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Giving children sweet dreams: Huron Head Start benefits from Aberdeen woman’s project

Posted: Monday, Dec 10th, 2012

Charlotte McMahon, director of the Huron Head Start, gives a Sweet Dreams bag to Michelle Sifuentes for her son, Angel Perez. McMahon said 68 gift bags were donated to the school, one for each student, by Melanie Lundquist of Aberdeen. Lundquist expanded her Sweet Dreams project this year to include all the Head Start students in the 13-county Northeast South Dakota district. Sifuentes helped transport the gift bags to Huron after the last meeting. She plans to save her son’s bag until Christmas. In the next photo, each theme-based Sweet Dreams bag contains a blanket, standard bed pillow and pillow case, a pair of warm, winter pajamas, a medium-sized stuffed animal, a hard-back book, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a dental hygiene chart with brushing tips and guides. Melanie Lundquist began the project as a way to help families establish a routine that will promote good habits and literacy in the home and make bedtime a fun time. PHOTOS BY LOUISE VAN POLL/PLAINSMAN

HURON — One woman’s dream of helping young children has become a dream come true for 412 Head Start children in northeast South Dakota when they received one of her Sweet Dreams gift bags.

Melanie Lundquist of Aberdeen began the project last year when she put together and donated 108 Sweet Dreams bags to the Aberdeen Head Start. She decided she would like to expand the program and began talking with staff in the Northeast South Dakota Head Start office.

“NESD Head Start covers 13 counties and serves 412 kids,” explained Lundquist. “I don’t know why, but I said, ‘Sure, I can make bags for all of them,’” she laughed. Huron’s 68 Head Start students were among the recipients this year.

The Sweet Dreams bag is designed to help children and parents establish routines, good habits and literacy in the home. Each theme-based bag contains a blanket, standard bed pillow and pillow case, a pair of warm, winter pajamas, a medium-sized stuffed animal, a hard-back book, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a dental hygiene chart with brushing tips and guides.

Lundquist is a speech pathologist who has worked with children ages birth through 3 years old in home visits for 23 years. “Over the course of time, I realized kids are craving structure,” she said. “I saw how well they do with routines. Several years ago I began searching for routines that I could help families establish.”

She also said literacy is important to her and she has a lifetime passion for books and reading.

“The name Sweet Dreams kept coming into my head, so after a couple of years I decided to go with it,” said Lundquist.

The Sweet Dreams bags encourage a good, healthy bedtime routine. Bedtime is a transition from the busy day into a quiet time leading to a relaxed sleep. A good routine established for bedtime early in a child’s life can ease that transition and make for a no-tears, happy goodnight every night for years to come. Bedtime is also one of the times when hygiene should be incorporated into a child’s day and good dental health begins in the very young with learned toothbrushing skills.

Another great idea all parents should encourage is reading. This starts with the parents reading to their little ones, and what better time to be sure to squeeze in that activity than at bedtime? Lundquist’s Sweet Dreams bags incorporate all these concepts in a kid-friendly bag of goodies.

Lundquist said the children she visits with are so excited to have their very own bedding, book and stuffed animal, especially if they have older siblings and are used to hand-me-downs. The dream is that each child will be excited to put on their new pajamas, brush their teeth, then snuggle up in bed with their stuffed friend and a parent to read a bedtime story.

Lundquist estimates each bag is valued between $50 and $60, so she estimates she spent about $20,000 this year, with most of that donated by individuals, groups and organizations. She speaks to businesses and organizations about sponsoring a bag or supporting the project. “Everyone is extremely generous,” she said.

She shops for stuff when it is on sale and has several others helping her keep an eye out for bargains and specials. A local quilting circle made and donated many of the blankets this year and a church group donated a lot of books. She begins buying things on sale right after the new year and has to keep track of all the inventory as it comes in throughout the year. Then in October she goes on a major shopping spree.

“I bought out the Aberdeen stores in size six girls’ PJs,” she quipped. “I needed 60 and hit every store in town. I try to buy local whenever possible.”

Whether store bought or hand made or donated, everything in the Sweet Dreams bag is brand new. The blankets are 48 to 50 inches by 60 inches and the stuffed animals are all 12 to 18 inches. “And they have to be kid-friendly colors, prints and toys,” she said. “kids like bright colors and jungle prints, boats and bears and dinosaurs. They are not excited about pastels and floral prints.”

The books are hard back with paper pages and include old classics such as “Good Night, Moon,” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” as well as new, popular stories from “Toy Story,” “SpongeBob Squarepants” and “Sesame Street.” “Everyone should have a good book to call their own,” said Lundquist. “To develop a love of learning and to encourage us to sit down and read.”

Most of the toothbrushes and personal-size tubes of toothpaste were donated by area dentists and the toothbrushing handouts were supplied by the Head Start office and were a new addition this year.

The Presentation Sisters volunteer their auditorium for the final push to assemble the bags in November. Tables are set up with everything sorted by item, gender and/or size. Then volunteers match the pieces to make a theme-based bag with coordinating items. And none of that is planned.

“It is weird how it all comes together,” she mused. “We had a blanket donated with lots of little cupcakes all over it. I thought, how are we going to match this? But there was a pair of pajamas with a big cupcake on the front and a stuffed animal with a cupcake. And another one had moose tracks, but we found other moose items to make a moose-filled bag.

“It takes many women in this village,” Lundquist commented. “There are a lot of volunteers helping on this project. I love the Head Start program and want to continue this project for all the NESD Head Start students again next year at least, but hopefully as an ongoing project year after year. The Head Start children are new every year, so no one will ever get two bags.”

Anyone in the Huron area who would like to support this project or would like to talk to Lundquist about making a donation may call her at 605-380-5162.

For the complete article see the 12-08-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-08-2012 paper.

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