When an occupational therapist recommended that Briea Gennuso ’17 buy a weighted therapy blanket for her daughter with sensory processing disorder, the recent Cabarrus College graduate hesitated. The blanket was expensive, not covered by insurance and not guaranteed to work.
Ever the energetic go-getter, Gennuso decided she could make her own blanket more economically. She bought a sewing machine, learned to sew and made her first weighted blanket.
It was life changing. Calming down her daughter became much easier and bedtime was no longer a struggle.
Therapists at her daughter’s occupational therapy clinic saw how effective the blanket was for Gennuso’s daughter and asked Gennuso to make blankets for other children at the clinic. Then a friend working with The Arc of Greensboro, a nonprofit for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, requested a blanket for a disabled adult having trouble sitting and focusing on the job. The requests kept coming.
Fast forward to today, and Gennuso recently shipped her 150th blanket as a part of what has now become The Peaceful Blanket Project, a nonprofit that makes weighted blankets and sells them at cost or donates them to worthy causes. Local beneficiaries include foster children in Cabarrus County and the memory-care unit at a local nursing home.
“It’s exploded,” Gennuso says. “I never thought it would get as big as it has.”
Eventually Gennuso used donations to upgrade to an industrial sewing machine. She worked up to 25 hours a week making blankets, all while commuting from Greensboro to Cabarrus College for her classes.
Gennuso graduated with an associate degree in occupational therapy assistant in May 2017, and credits her education at Cabarrus College and the encouragement of her instructors with the success of her burgeoning nonprofit.
“Had I not been in this program, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or encouragement to do this,” says Gennuso. “The support from my school and teachers has been huge. They told me I can conquer the world. It’s truly changed my whole life.”
Clearly, the future is bright for this ambitious and outstanding graduate. Within a month of her graduation, Gennuso landed a position at Jacob’s Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Madison, North Carolina, and she plans to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
Meanwhile, she plans to keep The Peaceful Blanket Project going as long as she can. Long term, Gennuso hopes to make her organization a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, and perhaps transform it into a job placement program that employs adults with disabilities to help make the blankets.
For now, though, she continues as a “one-woman show,” cutting, pinning, sewing, packaging and shipping every blanket herself.
“If you have one of our blankets,” Gennuso says, “you have a piece of my heart.”