Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officer Traci Reitzloff lets Dylan Gaudino, 4, of St. Clair Shores, try on her fire helmet Sept. 11 at Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Farms officers were on hand to celebrate Heroes Day by distributing blankets from Fleece & Thank You to sick children.

Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officer Traci Reitzloff lets Dylan Gaudino, 4, of St. Clair Shores, try on her fire helmet Sept. 11 at Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Farms officers were on hand to celebrate Heroes Day by distributing blankets from Fleece & Thank You to sick children.

Photo by Sean Work


Local heroes bring cheer to hospitalized children

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 9, 2018

 From left, Fleece & Thank You Executive Director Nicholas Kristock; Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officers Michael Scott, Tim Harris and Traci Reitzloff; and Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital certified child life specialist Shay Rocco pose for a portrait along with K-9 Duke at the hospital after distributing fleece blankets to sick children for Heroes Day.

From left, Fleece & Thank You Executive Director Nicholas Kristock; Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officers Michael Scott, Tim Harris and Traci Reitzloff; and Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital certified child life specialist Shay Rocco pose for a portrait along with K-9 Duke at the hospital after distributing fleece blankets to sick children for Heroes Day.

Photo by Sean Work

GROSSE POINTE FARMS/DETROIT — Not all superheroes wear a cape or have their own Marvel movie franchise.

Children being treated for cancer, asthma and a host of other serious illnesses got some very special visitors last month when public safety officers from Grosse Pointe Farms stopped by Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital in Detroit to deliver coloring and activity books, plastic fire helmets and fleece blankets made by volunteers for the Novi-based nonprofit Fleece & Thank You.

While visiting with a 6-year-old boy suffering from asthma, officer Traci Reitzloff, the Farms’ school liaison officer, told the youngster, “These are special blankets. (The person who made it) wants you to have this blanket so that you feel better.”

Reitzloff — who let children try on her real fire helmet, which was much heavier than the toy plastic one that each child got to keep — explained to the children that by visiting the Fleece & Thank You website and putting in a code available with their blanket, they could watch a message filmed for them.

“This special blanket is really cool because you can see a personal message from the person who made it,” Reitzloff told one young boy.

The officers visited kids on Sept. 11, Ascension St. John’s first Heroes Day.

“This is why I do this job — the kids,” Reitzloff said after visiting the children and seeing their faces — and the faces of their parents — light up with joy. “It’s the least that I can do, to take time out of my day (for them). I don’t do it for the big people — I do it for the kids.”

Officer Tim Harris, the handler of K-9 Duke, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s amazing,” Harris said. “It’s probably the best thing that we can do (on the job). There’s rewarding things that we do. It’s a change of pace from the regular patrol.”

Some of the children were nervous about meeting Duke, but others instantly took to the friendly German shepherd, who took almost no coaxing to hop onto a hospital bed and join a youngster. Harris said he has enjoyed being able to do more in the community as a result of being his department’s K-9 handler, a job that routinely finds him taking Duke into schools and other venues.

“Having Duke has been great,” Harris said after spending time with the kids. “It’s opened up all these opportunities. This is the best part of having the dog, hands down. … We catch bad guys, but you can’t measure the impact of this.”

Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital certified child life specialist Shay Rocco said events like these are important to children.

“It really just boosts their morale,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a police officer or an NBA player — it’s just getting that extra TLC.”

Rocco said the colorful, cozy blankets — in a variety of patterns, to appeal to different age groups — are helpful because they “kind of normalize the hospital experience” and lift a child’s spirits.

“My job is to make this place not as scary,” she said. “Therapeutic interventions have been shown to shorten hospital stays, and Fleece & Thank You is one of those therapeutic interventions … and helps foster a more healing environment.”

Fleece & Thank You’s organizers say that’s their goal. The organization just celebrated its third anniversary as a nonprofit Oct. 6.

“We saw that there were a lot of kids that go to the hospital that don’t have any colorful comfort,” Fleece & Thank You Executive Director Nicholas Kristock said.

He said they ask blanket makers to record a video message because “we want to make every kid know that they have a friend.”

Kristock said Fleece & Thank You has delivered about 45,000 blankets to hospitalized children in Michigan since the organization started, but its goal is to be able to deliver 30,000 blankets per year. Any individual or group can purchase a blanket kit and make blankets, he said.

“We’re always in need of more groups to make blankets,” Kristock said.

For more information about volunteering to make blankets, visit www.fleeceandthankyou.org.