Note From Arielle
Hi, my name is Arielle Johnson and I am 20 years old. I am on the women’s lacrosse team and enrolled in the Occupational Therapy program at Springfield College. The Homemade Hugs project is inspired by my personal experiences growing up with a rare autoimmune disease. Freshman year of high school my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. Addison’s Disease affects 1 in 100,000 people in the U.S and I am one of them. At 14 years old, my life had changed forever. The first year was really challenging for me, adjusting to my body, and learning how to adapt to life again. Although this experience was very tough, it allowed me to meet life changing people. I will never forget the nurse who took care of me when I was first diagnosed. In a time where I was afraid, that nurse brought me comfort. She single-handedly inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare. However, I knew that wasn’t enough.
When I came home from the hospital I knew that I needed to do something to provide that feeling of comfort to children in need. My grandma had always made me tie fleece blankets growing up and passed,that passion down to my mom. My mom and grandma inspired the idea to make blankets and donate them to the Pediatric Endocrinology Unit at UMass Memorial Hospital (my unit). The hardest part for me after being diagnosed was feeling like I was alone. I still to this day have never met anyone else diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. I wish I were able to relate to other kids who are feeling like I was. The goal of Homemade Hugs is to make children know they are not alone throughout their health journey. That is something I wish I had when I was first sick and I want to prevent any future kids from feeling that way.
The first donation we had 8 blankets and I remember being so excited. My last donation had 50 blankets. Over the past 7 years we have donated around 300 total blankets. I never imagined Homemade Hugs to grow into what it is today, but I am so grateful it has. I cannot thank my grandma and family enough for supporting me and inspiring me to continue this journey. Even my dad and brother who are not very crafty help make blankets. I also want to thank my friends and teammates who have helped make blankets. I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to help children in need.
Every time I go to donate our homemade blankets, the feeling comes back to me of being scared and alone. However the blankets give me hope that the children of the Pediatric Endocrinology Unit are not alone and they can overcome any obstacle that gets in their way. Knowing that such a small thing can change a child’s experience means more to me than can ever be put into words.