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Sharing the Warmth

sharing the warmthStudents in the healthcare programs at Chippewa Valley Technical College are taught the importance of demonstrating warmth and concern for their patients.  Recently students in the college’s radiography program demonstrated they’ve learned that lesson well when they delivered many of the 100 fleece blankets they made by hand to provide warmth for hospice patients in hospitals and nursing homes throughout the Eau Claire area.

“It’s just really rewarding,” Sarah Cimino says of the blanket donation project, which was  conducted for the third consecutive year by CVTC’s Radiography Imagers Club.

“The community has given so much to our education, so it feels good to be able to give something back.  And creating and donating these blankets has been one of our most rewarding projects,” says Cimino, a Mosinee native who is vice president of the Radiography Imagers Club.

The club’s initial blanket project two years ago resulted in 35 blankets being delivered to Sacred Heart Hospital.  Each year the blankets are made for distribution to patients in the end stages of life.

“Last year we overshot our goal by quite a bit, so that was pretty cool,” says Jake Heil, a club member from Wheeler who, like Cimino, will graduate from CVTC in July.  “And this year we’ve gone even further.”

Last year the club donated 85 blankets.  This year’s goal of 100 blankets was inspired by CVTC’s celebration of its centennial year in 2012.

With the $800 they raised last fall, members of the Radiography Imagers Club purchased the materials needed to make the 100 blankets.  To maximize their funds, they ventured out early on the morning after Thanksgiving, armed with coupons, to take advantage of Black Friday sale prices on the necessary materials.

“We had five carts filled very high with fleece, so it was quite memorable,” Cimino recalls of that morning.

Most of the 100 blankets were made by hand in one night in late February.  About 35 members of the Radiography Imagers Club and a few of their instructors took over a classroom at CVTC’s Health Education Center and crafted the blankets in one, long creative burst.  They were joined for the second consecutive year by nearly 20 members of Girl Scout Troop 3413 from Pedersen Elementary School in Altoona.

Most of the blankets were delivered to the Palliative Care Center at Sacred Heart Hospital.  .
Other blankets will go to patients at Mayo Clinic Health Center and local nursing homes.  The Girl Scouts have already delivered 12 blankets to Oak Gardens, an assisted-living center in Altoona.

Cimino and Heil found the Girl Scouts’ involvement to be a particularly rewarding aspect of the project.

“This is us showing the Girl Scouts how CVTC students get involved with the community and showing them how we give back,” Cimino says.

Heil nods in agreement, adding, “These girls want to get involved in the community too, and this is a good way for them to do that.”

Deb Kjelstad, who chair’s CVTC’s radiography program, calls the blanket project “a unique partnership, because it’s college students and Girl Scouts working together on behalf of people they don’t even know.  That kind of selflessness is an important lesson for students of any age to learn.”

Cimino and Heil attended the ceremony last year when the blankets were delivered to Sacred Heart Hospital, and they anticipate a similarly warm reception when this year’s batch is delivered Monday afternoon.

“They were very thankful and they let us know they appreciate it,” Heil says. “And what’s really cool is that some of our club members have their clinical training at Sacred Heart, so sometimes we see patients coming down the hall with one of our blankets.  Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

Cimino explains that each blanket is created with an individual personality, based on the different material colors and designs.  Blanket designs include everything from abstract shapes to cats to John Deere tractors, and attached to each blanket is a small label bearing either a CVTC or a Girl Scouts logo.

When distributing the blankets, hospital officials try to match them with the personalities of their patients, Cimino says.

“They are very warm, comfortable, soft blankets,” she adds.  “I think they will hold up very well.”

Kjelstad says participating in the blanket project has been “therapeutic” for some of the CVTC students, especially those who have lost parents or grandparents.  And, she adds, once distributed, the blankets remain in the possession of patients until they die.

“In the past we’ve gotten many thank-you notes from the families of deceased patients.  They keep the blankets and pass them around to family members,” Kjelstad says. “And I get that. My dad died, so I understand the significance of it.”

Kjelstad says she still is moved by a comment made by a Sacred Heart Hospital official during last year’s presentation ceremony: “We all enter this world swaddled in a blanket, and we all should leave this world swaddled in a blanket.”