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PERSON OF THE DAY: Andra Good Honors Best Friend’s Legacy with Leigh’s Blankies

Andra Good Honors Her Best Friend’s Legacy with Leigh’s Blankies

Leigh Ann Tonkinson/Andra Good and her daughter/2008/Photo Courtesy of Andra Good

Leigh Ann Tonkinson, Andra Good and her baby/2008

By Haley Christopher/March 27, 2017
Photos Courtesy Andra Good

Andra Good lived a pretty ordinary, happy life in Gilbert, Arizona until it was flipped upside down in 2010. Andra’s best friend Leigh Ann Tonkinson, who was her lifelong friend since high school, had been tragically killed in a car accident at age 35. Leigh and Andra’s families were both devastated and Andra knew she had to focus her grief into something positive.

To deal with her sadness, Andra decided to take up sewing and taught herself how to sew through Youtube videos. Sewing would change her life forever in ways she could not imagine!

“I just started sewing a ton of blankets and gave them to people. It felt good to create something and to put my eyes on giving to others and giving back,” Andra says.

About nine months after Leigh passed away, Andra was at a Christmas service at church when she saw a slideshow of a mission trip to Malawi in southeast Africa.  She got to thinking about how many blankies she was making and how they bring kids so much comfort. Plus, Leigh loved the blankets for kids. She had been a nurse supervisor at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and worked there for 10 years.

As Andra watched the slides of these children in Africa. she just kept thinking I wonder if they would benefit from having a blanket of their own? Andra knew making blankies for a good cause could only be called one thing, Leigh’s Blankies, in the name of her inspiring friend. When I heard about the good work Andra was doing, I wanted to find out more about how she turned this fascinating passion of blankies for kids into a successful international non profit.

Blankets for Children in Africa

In February 2011,  Andra and a group of her volunteers sewed their first batch of blankies equaling up to about 16 blankets, which was nothing compared to what was to come in the future. Andra sent these blankies to the same group in Malawi she had previously seen in the slide show in the church. These were the people who had inspired Leigh’s Blankies so Andra only saw it fitting that they were sent the first delivery.

Andra Good, Leigh's Blankies, with children in Africa/Andra's photoAndra received an excellent report back and was told that the children really loved having something to call their own. That prompted Andra and her team to start making blankies for kids in foster care as well because oftentimes they are removed from a home and don’t bring anything along with them. They also started making blankies for children overseas in orphanages and villages.

In addition to sending blankies across the ocean, Andra set up programs that were more local as well. She partnered with Christian Family Care, an adoption agency in Arizona. Andra now gives sets of blankies to this program, one tiny blankie for the birth mom and a normal blankie for the baby. This program is very important to Andra because she has personally adopted her two children.

“I adopted my two daughters at birth. I know the grief that their birth moms experienced. They left the hospital without a memento, and they were placing their child where they may not see or love on them again,” Andra says. “The adoption program has been really special and helps with the grief process for the birth mom and the adopted family.”

Coping Mechanisms

Andra uses blankies as a coping mechanism in various different ways for different people. In addition to the making and distributing of blankets, Andra decided to take Leigh’s Blankies a step further and has created a sewing program at an orphanage at Huruma Children’s Home  in Kenya where the children can make their own school uniforms. This home is also using the program to make money for the orphanage through different projects.

“We didn’t really have any set backs and it seems like God just keeps on opening doors.” Andra says.

Andra Good's Leigh's Blankies group/Photo on Andra's website

Andra’s team at Huruma’s Children’s Home, Kenya

Another project Andra and her team are working on is the Transition Housing Care Project. It allows children who age out of the Huruma orphanage to have support through a life skills class, a housing kit and the basic necessities they need to set up a small home.

This project has been running for three years now and it has been really successful for the young adults. Through this program Andra and her team has found the majority of students that participate in the program go on to attend an African university.

The biggest goal for Andra this year is to turn Leigh’s Blankies into Leigh’s Mission.  She feels that changing the name to Mission would encompass all of the projects they are working on. Andra also would like to build a home, Mama Leigh Ann’s House in Kenya, that would house the children aging out of the orphanage.

Starting Projects You’re Passionate About

Andra Good's Leigh's Blankies group gives blankie to person in Africa/Photo on Andra's website“If they were in a home together they could lean on each other, have accountability and it wouldn’t be such a hard transition going from living with 200 brothers and sisters at the orphanage to going out and living on their own,” Andra says.

Andra could never imagined Leigh’s Blankies would take off and be as large and growing as it is today. It began as a small hobby rooted from grief and has sprouted into something truly great and meaningful.

“Starting out in a project like this can be easy as long as you find something you’re passionate about,” says Andra. Her passion is truly inspiring and shows through all of her work and dedication to her program.

“Oftentimes we have our own ideas and our own plans and they can get in the way. Sometimes we do things to better our own purpose and not to better the purpose of the organization that has already been doing the work,” Andra says as a word of caution.

Her advice is to walk along with someone who has done something similar and make sure you ask them what would be helpful. Her blankies have been transported around the world. In addition to creating them for people in multiple villages in different countries in Africa, they can be found in India, Poland, Honduras and elsewhere. Since 2011 she has made over 6,000 blankies.

I am inspired by Andra’s story and how she was able to make the most out of a devastating accident. In talking with Andra I could hear the kindness in her voice and the giving in her heart. I hope this story will open the eyes of others and spread kindness and hope.

Leigh’s Blankies

Andra Good and Leigh's Blankies/Photo Courtesy Andra Good

If you are interested in Andra’s organization, you can find more info at leighsblankies.com.

Twitter: @leighsblankies
FB: @leighsblankies
YouTube videos

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Written and Reported for TWE by Haley Christopher

Haley Christopher/intern for The Women's Eye

Haley is a graduate from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School with a Bachelor in Journalism and Mass Communication degree. She is at the start of her journalism/public relations career and loves writing about people who are inspiring and making an impact in our world. Haley believes in giving back because she feels that we rise up by lifting others.

INTERVIEW: CNN Hero Umra Omar Delivers Healthcare and Hope to Coastal Kenya

Umra Omar, Safari Doctors/Photo: Safari Doctors

Umra Omar

By Pamela Burke/October 11, 2016
Photos provided by Safari Doctors

What do you do when you have a successful career but find out that people living in an archipelago thousands of miles away in your native Kenya have serious healthcare issues that need attention? Umra Omar (@UmraOmar) faced that situation head-on and made the decision to return to the land of her birth.

In 2014 she founded Safari Doctors, a program operating out of Lamu, Kenya, offering free basic medical services where there were almost none.

“We say every journey starts with a single step…The goal is to have monthly clinics targeting a minimum of 10 villages which is service to approximately 10,000 villagers treating an average of 1,000 patients a month.”  Umra Omar

CNN recently recognized her efforts by naming her a CNN Hero. We were so impressed with Umra and her team that we want to introduce her to our TWE readers. Her small group travels by air, road and boat to bring much needed healthcare to the coastal islands in the Lamu Archipelago.  The trips can be dangerous as the Somalia border and terrorists are not far away.

Meet Umra who is eight months pregnant with her second child and as committed as ever…  [Read more…]

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Julie Church’s Kenyan Company Turns Old Sandals into Colorful Products

FOR TOY LOVERS EVERYWHERE!

Handmade giraffes, elephants and warthogs made by Ocean Sole, a  recycling company in Kenya founded by Julia Church, uses discarded flip-flops and other sandals.  

 

Toys made out of recycled sandals and flip-flops in Kenya

For more info in this innovative company, click here at Yahoo News

Photo by Ben Curtis

Rebecca Welsh On HALO–Her Vision To Help Art Liberate Orphans

Rebecca Welsh

Rebecca with children in Uganda

UPDATE October 11, 2013: Rebecca Welsh Helps Orphans and At-Risk Kids Worldwide, PEOPLE

By Stacey Gualandi/March 17, 2011

“What has happened in Japan is absolutely devastating. It reminds me of the 2004 tsunami that dramatically rose the number of orphans where we work in India. At that time we had to quickly make space for children in need of shelter and love…Just one child losing their parents to something like this is an absolute tragedy.”—Rebecca

Rebecca Welsh knows first-hand the overwhelming desperation following a destructive tsumani. Seven years ago, she created The HALO Foundation–Helping Art Liberate Orphans. A HALO-supported orphanage in India provided a home for children left parentless after the 2004 tsunami.

This 31-year-old former Taekwondo World Champion is a guardian angel for many young people. HALO continues to offer support and hope worldwide through determination, donations, and drawings!

The artwork these young boys and girls create has sold at auctions and in turn helps to fund food, shelter, education, water, and the clothes on their back. HALO now operates in six countries, supporting 11 orphanages and counting.

Rebecca Welsh Doing Taekwando

Photo: Morgan Miller

A mutual friend recently introduced me to Rebecca while she was exploring a possible expansion to the West Coast. And considering I am a student of tae-bo (taikwondo-light), I was very interested to see how a world champion in martial arts became a champion for young children in need… [Read more…]

Marsha Wallace On How Dining For Women Wants to Feed the World

Marsha Wallace, Dining for Women

UPDATE May 20, 2013: Dining for Women will celebrate it’s 10th Anniversary–Their Decade of Dreams–June 21-23–in Greenville, South Carolina.

While meditating in 2002, Marsha Wallace had a vision: “What if every month you meet with your gal pals, you take the money that you would normally spend at a bar or restaurant, and then donate that money to help poverty-stricken women and girls half way around the world?”

“I do believe if you ask you will receive. We’re best when we’re living with purpose.” Marsha Wallace

Sounds like a simple concept right? Well, that inspired idea became DINING FOR WOMEN, Marsha’s organization that now boasts over 200 chapters in the U.S. and in three countries, and has raised over $946,000 for 48 charities in developing nations.

Marsha Wallace Diing for Women

Atlanta Dining for Women Chapter

EYE Contributor Stacey Gualandi confesses cooking is not her thing, but dining out with friends is. And she was looking for a fun way to make a difference. So she connected in more ways than one when she spoke to Marsha.

Her passion, enthusiasm, and initiative was so compelling, Stacey will be starting the first DFW chapter in Hollywood, CA, in February… [Read more…]

Jessica Posner On Building The First Free School For Girls In A Kenyan Slum

Jessica PosnerUPDATE 6/16/11–Jessica opened the Johanna Justin-Jinich Community Clinic last November which Jessica tells us has already seen over 3,000 patients. It specializes in providing primary health care for women and children. The center is in the name of a friend, an advocate of helping those in need and whose life was taken in a campus shooting.

By Pamela Burke/October 28, 2010

Jessica Posner is doing extraordinary things in a place called Kibera, Kenya. It’s the largest slum in Africa with 1.5 million people living in squalid conditions lacking running water and electricity.

Most of the 500,000 girls under 18 in Kibera don’t get the chance to go to school. But Jessica is making it her mission to provide free education for as many of them as she can.

Starting from square one, she and her co-founder Kennedy Odede worked nonstop to establish the Kibera School for Girls in 2009. Their nonprofit “Shining Hope for Communities” is also opening a health care clinic there in November.

“The deck is so stacked against these people that I care about. But I see moments of transformation, and I would do anything to help them.”

Jessica Posner

I learned about this remarkable 23-year-old graduate of Wesleyan University from Echoing Green, a global nonprofit that awards seed funds to social entrepreneurs working on bold ideas for social change.

I reached Jessica in Kibera working on her various projects and wanted to ask her how she ended up in Kenya launching such groundbreaking programs. And how was she able to start the free girls’ school?… [Read more…]