Gabriella "Gabby" Logsdon met Zoe McDonough in the summer of 2011 while they were day-campers at Girl Scout Camp Awahila.
"We started talking, and we had the same favorite TV shows and candy," says Gabby, now 12.
The two went their separate ways after camp, neither hearing from the other until Gabby caught her friend's name in the news last July. The news was tragic: Zoe and her grandmother had died when their pontoon boat flipped over on Lake Chickamauga.
Memories of their friendship inspired Gabby to create a quilt personalized with designs of all the "favorites" the two had shared when they bonded at camp. The quilt was a means for Gabby to express her grief and sympathy while offering the McDonoughs comforting memories of their daughter.
"It was the most precious thing -- so sweet," says Leah McDonough, Zoe's mother.
She didn't even know of her late daughter's friendship with Gabby until the Girl Scout and her mother came to the McDonoughs' door with the gift, she says.
But that was only the start. Gabby has now voluntarily sewn 30 personalized quilts for families who have lost loved ones. The majority of the recipients she has never met, nor will they ever know her.
"I was moved by tragedy happening with young children," says the preteen.
For the selfless way in which Gabby comforts grieving families, McDonough nominated her at the first of this year for Build-a-Bear Workshop's Huggable Heroes award.
"I felt she just deserved something special," says McDonough. "I thought she was doing this for Girl Scouts -- working up to an award of some kind. But come to find out it had nothing to do with Girl Scouts; she does it out of the goodness of her heart."
Huggable Heroes recognizes "social entrepreneurs ages 8 to 18 for helping make their community a better place," explains Build-a-Bear Workshop's website.
More than 1,000 young people nationwide were nominated, and Gabby has been chosen as one of 80 semifinalists, according to publicist Katie Zeidman. Gabby now has the opportunity to advance to the round of 30 finalists in May, from which 10 Huggable Heroes will be chosen this summer. Marden-Kane Inc., an independent judging organization, will oversee the judging.
In their prize packages, winners receive $2,500 for their favorite charity as well as $6,400 in scholarship funds from Build-a-Bear Workshop.
Additionally, Huggable Heroes has partnered for the first time with Jefferson Awards for Public Service -- the annual awards that honor community and public volunteerism
across America. Locally, the Times Free Press participates in the nomination of deserving individuals. Through the partnership between Huggable Heroes and the Jefferson Awards, each Huggable Hero winner will be paired with a mentor to guide them in furthering their community service efforts.
Gabby, a sixth-grader at Center for Creative Arts, says she learned to quilt from her mother, Stacy Slockbower, who only learned the stitching art herself 11/2 years ago.
Slockbower says the family's dining room table has been converted to Gabby's workstation and that her husband, Brad, built custom shelves to handle all the stacks of fabric in the impromptu craft room.
At the time Gabby learned to quilt, she was a member of Girl Scout Troop 40109 and Slockbower was the troop leader. Although no longer a Girl Scout, Gabby has continued to stitch for enjoyment.
"I just wanted to make something creative. My mom sewed and it looked like fun. I fell in love with it instantly," says Gabby.
In December, Gabby took on the ambitious project of designing a 50-inch by 50-inch personalized quilt for each of the families of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., as well as a 27th quilt to send to the school.
She customized the quilts by researching the victims' names online and in limited-edition, commemorative magazines. She found that several of the girls liked horseback riding and a few liked drawing, so she included fabric printed with crayons. One of the teachers loved dogs and the beach, so Gabby chose fabric with a canine print.
Slockbower says she and Gabby have launched a Facebook page, girlscoutsquiltforacause, which draws visitors daily and announces plans to expand their quilting outreach to "people with cancer or some other kind of sickness, terminal illness or disability, or to the family of a fallen Girl Scout sister."
The quilting project has stitched together an international network of Scouts' involvement. To date, Gabby has received support and packages from more than 18 states and three foreign countries.
"It gets 800 hits a day from Scouts all over," her mother says."People who quilt will cut squares to the size we need and send them; people who don't know how to quilt send batting, pins, thread and material."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6284.