DBusiness Daily News interviewed Nicholas Kristock, founder and executive director of Fleece and Thank You of Novi, about the nonprofit’s mission to create a more hopeful hospital environment by providing fleece blankets tagged with video messages to children battling an illness. Kristock played semi-professional soccer in Australia while working for four charities and considers the sport the “vehicle” that brought him to the nonprofit world. Fleece and Thank You will host Make A Blanket Day on Aug. 5th at High Velocity Sports in Canton Township to make 5,000 blankets in one day and meet their goal of providing blankets to each of the 30,000 children treated in Michigan hospitals each year.
1. DDN: What inspired your interest in nonprofit organizations?
NK: I am a big believer that things in life have to be a fit. In just the same way that a computer science guy really loves computers and goes into the computer field, I just really like getting in other people's lives, figuring out what they need, and solving a problem for them, and the nonprofit world was such a good fit for that. I really think that was how it was born; it was just a good fit for who I am. I did a lot of volunteering throughout high school and I started my first nonprofit in 2012 in college. I started it with two of my best friends. We didn’t know what we wanted to do, but we just started a charity. So, we filed paperwork to start it in Michigan and for our mission statement we just wrote ‘we want to change the world.’ That was funny because we got the papers kicked back and the state of Michigan (said) you can’t just start a charity ‘to change the world,’ you have to focus on something. Then we ended up focusing on funding mission trips for kids in high school.
2. DDN: Where did the idea for Fleece and Thank You come from?
NK: I was working in children's hospitals when I was living in Australia for two years. My heart was already called to do something in that field, I just didn’t know what. My sister is actually a pediatric oncology nurse at Mott Children’s Hospital and she mentioned to me when I was coming home from Australia, ‘Nick, you should make a blanket while you’re not doing anything.’ So, I started asking more questions like, ‘Why should I make a blanket? How many do you need? How often do you need them?’ I started to figure out that all these hospitals never have enough blankets. We wanted to be that guaranteed service that just asked how many kids need blankets, then let’s go make it happen.
3. DDN: What aspect of Fleece and Thank You are you most proud of?
NK: Two things. First, I think it’s pretty cool how many people we actually reach in a year. We do over 300 events, and if each event averages over 40 people, we’re touching a lot of people every year and spreading this message to them. I think that’s pretty cool that we’ve got thousands and thousands of people that we get to impact every year through our message. The other cool thing, which most people don’t expect, is seeing volunteers who would have never met in life get together over a blanket. We’ve had some friendships emerge from our volunteers between two people that would have never met and here they are sitting and tying a fleece blanket and making a video message for a kid in the hospital.
4. DDN: What is something you wish more people knew about Fleece and Thank You?
NK: It would definitely be just the root problem that we’re trying to conquer. It’s that number 30,000, a rough estimate of how many kids go in for treatment (in Michigan hospitals). If I could just talk to everyone at once I would say, ‘guys, this is such an easy thing. We’re not curing cancer, but we are making a difference on a first impression. We’re giving a kid a little piece of hope when they really don’t have that much to hope for. We’re just trying to put a blanket on every bed.’ It would just be getting people to understand that it takes a village, but with a village, this is easily accomplished. It would be so cool to be the first state in America for people to be able to say Michigan has got this on lock down, every kid gets a blanket, done!
5. DDN: What is the most difficult thing about being the director of Fleece and Thank You?
NK: On the same token, it would be getting people to understand how serious it is. For the people who don’t take time to understand what it is, I’ve devoted my life to making blankets, and they think, ‘Oh Nick, it’s just a blanket.’ But when you really take time to understand it, you see the stories and you take the time to talk to the kids and the families who get a blanket and we get the videos back it’s just this overwhelming theme of, ‘Hey guys, we just want to take a moment to say thanks, because this was the worst day in our entire life and this was the only good thing that happened that day.’ This is something the family remembers forever because it’s one bright spot in the darkest day of their life. For those looking to make a difference, they just have to do it.
Fleece and Thank You will be hosting Make a Blanket Day on Aug. 5th at High Velocity Sports in Canton Township. Participants can purchase blankets on the organization’s CrowdRise page for the carnival-themed event, which will feature face painting, photo booths, DJs, and inflatables. For those unable to attend the event, blanket kit materials can be shipped anywhere in the world and made at home.
More information about Fleece and Thank You can be found here.