92-year-old has crocheted more than 100 hats for charity

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

More than 100 metro Atlanta residents will keep their heads warm this winter with a knit hat made by a 92-year-old they’ll likely never meet.

Ellen Margrit Ottwiller of Buckhead crocheted the colorful hats throughout 2021, then donated them to Community Friendship, a long-standing nonprofit that helps people recovering from mental illness. The organization has delivered psychiatric rehabilitation services in metro Atlanta for 50 years.

The donation couldn’t have come at a better time, says Rene Bazel, Community Friendship director of development and communications.

The nonprofit gathered winter items, such as hats, gloves, scarves and other essentials, just before Thanksgiving for its Holiday Care Package Drive. Community Friendship gave packages to more than 300 consumers during the holiday season.

Bazel said the nonprofit depends on donations to help supply the care packages, and if that’s not enough, the organization picks up the costs.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Mike Ottwiller was happy to make the delivery for his mother. He has been associated with the nonprofit since the 1980s as its insurance broker and calls Community Friendship an “unsung” nonprofit.

“They’ve been around a long time, but nobody really knows about them. They do a lot of good. If you have a mental illness issue or have been treated for one, they help you transition back into society,” he said.

The organization started as a social center, a place for people with mental illness to share their thoughts and ideas. It evolved through the years into many different recovery-based mental health services and programs in metro Atlanta. Among them are a day program to learn job skills, peer support and guidance, and help in the workplace. In addition, the organization is giving housing assistance to 350 people in the metro area.

In 2020, the nonprofit served 696 people.

“Each person is a life touched,” Bazel said. “Mental illness is a disease you can’t touch, and there is no starting point or endpoint.”

She said giving people a choice makes Community Friendship unique among mental illness recovery programs.

“When someone comes to Community Friendship, the first thing we do is ask, ‘what can we do to help you?’” Bazel said. “We believe heavily in personal choice; it’s one of our core values. We’re here to help, not to tell people what they need.”

Mike Ottwiller said the mass hat-making project was a first for his mom, and Community Friendship is the only organization to get the hats.

“The project I’m doing is to go only to charity,” said Margrit Ottwiller, who can typically complete two or three hats a week. Her son keeps her supplied with yarn, and she insists on the best.

“I put a lot of money into the yarn,” she said. “I use nice yarns.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Margrit Ottwiller said she learned to crochet at age 5, and has been around needlework, sewing, and fashion all her life. As a little girl growing up in Germany, she worked in her father’s department store, the largest in their city, said her son.

“She always had a propensity for sewing and things like that,” said Mike Ottwiller, an only child. Growing up, “I remember she would take in alterations and charge someone two dollars to hem their skirt.”

Margrit Ottwiller was a war bride, marrying an American soldier she met on a blind date after World War II. The couple would later own and operate three clothing stores in the Washington, D.C., area before selling and retiring to Florida. Her son said they had an active lifestyle there, with Margrit Ottwiller walking seven miles and swimming in the ocean most days.

After a bad fall three years ago, Mike Ottwiller encouraged his mother to move to Atlanta close to him and his wife. His father had passed away a few years prior at age 93. The son said his mother hasn’t been mobile since she’s been in Atlanta, “but her mind is really, really good,” and she stays busy crocheting.

After experiencing another fall in November, Margrit Ottwiller is now bedridden but still crochets daily with arthritic hands.


Community Friendship can use financial donations, but also donated supplies like bedding, electronics, household items, hygiene items and clothing for cold or rainy weather.

Items can be dropped off at CFI Headquarters, 85 Renaissance Parkway, Atlanta, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To coordinate a pickup, contact Rene Bazel at 404-875-0381 ext. 301.

See a complete wish list at www.communityfriendship.org