Interview with Maddie Pelgrim, founder of Maddie’s Blankets

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Maddie Pelgrim’s motto is to “Make the world a better place, one blanket at a time.” 8,000 blankets later, we’d say this compassionate philanthropist is well on her way! Her nonprofit organization, Maddie’s Blankets, provides comfortable and warm handmade blankets to shelter animals and children in foster care and transitional housing situations. (And on top of her philanthropic accomplishments, she’s maintaining a 4.25 GPA and her status as a double-varsity athlete on her school’s cheerleading and gymnastics teams.) Find out more about this big-hearted entrepreneur below:

Where does your passion for animals stem from?

Maddie: I began to like animals because I thought puppies were the cutest things on the planet and my parents would not let me get one. I used the dogs I helped as my surrogate puppies. After seeing how animals bring people together, I was even further motivated to work with animals. My family currently owns two adult cats and we also help out by fostering cats and kittens. I have six kittens in my house that we are fostering (numbers 71-76 that we have fostered).

The idea behind Maddie’s Blankets is to provide shelter animals and children in need with comfortable blankets. When did the idea occur to you and how did you learn about making blankets?

Maddie: My mom found a volunteer opportunity for me cleaning cages at the local PetSmart, working with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation.  When cleaning out those cages (at age 10), I wondered what it would be like to stay in the facility so I climbed in and realized that the shelving was hard. I came up with making blankets to help make things soft. The SPCA recommends that animals have at least a half an inch of bedding and most of my blankets are close to that thick.

You’ve worked with others in your home state as well as five others to create more than 8,000 blankets. How did you go about spreading the word and getting the help/manpower you needed to succeed?

Maddie: My biggest challenge has always been funding, not getting manpower. Children are always eager to help. I have expanded my organization to reach senior citizens and they are very excited to help as well. I have found that once I partnered with Volunteer Fairfax, I have more volunteers than I can handle. My large events (on National Make a Difference Day and Global Youth Service Day) are always full before the event. Community service opportunities for kids are very hard to find—most organizations only want money. My project provides hands-on opportunities for kids, so families are always willing to help.

What are your tips on partnering with organizations or community service groups to broaden your impact?

Maddie: I had been searching for ways that I could reach out to children to give them a community service opportunity. I found Volunteer Fairfax and have been working with them for over two years. My tips would be to reach out to organizations that have or could have individuals with similar goals. I posted information on my organization on the local Girl Scout page, increasing the number of groups who contact me. My teachers have recommend my organization to other kids who need community service.

You’ve set some measurable (and impressive!) goals for the next two years. Tell us more about them, and can our readers help you reach them?

Maddie: I believe the only way to succeed is to set incredibly high goals. I would like my organization to reach as many kids as possible—showing how tying a simple knot can help someone or something. During my opening talk before each event, I tell the kids (and adults) that if they can tie their shoes they can make a difference and that we are making a difference one blankets at a time. Of course, I could always use financial support; I never charge anyone to make a blanket. I have a Paypal link for donations on my website; my address for mailing a check is also on the website.  If a reader wants to volunteer—either individually by helping us prepare the blanket, hosting a Maddie’s Blankets event where a group of people make blankets, donating fleece, attending one of my big events (Oct 27 and Martin Luther King Day), or starting their own Maddie’s Blankets branch—contact me by e-mail at [email protected]

When not spearheading Maddie’s Blankets, you can often be found on the pageant stage. How has that helped you become a better businesswoman and leader?

Maddie: Pageants have helped me grow into the person that I am today. Pageants are a incredible confidence booster and without competing in them I wouldn’t have the confidence necessary to run Maddie’s Blankets. When I win a title, I have a year where I am promoting my title and my platform, which is encouraging kids to perform community service. I have gained public speaking skills and the leadership abilities to run this non-profit. Being able to be persistent and work hard are qualities which are required in pageantry as well as running your own small business.

Maddie’s Blankets got its start because you were told you were too young to volunteer at most non-profits, yet you eventually started your own. How can other young women follow in your footsteps and make a contribution in their own way?

Maddie: All girls have to do is find something their are passionate about and throw their heart and soul into it.  One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney is “If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”  Well, for me…a blanket.

What’s your fave inspirational quote? Let ’em loose in the comment section!

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