In the words of Briana R., a junior member of our guild:
"In 2010, I joined a local group called Katie’s Comforters Guild (KCG). The guild was started by Karen Gerstenberger after her daughter Katie’s battle with cancer. Mrs. Gerstenberger had seen how having a special blanket while in the hospital had helped her daughter cope. She decided to help other children like Katie through the comfort of blankets by creating a guild that makes and donates handmade blankets to the Seattle Children’s Hospital.
"A few years after joining the guild, my church youth group was brainstorming community service projects and I immediately thought of KCG. After some discussion with my youth group leader and my mother, we devised a plan to get the youth group involved. The only stipulation was that I had to convince my peers to participate. I presented the idea of making blankets to them and they unanimously voted it through. Now every year my mom and I prepare fleece fabric; I then demonstrate to my peers the “how to’s” and together we make as many blankets as possible and donate them to the children at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Thank you notes from recipient families affirming the tremendous comfort our blankets bring provide touching testimony to our impact.
"The Gerstenberger’s story inspired me, and I am always seeking out creative ways to help others. My mother was immensely supportive of the idea of joining Katie’s Comforters Guild and first enrolled the two of us as members in 2010. After several years of involvement as individuals in the guild, I saw an opportunity to extend the project and its mission to a wider audience through my church youth group. I felt that its creative nature would appeal to my peers as it did to me, and that the blankets we could make would be an invaluable contribution to the community. There are many concrete ways to tend to those in need but this is a unique project in that its sole intent is to tend to peoples’ spirits.
"When my youth group first announced they were looking for a new community service project, I approached my youth leader with the idea of getting the group involved in making blankets. She approved of the idea and suggested that, as a next step, I present the project to my peers and request their input. Once they voted it in, we discussed dates and my mother and I purchased and prepared the fleece for the blankets. On the appointed date I brought the fabric to the class and explained to my peers how to make the blankets. The finished blankets were then delivered to the hospital. I have led my youth group through this process three times now and so far we have donated 21 cheery blankets to sick children at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Although I am member of the guild, members other than my mother had no role in my activity.
"While my youth group leader assisted with the logistics of the project, the execution and leadership of the project fell to me. The most challenging part of the project was not only convincing the other youth to vote the idea through, but also presenting the entire concept in a way that got through to them and inspired them to overcome their apathy enough to fully commit to and invest themselves in the project and see the difference we could make to the children and their families as they fight their illnesses.
"This project provided a wonderful opportunity for me to grow as a leader and a member of my community. I grew closer to fellow members of my youth group and was amazed to see how, what to us was such a small contribution, had such an immense influence on the patients’ lives. It is one thing to understand in a distant and abstract sense that you are helping someone but it is another to witness it.
"While unfortunately, due to hospital regulations, we are not allowed to personally deliver the blankets to the patients, families occasionally take the time to write to the guild thanking us for the blankets. One family wrote that the blanket their child received “will be a part of her entire childhood” and made their “experience a little brighter.” The youth group has been lucky enough to receive a few such letters and the stories and gratitude of those we help touches us just as much as our blankets touch them. Being a part of that beautiful relationship is truly an honor. But it isn’t because of the letters, or even because of my youth group that I keep making blankets, although those are both incredible aspects of it, I make blankets because I understand how much something to focus on and cling to means in times of such anxiety and pain. It means absolutely everything in that moment, and I would do anything to even just begin to assuage that agony.
"This experience is something that has sculpted the course of my life; I will retain my ties to the guild and continue to spread our message of comfort, generosity and love, in some capacity, for the rest of my life. Being a member of Katie’s Comforters Guild and participating with my youth group has changed both how I see volunteering and how I volunteer. The project has provided me with a volunteer opportunity to do something, at which I both excel and enjoy, while helping others and growing as a leader. My connection to and love for this project makes it by far the most influential service experience that I have participated in over the years and inspires me to be more emotionally present and invested in current and future volunteer efforts."