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Aidan Project makes 400 blankets

Kristin Durbin | Monday, December 7, 2009

In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, students gathered in South Dining Hall yesterday to make about 400 fleece blankets for cancer patients at this year’s Aidan Project.

The Project, sponsored by Circle K, Knott Hall and the class of 2012, was started in 2006 after current senior Aidan Fitzgerald was diagnosed with cancer. His roommate was involved with Circle K and thought the club’s annual blanket bash could be turned into a larger, more personal event for students by naming it after Fitzgerald.

“This is a unique opportunity on campus because you always see things about cancer fundraisers, but this is a way to treat cancer patients like human beings,” Fitzgerald said. “You wouldn’t think to give someone a blanket, but something that simple is personal and provides an opportunity to make a huge, lasting difference in someone’s life.”

In the Project’s first year, 250 students made 100 blankets in the LaFortune ballroom. It has since grown into the largest service event on campus and changed locations to South Dining Hall to accommodate for yearly growth. In addition, the event won a national award for the best service project last year.

After the fleece used for the blankets ran out in the first hour of last year’s Aidan Project, the event’s sponsors spent over $4,000 on fleece this year to be more prepared for a large volunteer turnout.

This year, the Project’s sponsors also decided to change the organizational structure of the event in order to get the dorms more involved.

“We have commissioners in each dorm to get the word out,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not just about making blankets, it’s more about awareness of cancer, especially in people our age.”
Circle K president emeritus Katie Teitgen said coordinators of the Project spoke to the Hall Presidents’ Council to get representatives from each dorm to promote the event.

“We noticed that the best participation came from dorms with a direct connection to the Aidan Project, so we decided having someone talking about the event is better than just putting up posters in the dorms,” Teitgen said.

Another change this year was the blankets use one layer of fleece instead of two at the request of local hospitals whose patients receive the blankets. According to Teitgen, the double-layer blankets were too warm for young cancer patients because the hospitals are climate controlled.

The Project focuses on raising awareness for youth cancer, so the majority of the blankets made go to children’s hospitals in South Bend, Mishawaka, Indianapolis and other Indiana communities, though some blankets also go to adult patients. According to Fitzgerald, the event’s coordinators hope to start sending more blankets to hospitals in the Chicago area as well.

“We also send proceeds from Aidan Project T-shirt sales to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis,” Teitgen said. “It’s the biggest children’s hospital in the state, and Aidan is from Indianapolis, so it was natural to donate money and blankets there.”

Volunteers and project committee members are also encouraged to bring a blanket home with them to their hometown hospitals or to loved ones who suffer from cancer.

“We want to keep track of where the blankets are going, and we would love to spread word of the event more,” Teitgen said.

Although Fitzgerald will graduate this year, he and Teitgen are both confident the event will continue to be popular and successful in years to come.

“The Aidan Project is a pretty well known event, and there’s been a huge response so far,” Fitzgerald said. “It will be different because the event will have less of a personal connection.”

Teitgen said Circle K will continue the Project because its officers enjoyed it so much and students anticipate the event at the end of first semester because of its popularity and past success.

In addition, some of the event’s popularity derives from musician Pat McKillen’s annual performance at the event. McKillen’s friendship with Fitzgerald initially got him involved in the Project.

Students responded very positively to the event this year. Freshman Kristin Ruekert said the sense of community fostered by volunteers working together was a unique and important part of the Project.

“What made me smile the most were the volunteers who weren’t students,” Ruekert said. “I thought their selflessness proved this world still has a lot of goodness in it, and I love that we can make a difference when we work together.”

Sophomore Meg Larson said it was great that so many people participated in the event even when everyone is busy during the Christmas season.

Although the Project is steadily becoming a larger event, it still promotes the same simple mission of making a difference in the lives of cancer patients.