Quilts From the Heart

Photo: Nancy K. Crevier

New Fairfield High School sophomore Kaitlyn Gantert, left, holds up the quilt created for Emilie Parker’s family, and sponsored by Consolidated Elementary School. Her mother, Tricia Gantert, displays the quilt for Victoria Soto’s family, sponsored by Chiropractic Life and Wellness in New Fairfield. Brightly colored bags surround them, filled with 24 more quilts for families who lost a loved one on 12/14.

On Friday, August 23, Sandy Hook Promise accepted a special donation from Kaitlyn Gantert, a sophomore at New Fairfield High School. Neatly tied up with colorful ribbons and tucked into gift bags, Kaitlyn and her mother, Tricia Gantert, delivered 26 lap quilts to the local non-profit healing and advocacy group. The 48 x 30-inch quilts, one for each family directly affected by 12/14, are made up of 15 squares, seven of which are original drawings by first and second grade students at Consolidated Elementary School (CES) in New Fairfield, and one square created by the 23 sponsors of the quilts. (Consolidated Elementary School sponsored the quilts for Emilie Parker, who was a student there briefly before moving to Sandy Hook, and for Principal Dawn Hochsprung. Fieldstone Veterinary sponsored two quilts, for Charlotte Bacon and Jessica Rekos.) The remaining squares are colorful fabric swatches that Kaitlyn hopes represent favorite items or colors of the child or staff member that died 12/14.

Machine quilted by Kaitlyn, with help from her mother and her grandmother, Sandy Barry, she hopes that the quilts will be a source of comfort to family members who suffered a loss.

Kaitlyn has no direct connections to any of those who died 12/14, or to Sandy Hook. Like people all over the world, though, she felt profoundly affected by the tragedy. “Shortly after the shootings, I felt like I wanted to do something for the families,” said Kaitlyn. It was not surprising to her mother, who said that Kaitlyn tends to be the kind of child who wants to make things better for others. But taking on a project of this magnitude was definitely a first, said Ms Gantert. “Kaitlyn is not an attention seeker,” her mother emphasized.

What came to mind immediately for Kaitlyn, despite the fact that neither she nor her mother are seamstresses, was to make quilts. “When you’re younger, you like things like teddy bears and blankets,” said Kaitlyn. “A quilt seemed like something you could wrap yourself in and get the comfort of it,” she said.

Kaitlyn also knew right away that she wanted to incorporate original artwork by children of the same ages as those who perished 12/14. And knowing that the project would involve material costs she could not bear herself, she decided to seek sponsors from local businesses in New Fairfield. 

That was a big step for the 15-year-old. “I don’t really like talking a lot, so going in to businesses to ask them to sponsor a quilt, and explaining it, was hard. But it got easier, as I did it,” said Kaitlyn. Knowing that her finished project might make someone feel better was enough to get her through any feelings of discomfort, she said. Each quilt, she has since figured, cost approximately $30 to produce.

“Most of the businesses in town were more than willing to help me,” said Kaitlyn, and other quilts were sponsored by families and individuals from New Fairfield.


Quilts About Children

With her project approved by the superintendent of schools, Kaitlyn then approached the primary grade teachers and students, and talked to them about what she was doing in terms that the young children could understand. “I told them that the quilts were about other children and asked if they would draw on the squares about things that those children liked,” she said. She and her mother had gleaned information from local news stories about each of the 20 children and six staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School and his or her favorite items or colors, said Kaitlyn.

For nearly six weeks, beginning in March, Kaitlyn would take a school bus from her high school to the elementary school each afternoon, hand out colored markers to the children, and spend an hour working with the children participating. “I enjoyed going into the classes and seeing what the kids would come up with,” said Kaitlyn.

Pencils holding hands.  A flamingo dancing on water, tiny fish swimming beneath its feet. Baseball players in Yankee stripes. Hearts and balloons. Artists’ palettes. Horses, dogs, and cats. Sunshine and angels. Soccer balls, footballs, and baseballs. The children drew the dreams of the children they had never known.

Some of the squares were drawn by “artists” whose names are well-known in other areas: Professional women soccer players Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm contributed their artwork and signatures for Olivia Engel’s quilt. New York Yankee’s outfielder Brett Gardner was happy to sign a square for Victoria Soto’s quilt and handed over a spare quilt square to teammate Curtis Granderson. That signed quilt square was incorporated into the quilt for Caroline Previdi, said Kaitlyn. 

To fill in spaces, Kaitlyn, who loves art and crafts, contributed her own drawings. “I drew a lamb for Olivia Engel, a cowgirl for Jessica Rekos, and for Noah Pozner,” she said, “I drew a picture of a book, and the book was called ‘Mario’s Quest for the Taco,’ because I heard that Noah had liked Mario Brothers, and tacos.”

“It was very emotional, to see some of what the kids came up with,” said Ms Gantert.

By the middle of May, Kaitlyn had collected the stack of finished drawings, as well as those made by the quilt sponsors. Then she and her mother went to JoAnn Fabrics in Brookfield to select material for the backings and trim. They are very grateful to JoAnn’s for offering them a 50 percent discount on all of the materials and supplies, she said.


Personal Touches

“For most of the quilts,” said Kaitlyn, “we tried to find a favorite color; like I had heard that Emilie Parker liked pink, so the backing of her quilt is pink. Emilie liked drawing and art and colored pencils, so we found a material that had colored pencils all over it for the other squares [that the CES children had not made].”

Between herself and her mother, with a great deal of assistance from her grandmother, Kaitlyn spent until the end of June ironing the drawings for at least four minutes each to set the color, and piecing together the quilts.

“At parts, it was hard [to keep on with the project],” said Kaitlyn. “You really realized how many people had died and how bad it was. Sometimes, with tragedies, it doesn’t hit you so hard right away. Doing this, I saw how many people were impacted [by 12/14],” she said.

It was the number of quilts they were making, agreed her mother, that brought home to them the breadth of the tragedy. “You’d sew and sew, and still there’d be more to do. It was just too many people,” Ms Gantert said.

The victims of 12/14 became much more than just names and pictures in the paper, said Kaitlyn. When it seemed that the quilts would never be finished, that helped her to keep going. “It didn’t matter how hard it was. I wanted [the families] to know that people are still thinking of them,” she said.

The 26 finished quilts were displayed at CES at the end of June, and then the Ganterts showed each of the finished quilts to its sponsor. Meanwhile Kaitlyn and her mother continued with a secondary project, to prepare them for delivery to Sandy Hook Promise in Newtown.

A handmade card featuring a silhouette figure representing, again, a favorite pastime of the child or staff member who died, accompanies each quilt. Inside is a handwritten note from Kaitlyn, and the signatures of the children who designed the squares for that quilt, their teacher, and the sponsor.

On the back of each quilt is a hand sewn fabric heart that reads, “Made with love by Kaitlyn Gantert and the Community of New Fairfield.”  

“I’m so proud of her for coming up with this idea and carrying it through,” said Ms Gantert. “She understands that so much has been donated [to the families] and has realized from the beginning that not everyone might want one. She’s okay with that,” said Ms Gantert.

Betsy Gaier, office and volunteer coordinator at Sandy Hook Promise, said that those families with whom the organization has regular contact will receive the quilts directly. The others will be mailed to the families.

It is Kaitlyn’s hope that the families will receive the quilts in the spirit of love with which they were made. She does not see the quilts as sad reminders. “I think,” said Kaitlyn, “that it is sort of celebrating their lives.”

Sponsors for the quilts are: Charlotte Bacon: Fieldstone Veterinary; Daniel Barden, Primetime Fitness of New Fairfield; Olivia Engel: the Creighton family; Josephine Gay: Sunny Chanel; Ana Marquez-Greene: Biscotti’s; Dylan Hockley: Heritage Wine and Liquors; Madeleine Hsu: the Martin family; Catherine Hubbard: Janice Hoey; Chase Kowalski: Bruno’s Pizzeria; Jesse Lewis: the Gantert family; James Mattioli: Consolidated Elementary School; Grace McDonnell: Dr Kenneth Huwer; Emilie Parker: Consolidated Elementary School; Jack Pinto: Stop and Shop of New Fairfield; Noah Pozner: Mobil of New Fairfield; Caroline Previdi: the Clark family; Jessica Rekos: Fieldstone Veterinary; Avielle Richman: Physical Therapy Arts of New Fairfield; Benjamin Wheeler: Portofino’s; Allison Wyatt: Luk’s Realty; Rachel Davino: Barn Gallery; Dawn Hochsprung: Consolidated Elementary School; Anne Marie Murphy: Peachwave New Fairfield; Lauren Rousseau: New Fairfield Animal Hospital; Mary Sherlach: Village Flower Shop; Victoria Soto: Chiropractic Life and Wellness.

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