Good News: Local Girl Scouts wrap gifts for family of injured Bensenville police officer

Good News: Local Girl Scouts wrap gifts for family of injured Bensenville police officer

  • Fifth graders in Troop 55503 and eighth graders in Troop 55191 worked together to wrap gifts for the Kotlewski family. Their leaders include Gina Blackhall at farthest left, Denise Godola next to her in Santa hat, Kristen Hatfield in the back row, far right.

    Fifth graders in Troop 55503 and eighth graders in Troop 55191 worked together to wrap gifts for the Kotlewski family. Their leaders include Gina Blackhall at farthest left, Denise Godola next to her in Santa hat, Kristen Hatfield in the back row, far right. Courtesy of Kristen Hatfield

 
Posted1/18/2022 6:00 AM

The same day that Officer Steven Kotlewski came back to his home in Roselle, with a parade of well-wishers cheering him on, a small army of elves worked diligently to wrap all of the presents collected for the family.

Bensenville police officer Steven Kotlewski, who was shot nine times in the line of duty Nov. 6 while responding to a domestic disturbance, kisses his son Jack, 1, as he receives a homecoming from relatives and community members Dec. 19 at his in-laws' Roselle home. Girl Scouts from the area spent a day volunteering to wrap Christmas gifts that were given to the family.
  Bensenville police officer Steven Kotlewski, who was shot nine times in the line of duty Nov. 6 while responding to a domestic disturbance, kisses his son Jack, 1, as he receives a homecoming from relatives and community members Dec. 19 at his in-laws' Roselle home. Girl Scouts from the area spent a day volunteering to wrap Christmas gifts that were given to the family. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Kotlewski is the Bensenville police officer who was shot nine times in the line of duty while responding to a domestic disturbance on Nov. 6. After spending one month in the hospital and undergoing 50 hours of surgery, Kotlewski returned home Dec. 18.

He was accompanied by representatives from at least 43 police departments, and a delegation from the Polish American Police Association. However, another group invited to join the parade, was too busy: local Girl Scouts.

Kotlewski, his wife Crystal and their three children, ages 8, 4 and 1, already had received meals organized by local Girl Scouts, but one troop leader in Itasca decided to take it a step further.

"At first I was thinking that my girls could help the family by wrapping presents," says Kristen Hatfield, leader of fifth grade Troop 55503, "but then I thought we could do more.

"As a troop, we're always looking for ways to help people and make the world a better place," she added. "This family lives so close to us, it was just so heartbreaking knowing what they had been through."

Girl Scouts worked in teams at different stations to wrap all of the gifts for the Kotlewski family.
Girl Scouts worked in teams at different stations to wrap all of the gifts for the Kotlewski family. - Courtesy of Kristen Hatfield

Coincidentally, Hatfield knew a cousin of the family, who shared the family's wish list on Amazon, and the service project took off. Hatfield and her co-leader, Gina Blackhall, approached Denise Godola -- who leads Troop 55191 in Itasca -- to help.

Together, they created a volunteer form through SignUpGenius and circulated it to other troops in their service areas to help with gift purchasing, including troops in Addison, Bensenville, Elmhurst, Itasca, Lombard, Roselle and Wood Dale.

"Troops kept dropping gifts off at my house," Hatfield says. "The amount of gifts we received was incredible."

One week after receiving them, Scouts mobilized to wrap the presents in a workshop set up in one of the rooms at the Itasca Recreation & Fitness Center.

They established a separate table -- and color-coded wrapping paper -- for each child. Working in teams, they were done in no time and then headed over to the crafts table, where they designed individual cards for the family.

"I couldn't believe how much they loved working together," Hatfield said. "They loved wrapping, making the cards and the crafts. It was just a really good vibe."

Fifth graders from Troop 55503 loved working on the project to wrap gifts for the family of injured police officer Steven Kotlewski, including, from left, Amelia Ziesemer, Evie Voytek and Elise Hatfield.
Fifth graders from Troop 55503 loved working on the project to wrap gifts for the family of injured police officer Steven Kotlewski, including, from left, Amelia Ziesemer, Evie Voytek and Elise Hatfield. - Courtesy of Kristen Hatfield

The Girl Scout leaders themselves delivered the gifts to the family just days before Christmas. The packages filled Hatfield's minivan, with all of its seats turned down.

Nena Brichetto, the cousin who helped bring the Scouts together with the family, said they were overwhelmed.

"Magic comes in many forms," Brichetto said. "We believe in the magic volunteers make -- especially this year.

"Everyone was overjoyed when the Girl Scouts chose to adopt the Kotlewskis for a day," she added. "It was Steven's personal goal to be home for Christmas. The Girl Scouts helped make it merrier and brighter."

The response from Girl Scouts across two service units resulted in this huge pile of wrapped presents for the injured officer and his family.
The response from Girl Scouts across two service units resulted in this huge pile of wrapped presents for the injured officer and his family. - Courtesy of Kristen Hatfield

What made everything even more meaningful was learning that Crystal Kotlewski and her sisters had been Girl Scouts themselves and their mother was a troop leader. This came as good news to Hatfield and her Scouts, who are seeing a resurgence in the area.

"We have a really strong Girl Scout presence in Itasca," she said, "with troops at every level. We do more than sell cookies. We're here for people."

Her young Scouts and their peers from throughout the region seemed to embody the Girl Scout motto to be prepared. The phrase dates back to 1947, when it was explained in the Girl Scout handbook that "a Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed."

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