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Willmar, Minn., second-graders help make blankets for premature babies

Nichole Gleason, left, a second-grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary School, offers Erika Lozano, 7, instructions on how to tie a quilt. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

One had lizards all over it, and another had puppies. One was decorated with baby animals on a yellow background. The fleece blankets tied by second-graders at Kennedy Elementary School will eventually provide cozy warmth for premature and sick babies in neonatal intensive care units in Twin Cities hospitals.

The blankets will be donated to Ella's Halo, a nonprofit organization that offers comfort and assistance to families with babies in NICUs in the Twin Cities area.

The children in Nicole Gleason's and Michaele Stoeberl's classrooms were excited at the prospect of doing the project, which was developed by students from the youth service class at Willmar Senior High.

The children in the class were split into groups Monday to work on the three blankets in Gleason's classroom.

They were so excited to get to work that some tussles threatened to break out when not everyone could reach a corner of one of the blankets. Gleason quickly mediated and rearranged things so that everyone could reach.

Once they settled into it, the children took the work seriously and finished quickly.

High school students had cut strips at the edges of pieces of soft fleece fabric, two pieces for each blanket. Students took the strips and used them to tie the two layers of fleece together.

Some were familiar with the process. Faith Johannes, 7, had learned to tie the blankets in Girl Scouts. "We do them even if we don't know the babies," she said.

Gleason said she was surprised that her students were able to finish their blankets in about 20 minutes.

"This is our random act of kindness," a requirement of the youth service class, said Halee Doty, a senior. Students in the class choose another school building where they will help out for a semester, she said.

They do whatever is needed, Doty said, and in Gleason's class, she usually helps with math.

Doty said Gleason helped them develop the project, because she knows the people whose charity distributes the blankets.

Taryn and Ryan Krumwiede of Richfield, friends of Gleason's sister, founded Ella's Halo about two years ago, not long after their tiny daughter Ella Jo died. Ella weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces, and was 11½ inches long when she was born prematurely in March 2009. She died after an 83-day stay in the NICU at University of Minnesota Children's Hospital-Fairview in Minneapolis.

Through their experiences, Ella's parents discovered a number of needs for families with babies in a NICU. Along with blankets for babies, they provide CDs of lullabies and books for parents to read to their babies. They also provide welcome bags that include disposable cameras, kits for making molds of tiny feet and hands, notebooks and pens, and toiletries.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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