By Derek GeanFebruary 27, 2009
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo (Feb. 26, 2009) - For many children, there is nothing more comforting than being wrapped, snuggly, in their parent's arms; but for servicemembers' children, long deployments can often separate them from that warm embrace.
A group of Armed Services YMCA volunteers hope to ease that separation through Operation Kid Comfort.
"Operation Kid Comfort is a way to provide comfort for children who have a deployed parent," said Linda Bright, ASYMCA director.
Bright said the program organizes local quilters to produce blankets for children left behind during deployments. The ASYMCA provides the materials, family photos and information about each child's interests. The quilters then take the materials, the information, and make an original quilt designed to keep reminders of the deployed parent nearby.
The program is a national program of the ASYMCA, which started at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2003, and began at Fort Leonard Wood, Jan. 1.
"We saw such a need to bring the program here with so many units deploying," Bright said.
When Bright first wanted to bring Operation Kid Comfort to Fort Leonard Wood, she brainstormed with local quilter Maggie Martin who put her in touch with Portia Ellis, who owns a quilting business off post. Between these three, the program has expanded rapidly to include quilters from the Fort Wood Community Spouses Club and other local quilting guilds, including guilds from Richland and Rolla. Bright said the quilters currently have 50 quilts on order.
"I had been wanting to get involved with volunteer work for a long time, and I thought it would be ideal to give back to the community," Ellis said.
Ellis started asking some of her customers if they wanted to get involved with the program, and so far, there has not been a shortage of volunteers.
For Ellis, helping children feel closer to an absent parent is something she wants to help organize area quilters do, stitch-by-stitch.
"I think the children will be overwhelmed, and they will be so excited," (when they see the quilts) Ellis said.
Belinda Doyle, one of Ellis's customers and a beginning quilter, understands how hard it can be for a child to be separated from a parent for long periods of time. Doyle served in the Army as a single parent and often had to leave her son for extended periods.
"When I was stationed in Germany, I would be deployed from six to 12 weeks at a time, so my child had to be with relatives or even a babysitter," Doyle said. "I was stationed in Korea for 12 months without my child, so anything to bring them closer to family is so important. For children to be able to see that the community cares about then by giving them a quilt is fabulous," she said.
Vicki Whites, a veteran quilter of 30 years and ASYMCA volunteer, sees the program as a great way to share her talents.
"What better way to share your talents than to show appreciation to families," Whites said. "This is a memory that children will have for a lifetime...it's a very worthwhile project.
"I think when the children see these quilts they are going to be in awe - I think the whole family is. I hope they are allowed to go ahead and use the quilts, because this is a memory youngsters will have till the time they are an adult," Whites said.
Quilting is an art form that can be slow going for the quilter, but it can also be full of meaning for the quilter and for the recipient.
"I think quilting has to do with that accomplishment of being able to take a small square of material and put it together with other material and making a beautiful piece of art," Doyles said. "I was in the military for 20 years, and my first quilt was for my oldest son. I gave him that quilt, made from T-shirts from around the world where we had been stationed, and just the emotions that he, as a young adult, gave just makes it so worth it."
Doyle hopes through Operation Kid Comfort, children are also able to feel a joy similar to that which her son felt.
Whites shares in the sentiment that children are not the only recipients from this experience, she said the quilters get a great deal of satisfaction from making the blankets.
"Working with the photos is so much fun, because you seem like you get to know the family," Whites said. "Putting (the quilts) all together and having them completed is a great feeling of accomplishment."
Bright said the quilters have completed 14 blankets, and many of those will be passed out at an Operation Kid Comfort Party, at 11 a.m., Saturday, at the Stonegate Community Center. Bright said there are still several quilters ready to start crafting blankets for other area children.
To place an order for a quilt, applications can be downloaded at www.asymca-flw.org or by contacting the local ASYMCA office at 329.4513. Local quilters can also contact Bright at the same number to inquire about volunteering for Operation Kid Comfort.