do hope that I will be able to meet him and thank him one day.
With two major projects under his belt, Jonah is aiming to build a toilet for the school, which currently sits in a dilapidated outbuilding.
“The latrine project I’m currently fundraising for costs more than the science lab or library I’ve already built,” says Jonah. “It’s more complicated because it’s about plumbing, for example.
Jonah has previously raised funds by auctioning off some of his crochet designs and received an additional $5,500 from Barrymore for the project. Approximately $7,000 is needed and individuals can donate to https://jonahhands.com/.
As part of his ongoing work with the Drew Barrymore Show, Jonah recently appeared live from New York and, in addition to the donation, was surprised Barrymore with a video message from Olympic gold medalist and talented crocheter Tom Daley. The Briton is almost as famous for his hand-knitted and crocheted sweaters as he is for diving.
Jonah was delighted with the message and said: “An Olympic gold medal represents that you are the best in the world – it is so amazing to think about. And knowing he’s another fiber artist made it even more special. I joked with him that maybe crocheting would be in the Olympics one day. After all, I am a fast picker and have good manual dexterity.
While Jonah is busy with virtual school — “pre-calculus is not a picnic,” he jokes — and his mark, he’s still making time for crochet.
“In a way, I don’t feel good if my hands aren’t doing something creative and new,” says Jonah, who is an ambassador for a new line of yarns called Graph-it. “Crocheting is so fun and it relaxes me, so I’ll always find time to work on a few stitches.”
Emily Pyrek can be reached at [email protected]