Blanket Drive is a Team Effort!

by Rachel Lutz/USA Swimming Contributor

Dating back as early as 2012, DART Swimming in Northern California has donated blankets to shelters in their community. What started as an initiative from fifth and sixth graders on the team and lead by their head age group coach has grown to a team-wide event now lead by the team’s oldest swimmers. In a normal year, DART swimmers at the team’s Sacramento site would gather after the final practice before their winter break for two hours of team building and blanket making for “Project Knots.” The swimmers on the team for their first season would learn from the older swimmers who had done it before. They worked together to align, cut strips, and tie knots together to form a double-layered fleece blanket. Last year, they created 22 blankets to donate. But this year, DART swimmers donated 44 blankets to Saint John’s Program for Real Change. The organization serves 280 women and children daily who are living in crises situations and who need help escaping homelessness, poverty, and abuse. The program features a waitlist of an additional 250, DART Swimming senior group coach Adriana Contreras told “I think this year being what it is [referencing the COVID-19 pandemic], it showed that we’re still here for the community and we wanna support the community however we can,” Contreras added. “Hopefully this helped at least a little bit.” As 2020 was a year like no other, this project had to be tweaked in order to be a success. The team knew in advance that they would not be able to gather for a one-day event to create the blankets. Makena Adams, 16, is part of DART’s senior leadership group and volunteered to run point on the project, Contreras said. Brian Nabeta, DART’s head coach, was able to collect fleece that was donated by his mother, Reiko. Then, Adams, a distance freestyler and butterflier, was tasked with cutting the fleece to the right dimensions (children’s blankets have different dimensions than those designated for women). Adams then brought the fleece to practices and distributed them to volunteer families, who were able to watch an instructional YouTube video. Families then brought the fleece home and had three weeks to complete their projects. Families could take one, two or three blanket kits. Afterward, Adams gathered the blankets and packaged them for donation at the shelter. The team came together – figuratively – to double the number of donated blankets compared to last year, growing from 22 to 44. “We teach the kids that this is your community and you need to give back to it as well,” said Contreras, who completed two blankets herself. She said it took about four hours to complete both of the blankets, which meant that families volunteered to devote a lot of time to help their community. “It was a huge investment of time for the families who are already home-schooling their kids and doing COVID life.” Any other year, creating and donating blankets is a form of building team camaraderie. This year, though, Contreras said, it came to have even more significance. “We talk a lot about DART family and how our community, really even our alumni families, are still part of the DART family,” she said. “I think this year, especially, with the donation coming from the coach’s mom and then our little ones who just are on the team for the first time, taking time to donate, it was really a community and family effort.”


Link to original article posted on USA Swimming Website is HERE

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