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Blanket program takes off

Something good came from Lynne Olien's grief, and it's gotten only bigger and better. It's been just more than a year since the West Fargo woman started a local chapter of Project Linus in honor of her son Nathan, who died at age 5 of a rare neur...

Betty Fischer

Something good came from Lynne Olien's grief, and it's gotten only bigger and better.

It's been just more than a year since the West Fargo woman started a local chapter of Project Linus in honor of her son Nathan, who died at age 5 of a rare neurological disorder in January 2002.

Project Linus, a nationwide program whose name refers to the thumb-sucking Peanuts cartoon character, provides handmade blankets to seriously ill and traumatized children.

Led by Olien, the local chapter has been expanded to cover all of eastern North Dakota. It distributed more than 2,240 blankets to children this year through social service agencies, hospitals, police departments, abuse shelters, homeless shelters, a hospice center and a camp for children with cancer.

More than 200 individuals and groups - including elementary school students from West Fargo, Fargo and Abercrombie - have donated blankets to the cause, Olien said.

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She commends the students for coming to the aid of other children.

"They're helping somebody, but they're doing something that should be making them feel really good and really proud, too," she said.

South Fargo resident Betty Fischer, one of several women who gather at Olien's house on Mondays to help her sort through blankets and sew on tags, has quilted about 65 blankets this year for Project Linus. She said she got involved after reading a Forum article about Olien's efforts.

"It seemed like the fit for me. I want to volunteer and I love quilting, so I combined the two," said Fischer, who's had lots of experience quilting blankets for her three children and seven grandchildren.

Project Linus drop-off sites have been established in Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Valley City, Wahpeton and Lisbon.

Olien said she's amazed by the response to the program.

"I've always known the people of North Dakota are good people, but this has overwhelmed what I could have ever possibly expected," she said.

The program's success also is personally gratifying for Olien, whose son lost his blanket during a 2001 stay at a St. Paul hospital that was kind enough to provide him with a spare blanket.

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"You can't read the thank-you notes you get from kids ... and not be overwhelmed just knowing that you're giving something back to somebody who's not in a good situation," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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