By Guest Columnist Annie Oeth
When the little brother of Girl Scout Nichole Johnson spent seventy-three days in neonatal intensive care at the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi, her Junior Girl Scout Troop 3965 of Florence was inspired to make a difference.
Giraffes and bears, flowers and rainbows, squares and starbursts - all these prints and more were stitched together as quilts for babies in neonatal intensive care in the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi. For more about the sweet story of how a Bronze Award project by the troop resulted in ninety-three handmade quilts donated to the state’s only Level IV NICU, the highest level of care.
After Evan Johnson, the youngest brother of troop member Nichole Johnson, started life there, the troop and their leader, Jessica Dowdy, knew their Bronze Award project should help neonatal intensive care.
“We’re so happy that Evan’s time in the NICU is resulting in a project that’s meaningful for Nichole and her fellow Girl Scouts,” said Ashley Johnson, a research scientist in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Johnson’s water broke at twenty-three weeks, bringing her to Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants, where she stayed for six weeks until Evan’s birth. Topping two pounds, he stayed in the NICU seventy-three days. “My hospital stay and his gave me a great appreciation for the clinical care side of UMMC,” Johnson said.
Dowdy welcomed Evan to the world with a handmade quilt, which sparked the idea for Troop 3965’s Bronze Award project.
“This is really a project that could be Gold level,” Dowdy said, referring to the top award in Girl Scouting. “They’ve all worked so hard on this and have learned about quilting, measurements, math and social media.”
After months of planning, the project began with the troop learning the art of quilting from Dowdy and creating videos of the experience for the Facebook page Troop #3965 Quilt-Along in March. “Every day during spring break, we were learning to quilt and making videos,” Dowdy said. “After that, we were stitching whenever we’d get together.”
Word got around about Troop 3965’s project, and soon quilters from around the country were joining in, sending the troop quilts to add to their donation.
“Each girl in the troop made two quilts, so we had twelve quilts that we made, plus eighty-one quilts that were sent in,” Dowdy said. “They’re all beautifully done, and each one is different. One of them came with a label that read, ‘Someone cares in Texas.’”
Dowdy, who has led Troop 3965 since they were at the Daisy level five years ago, plans to keep progressing with the girls through the Girl Scout ranks.
The troop members and their families met NICU nurses at the entrance of the state’s only children’s hospital to present the quilts, which filled a cart to overflowing. Each girl was presented with a plaque honoring Bronze Award achievements.
“It was hard, but I liked it,” said Junior Girl Scout Ellie Kegley. Her mother, Katie Kegley, said the project was a learning experience that was worth the effort.
“If a family receives one of these quilts and realizes that someone was thinking about them before their baby was even born, then this was worth all their hard work.”
The NICU will put the colorful blankets to good use, said nurse educator Becky Harrison. “We always need Isolette covers, and these quilts will be a memory from the NICU that families can take home as a keepsake.”