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On a recent frosty evening, a cozy gathering took place around a towering white Christmas tree at Sloan House, a Santa Rosa shelter for women and children.

Four girls, students at Roseland's Sheppard Elementary and members of the Circle of Sisters after-school program there, helped carry in 50 handmade quilts for the residents of the emergency shelter.

"We made these quilts with love in each stitch and we hope you like them," said Aarti Patel, 11. Her friends, who represented a much larger group of young quilters, told the group of their feelings of concern.

"We wanted you to be warm, that's why we made them," said Jessica Espinosa, 10.

Some of the girls said they had been taught to sew by their mothers; others said they learned as they pieced together quilts. Their volunteer leader was Vida Jones of Project Sleep Warm.

Jones described the need for quilts as great and the work as simple.

"Anyone who can tie their shoes can help assemble a warm quilt," she said.

With sponsorship from the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati, Jones' nonprofit group has made and distributed more than 1,500 quilts to the homeless over the past seven years.

"Children really respond to quilt making. They realize it's something real. It's not making a house out of popsicle sticks," said Jones, who is a past president of the Rohnert Park-Cotati Rotary Club.

Sloan House is a refuge for women who have no other place to go. The shelter has a 22-bed capacity and clients stay 30 or 60 days, depending on their needs. The homelike setting operated by Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County provides shelter, food and case management services.

It's not unusual for visitors to come to the shelter, said Sloan House coordinator Lynea Seiberlich.

"We have lots of volunteers who do things like host community dinners," Seiberlich said.

Santa Rosa City Council member Jane Bender spoke to the recent gathering, heaping praise on the Circle of Sisters girls. She emphasized the power of giving and caring.

"I recently heard about a study that said many girls think they get their power from their looks. That's not what power is. By caring about others, you have enormous power," she told them.

Circle of Sisters is an after-school violence-prevention program for at-risk girls ages 10 to 14. The St. Joseph Health System program serves more than 200 girls in the county and focuses on increasing self-esteem in adolescent girls. Eighty lesson plans help the girls develop life and social skills.

"We do physical activities. We have healthy snacks and we talk about activities to apply to different topics. If we are talking about stress, for example, we would try a yoga exercise," said Circle of Sisters program director Amy Chevrolet.

The reaction by Sloan House residents to the group of visitors, which included other community leaders, was positive and warm.

As the gathering came to a close, one resident's small child chose a quilt and unrolled it to discover a warm knitted cap and small stuffed bear. Her squeals of delight filled the room.

For more information on Project Sleep Warm, call Vida Jones at 795-3010.

You can reach Staff Writer Rayne Wolfe at 521-5240 or rayne.wolfe@pressdemocrat.com.

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