Nicole Kretz and Penelope Butler

Nicole Kretz, left, and Penelope Butler display some of the masks their team of 30-plus community members created for Peters Township School District.

Youngsters may have gotten used to covering their faces to safeguard against COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they have to enjoy it.

“I think mask wearing is drudgery if it’s not something that you want to do,” said Penelope Butler, a Peters Township mother of two. “If you can find something that’s attractive, matches their outfit and kind of shows their personality, I think that makes it a lot easier.”

With her local school district’s announcement students would be able to return in person five days a week for the start of the academic year, Butler considered the impact of the accompanying mandate for face coverings.

“I thought, well, I’ll just whip up some for the local school,” she said about Pleasant Valley Elementary, which her children had attended. “When I found out the need was probably going to be greater than what I was able to do on my own, I put out a Facebook post asking the other moms if they were interested in helping.”

The project, dubbed “PT Hearts, Cool Masks,” resulted in nearly 1,000 face coverings being produced. Most were made by hand, with the intent of providing something that’s aesthetically pleasing for youngsters in the midst of trying to cope with a variety of unprecedented circumstances.

Recognizing early on such an undertaking would require help at a high level, Butler enlisted her friend Nicole Kretz, who has four children in Peters Township schools.

“And Nicole, of course, was right on board, because she has a heart of gold,” Butler said. “She says that about me, but it’s also true about her.”

Along with a strong sense of community spirit, the two moms share plenty of other common ground. Both grew up within a short distance of each another on Long Island, even though they didn’t realize it until they met in Peters, where each of their families moved about three years ago.

And both served in the U.S. Air Force: Kretz for six years and Butler for 22, currently as a reservist in the new Space Force branch.

They drew from their military experience in leading the “PT Hearts, Cool Masks” effort, no matter how substantial the scope turned out to be.

“Nicole and I weren’t scared of this. We just jumped in. We knew that this was something we could do,” Butler said. “We were often communicating in groups, so you wanted to make sure that everyone understood what their role was. And Nicole did a really good job communicating with the groups.”

Team production accounted for about 60% of the masks, and individuals sewed some 30% on their own. The rest of the coverings were purchased using monetary contributions on behalf of the project.

“It was a great idea, and it was a really nice way for a lot of moms of the community to connect,” Kretz said.

“PT Hearts, Cool Masks” began in mid-July and wrapped up prior to the start of school Aug. 24.

“I would say it went better than expected. The teams all worked really well together, and wherever we had a need, it seemed that somebody else was stepping up,” Butler said. “We asked for donations of fabric, and the community gave us so many choices.”

In fact, more than 130 varieties were donated, with quite the assortment of patterns and colors emerging for the students to select.

“If you can find something that’s attractive, matches their outfit and kind of shows their personality, I think that makes it a lot easier,” Butler said. “At the end, we had to sort through it all and pick out who got what in which school. Nicole definitely had a good eye for recognizing maturity levels and who might want what.”

Both women gave further credit for the project’s success to parent Cindy Peterson, who handled the financial aspects of “PT Hearts, Cool Masks.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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