Plenty of service projects help hospitalized children, but tweens and teens need a boost too. A former Key Clubber in New York enlists current members to customize a simple comfort.
Story by Julie Saetre
It can get cold in a hospital. Danny Mulvey knows this all too well.
Mulvey, a 20-year-old from Chester, New York, has been in treatment for a rare form of leukemia since July 2001, when he received a bone marrow transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There, while receiving chemotherapy or waiting for blood work, he’d feel the chill in the sterile air, and staff would offer him a blanket for warmth. Decorated with the playful patterns of childhood, those blankets were perfect for a young boy. But as Mulvey matured, the blankets did not. Toy trains and teddy bears lose their appeal as patients enter their tweens and teens.
So in 2016, Mulvey turned to his former Key Club at Chester Academy, a gesture that was no surprise to those who know him. In middle school, he joined Builders Club, and liked it so much that he later eagerly became a Key Club member. The community food bank, an annual holiday toy drive, a fundraising fish fry—Mulvey assisted with them all. He also helped with the Alyssa Barberi 5K Butterfly Run/Walk, an annual event that supports a scholarship fund named after a friend and fellow classmate who died suddenly from the flu at age 11.
“It felt good,” recalls Mulvey, “to do this in her memory.”
Now, his fellow patients at Children’s Hospital were on his mind.
Mulvey, who graduated from Chester Academy in 2015, has known Paige Rose, the Key Club advisor, his entire life. (He’s the same age as Rose’s daughter.) He asked his mom to visit the club with a simple question: Would members be willing to create blankets geared toward middle and high school kids?
Rose and her club members quickly said yes. Some of the older students knew Mulvey personally; others were inspired by his story and the patients they’d be helping. Many charities, Rose says, focus on pediatric patients while overlooking older kids in the hospital.
“We wanted to do something to cheer them up and let them know that people are thinking about them,” she says.
Delia Fentazi, vice president of the Chester Key Club, and her officers set about researching how to make blankets and decided to craft knot-tied fleece versions that required no sewing.
“Then we went out and picked out a bunch of fun patterns—things that we would like. Floral patterns for girls: My friends and I all love floral patterns. Dogs, footballs, sports-oriented—anything you could think of.”
Working in pairs, the students created the cozy gifts, taking about 20 minutes per blanket. The results were distributed by a staff member at Children’s Hospital and were an instant hit—so much so that the club repeated its efforts this year. In all, reports Rose, 30 to 35 blankets have been crafted and donated.
“We spoke with my nurse practitioner, who helped get the blankets to the patients,” Mulvey says. “She said the teens were happy the blankets didn’t have baby decorations on them.”
(The youngest patients weren’t left out, however; the Chester Key Club made sure to include fleece baby blankets as well.)
For club members, the project offered a reminder that the ability to serve is a gift in itself.
“We are all healthy. We have the ability to help others,” Fentazi says. “I feel like everybody takes simple things—like health and being able to go out and go to school and be with your friends—for granted. For these kids who are in bed for days or months or whatever it may be, and undergo all this lab work and tests and treatment, it’s tough. We wanted to help them as much as we could.”
Mulvey can certainly relate, but his own long battle is not what he’s talking about today.
“I knew it would make the kids happy to get something warm and something new,” he says. “It felt great being able to give back to the babies, tweens and teens in the hospital … It is important to give back to the people who were there for us when we were down.”