Leanna Bennett has more reason than most teachers to look forward to Friday afternoons.

As the last half-hour of the school day rolls around, the Oak Elementary School first-grade teacher takes out a giant bag of folded fleece fabric. She turns on quiet piano music and sets out a handful of scissors.

Students file over to find their fleece and take up spots on the floor, where they carefully cut inch-wide strips along the edges of each yard of fabric. Soon, the only sound is the snip of scissors and a whisper or two against the background of the piano.

"It's a wonderful time in the classroom," Bennett said.  

The fleece will turn into hand-tied blankets, which Bennett's class will donate to SafeHaven Humane Society and to Project Linus, a national nonprofit that gives blankets to children battling cancer.  

The effort is part of the community service club at Oak. About 20 youngsters in first through fifth grades filter into Bennett's room each Friday to pick up their projects, while other students line up in turn for one of Oak's 20 other Friday afternoon clubs. 

Bennett came up with the blanket idea as an easy craft for little fingers. She and her own children make them at home each Christmas.

Barb and Pete Schoonover of Bolts and Blocks quilt shop in Albany donated the fleece — so much that Bennett is pretty sure she'll have enough for the whole next school year.

Through the blanket project, Bennett said she hopes students will come away with an understanding of how big an impact they have.

"I have always enjoyed doing community service with kids," she said. "Even when you're a first-grader, you can make a difference in a big way." 

Mason Luke, 10, is nearly finished with his first blanket, a pattern of buttery yellow moons and stars on a baby blue background. 

"My blanket is going to SafeHaven," the fifth-grader explained. "I have, actually, 10 pets at home. We're fostering three kittens and two Chihuahuas in addition to our regular four cats and one pug."

Mason said he plans to do a second blanket for Project Linus when he finishes. The community service club at Oak was his first choice for Friday afternoons, she said.

"I like to be a big help to people, and I thought community service would be a good thing for that," he said.


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