Sixteen-year-old John Shuster’s pillow collection campaign provided 89 new, standard pillows for the residents at Kennedy Home in Kinston. The Pillow Project meets the need of providing every resident when they first arrive her very own, new pillow. With the help of his siblings, John plans to continue the project to benefit residents across the state.
As a rule, grandparents believe their grandchildren are extraordinary. They are beautiful, smart and exceptional in every way. Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) alumna Carolyn Tharrington and her husband Harold are no different. They have five grandchildren and each one is the apple of their eyes. But 16-year-old grandson John Schuster is making the duo as proud as any grandparent could be of a grandchild.
“John realizes how much Harold and I love Baptist Children’s Homes,” Tharrington says of their oldest grand. “Having him turn his attention to helping the children in BCH’s care means so much to us. He knows, even at his young age, that it takes everyone working together to meet their needs.”
John, with the support of his mom Donna (Carolyn and Harold’s eldest of two daughters) and dad, began tackling projects to help the children at Kennedy Home in Kinston. He spearheaded collecting book bags and produced campus Bingo Parties during the holiday season.
“The first time I was nervous to meet the kids,” he says. “But they were friendly, and the adults were helpful. I became even more interested after I got to know everyone.”
Carolyn spent her childhood at Mills Home in Thomasville. John sees the importance of BCH firsthand. “I’m grateful for what it has done in my grandmother’s life. She is who she is today because of BCH. Through her, my life has been impacted. I feel I’m blessed to help.”
Most recently, John, a rising junior at Raleigh Charter High School, chose as a school project to help Kennedy Home. He visited with director Brian Baltzell first. “I felt it was important I help meet a real need,” John says. “Mr. Baltzell told me they needed new pillows. He said every child who comes into care gets a new sleeping pillow.”
John had his marching orders. He created a pillow collection campaign – The Pillow Project – and set a goal to provide at least 50 new, standard size pillows.
“Everyone needs a pillow,” He says. “And when the kids leave, they take their pillows with them. I feel every kid should have his own pillow.”
John began his campaign by letting friends and family know his plan. He produced a letter in which he introduced the project, asked for new pillows or cash donations, shared the goal, and set a June 11 deadline. He even offered to go by homes or businesses to pick up the donations. And to make sure all his bases were covered, he wrote: “Also, feel free to drop any pillows off on my front porch or put any cash/check donations in an envelope and place it in my mailbox.”
The campaign initially garnered 29 pillows and more than $300 to purchase additional pillows. Before John, his mom and the Tharringtons made the pillow delivery to Kennedy Home on June 18, the dollar amount jumped to $515 and the money was used to purchase an additional 60 high-quality pillows.
The Pillow Project’s 89 pillows blew Baltzell away. “It was amazing what this one young man was willing to do for our residents. We are overwhelmed by the kindness of each person who contributed.”
There is a constant need for pillows as children and residents come and go in BCH facilities across the state. John has committed to continue the project with the help of his two siblings.
John’s mom Donna wrote in a note to Baltzell that BCH could “count on us to continue this for at least the next five year as Jacob and Jessica are excited to help as well.”
“My brother and sister are seeing that The Pillow Project is a great way to make a difference,” John says.
He credits his and his sibling’s desire to help others in need to his parents and grandparents. He says that they place a high value on doing for others.
“Anyone can do a little to help someone else,” John says. “If other teens want to make a difference, they should seek out a great cause, find something they enjoy doing, and then get involved.”
He says a key for him is to be personally involved. Going and seeing up close the difference he is making helps motivate him to continue. “I see the pillows we gather helping kids throughout Baptist Children’s Homes. I see the project growing.”
Interested individuals can learn more about making a difference in the lives of BCH’s boys and girls by visiting www.bchfamily.org/involved or by calling Brenda Gray at 336-474-1230.