For sixteen-year-old Aubree Leitermann of Kimberly, kindness goes a long way. Through commitment and craftiness, the Fox Valley teen has made over 1,000 fleece blankets for local veterans. This high school junior is making a cozy impact on the community, and she is also bringing endless smiles, bridging generations, and warming the hearts of the many men and women who have served our country.
Leitermann, a recipient of the Wisconsin Heroes Award presented by former First Lady of Wisconsin, Tonette Walker, began making blankets in 2014. Inspiration struck after a conversation with her aunt, who worked for an air medical transport company. From hearing about veterans being transported and having had her own grandfathers serve in the Army, Navy and Air Force, Leitermann quickly got to work.
Through her endeavors, she has started Aubree’s Blankets for Veterans, a non-profit organization geared to express appreciation for local veterans and of course, keep them cozy, too. By offering her time and talent, Leitermann said she feels a sense of fulfillment and joy. “I have always been intrigued in how people can make a big impact doing small acts of kindness for others,” said Leitermann, “you can make some great connections and it makes you feel really good about yourself.”
Gearing up to make the blankets takes plenty of organization, including a lengthy trip to JoAnn Fabrics to pick up fleece. “Most employees know me there,” said Leitermann, “when I am there, they even start telling other customers what I do with all the fleece.” After the car is loaded to the brim with material, Aubree enlists her family to help. “My mom and grandma like to cut the blankets, and I can tie really fast” explains Leitermann. With so many projects, this crafty lady has learned to multitask well, often making blankets while watching movies or even riding in the car.
To extend her outreach, a blanket-making event is hosted each year. The event drums up 40-70 volunteers who help, connect, and leave with a greater appreciation of veterans. A unique element to each creation is the signature card lovingly attached to it. “Everyone who has helped make that blanket signs their name on the tag,” said Leitermann. The tags sweetly read “Thank you for your service to our country – here is a small token of our appreciation for you to enjoy!” and the outcome is a hug of gratitude back.
Blankets are distributed to veterans in several ways, including requests and surprise gifting. The non-profit routinely donates blankets to Desert Veterans of Wisconsin, including their Fox Valley Chapter. There, they are given to homeless veterans and those in need. Leitermann also has people request blankets for family members and neighbors and has passed many along to teachers to share. Her compassion has no limits, either. “I always have a blanket in the car and travel with one, so if I see a veteran, I give them one,” said Leitermann.
Leitermann also shares her gift with local senior homes, which included a recent stop at Eagle Point Senior Living in Appleton, where each blanket gifted brought a smile to a veteran’s face. “When I gave a Veteran a blanket, he hugged and hugged me,” gushed Leitermann. While the gifts are always well-received, it can be an emotional experience. “Most of the older veterans cry and don’t understand why I would give them a thank you gift,” explains Leitermann, “this is why we need to show our appreciation to Veterans more.”
Aubree’s Blankets for Veterans is able to continue the cycle of gifting through monetary and material donations and is planning a blanket making event for 2021. The event will invite the community to help from the comfort of their own living rooms and Leitermann hopes to get 100 volunteers. Everyone is encouraged to check social media for updates on the event.
Thank you for your generosity, Aubree, you are a true inspiration, especially for children and teens in the Fox Valley!
If you are seeking opportunities to volunteer your time or talents this holiday season, find ideas here.
Editor’s Notes: All photos used with permission – Aubree Leitermann
Do you know a local young person making a positive impact in our community? Let us know, we would love to know more about them and share with our readers.