December 30, 2011

Bill Nemitz: Hooked on giving back

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Volunteer Dan Reardon, below, oversees a program at the Long Creek youth center that not only has produced 3,000 blankets to donate to others, but also has taught troubled teens the rewards of learning a skill and giving back. He’s “truly an unsung hero,” the superintendent says.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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"They say, 'Right. You let these kids have scissors and metal crochet hooks?'" Bouffard said with a chuckle. "They can't believe it."

Nor can they grasp the idea that a volunteer like Reardon can meet with his blanket boys three times a week without the need for security to keep things peaceful.

"It's really soothing in a positive way," explained D.J. Cressey, 17, of Brunswick. "It's like there are ways to get high positively -- and this is one of them."

Cressey was addicted to heroin before he arrived at Long Creek last summer. He learned how to make tie blankets a little over a month ago. Now, much to his pleasant surprise, he can finish one in 25 minutes flat.

"Being a drug addict, instant gratification is part of the lifestyle," Cressey said. "And you come in here and it's almost the same way -- you get to tie a blanket and you see it finished -- but it's a new kind of gratification.

"You start to understand, 'Man, I'm giving this to someone else! For once I'm giving back everything I've taken, you know?' It's definitely a really different and cool way of looking at stuff."

It's also, for those who might be in search of a truly meaningful New Year's resolution, a different and cool way to change a kid's life for the better while there's still time. For information on volunteering at Long Creek, call Melanie Cardus or Stephanie Netto at 822-2605.

Upon being released, each Long Creek resident completes a survey. One question asks, "Who had the most influence on you while you were here?"

"Invariably, eight out of 10 kids name a volunteer," said Superintendent Bouffard. "And then of that group, most of them mention (Reardon) by name. He's had that much of an impact."

Reardon, whose 15-20 hours per week at Long Creek (he also runs a weekly support group) follow his day job as director of mission effectiveness at the nonprofit Learning Works in Portland, said he's yet to learn how to crochet.

Nor, when he first came knocking all those years ago, was he equipped with anything more than a patient ear and an open heart.

"You know, I don't know how to solve all their problems and fix all those kinds of things," Reardon said. "But if I can help these kids give someone else some kind of present, that's about as good as it gets for me."

And for the kids as well?

Reardon looked around the room as blanket ... after blanket ... after blanket ... made its way to the next outgoing pile.

"I hope so," he said with a smile. "I hope so."

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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Additional Photos

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D.J. Cressey, 17, of Brunswick ties the tabs on a blanket. He says the work is rewarding because “I’m giving this to someone else! For once I’m giving back everything I’ve taken.”

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Jacorey Monterio of Portland crochets an item for The Blanket Project. The 10-year-old program has provided more than 500 blankets to the Portland Family Shelter and hundreds of others to various social service agencies.


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