One student’s vision evolves into school-wide service project at Berthoud Elementary
By Katie Harris
The students at Berthoud Elementary are helping make the world a brighter place this year, thanks to one little girl with a big heart and big ideas.
Eleven-year-old Olivia Bergsten came up with the idea for Project Comfort three years ago when her brother was hospitalized in Denver.
“It was right around Christmas a few years ago when we noticed that, while my brother was receiving visits from us every day, none of the other kids ever got any visitors,” said Bergsten.
That’s when she and her mother decided to make blankets for some of the hospital’s young patients. Bergsten’s mother taught her how to cut and tie the blankets, and the two delivered a small stack to the hospital just in time for Christmas.
“I enjoyed watching the kids receive them so much that we decided to carry it on,” said Bergsten. While, thankfully, her brother was able to leave the hospital and return home, Bergsten and her mother had set forces into motion that would continue to make a difference in the lives of others for years to come.
In her second year of the project, Bergsten enlisted classmates and was able to complete eight blankets, which the group donated to a nursing home. The following year she upped the ante, donating 10 blankets to a local animal shelter.
“Every time we’ve done this, everyone’s received the project with such joy,” Bergsten said. “It’s just so amazing to see how much everyone enjoys the blankets.”
With her project steadily growing, Bergsten entered Thompson School District’s Change the World contest last year and was awarded a $250 grant to buy supplies for more blankets, which she’ll use to make and donate a record 17 blankets this year, her last as an elementary student.
A new source of funding and bigger quota weren’t the only changes to Project Comfort this year. Bergsten’s move to Berthoud Elementary at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year meant finding new friends to help her with her blankets. The project (along with its visionary) met a warm welcome at the school.
“Olivia started out at Garfield Elementary [in Loveland] and that’s where this project started,” explained Berthoud Elementary School counselor, Jenna Deubler. “When she came here last year she had received a grant, and we used the opportunity to involve the whole school in the project. At Garfield it was a club that tied the blankets, and we’ve had it blossom into a whole-school project.”
According to Deubler, Bergsten quickly recruited a team of 10 fourth- and fifth-grade girls to cut and tie the majority of this year’s blankets, and the school’s “Buddy Program” (which pairs older students with younger students to work on projects throughout the year) will work together to tie the remainder of them.
In addition to helping those in need, the 11-year-old said the project has helped the volunteers as well, by mending fences between old friends and helping kids like her meet new friends.
“It solves friendship problems, it brings friends together, so it’s just really good in so many ways that I think I just really want to continue it for a while; I don’t know if there’s a certain time limit I have for it,” she said.
While Bergsten is still in the process of selecting a recipient for this year’s blankets, she said she’d like it to be another children’s hospital.
“We are looking to donate to a hospital around this area so that all the girls who helped cut and tie the blankets can take them over together as a big group,” said Bergsten. “I like having everyone do it, not just me, so that they can feel the kindness and happiness from it, too.”
The group plans to deliver the blankets in April, when the school theme is kindness.
As for the future, Bergsten said she and her family will likely explore other grants to help fund the blankets, but she has a few ideas up her sleeve to raise money on her own as well.
“Last year we had a bake sale and some girls from our group brought in baked goods which we sold at our annual art show,” said Bergsten. “As long as people keep wanting to help, I can come up with ways to earn money.”
Although Bergsten will be moving on to middle school next year, Deubler said Berthoud Elementary is lucky to have been home to the young philanthropist during her fifth-grade year.
“She has so much heart and has really done all of this on her own,” said Deubler. “We’re just grateful to have had any part in it.”
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