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Meet Nicole Struse of The Soothing Stitches Project in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Struse.

Nicole, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In 2013, my son was five years old and receiving Occupational Therapy services for what would later be diagnosed as Autism.

The therapist we had worked with recommended a weighted blanket for him because he would not sleep through the night. He would wake multiple time a night and then wake his sister, my husband and myself. I began researching the blankets online and found them to be grossly overpriced and, quite honestly, very blah. All solid colors like blue or gray. Nothing that I could ever see him really “connecting” with enough to want to use it.

My husband reminded me that I had a sewing machine in storage and I could probably just make one myself. So, I brought my son to the fabric store, let him pick out his fave material (at the time was Star Wars) and got to work. It took about a week of pouring over Pinterest ideas, but my first weighted blanket was born. HE LOVED IT. My daughter, who is completely neurotypical, even wanted one.

So, I repeated the trip to the fabric store, and she received one as well. During the time that followed, I have made a few for friends and family members, but never really thought much of it. Then, in 2016, I found myself unemployed, bored and needing something to fill my days. I posted on a local Facebook group that I would make a freeweighted blanket for any child in the area with Autism using what fabric I had left in my stash.

Within the first couple of hours, I had about 25 requests for blankets and multiple community members wanting to donate time, money, and fabric. Within a couple of weeks, I began receiving requests from all over the country and internationally. I knew I was onto something, so I took the legal steps to become an incorporated 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Over the past three years, we had handmade and distributed over 250 free and low-cost weighted blankets to children with Autism. We have also recently expanded into providing the same program for children battling Cancer, and our military veterans that suffer from PTSD.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Like all things in life, it has most definitely not been a smooth road. More like a constant learning process. However, I have met so many wonderful and caring people in the community and around the country. That is a large part of what makes this journey so worth it.

Some of our struggles include budgetary and financial barriers, cultivating new volunteers who are really wanting to invest their time and heart into our cause, and space. I currently work off my kitchen table in a condo. Space is by far the struggle I feel everyday for sure.

The Soothing Stitches Project – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Soothing Stitches Project is dedicated to making and providing free and low-cost weighted blankets for children with Autism. We are known for being 100% volunteer and only charge for materials, never time or labor. Therefore, we can keep costs down, and our largest blanket sells for only $55. This is about 1/4 of the mainstream for-profit weighted blanket manufacturers that I have researched.

I am most proud of the fact that our blankets are handmade with love. I make 95% of the blankets myself. My mother helps me when she can as well. I know the struggle of a child with Autism. I know how stressed out these parents are. Sleep is at a premium. It’s very personal for me. I also believe that is what sets us apart from others.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career so far was being a Resource Vendor at the 2018 Orange County Autism Walk this past December.

It was a surreal experience to see my labor of love hit the “big stage.” I met so many beautiful families that just get it. They live it. No explanation necessary. The smiles on the faces of all the children, being there with my family to support-it was amazing beyond words.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Janis Tripodi

    February 19, 2019 at 23:19

    Nicole is an ANGEL! I live in NJ and I applied for one of the blankets for my Grandson. At this time Nicole and her elves were so busy they were doing only CA. Well low and behold this Angel said she would make one for my grandson. It was amazing to see the turn around with sleep. He loved his blanket. When he outgrew it I gave it to a little person that attends his OT. Nicole with her mighty wings, send my Grandson another one, bigger that he still sleeps with every night. One amazing Lady with so much LOVE to give. I know my grandson is covered with Love from Nicole and her Elves.
    Thank you and God Bless you all.

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