Local Teen Receives $5000 Prudential Emerging Visionary Award

CJ Matthews Builds Social Enterprise to Spread Comfort and Hope for Children

By By Jennifer Sheran, publisher Macaroni Kid McDonough, Stockbridge, Hampton, Locust Grove March 17, 2022

Chris Matthews (14) of McDonough was recognized earlier this month as a 2022 Prudential Emerging Visionary for bringing powerful vision and meaningful change to the community through his work giving blankets to children grieving or facing hardships. Chris is one of 25 students from across the country selected for this award. He will receive $5,000 in funding and is invited to attend an awards summit hosted by Prudential in April with the opportunity to participate in a pitch-off where a grand prize winner will receive an additional $10,000 in funding.

Chris "CJ" Matthews of McDonough collects and donates blankets to kids dealing with traumatic situations from chronic illnesses to homelessness. The organization holds blanket, food, and clothing drives and provides parents, caregivers, and educators with resources for kids coping with grief. Needing a positive way to process grief after losing the sibling he expectantly waited for, five-year-old Chris started Blankies 4 My Buddies.

Giving Back After Loss

The loss of a baby during pregnancy remains a sad reality for many families. It is an unexpected, traumatic, and life-changing event that one in four women have experienced. While there is support for grieving mothers, sometimes the living sibling's grief is overlooked.

After experiencing pregnancy loss in 2013, Kristen Wright Matthews and her husband Chris saw first-hand that a child's grief is a serious matter.

"Our son was struggling," says Kristen. "We would find him crying in dark places and Googling death on his iPad. He didn't know how to express what he felt and was trying to figure it out."

To help, Kristen asked her son to think about how he might help other kids who are hurting, and Chris came up with the idea of giving them a blanket for comfort.

"Blankets are only a symbol of comfort," Chris, now 14, says. "But in a way, they are like a hug that you can wrap around you when you need love."

The Blanket Project

The 2022 Prudential Emerging Visionary program recognized Chris for creating the Blanket Box Project, a project aiming to empower other young changemakers to share blankets with children dealing with challenging situations. The project offers starter kits complete with materials to make two blankets and encourages young people to take part in creating, donating, and selling these blankets.

"Donating blankets helped me cope with my baby sister's loss and has become a lifestyle for my family and me. Through this work, I found purpose, and now I want to help other kids experience the power of generosity," Chris said.

Chris's goal for Blankies 4 My Buddies is to help thousands of kids worldwide each year through his foundation and The Blanket Box Project. Chris was also given a $500 Guppy Tank grant and six months of mentoring to help launch the project and was recognized in the Top 50 Tome Kid of the Year contest.

Chris Authors A Children's Book

And that's not all. Chris is a published author too. In 2021, CJ and his mom Kristen co-wrote and released a children's book, And Then There Was One (Parker & Co. Press). It is a story about one little boy's determination to help others and keep his little sister's spirit alive while coping with his grief. In the end, the main character finds purpose, strength, and greatness through small acts of generosity. Complete with fun exercises, journal activities, and a coloring page; the book aims to empower young readers with tools to help them discover new ways to handle hard situations.

"We hope our story empowers families wherever they are in their journey, offering insight, healing, and hope," says Kristen.

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