“The support we have received from our community, particularly our schools, has been amazing. To know the schools we once attended wanted to do something to help us was a great feeling,” said Figueroa, 14. “Growing up going to Smith and Harman, we remember how we were encouraged to help and have empathy toward others. We learned very strong values in the ‘Harmanize’ and GRIT programs that we apply today.”
Figueroa and her mother, Lourdes Narvaez Soto, had the initial idea for the project a year and a half ago. It got off the ground as a nonprofit about six months after that.
“Cecille and I have worked on this together. Right away when they came to me [with the idea] I was overjoyed to join,” said Penas-Johnson, 14. “Together we focused on [contacting] churches for how many blankets they needed in kid-friendly designs.”
The list of local churches: St. John the Baptist Church, Tipp City; St. Mary’s Church, Dayton; St. Teresa Church, New Carlisle; St. Patrick Church, Troy; and Sacred Heart Church, New Carlisle. The girls will attend the various Sunday services when they bring the blankets.
In addition to churches, they’ve distributed blankets to the Del Puenete Tutoring Center in Dayton, Springfield City School District, Project Women in Springfield, and Su Casa in Cincinnati. They’ve expanded their reach quite a bit this year.
“We have an alliance with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley at the border in Texas. When the children cross the border they stay at temporary housing,” said Penas-Johnson. It is very cold inside. They come in with short sleeves, T-shirts and shorts, so they’re not prepared for it.”
Besides the charity, Penas-Johnson is also busy with cheerleading, basketball and track at Oakwood Junior High. She and Figueroa have been friends for three years.
Figueroa is also a cheerleader and ran track this year. She’s also an equestrian who’s been riding horses for the past 10 years.
“I really just want to really let other kids know if they have an idea to help others, go for it and don’t hold back,” said Penas-Johnson. “As long as you have that good intention it will lead to a good outcome.”
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Contact this contributing writer at PamDillon@woh.rr.com.
How to help
Contact: The girls may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 787-379-4440. Those interested may donate to Warm Hugs Fund via the Dayton Foundation online at www.daytonfoundation.org/ccgift.html?fund=Warm_Hugs_Fund_#8011. Or by mail to The Dayton Foundation, c/o Warm Hugs Fund, 40 N. Main St., Suite 500, Dayton, OH 45423.