Students create blankets for Alzheimer’s patients


Charlie Messner

Members of the handmade helpers pose with a fidget blanket.

Charlie Messner, Reporter

Nine Revere students scattered about the room, each hunched over their own half-finished project. Glue oozed from the tips of the three hot glue guns plugged into the wall under the smartboard. Fuzzy pom-pom balls rolled across the floor. Pipe cleaners bent into shape and stuck against fabric. On April 8th, in Shayla Norris’ classroom, the Handmade Helpers met to craft sensory blankets to be donated to Summa Hospital.

Carla Nemer made this fidget blanket as an example for other members. (Charlie Messner)

In the middle of the meeting, junior Carla Nemer offered help, supplies and instruction to the members of her club. She organized the project as tribute to her grandfather, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s himself. She unpacked an example blanket, plenty of supplies and some hot glue guns, turned on the smartboard to images of completed blankets as inspiration and explained to the club members how and why they should create the sensory blankets. Once the club started working, she could stand back and watch the fruit of her labor unfold.

Formerly titled the Mask Makers, Handmade Helpers is a club that does charity work through the power of arts and crafts. Their most recent project glued various “fidgets” (squishies, popsicle sticks and other sensory materials) to aprons, creating something that Summa Hospital’s patients that have dangerous impulses can redirect their compulsions with. Carla Nemer explained how they work.

“When an Alzheimer’s patient experiences a stroke, or when a dementia patient has some kind of brain injury, their first reaction is to start hurting themselves–biting their fingernails off, scraping their eyes–dangerous movements that can cause self harm. So in order to distract them, they can put these fidget blankets on their lap and play with the different fidgets and spend their time not harming themselves. They’re going through enough pain with Alzheimer’s or dementia as it is,” Nemer said.

Nemer bought boxes of aprons alongside several bags of various fidgets, including squishies, pipe cleaners, zippers, yarn and feathers for the club to use. She also made many blankets herself, both at the meeting and over spring break. Not only that, but once the sensory blankets were made, Nemer herself was the one who delivered them to Summa Hospital. 

“These will be donated to Summa Hospital, which I know gives them to their dementia patients, and any extras will go to nursing homes like Copley Health Center or Saint Edwards. So we’re working with them as well to try to get as many out as we can,” Nemer said.

For many volunteers, this project in particular has a personal touch. Claire Palopoli, a Revere senior, told of her experience.

“I’ve worked at a nursing home, so I’ve seen that kind of thing, and it’s really good that Carla’s doing this,” Palopoli said.

In fact, the project on the whole was inspired by Nemer’s grandfather.

“It’s really special to me because my grandfather had Alzheimer’s and he passed away because of it, so this project is for him,” Nemer said.

Sensory blankets are not the only thing the Handmade Helpers make, though. Two years ago, the club had its beginning by sewing reusable masks. Nemer’s dad, a doctor, mentioned to her that his workplace did not have enough masks, inspiring Nemer.

“It was originally called the mask makers. We made, like, 600 masks for Summa Hospital, and now we’re making tray favors, pillows for the homeless and these fidget blankets for Alzheimer’s patients,” Nemer said.

Summa Hospital actually requested that the club make tray favors after the demand for masks slowed down.

“They’re basically little notes or papers that everyone makes, and they get put on the lunch trays for children who are cancer patients… We made Valentine’s Day ones. We made St. Patrick’s ones–we put little shamrocks inside–things like that just to bring a little bit of joy into their lives,” Nemer said.

The club also held meetings where they sewed pillows for Haven of Rest, a Christian ministry that aims to rehabilitate and support homeless and financially struggling Ohioans, and for Stewart’s Caring Place, a facility that provides aid and counsel to cancer patients.

“The pillows were donated to Haven of Rest, which is a homeless shelter, and also to Stewart’s Caring Place, which is a cancer wellness center,” Nemer said.

The Handmade Helpers work hard, but not without thanks from the places they donate to. 

“Emily Cross… is the volunteer specialist at Summa Health. [When] we made tray favors for cancer patients, she would send me pictures of the tray favors they receive with their lunches, so I’ll get to see pictures of the kids reading the notes or reading the jokes, and it’s really great,” Nemer said.

Summa Hospital described how they use the blankets on their website.

“Sensory mats are designed to safely stimulate and soothe people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, head trauma, or persons recovering from strokes,” Summa’s website states.

Nemer already has plans for her next project. The club will be making tie blankets, which takes two squares of fabric (usually fleece), and ties them together at the edges to make a thicker, warmer blanket.

“This year we’re [going to] have either one or two more meetings, and we’re gonna be making giant tie blankets for homeless shelters, so those are gonna be really fun. We’re gonna make a couple of those and donate them, and then we’re gonna plan for next year and continue the club going for next year,” Nemer said.

Club members keep coming back for the hybrid of making crafts and volunteering. Tali Farrell, Revere freshman, summarized.

“It’s a fun way to volunteer, and making crafts [is something I love],” Farrell said.

Farrell works on a blanket. (Charlie Messner)

This is the appeal that Nemer had in mind when starting the club.

“I really love to sew, I love sewing with my friends, and donating to local centers, like Haven of Rest or Summa Health. So it’s a really fun way for everyone to come together and just sew and have a little bit of fun after school,” Nemer said.

Nemer’s tribute to her grandfather has brought the club together, supplied victims of Alzheimer’s and dementia with useful equipment from a loving place, and proven that charity is alive in Revere.