Sarah Williams first noticed "Hope's Boy," about an author's experiences growing up as a foster child, on her mother's dresser.
It wasn't the type of book the 16-year-old would typically read, but the title piqued her curiosity, and she soon found she couldn't put it down. By the time she'd finished it, she was left with a lasting impression of the struggles the boy endured.
Author Andrew Bridge's New York Times bestselling memoir about his 11 years spent in the foster care system, his often heartbreaking relationship with his mother and subsequent treatment in a foster family spoke to her. She recalled one passage where Bridge visits a foster care facility as an adult.
"It was a part in the book where he was talking to the warden, and saw a boy, and he asked the warden to give that little boy a blanket and the warden said no," Sarah said. "I thought that was ridiculous. That was really sad."
It was at that same time she was looking for a project for the Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization's highest honor and equivalent to the Boy Scout Eagle Scout Award.
In the Girl Scouts organization for 11 years, Sarah began as a daisy. Last year, only 5 percent of Girl Scouts eligible received the Gold Award and Sarah is on pace to have one of the top 10 projects nationwide. She said she's continued her role in the scouts because she likes helping people and making the community aware of issues that often go ignored.
"I went to sleep that night after I read it and was thinking about a way that I could give back and help these children because at that time, I was certain that that was what I was going to do for my Gold Award," she said. "I thought as I lay under seven blankets on my bed, what better than to give a gift of a blanket."
So, armed with "Hope's Boy" as inspiration, the Valley Christian High School sophomore began and formed Creative Kindness last April, which makes fleece blankets for foster kids through the nonprofit Foster a Dream.
Developing an action plan, Sarah contacted local service clubs such as the Pleasanton Lions Club and the Danville Rotary Club to ask for funding, which she received. She also was given donations from Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Raley's, Target, Safeway Lucky Stores, Nordstrom and Tap Plastic.
Valley Christian's vice principal gave her the OK to have students in K-12th grades craft more than 800 blankets with knotted borders. So far, more than 1,300 blankets have been made.
She didn't stop there. After getting in touch with representatives for Bridge, the author agreed to both host a book signing (and waiving his speaking fee) at the Pleasanton Border's Books and read to classes at Valley Christian Jan. 9.
It was that day that she began another step in obtaining the Gold Award by "paying it forward." Called legacy kits, a jumbo-sized plastic bag filled with a yard of fleece material, scissors, a pattern and instructions were given out, with the object for the recipients to make a blanket and replenish the materials, passing it on to another person.
"I wanted to do something really big and I wanted it to be remembered," she said.
"She's just an awesome individual," said Laura Heston, a teacher at Harvest Park Middle School and a volunteer for Foster a Dream. "She's an inspiration to all of us because as young as she is, her goals and her attitude about getting things done are so grounded. It never ceases to amaze me."
Sarah first got in contact with Heston and Foster a Dream two years ago and volunteered with the nonprofit's Wonderland event over the Christmas holiday.
Heston, who has volunteered for four years along with her fiance Juan Castro, who also works for the Pleasanton school district, said foster youth are often overlooked by the community.
"A lot of people don't realize that children who are being raised by family members, by grandparents, by aunts, by uncles, are actually foster youth," she said. "A lot of the foster children that we have in our area--in Pleasanton and the Valley area--may be that type of foster child."
"It's just sad how many different schools they end up going to and it's no wonder they have trouble achieving and then once they're 18, they're on their own," she added. "There's no support for them."
Sarah plans to speak at Harvest Park to the eighth-grade service and leadership classes in the near future about her Gold Award project and the legacy kits. She's also working on the next portion of her project to collect 1,500 pairs of shoes.
"A lot of kids come up with ideas and they'll do one project like the Gold Project, and they'll leave that and move on with their lives," Heston said. "Her spirit of giving, I just feel it's a life-long mission for Sarah."
Foster a Dream
"Hope's Boy," by Andrew Bridge
Legacy blanket kits
Groups interested in participating or funding can call Sarah Williams at 462-5667