Gold Award project benefits foster-care children

Erin Smith distributes books, handmade bookmarks, and pillows at the annual foster-care Christmas party.

On a cold Saturday evening in early December, the Blount County Foster Care Association held its annual Christmas dinner and party.

For the foster-care children, it meant an opportunity to meet Santa and play with friends. For Erin Smith, it meant the culmination of the biggest project and highest award she could earn as a Girl Scout, the Gold Award.

When Erin decided to tackle her Gold Award project, she knew that the key issue she wanted to address was literacy.

“I love to read,” says the Maryville High School senior and St. Francis of Assisi-Townsend parishioner. She adds that reading is such a key to success in school and feels that every student should have access to books.

To achieve the Girl Scouts’ highest honor, the Girl Scout must complete 80 hours of service, so Erin had to get creative to earn enough hours. When brainstorming, she asked, “What goes with reading?” To curl up with a good book, comfort is important. That’s when she decided to make pillows. She teamed up with mentor June Fletcher to learn the best way to sew throw pillows.

Ms. Fletcher, who demonstrated sewing basics to Erin’s Girl Scout troop, seemed like the perfect mentor for the project.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of this worthwhile project and was honored she asked me to help,” Ms. Fletcher said.

The next step was to determine the recipients of the books and pillows. That is when Erin enlisted the help of a fellow St. Francis of Assisi parishioner, Laura Rapien. Ms. Rapien is involved in and works closely with the Blount County Foster Care Association. She suggested that the foster-care Christmas party would be the perfect time to distribute the books and pillows. She added that about 120 children attended the party. One hundred-twenty children meant 120 pillows, which meant that Erin knew she would need help.

When Ms. Fletcher appealed to her sewing friends, they stepped up in a big way. They donated fabric and materials. When the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul heard about Erin’s project, they wanted to contribute financially.

“Erin is such an inspiration, and we wanted to do what we can to help foster children in our community,” says Sharon McKune, president of the St. Francis of Assisi conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which has a history of providing assistance to foster families with holiday food baskets and Christmas gifts.

Organization and time management were important for the project to be completed on time. Erin started sewing the pillow shells in May. As a varsity cross country runner, the fall season is a busy one for her. She completed the majority of the 120 pillow shells by September. With the leftover fabric, she thought matching bookmarks would be a nice added touch. Those were completed over fall break. Stuffing and sewing the pillows closed was also time-consuming.

“This project required perseverance,” Erin said.

She says there were times when she felt overwhelmed and wanted to quit, but she worked on it in her spare time and also enlisted help from her family and her mentor. When family, friends, and parishioners heard about her project, they wanted to help. New and nearly new book donations poured in, and she collected more than 150 books.

The annual foster care Christmas party dinner and gathering took place Dec. 3, and Erin was on hand to give the pillows, bookmarks, and books.

“It was rewarding to see the smiles,” Erin said. “It made all the hard work worth the effort.”

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