The Lilly Pad Project, a local charity co-founded by Natalie Olsen and Chelsea Rowley, seeks to offer comfort to families of stillborn and miscarried babies through volunteer-donated bereavement kits.
Each kit contains keepsake items for both the mother and the lost child, including a stuffed animal, blanket, and bracelet. These items may seem small, but they offer much-needed comfort to grieving families who want something to help them remember their babies.
The Lilly Pad Project has donated more than 450 bereavement boxes to local hospitals. All deliveries are met with great appreciation and highlight a need for such kits in hospitals throughout the state. According to the Utah Department of Health, approximately 275 stillbirths occur every year in Utah alone.
The goal of The Lilly Pad Project is to create enough bereavement kits to give out to every single family affected by this tragedy. In order to do that, Rowley stated, they need volunteers. The organization is completely volunteer-based, which means all items for the kits are donated by members of the community. Donations of time, money and skills are always needed and appreciated.
Rowley never expected to become involved in an organization like The Lilly Pad Project, but the opportunity seemed to fall into her lap and she willingly accepted it. She was born in Chesterfield, Va. and moved to Utah to go to BYU. She got her degree in teaching, and that’s how she met her husband, Rhett, who was also in the teaching program. Rowley retired from teaching when she began having kids so she could stay home with them.
The Rowley family has four energetic boys who keep them busy, so becoming involved in a time-consuming charity was never on Rowley’s “to-do” list. That all changed when she had a strong feeling one day to turn her wedding dress into “angel gowns” for stillborn and miscarried babies.
She asked a local girl in town to help her, then posted the finished dresses on Facebook. She hoped to find someone who had a stillborn baby so she could donate the dresses in honor of their child.
That’s how she first came in contact with Olsen, who knew firsthand about the pain that comes with the loss of a child. Olsen had a stillborn baby girl named Lily. After her sister-in-law also had a stillborn baby, Olsen knew she had to do something to help others in similar situations.
As the owner of Sew What, Olsen is a professional seamstress and knows how to create angel gowns. But she didn’t know how to create full bereavement kits, contact hospitals, get donations, or take care of all the other requirements involved with operating a charitable organization.
In response to Olsen’s concerns, Rowley laughingly said, “Well, I’m a talker, so let me help you with that!” The two jumped wholeheartedly into The Lilly Pad Project. They enlisted help from members of the community and experienced plenty of miracles along the way. The generous Crane family donated free legal services and thousands of blankets collected through the efforts of their son, Benjamin Crane’s, Eagle Scout Project.
The Lilly Pad Project also received large donations from generous donors. Those donations came right when they were needed most, when Rowley was having doubts about whether the organization had the resources necessary to continue. Rowley also noted that most of the day-to-day financial support the organization receives comes through small donations given lovingly by members of the community.
The journey has been far from easy. Rowley recounts that she had no experience in non-profits when she began this venture and she often felt overwhelmed. But it was during her lowest times that small miracles happened and gave her the strength she needed to continue.
When asked how The Lilly Pad Project has changed her personally, Rowley responded, “I feel like I see people more. I don’t know how to explain that, but I didn’t realize before how common pregnancy loss was. I feel like as women, we’ve all experienced it in some form – either directly or indirectly. I feel like this is something I can do to say ‘you are loved. You’re not alone. You were thought of before this happened and we know what you’re going through.’”
Rowley also said that her involvement in The Lilly Pad Project has changed her life because she’s had to rely more on God to help her know what to do next, how to get the word out about the organization, and how to recruit more help.
Rowley is an inspiration to members of her community who have watched her grow and overcome obstacles. When she co-founded the organization, Rowley didn’t even know how to sew.
She overcame that personal obstacle by watching online videos and practicing her sewing skills on angel dresses. Now, she creates her own videos showing others how to sew clothing items for the charity. Her perseverance and determination illustrate how anyone can become involved and make a difference in their community, regardless of experience.
The Lilly Pad Project is always welcoming donations of time, money and materials. Since the organization is completely volunteer-based, 100 percent of the proceeds go toward bereavement kits and supplies.
Interested individuals can donate thread, ribbons, needles, material (especially flannel), and any other sewing supplies by delivering them to Rowley’s home in Santaquin.
Currently, the organization does not need more wedding dresses, but they do need people who can turn wedding dresses into angel gowns. Rowley recommends contacting her through The Lilly Pad Project’s Facebook page or by texting her at 801-754-1451 to organize deliveries. She also allows people to pick up supplies from her house and take them home to sew dresses, booties, headbands and hats.
Those who would like to donate money can do so through Venmo. The organization’s Venmo account is @lillypadproject. (Peterson is a Serve Daily contributor.)