Thirteen-year-old Natalee Brannaman knows how it feels to be a sick child. She suffered seizures when she was younger.
Now the Belleville seventh-grader is seizure-free and wanted to do something to make children in the hospital feel better. Natalee decided to make pillowcases to give to the children at the Bob Costas Cancer Center at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis.
“I really like sewing and wanted to do something with sewing. Cardinal Glennon was like really close to my heart,” Natalee said. “When I was little, I had seizures, and they helped me get through it. I decided to make pillowcases for kids with cancer, because they might not have anything for them at the hospital.”
Her original goal was 30 pillowcases, which she increased to 52. However, she ended up making 126 pillowcases for the young patients to keep.
“When we got over 100, I was super happy,” said Natalee, who attends West Junior High.
They even had to make a new sticker chart for all the extra pillowcases. Natalee and her mother Diana Bay kept track of each pillowcase made by putting a sticker on a chart. She ended up having four charts.
It took Natalee about five months to make all the pillowcases. She did have some help from her mom.
“Sewing is part of our family,” Bay said.
You have this feeling like you want to leave your mark on this place. I just wanted to leave my mark somewhere.
Natalee Brannaman, seventh-grader at West Junior High
Natalee learned to use a sewing machine when she was 11 years old. She said it took about 30 minutes to make each of the pillowcases, which featured different designs from popular kids TV shows and movies such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Thomas the Train” and “Despicable Me.”
“We had like sports pillowcases, Disney pillowcases, ‘Paw Patrol’ — all the kids TV shows and some of my old favorite TV shows like ‘Fairly Odd Parents,’” Natalee said.
She cut the fabric by hand and then pinned it together before sewing it on a machine. She sought donations of fabric or money to have enough materials to make all the pillowcases.
In addition to her parents, Natalee also had support from her former teacher Jennifer Stroot, who served as an adviser. Stroot is a former Girl Scout who earned her Gold Award.
“It was mind blowing to see her at Cardinal Glennon. Everything was so organized, and her letters to the kids, which she put so much effort in,” Stroot said. “As a seventh-grader — it’s amazing.”
Natalee attached a card to each of the pillowcases, which included a famous quote from Christopher Robin, the popular character who was best friends with Winnie the Pooh: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think you are.” It was signed “Made with Love by Natalee, Girl Scout Troop 269.” On the outside was a bear, a sailboat or a star, Natalee said, so “it wasn’t completely boring.”
“We are so thankful for the donations we receive, such as these wonderful pillowcases. These items help brighten our patients’ rooms and make them feel a little more like they’re at home,” said Kim Eighmey, child life specialist at Cardinal Glennon.
The project will likely earn Natalee a Silver Award, the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn. She’s a member of Troop 269, which meets at Douglas Elementary School in Belleville.
In the future, Natalee said she may donate more pillowcases to Cardinal Glennon.
“You have this feeling like you want to leave your mark on this place,” Natalee said. “I just wanted to leave my mark somewhere.”
Q: How long were you treated at Cardinal Glennon for seizures?
A: “I stopped going there when I was 8, but I started going there when I was 3. I outgrew them.”
Q: Why did you want to earn a Silver Award?
A: “The Silver Award is the highest honor a Cadette Girl Scout can earn. It’s basically you have to do 50 hours (of community service) to complete it. The project has to be sustainable. I had the Bronze, and that was really fun. I wanted to do the Silver and eventually the Gold. It’s a good college thing to do. It’s fun and that you know you’re helping people. It’s just a great feeling to have.”
Q: What was your Bronze project?
A: Her mom said, “She made bags that had coloring books and gave them to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and they were given to children to keep them busy while they waited.” Natalee was in the fifth grade.
Q: Any idea what you plan to do for your Girl Scout Gold Award?
A: “Maybe make tie blankets for the incubators at the hospital in the NICU or I want to do something with music for my Gold award.”
Q: What do you hope to do when you grow up?
A: “I have a couple ideas. I want to be like a teacher because all the people who helped me are teachers. Or I want to be a cook or a photographer.”
Meet Natalee Brannaman
- School: Seventh-grader at West Junior High in Belleville
- Age: 13
- Family: Mother Diana Bay, father Gary Brannaman, stepfather Jeff Bay; little sister Ashley Brannaman and older brother Kahirai Brannaman
- Extra curricular activities: Girl Scouts, running club and band (She plays the clarinet.)
- Favorite subject: Social studies
- Favorite book: “The Devil’s Arithmetic” (by Jane Yolen)
- Favorite movie: “Breakfast Club”
- Favorite food: Cheeseburger or spaghetti
- Pets: Two Chihuahuas Olaf and Ren; a Pit bull name LuLu; a Husky named Myles; and two cats named Charlie and Angel