Every Tuesday, members of the Proviso East High School Key Club community service group head down Madison Street to Belmont Village in Oak Park to work on projects with the residents. They’ve made Halloween cards for the homeless. They’re working to coordinate a Bingo night. And on Nov. 6, the group made and decorated weighted fleece blankets for the assisted living community’s members who suffer from dementia, insomnia or night terrors. 

“I find the community service and the actions we do to be quite useful for the community; they kind of expand our knowledge, what we know,” said Glenn Mayo, 18, of Forest Park. 

Mayo, a senior at Proviso East, said he joined Key Club this September, after hearing about the group during the school’s morning announcements. Although he aims to eventually study game design in college, which is slightly unrelated to the tying, bagging and taping required for making the 10-pound blankets, he considers the practice helpful and necessary.  

“Residents who walk around at night might not have the easiest time walking around; they might hurt themselves and it could be very painful. This will definitely help them,” he said. 

 Leanna McKenzie, activity program coordinator at Belmont Village, said this was the group’s second attempt at making weighted blankets. The first set “exploded everywhere,” she said, laughing. This time, students and residents focused on getting it right, bagging the weighted plastic pellets rather than just inserting them loose. 

Earlier this year, McKenzie said, Belmont Village purchased a weighted blanket for about $100, which was hugely popular among residents. She wanted to purchase more but was deterred by the price. Instead, she looked up how to make them online, and put the Key Club to work. 

“I’m really excited about these next two,” she said.  

Efrain Gaytan, 17, of Maywood, said he thinks the blankets help residents combat loneliness. 

“Sometimes if the people are feeling a bit lonely, it feels like an actual person hugging you with like the weight of it,” Gaytan said.  

Mary Milanovich, 91, a resident at Belmont Village, said she enjoyed painting colorful flowers on the weighted blankets, thinking they could brighten some residents’ empty rooms. She believes more people should interact with residents of the senior facility. 

“We do exist and we are a part of the community,” she said. Different residents have different skills for what they can do and people should take advantage of it.” 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com