To truly understand the hopeful, heartwarming mission of Warming the Hearts, one must understand the journey of the organization's young founder, Ashley Imbrogno. Given a bear by a sick child when she herself was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, Ashley was not only comforted, she was inspired. If that one bear was enough to comfort her in her time of need, what could she do to provide that same feeling of warmth to others in her position?
With the help of her Grandmother, Ashley devised a way to efficiently produce fleece tie blankets. A process so simple even a child could do it - exactly what she needed! Inspired, informed and determined to make a difference, Ashley began Warming the Hearts.
News quickly spread about the young girl making a difference in her community. Several Lake County newspapers ran articles, and WKYC-TV3's Romona Robinson featured Ashley during a "Romona's Kids" segment. When asked whether children should think they're too young to make a difference, Ashley proudly proclaimed, "No, you're not. You're old enough to do anything that you want... except for drive a car!" Organizations ranging from church youth groups to Girl Scout Troops stepped forward and wanted to help. They donated time to help build blankets, businesses donated money to help buy materials, and the Cleveland Indians, Browns and Cavaliers offered merchandise and tickets to use as raffle items in order to raise money. The local JoAnn store offered a discount on fleece purchases, as did a local Wal-Mart. The entire community rallied around Ashley and her efforts to comfort and warm hospitalized children, senior citizens and the developmentally disabled. People she didn't know and had never met were offering their contributions.
Once word began to spread about the success of Ashley's endeavors, monetary donations began pouring in from locations far and wide, from California to the East Coat. Great Lakes Mall offered their facility to host family events, Mix-106.5 radio's Brian and Joe helped out by hosting, and local and even national businesses offered merchandise and gift cards as raffle items to help make these mall fundraisers a huge success.
That first year, 2006, Warming the Hearts raised over $9,000, and with the help of over 500 volunteers delivered 385 blankets to recipients throughout Northeast Ohio. Hearts were warmed at Akron Children's Hospital, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, MetroHealth Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Heart Unit, and the Ronald McDonald House.
2007 was an even more successful year for Ashley and Warming the Hearts. The Breakfast with Santa event at Great Lakes Mall was once again a big success, with help from local restaurants, golf courses and once again the Cleveland professional sports teams. More church youth groups, schools, Girl Scout troops, Indian Maiden groups and youth sports teams became involved, all with the same goals: uniting families, helping others, and warming the hearts of those who's lives are affected by the sometimes cold and lonely rooms of hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, and facilities for the developmentally disabled.
2008 through 2014 were very big years for Warming the Hearts. In 2008, the organization became so large that we had to form a corporation. Each year, we delivered over 1,000 blankets, with our biggest year in 2010. We delivered over 2,000 blankets that year, thanks to Walt Disney World's Give-a-Day-Get-a-Day Project. Disney rewarded volunteers with a free park ticket, by selecting a charity and volunteering their service. People were able to donate their time, talent or make items to give to a charity. In Ashley's case it was blankets. In order to qualify for a free park ticket through Warming the Hearts and Disney, an individual was required to purchase, make and donate 3 blankets. After the promotion was over, Walt Disney informed us that Ashley's charity- had the greatest number of people volunteer across the United States. What makes this unique is that people had a choice to volunteer for a charity that would not require a monetary donation, but they chose her charity even though it would cost them money. Families saw the tremendous value in volunteering for her charity. Many expressed a common statement that they shared with their children, in hopes that it would inspire their children to go out and make a difference. This theme was "You are never too old or young to make a difference."
For Easter 2007 Ashley received a very special honor. She was selected from a field of thousands of children to be the Grand Marshal for the Magic Kingdom Main Street Parade at Walt Disney World. This was so much fun, and such a nice way to be recognized for helping others. Ashley knows that warming hearts is its own reward, but the recognition from Disney was wonderful, and being Grand Marshal of the parade was a highlight to a great family vacation.
In 2010, Ashley received the same honor from Disney. They were honoring people who had an impact with the "Give-a-Day-Get-a-Day" promotion. This time, it was even more special as she got to celebrate that very special moment with her Grandparents, riding in the car with her. What an incredible memory as her Grandmother, showed her how to make her first blanket years back. Later in 2014, the Disney Grand Marshal Coordinator, Dean Gaschler, who coordinated the experiences retired and wrote a book called "I Led the Parade." Warming the Hearts and Ashley's story is featured in Chapter 31. Ashley knows that warming hearts is its own reward, and this project wouldn't be where it is today without all the great support from so many.
The number of those whose hearts and bodies were warmed with a Warming the Hearts blanket in 2007 nearly doubled, as 675 blankets were distributed to Northeast Ohio facilities. Ashley and Warming the Hearts raised over $10,000, over 2,000 people volunteered to get involved with the effort, and recipient organizations included the Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Oncology Unit, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, MetroHealth NICU, Ronald McDonald House, Deepwood, Altercare, Hattie Larlham, and Heartland of Mentor.
Media coverage also increased in 2007, and another television appearance was in store for Ashely and her Mom, Karen. In November they appeared on the WJW-FOX8 program "That's Life" starring Robin Swoboda. Robin even helped Ashley make a blanket. National media exposure came with a feature on Radio Disney.
The number of those whose hearts and bodies were warmed with a Warming the Hearts blanket since the project began is a little over 7,000. Ashley and Warming the Hearts raised over $50,000, over 2,000 people volunteered to get involved with the effort, and recipient organizations included the Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Oncology Unit, Hospice of Western Reserve, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, MetroHealth NICU, Ronald McDonald House, Deepwood, Altercare, Hattie Larlham, and Heartland of Mentor.
The Media has also been integral to the success of Warming the Hearts. Many of the Cleveland television stations, radio and newspapers have run features helping Ashley to promote her project: WMVX 106.5, Radio Disney- Cleveland, OH, WKYC - Channel 3 (Ramona's Kid's), Fox 8 - Robin Swaboda - "That's Life", County Kids - Lake County, Kirtland Gazette, News Herald - Lake County, Channel 19 News (Ramona's Kids), Walt Disney World Cruise Lines, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Scholastic News, who wrote a national story.
Ashley's project has inspired her to pursue a career after graduation in "Pediatric Nursing Oncology", where she can continue to help, warm hearts and make a difference.
When not helping to promote Warming the Hearts or making or delivering blankets, Ashley also loves gymnastics, skiing, shopping and to travel with her family. Favorite movies include the Harry Potter series. Ashley wants Warming the Hearts to continue to grow. She hopes to see the number of people involved increase, as well as facilities that receive heart-warming blankets. Through a chance encounter while on vacation in Spring 2008, Ashley and her Mom met a gentleman who will soon begin a chapter of Warming the Hearts in Long Island, New York. This is no surprise for the bright, caring young girl who knows what it's like to be hospitalized. What she'd most like to see is for Warming the Hearts to "go global" and reach as many individuals in need of warmth and caring as possible.
Thank you for visiting the Warming the Hearts website and for reading Ashley's story.