Quilts give military children comfort during deployments

  • Published
  • By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly
  • COMPACFLT Public Affairs
In an emotional presentation, two military families each with a deployed husband/ father received a special reminder of their loved one when they accepted a quilt adorned with family photos here July 25 at the Pearl Harbor Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA).

"When I saw the pictures of all of us together as a family, I cried. It is those times that I hold onto and that I look forward to when he gets home," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld, a speechwriter for U.S. Pacific Fleet, whose husband, Lt. Cmdr. Chris Groeneveld, is currently deployed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101).

Groeneveld's children Dylan, age three, and Sean, 18 months, pointed at several family photos and in a very touching gesture handed their Mother a tissue, after her eyes welled up when seeing the blanket.

The presentation ceremony was designed to kick start the Honolulu chapter of "Operation Kid Comfort," a nation-wide program started in 2004 at Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB, N.C.

The program eases the stress of a parent's absence from the home by providing free quilts for children six and under and pillows for children seven and up. According to the program's Web site, since the program's inception more than 3,000 children have received a quilt.

The other child that received a quilt was Morgan Townsend, age two, whose father, Sergeant Jeffrey Townsend, is a career retention specialist with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, headquartered at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Townsend's unit is currently deployed to Iraq and is scheduled to return early next year.

"The blanket becomes just another way to keep the connection alive between my daughter and my husband," said Dayna Townsend, wife of Sergeant Townsend. "Morgan calls the blanket her 'Daddy Blanket'."

Although the quilts can be made by volunteers from all over the country, these two quilts were made by local quilter and Kailua resident Ellen Huntley, who has made more than 20 quilts in the last six months and has a special affinity for U.S. service members.

"I actually teach enlisted Marines and Sailors on Marine Corps Base Kaneohe and I just love these young people and what they do," said Ms. Huntley, an instructor for the Military Academic Skills Program.

"It makes me feel really good that someone back here can do something to help these families out."

The quilts are made from collected family photographs and are made into "photo-transfer" quilts that display images of the deployed service member. All of the quilts are made by volunteers who contact the ASYMCA headquarters and request the materials that are then mailed to them free-of-charge.

Currently, Operation Kid Comfort has local operations in various parts of the country but is just now beginning to establish a Hawaii volunteer network. The Pearl Harbor ASYMCA staff has already reached out to Forest City military communities in order to spread the word about the program and to seek volunteers that would be interested in making the quilts.

"With the Forest City's new community centers, we think that would be a great way for the spouses to get together and do something so meaningful for the children of deployed service members," said Kathy Kinneman, director of Honolulu's ASYMCA.

Ms. Kinneman would like to encourage anyone who is interested in making a quilt or who would like to have one made for their child to contact Terri Nelson at (808)-473-3398 or via e-mail at asymcakbay@aol.com.

"I will always be grateful to the ASYMCA for giving this special gift to my boys. It is wonderful that my older son Dylan will be comforted sleeping under a blanket with pictures of his daddy, whom he misses so much," said Groeneveld.