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Quilts Bring Comfort to Children of Deployed Service Members

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2004 – Ann Flaherty's 18-month-old grandson was suffering from the emotional stress of his father not coming home from work as he usually did. He carried pictures of his dad around, and began having temper tantrums and difficulty sleeping.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Lynne Grates, executive director of the Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Armed Services YMCA, and volunteer Ann Flaherty, who initiated the Operation Kid Comfort program, pose with a sample of the "daddy and mommy quilts" that are given to children of deployed service members. Grates and Flaherty were presented the Raytheon Program Achievement Award for the Best New Program category during the ASYMCA 17th Annual Recognition Luncheon on Capitol Hill. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Then Flaherty came to the rescue with something that helps her grandson cope with the absence of his father. And it may eventually help hundreds of children of servicemen and women who are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the globe.

A quilt artist, Flaherty made what she calls a "daddy quilt for her grandson, Christian Roman. It was the beginning of what has become a big program. In the case of a deployed mother, it's a "mommy quilt." Pillows also are made for the children of deployed service members.

The idea evolved out of watching her grandson's reaction to the absence of his father. Christian's father, Army Chief Warrant Officer Michael Roman, an Apache helicopter pilot, was deployed to Iraq at the onset of the Iraqi war, said Flaherty, whose daughter, son and son-in-law (Roman) all deployed to Iraq. Roman is married to Flaherty's daughter, Elisa.

"Christian started hoarding photographs," she said. "He would go into the living room and take all the framed photographs to his room and hide them. He was having temper tantrums and difficulty sleeping reacting to his dad being gone."

Flaherty said she realized that she uses photography on many of her quilts. "So I took his favorite pictures and some others, scanned them, printed them on fabric and incorporated them into a quilt for him."

To her amazement, her grandson calmed down. "He slept better. He went to bed with his daddy blanket and dragged it everywhere he went. And it works!" said the pleased grandmother.

"My daughter told another family whose dad was deployed with Mike (Roman), and the mom was in Afghanistan," Flaherty said. "That little boy was having a really hard time. He was in the same daycare with Christian, so I made a quilt for him, and it worked for him, too."

Flaherty said children can't cuddle up to a photograph, but a quilt is a daily soft, tangible and comforting reminder of the parent.

As word got around, Flaherty made daddy and mommy quilts for "another child and another child, and I realized that this was going to be too much for me to do by myself."

She asked Lynne Grates, executive director of the Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Armed Services YMCA and Clitha Mason, the arts and humanities director, for help. "They loved the idea. So we formed 'Operation Kid Comfort,' Flaherty said. "So it was born out of necessity."

Operation Kid Comfort is designed to serve children, ages 5 and under, of deployed service members. The program addresses the emotional stress that children suffer during a parent's absence from home.

Operation Kid Comfort was so successful that it earned the Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base Armed Services YMCA branch the 2004 Raytheon Program Achievement Award in the Best New Program category. The award was recently presented during the ASYMCA's 17th annual Recognition Luncheon on Capitol Hill.

Flaherty said when the kids are given the quilts, they take instant, total possession of them. "Immediately, no one else can touch them," she said. "They're theirs. It's amazing how quickly it works and how quickly they react to having them.

"I just feel so happy that I can do something for them," she said.

Flaherty estimated that, so far, about 100 quilts have been made for children of deployed military personnel. "We're still setting up the program and expect to exceed our goal of 1,500 by the end of the year," she noted.

"We've been approached by several units around the country asking for quilts," Flaherty noted. "One group has 3,000 service members being deployed, and they came to us and asked us to make quilts for the kids. The 82nd Airborne Division (Fort Bragg) is going back over, and they want quilts."

Flaherty had only one stipulation for recipients of the quilts: "On receiving a quilt, the parent or guardian of the child should realize that the quilt is for the child to play with, sleep with or just carry around not to be used as a wall hanging for people to admire."

Last winter, Georgia (Statesboro) Southern University's assistant professor of marketing, Kathleen Gruben, arranged for two of her classes to take on Operation Kid Comfort as their class project. Flaherty said they developed marketing and advertising strategies and a Web site. They divided into groups according to geographic regions and developed strategies for each area and where military bases are located.

"For example," Flaherty noted, "when we're ready to take Operation Kid Comfort to Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Lewis, Wash., or to a Navy base, they've made a book for us that tells us where the sources, quilt shops, quitter's guilds, grant money, who the competition is and where the media outlets are."

Many individuals and organizations are supporting Operation Kid Comfort, such as the Junior League of Fayetteville (N.C.) donating money to purchase a computer, monitor, software and a sewing machine. Staples donated software and cables. Hewlett-Packard donated a digital camera and two specialized scanners needed to do the photo transfers.

At the International Quilt Festival held in Houston last November, Quilts, Inc., accepted the program as their charity of the year. Participants at the festival donated about $16,500 worth of fabric, batting and sewing notions. Kinko's of Houston donated and delivered 1,500 flyers to the volunteers at the festival, and Freeman Decorating Transportation Services donated the shipping and delivery of the donated items.

One Hour Koretizing in Fayetteville and Royal Cleaners on Fort Bragg washed and pressed the fabric.

"The more people hear about Operation Kid Comfort, the more they call and say, 'I want to help with it,'" Flaherty said. "People are calling me from all over the country saying, 'Send me the fabric and I'll make the quilts and send them back."

Quilt-making workshops are held at the Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base ASYMCA every Wednesday. "We're discussing scheduling other classes on different days with family readiness groups," she said. "We teach graphic arts, including scanning, editing and cropping photographs and how to print them onto fabric to make a quilt."

In addition to needing funds to support the program, Flaherty said Operation Kid Comfort needs fabric, batting, threads, sewing equipment, tools and supplies and photo transfer technology. All donations of goods are tax deductible.

For more information on Operation Kid Comfort, write to:

ASYMCA of Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base Clitha Mason, Arts and Humanities Director Bldg. 2-2411 Fort Bragg, NC 28307

Or, call or write to: Operation Kid Comfort 208 Thorncliff Drive Fayetteville, NC 28303 Tel: (910) 436-0500

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Related Sites:
Armed Services YMCA
Fort Bragg, N.C.
Pope Air Force Base, N.C.
82nd Airborne Division
Armed Services YMCA Names Army Medic, Wife 'Volunteer of the Year'

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