PLEASANTON — They are not just blankets to Sarah Williams.
The hundreds she has made and the hundreds she has helped others put together are part of her legacy to foster children.
It began as a search for a project to earn one of the Girl Scout's highest honors, the Gold Award, and has instead become a part of Sarah. And it started by reading a book.
Sarah, 16, couldn't part with the images that "Hope's Boy" left her with. The best-seller is a memoir of Andrew Bridge's experience with the foster care system. In the book, Bridge recalled the time he went to a foster care facility in Eufaula, Ala., to do legal work and asked the warden for a blanket for one of the kids. The warden denied Bridge's request.
Sarah sat on her bed the night she read that passage and thought about kids her age and younger, being deprived of something as simple as a blanket.
"I was outraged by a denial for a blanket," she said. "I was kind of mad that he would say something like that. That really stuck out to me. Unfortunately, that is the life (foster kids) live in and that is really sad."
The outrage sparked Sarah to action. Today, invited by Sarah, the author will speak at her school, Valley Christian in Dublin, and at a book-signing and special blanket making session at Borders in Pleasanton this evening.
The blankets are part of Creative Kindness, a program put together by Sarah that has so far resulted in 1,200 fleece blankets made by members of the community with materials donated by local merchants. They are given to kids in the foster care system through the nonprofit group Foster a Dream.
This evening, Sarah is also kicking off her pay it forward part of the project where participants will receive a blanket-making kit, construct the blanket, and then refill the kit to pass it on to the next person.
The blanket-making event begins today at 6 p.m. at the Borders located at 4575 Rosewood Dr. It will be followed at 7 p.m. by the book signing.
"To go out and have a concern about something is one thing, but to be brave enough to go out and ask people to join her is another," Bridge said about Sarah's effort to bring awareness to kids in the foster care system. "It's tremendous when you get a young lady who is able to reach beyond herself and have an understanding that a lot of adults don't have."
It's an understanding that Bridge knows all too well and one that Sarah knew nothing about until the day she picked up his book.
Bridge grew up in Los Angeles County's foster care system from the age of 7 until 18 after his mom developed schizophrenia. Although he was able to stay in one foster care home after a brief time in a group-home type of facility, Bridge said he had to endure a cold reception from his foster family. Despite the conditions, he was able to earn a scholarship to Wesleyan College and eventually a law degree from Harvard. His story didn't just move Williams but opened her gaze to an unknown world.
"I was unfamiliar with the (foster care) system," Sarah said. "I knew it existed, but didn't know how many kids were affected by the lifestyle until I read the book, and it took me by surprise."
But Sarah knew her surprise would lead to positive things.
She coordinated with 16 different agencies and merchants, including the Rotary Club in Danville and the Lions Club of Pleasanton and hundreds of volunteers, to bring awareness to the state of kids in the foster care system.
Her work caught the attention not only of Bridge but of Terri Hague, the senior director of program for Girls Scouts of Northern California.
Hague expects Sarah's work to not only earn a Gold Award but also receive national recognition and be one of the top 10 projects in the country.
"(Sarah) has developed legacy kits that will help continue and extend her project," Hague said. "The beauty is her legacy."
Robert Jordan covers Pleasanton and Dublin. Reach him at 925-847-2184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.