On a cloudy morning in March, two brothers, Jacob, 12, and Dylan, 10, found their way to seats in the vast waiting area of the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court, in Monterey Park.
Stress was written on their faces. Both had been living in foster care since the previous May, when one of them was arrested along with another family member in a shoplifting scheme, and the judge on the case would soon decide whether they would be going home to their mother or to their grandfather, who had been their primary caregiver.
Their Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Nancy Brashears, accompanied them. She was used to providing some comfort to the boys each time she saw them, but this time she had something extra.
“Hey what’s in that big bag?” Dylan asked her.
Nancy answered by reaching inside the bag and pulling out an oversized, double-sided quilt. As she unfurled it, the boys saw it was stitched with an elaborate pirate theme-scenes from Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Wow, I love it!” Dylan said, immediately wrapping himself in it.
Then Nancy produced a smaller quilt, this one with a variety of antique cars, trains, and planes.
“I love cars like that!” Jacob exclaimed, throwing it around his shoulders. “Did you remember I told you I like cars like that? You said we could go to Peterson (Automotive Museum) to see them!”
The quilts were donations from the South Bay Quilters Guild, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering quilting excellence in the South Bay. Besides facilitating educational meetings, travel, and friendship, it promotes quilting through philanthropy, and one of its marquis projects is a partnership with CASA of Los Angeles.
Since 2004, the guild has led an effort called Read Me a Quilt, which provides quilts paired with books by a theme-from space and sports to flowers and cartoon characters-to CASA children of all ages.
“Quilts and books go together naturally,” the program’s chair and co-creator, Julie Maas, explains. “A lot of foster children have never really had anything of their own, and some of their homes don’t have any books in them. I wanted children to be able to sit with a book in their laps and a quilt wrapped around them and experience how wonderful reading is.”
Books also facilitate shared experiences that help build relationships and normalize family life. For many kids in the dependency court system, the first person to read to them is their CASA or foster parent.
“It has been tremendously popular with the women in the guild,” Julie says. “It really hits them hard when they hear these stories.”
While each quilt is chosen to match a child’s interests, some are made to order when there has been a very special circumstance. For example, one sewn especially for a vision-impaired child had a distinctive tactile quality.
The guild also makes receiving blankets for CASA babies and often delivers about a dozen quilts and blankets per month to CASA of Los Angeles, but occasionally as many as 25.
Now ten years into the partnership, no one knows for sure how many quilts and blankets South Bay Quilters Guild has made for CASA of Los Angeles, and that’s the way Julie wants it.
“I purposely never kept track of the exact number of quilts we made for CASA, because I didn’t want it to be all about numbers,” she says. “But my guess would be we’ve made about a thousand.”
That means they’ve dropped off about a thousand books, too.
Jacob likes to read his, a Berenstain Bears story called We Love Trucks, out loud. But Dylan hasn’t read Treasure Island just yet.
He made a deal with his foster father to read it to him and Jacob together.