'Fleece and Thank You'
GV student organization sends warmth to hospitalized children
Warmth can be experienced in many different ways. Whether it be sitting by a fire in the fall or making a new friend, the sensation of warmth is something most people crave.
For Nicholas Kristock, founder and executive director of the Fleece and Thank You organization, warmth is something that is severely lacking for sick children in hospitals.
“A lot of kids go in for treatment and there’s just nothing there for them," he said. "They start treatment with just a plain, white hospital bed."
Kristock also said these children face an even more difficult predicament when they lose contact with friends during treatment. He first witnessed this heartbreaking situation after he graduated from Oakland University and left to work for a group of nonprofits in Australia, while playing professional soccer.
He met a young girl who shared with him an avid love for the sport, but Kristock witnessed how the young girl changed without soccer or her teammates as normal parts of her life. In result, he started Fleece and Thank You five days after returning to the U.S. to support children in Michigan facing the same hardships.
“We wanted to give them some armor for their battle and give them a friend at a time that they’re losing friends,” he said.
Fleece and Thank You, based in Novi, Michigan, now has four university chapters across the state, which includes one at Grand Valley State University. The organization has held 450 well-attended events within the last 17 months and at those events, has managed to make over 11,000 blankets.
In addition, support at the GVSU branch has been growing steadily and local hospitals and the patients have started taking notice.
"They get really happy when we come over and we see them smile," said Spencer Rohatynski, branch president of Fleece and Thank You at GVSU. "It’s heart wrenching when that happens."
One of the special qualities about the organization, he said, is any group can hold an event. In the end, what it comes down to is the need for more blankets to be made so members can succeed even more in their mission.
In Michigan alone, 25,000 children get sick and end up hospitalized. So while Fleece and Thank You’s numbers appear strong, Kristock said they are just striking the surface. He said there is always a need for blanket makers.
For 2017, Fleece and Thank You hopes to continue to make 25,000 blankets a year to match the number of children in need of comfort.
“It’ something that everyone can jump on to and support because everyone loves kids and wants them to be happy. It’s an easy way to show support,” Rohatynski said.
This drive led Kristock to meet a child at a hospital in Ohio, who would end up being one of the strongest influences on the organization. He had beaten Osteosarcoma once before relapsing in 2014 — this time a fatal diagnosis.
Kristock reached out to the Fleece and Thank You network, and during the child’s last Valentine’s Day messages from all over the world came pouring in to wish him a happy holiday. Organization members also made him a Star Wars blanket and drove it to Ohio.
Two months later, he passed away and Kristock returned to Ohio to pay his last respects. During his time there, he saw a room full of the child’s favorite things set out by his parents. One of his favorite possessions was his Star Wars Fleece and Thank You blanket.
His parents said it was the last thing he hugged before he went to bed and that they have held it every night since.
“That’s the story I tell when someone asks if it’s ‘just a blanket,'" Kristock said. "It’s hard to understand, but it really is more than that."
To make gifts even more personal, Fleece and Thank You members take videos of each other making them for those in children in hospitals. During filming, members often give the children words of encouragement and well wishes. In addition, once filming starts the meetings are more emotional.
“Getting involved gives you the opportunity to see the best in people," Rohatynski said. "When you attend an event, you really get to see the best come out. I mean it’s awesome, everyone’s happy and everyone’s smiling."