The third episode of KENT-repreneur focuses on Angel Kisses Blankets, a non-profit started by Kent State sophomore Kenzie Carlson that is helping sick kids and their families one blanket at a time.
In a quiet study lounge in Fletcher Hall, Carlson has a makeshift workstation where she lays fabric with a Minnie Mouse pattern over the table and snips away with scissors.
She was making a blanket to send to a sick child at a hospital for her nonprofit organization, Angel Kisses Blankets, which she started her sophomore year of high school four years ago.
“I didn’t have a lot of hobbies or things that I really enjoyed doing other than music or hanging out with my family, and I was very interested in giving back at an early age,” Carlson said. “I just felt extremely blessed and grateful for the things that I have. I feel like that put me in the position to give back.”
Carlson heard that people make blankets for hospitalized children and figured she’d give it a try. She said blankets are highly requested at hospitals, charities and orphanages.
“I think it’s an extra sense of comfort,” she said. “(The blankets) are also personalized, so if a child wants a certain fabric or a certain color, I can do that for them.”
Carlson enjoyed making blankets so much that she decided to start her own nonprofit.
“I like being the front, the charge behind the organization. I think that’s the biggest thing,” she said. “Because it’s my organization, I’m able to choose what age group and what area I want to help.”
Carlson said some organizations gear their materials toward a specific age group or set an age limit of 18. She said anyone can request a blanket from her, although most of the kids she serves are 8 and under.
When Angel Kisses Blankets was first getting off the ground, Carlson said she would reach out to families herself to see if they would like a blanket. Now, the requests come to her.
“I’d see if anyone had posted (on Facebook) and said, ‘My child went to this hospital,’ ... I’d reach out to them, but now, a lot of people reach out to me to the point where I have a backlist,” she said. “I have a waiting list of people I need to get to.”
The requests come in from all over the country. Carlson said she’s shipped to 25 states and several countries overseas. She also delivers the blankets in person to kids at Nationwide Children’s Hospital when she goes home to Columbus for holiday breaks.
“I visited my last two birthdays at Nationwide, and that’s just so much fun for me.,” she said. “A lot of people always ask me … ‘Why do you want to go on your birthday? Why don’t you want to do something fun?’ That is fun for me. I love the smiles and the laughs and just the personalization it brings to the experience when I get to deliver to them.”
As much fun as Carlson has making the blankets and personalizing them for the children, she said her work is not always easy.
“I’d definitely say the downside is, it’s hard to describe, but the death of a child,” she said. “A lot of times I get really close to the families, and I get really close to their babies or their kids. It’s very hard for me to come to terms with that.”
Carlson said just as there are heartbreaks, there are also success stories. Some of the kids she sent blankets to when she was just starting out are now cancer-free. That’s just one aspect that continues to motivate her.
“I’d say what really keeps me going is knowing that it’s helpful to others, that other people have been inspired by what I do to help around their own community,” she said. “The families like knowing that they have an extra support system and a new friend. A lot of times, I become great friends with the mothers or the families or the siblings.”
Carlson said positive feedback from the families inspires her.
“A lot of times, they just tell me how I affect their child’s life (or) how much their child’s life has changed because of it,” she said. “In my mind, I’m just doing my job. I’m doing what I love to do.”
Carlson is a special education major at Kent State and plans to become a teacher. She wants to continue Angel Kisses Blankets on the side, but said if it were financially feasible, she would want to expand the nonprofit. For now, she uses her own spending money to purchase materials for the blankets, but has started a GoFundMe, which she says she doesn’t like to promote. To her, it’s all about the kids.
“When you give (kids) a blanket, it gives them some sort of hope that maybe they can fight through or they’re protected from their illness,” she said. “I think their challenges bring me new hope within my own challenges. It’s also very comforting, and I feel like that goes both ways between me and the families.”
You can follow Angel Kisses Blankets on Twitter @nonprofitAKB and on Facebook and Instagram @AngelKissesBlankets.
The next episode of KENT-repreneur will air on March 7 on KentWired. Find KENT-repreneus on Twitter @KENT_repreneur.
Contact Anna Huntsman