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Belonging Blankets: A Powerful Message To Children At Risk

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Our belonging blankets are made from the donated, worn uniforms of United States soldiers. They are given to children who statistically are at a high risk for being homeless. Volunteers in Tampa are sending a message to these children.

For children in foster care, finding a sense of belonging and pride can often feel impossible. - Alese Underwood, Spectrum Bay News 9

At the Bautista Project we believe in tackling homelessness from every angle. This can only be done by partnering together. The Belonging Blankets are one way we pull in a community of active duty soldiers, veterans, military spouses, civilians, businesses, and volunteers to help create a sense of belonging.

a mural of volunteers cutting fabric and sewing belonging blankets

Why belonging is so important

The feeling of belonging and inclusion is something we all yearn for. At one point in our lives, we all wanted to be a part of something. That new break dancing group, swim team, cheer, football or writing group. That need for group identity never really leaves us.

Belongingness is a big conversation in our culture right now as we navigate the great resignation amongst adults. People quit their jobs this last year in record numbers in search of more meaning and connectedness.

Michael Stallard, co-founder and President of Connection Culture Group, says that “widespread loneliness and social isolation are contributing to rising anger and violence. Research has shown that aggression—whether physical, sexual or verbal—reduces stress hormones in the perpetrator... In contrast, positive connection with others and with our work cultures and other communities reduces stress hormones in a healthier way that doesn't contribute to a spiraling up of anger and hate (Forbes).”

If adults are feeling the strain, imagine how children who are displaced from their homes are feeling?

We all have a need to belong! Everyone is interconnected, but certain groups of children don’t feel like they belong. Foster kids, those living in juvenile detention, and those experiencing homelessness may feel abandoned by family, friends, and the local community. These children are at higher risk of becoming (or remaining) homeless -- but their future is not yet written in stone!

Belonging is essential to a person’s mental health, physical health, and increased desire for survival. It impacts every stage of a human’s development, from birth to death. The need to belong never really leaves us. Even in old age, a sense of belonging has been linked to health and longevity (Psychology Today).

The blankets we are making at the Bautista Project aren’t special in design. These aren’t designer blankets, famous blanket brands, or a throw someone could purchase from a store. Belonging blankets come with a message. They are made from the uniforms of men and women who are heroes. They are sewn by individuals in the child’s community who want these children to know they are loved and belong.

Belonging to something bigger than themselves is what children experience when they receive their belonging blanket at Christmas.

How the Belonging Blanket project started

The Belonging Blanket project started as a sustainable way to repurpose old military uniforms into a keepsake for at-risk youth.

After surviving a tumultuous adolescence and homelessness as a young adult, I struggled to find my place. I didn't belong anywhere.

Both of my parents died when I was very young.

When I became homeless at 18 I had nothing from my childhood except an old teddy bear given to my mother at her baby shower. It was a soft brown bear I had named Cookie, after my favorite snack. He was the only thing I had to remember the good days. Moving from place to place, he was the only constant.

After marriage, I thought moving from place to place would be a thing of the past. But, I married a Soldier. Fast forward many years, lots of moves, and three children; and I wanted to leave a legacy of strength, courage, and bravery.

One day as I trudged through our family's garage searching for something I needed. I came across a plastic bin filled with my husband's old uniforms. When I returned inside, I asked my husband. "Hey, why are there so many uniforms in the garage?” He responded, "we can't wear those uniforms anymore. I just haven't gotten around to shredding them and throwing them out."

It was after I asked my husband what he planned to do with the old uniforms that the idea came to me, instead of throwing them away, why don't we give these uniforms a new life. I approached him with the idea of making blankets from them.

Honestly, the idea sounded great to both of us. However, we learned quickly that having no sewing experience was a problem. I did not realize how time-consuming making blankets was and the whole family joined in the project to make it happen!

What was once a small family project sewing together pieces of military uniforms and flannel became a community effort to provide hope and instill courage to those who need it most, children.

The Belonging Blanket program has grown over the years. It's one of the projects we look forward to every year. The project runs from August to December every year.

2021 is the fourth year of this program and the first it's been sponsored by an outside corporation. It’s also our second year in Tampa.

Our sponsor, Caliber Home Loans, a vast mortgage lender, is committed to helping children feel like they belong, even when they are away from their natural homes. With their help, we are making more blankets and pillows than ever before. The company also partners with nonprofit organizations like the Bautista Project Inc to prevent and eliminate homelessness.

Belonging begins with us

This year we’ve had a number of people join us to make these beautiful blankets! Our sewing circles have met twice and have more meetings scheduled. Part of the group's purpose is to put together kits that sewers can pick up and take home to work on at their leisure. (Sign up here to join us or to pick up a kit)

We believe it takes a village and everyone has a part. Do you?

If you aren't a part of our village, join us. You belong here! Commit to helping make the world a better place by volunteering, donating, or even just sharing our message.

We can't do this without you!

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