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Project makes blankets

by Melissa Flanagan | Monday, December 6, 2010

Students gathered in South Dining Hall Saturday to make fleece blankets for cancer patients through the Aidan Project.

The project began in 2006 when Aidan Fitzgerald, then a sophomore living in Knott Hall, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His roommate was involved in Circle K and asked the service organization to put together a project in honor of Aidan.

The Aidan Project has grown greatly since its inception, going from around 125 students attending in its first year to 381 students this year, said sophomore Matthew Dominguez, Aidan Project commissioner for Circle K. He said he was not surprised the project has grown.

“It’s one of our biggest projects of the year and it’s one of Knott’s signature events,” Dominguez said.

The event ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and was organized in an open-house style, allowing students to come and go as they pleased.

Circle K and Knott Hall advertised for the event together, which Dominguez said has been very effective. In 2008 it received national recognition by winning an award through the Association of Student Unions.

“People are becoming more and more familiar with the project so when it comes to the day of the project people already know about it,” Dominguez said.

Fitzgerald, who graduated in 2010, came back to Notre Dame for the event. Musician Pat McKillen, also a 2010 graduate, returned as well. Last year’s Aidan Project commissioner, 2010 graduate Katie Teitgen, said McKillen offered to come back.

“He’s friends with Aidan and has played every year since we started,” Teitgen said. “He’s also a past Knott Hall resident.”

After making 400 blankets last year, this year the goal for the event was 600 blankets. Dominguez said after starting locally, now the blankets are being distributed all over the nation.

“We started to ask members and people who participate in the project to take some blankets with them and donate them to local hospitals,” Dominguez said. “Last year we were able to get blankets to Houston, New York [and] Chicago.”

Knott Hall is also in charge of designing a shirt for the event each year. Teitgen said the proceeds from the shirts go to Riley Hospital for Children in Fitzgerald’s hometown of Indianapolis.

Caitlin Desmond, a sophomore in Cavanaugh Hall who attended the event, said she believes Cavanaugh has a special affection for the project since Fitzgerald was one of the coaches of its flag football team.

“I definitely feel like it’s part of the Cavanaugh tradition because of our connection with him,” Desmond said.

Many students agreed that they feel a special connection to The Aidan Project. For freshman Benjamin Moore, that connection is having a younger brother who was diagnosed with cancer.

“Having a little brother [who has] gone through all of this and went through a year of chemo, this project really means a lot to me,” Moore said.

Senior Connor Smith lived across from Fitzgerald as a freshman and has been friends with him ever since.

“One way I wanted to give back to ND was to help run this project,” Smith said. “It’s always been one of the most popular events on campus because it’s such a great cause.”

Dominguez said the response to the fleece blankets has been overwhelming.

“The past couple years we’ve been getting letters from kids who have received the blankets across the country,” Dominguez said. “We’ve really seen the impacts it’s had on people and continues to have.”