Emily Hudson held up a blue T-shirt and started cutting with a pair of scissors. The old cotton shirt shredded from the bottom hem up. Within minutes, a pile of strips of cotton fabric lay on the table. She smiled as she explained that this fabric would be a part of a blanket to help children with sensory disorders in her former elementary school.
"This can provide kids with comfort as they go throughout their day," explains the senior at Troy Buchanan High School, who is president of the Spring Creek 4-H Club.
This is the ninth year Hudson has been a part of creating weighted blankets as a community service project in 4-H. According to project coordinators Sharon Keim and Tricia Schniedermeyer, over the last 10 years, the club has created more than 50 blankets and delivered them to elementary schools throughout Lincoln County.
Creating a sense of calm
Weighted blankets have been around for some time as a therapy tool for children with autism and sensory issues. The science behind both weighted blankets and vests is known as deep touch pressure (DTP). The technique allows children to have a feeling of gentle, distributed weight on the body.
YOUNG SERVANTS: 4-H teaches youth at an early age the importance of giving back to their community. Young club members (from left) Tinleigh Spoonster, Tanner Ryan and Mick Evans help by stuffing weighted blankets during a recent club meeting.
According to an American Occupational Therapy Association study, using DTP in the classroom helps improve a student's performance. It found that children with ADHD improved their in-seat behavior attention and task completion while using weighted vests or blankets.
In another study, it found that weighted blankets allow children to sit still during class presentations, assemblies or even the school bus ride.
Nicole Baker attended the very school where special education teachers were using the weighted blankets made by her club. "The kids look forward to getting these blankets," she says. "Growing up, it was great to know that these were being using right in our own school." Her twin sister, Brianna Baker, says that blankets are a great way for 4-H members to give back to their community. "I personally like helping other kids," she says. "It is a way to show that we care about our community."
Constructing the blankets
Each month Spring Creek 4-H members tackle a community service project. "This is by far the most labor-intensive," Brianna explains.
A GROUP EFFORT: It takes all members of the Spring Creek 4-H Club to complete the weighted blankets that will be delivered to area schools. The blankets provide a sense of calm for students with autism or sensory disorder.
To assemble the weighted blankets, 4-H members donate clean, used T-shirts and jeans for the project. Before the monthly meeting, they gather to start cutting, ripping and tearing the clothing into strips.
Keim donates her time and material to construct the blankets. She sews long tube-like channels in each blanket to allow younger members armed with broomsticks and measuring sticks to stuff the channels with the torn clothing.
Keim makes blankets of various sizes — smaller ones for younger children or for use as a lap blanket, and larger ones for older students. Once finished, she takes the blankets back to her workshop for the finishing touches.
Impact on members
The club members say the weighted blanket project fulfills many aspects of the 4-H pledge. It is definitely a project from the heart, says Brianna. "All of this," she says, pointing to a few tables and the floor full of clothing strips, "is done from our heart." For Emily, it is also a mission of health. She says the club is trying to bring comfort to those who need it for their health, both physically and mentally. It is a service for the community that involves working with your hands, says Nicole. The blankets are not only given away to others, but also provide a way to recycle old items and create something new, good and usable out of them. But quite possibly one of the greatest lessons is the one that brings head knowledge.
PILES OF COMPASSION: Spring Creek 4-H members share a little of themselves as their old T-shirts and jeans are torn up and stuffed into every weighted blanket.
Cody Hudson has been taking part in creating weighted blankets since he was a Clover kid. Back then, it was a time to get together, rip things up and stuff things with a stick. Today, the eighth-grader says he can see the benefits of the project. He says the blankets help kids in his school cope. "Now that I am older, I understand a little more about [the project]," he says. "I like helping others. I hope that this brings them comfort during their school days with their classes."