PATCHWORK QUILTS - made with lacy, pink fabrics, shimmering gold designs and colorful cloths with teddy bear prints - are blanketing incubators in the neonatal intensive care unit of Howard County General Hospital.
"They're just big, bright blocks of color, so there's something for the babies to look at," says Dorothy Kitt, coordinator of the volunteer group that makes the quilts.
The vibrant patches bring comfort to a sterile, white-walled hospital room and to the families of these infants of fragile health.
"Some of these babies are barely over a pound," said Annilin Buppert, a former intensive-care nurse who started the quilting group, which operates out of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.
Each quilt is given to a baby.
Family members cherish it, said Kitt, an Owen Brown resident. "It's such a scary time for [the families]. It's something to hold on to," she said. "One time, a father went running out of the unit and caught up with the group and thanked them, and told them how much it meant."
The quilts are designed by youths from the Unitarian Universalist church, some as young as 4 and 5. The children lay out blocks of fabrics, and adult volunteers from the church sew them into 2-foot-by-3-foot quilts.
They make about 150 a year.
The project, which began as a part of a monthlong religious education class more than three years ago, is a way for the young quilt designers to express themselves to the families and provide a community service.
"Some of the biggest boys make the frilliest quilts that they want to go to a little girl. Some of these kids have relatives that were preemie [premature] babies, or were preemie babies themselves. A lot of times, the kids will write messages on the back side of the quilt," Buppert said.
"It was really invigorating to see the babies get the quilts," said Megan Buppert, Annilin's 16-year-old daughter, who has volunteered with the group. "It made me feel really happy."
The quilts are draped over incubators, providing insulation from noise, and parents and nurses use the blankets to warm infants who are strong enough to be held.
Subtle, plain fabrics are sewn on the reverse side, so babies with the biggest health concerns are not overstimulated, Annilin Buppert said.
Megan was a seventh-grader at Owen Brown Middle School when her mother started the group. She encouraged her mother to start a similar community service program through her school home economics class.
Annilin Buppert, a professional quilter, worked with Ann DeLacy, Megan's teacher, to implement a program in which students receive community service credit hours for making quilts for the neonatal unit. About a year later, in 1998, Buppert worked with Peg Dear, a teacher at Harper's Choice Middle School, to start a program there.
The quilts warm the babies and warm the room. "It really re-shapes the atmosphere," Buppert said. "The nurses have said that it's a touch of home."
The quilting group at the Unitarian Universalist church is open to the public and meets at Owen Brown Interfaith Center on Cradlerock Way.
To join: 410-381-2285.
The Fuel Fund of Maryland presented St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church of Columbia with a 2000 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award in June.
The fund presented five such awards to donors and volunteers representing five counties. A nonprofit group granting money to restore or continue heating services, the fund honored St. John church for its philanthropic actions in Howard County.
The Community Action Council of Howard County, which distributes the fund's grants in the county, nominated the church, which is on Old Annapolis Road.
The church has contributed "in the neighborhood of $10,000" in the past four years, according to Larry Hunt, CAC director of program planning and development.
Convenience store coming
The former High's store, which was at 6810 Cradlerock Way in Owen Brown, is scheduled to be replaced by a convenience store and drop-off dry cleaner.
The new family-run business will open by mid-September, according to Roger Min, who owns the space with his wife, Janice.
The Mins are Montgomery County residents.