Comfort is a moving target when being shuffled from house to house, without having anything tangible to hold onto and not knowing what the next place will bring.
That’s why Ridgefield Girl Scout Bridget Kager has been making blankets and collecting backpacks for children in emergency foster care.
The Ridgefield High School senior and Saint Mary School alumni began thinking about her Gold Award project last summer, and recently tied together the first of what she hopes are many blankets from Ridgefield that will be given to Family and Children’s Aid in Danbury.
“Children in foster care want items of comfort,” she said, following a blanket-making event with religious education students from St. Mary’s Parish last week.
“When you think of blankets, there’s a sense of coziness,” she said, “and with backpacks, it’s something that these kids can use to carry stuff around in.”
Kager, a member of Girl Scout Troop 50123, was motivated to help kids in the foster care system because she had friends growing up who experienced it firsthand.
“I heard their stories and knew their struggles and what they needed,” she said.
Kager’s family helped her come up with the Gold Award idea over the summer, triggering a long process that ultimately led her back to St. Mary’s.
“When I first started I knew the aim of my Gold Award project was to benefit kids in emergency foster care,” she said. “My original plan was to go through the DCF [Connecticut Department of Children and Families] but we found a lot of difficulties working with the state so we scrapped it.”
Kager’s Girl Scout mentor Hilary Micalizzi was able to connect her to Family and Children’s Aid in Danbury, and the project began picking up steam again.
“She really guided me through that period when I thought I couldn’t do it,” Kager said.
Working with the local nonprofit proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” said Kager, who has received the Girl Scout’s Pillars of Faith Service Award last June.
“I didn’t imagine myself working with this many people when I originally started. It really worked out the way it was supposed to work out.”
Meeting ‘the mayor’
One of the people Kager’s crossed paths with along her journey is First Selectmen Rudy Marconi, who agreed to have two collection boxes placed in town hall during the first week of February.
“It was actually the third time I’ve met with him on the project,” Kager said. “We’ve tied blankets together. He’s been so supportive of my project.”
The high school senior encourages people to drop off both backpacks and blankets there over the next several weeks.
Her real goal is to have the entire town take part in making blankets — not just dropping off donations at the collection boxes in town hall and at St. Mary’s.
“We want the entire town’s support if they want to join us,” Kager said. “One of my best friends is Jewish and her temple is having a blanket-making event soon and plan to drop off the blankets at town hall after they’re done…
“I want to include anyone who wants to tie a blanket and share that love with the kids in need.”
Inclusivity is a major part of Kager’s identity.
Despite being a lifelong member of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, she’s participated in the Appalachian Service Project through Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church the past three summers and has been a Bible camp counselor at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church since the sixth grade.
The latter experience has her dreaming of one day working in education, although she hasn’t picked which college to attend this fall.
“I’ll be making that decision in a couple of weeks,” she said, “but I definitely love working with kids and want to major in education.”
A fourth trip to Appalachia awaits her before heading off to the college lecture halls.
“I’m super excited,” she said, “there’s a lot of us who have gone down every year we’ve been in high school.”
Running and dancing
In addition to her volunteerism, Kager is an athlete and an Irish dancer.
She’s attended the Doherty Petri School of Irish Dance in Bethel since she was four years old and has played golf at RHS since her sophomore year.
“I also ran cross country for two years,” she said, “and served as an altar server at St. Mary’s.”
Before the blanket-making workshop on Feb. 6, Kager said she had never tied a blanket before.
“I’ve received one before but this was a first for me,” she said. “It’s very confusing at first, you have to get used to it.”
Luckily, she had help from students from both the church’s religious education program and the Saint Mary School, where she graduated from after eighth grade.
“Going from St. Mary’s to RHS was a big change at first,” she said.
But like the blankets, she eventually got used to it.
“You find different things to do and stay active and meet all sorts of new people,” she said. “It all happens pretty quickly.”
The Feb. 5 workshop at St. Mary’s yielded a dozen blankets for children in need, and there are more events coming for those looking to tie blankets.
Kager, who has been a member of the high school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) program since her sophomore year, said she will host blanket-making workshop at the high school.
There will also be opportunites for residents to tie blankets through Congregation Shir Shalom, Jesse Lee ASP, the Ridgefield Basketball Association (RBA), Doherty Petri School of Irish Dance, St. Mary’s religious education programs, and the RHS strudent council — which Kager sits on as senior class secretary.
The additional workshops mean there will be more trips to the fabric store to buy materials.
“We cut the fabric at home,” Kager explained. “It takes about 10 to 15 minutes per blanket … There’s a good amount of cutting involved.”
Kager, who has been a Girl Scout since the first grade, plans to check the boxes in town hall and at St. Mary’s Parish at the end of every week to see how the donations are coming along.
“It’s definitely the hardest project I’ve ever done,” she said, “but I’m so happy I saw it through.”
When it’s all said and done, Kager estimates she will have spent more than 100 hours cutting fabric, collecting donations, and planning out workshops.
“At first, it looks like a lot of time but once you get started it goes pretty fast,” she said.