Everyday Polymer Heroes

The holidays are traditionally a time of celebration - of family, of faith and of life.  It is a time to count blessings and to be thankful for all of the good in life.  Many people take the opportunity to volunteer during the holidays...whether at local soup kitchens, ringing the Salvation Army bell, or contributing food and gifts to families less fortunate.

The holiday season is past us now, and for many people, the desire to volunteer is also a thing of the past.  But there are others for whom acts of kindness and sacrifice are a daily part of their lives.  Within our own polymer community, there several such shining stars.

Hearts for Heroes (H4H)

laura_reid.jpgThis program began back in October 2004, when Laura (River) Reid watched a news story about fallen soldiers in Iraq.  Seeing the faces of these wonderful men and women, River felt an overwhelming need to recognize the sacrifice of these soldiers and their families. At that moment, an idea took wing...a small polymer heart that soldiers could carry with them.  The heart would serve as a reminder that they are in the thoughts of those back home and that their service to their country is remembered and deeply appreciated.

River recalls that the very first heart from the project was sent to a female soldier form Potlatch, Idaho.  And while that soldier has since returned from her tour of duty, she still carries that heart with her.

Starting with just 3-5 core members, the heart making efforts slowly evolved and spread across the country.  While River continues to maintain the Hearts for Heroes website, Linda Weeks has become the solid force behind the project, spending 3-4 hours daily as the project manager.  Linda is the interface between organizations requesting hearts as well as guilds and individuals interested in This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and when she is not spending her time checking, packaging and mailing hearts...she is making them herself.

linda_weeks.jpgLinda believes that the responses she receives from heart recipients more than makes up for all of her hard work.  One unit commander wrote "I am just shocked at how much even the males over here love the hearts. When I first saw them I thought they would be great for my over 80 females here but the men saw them and keep coming to me for more. Now I have these big macho men going out on patrols with the hearts on their dog tags but if that makes them safer I am all for it. You all are amazing. Thank you again."

Linda admits, though, that she was touched most by a response from a veteran.  She always carries hearts with her to hand out to both active and retired soldiers she meets, and she handed one to a gentleman working at a Veteran's Day booth.  She told him "Thank you; we truly appreciate your service".  He read the poem on the card, took the heart out of the bag, held it to his cheek and started to cry.  Then he asked Linda to come around to his side of the table.  She did and saw the man had no legs. He told her "This heart and your smile and these words make be feel whole again, the first time since I lost my legs in 1968."  Then he put his head down on the table and cried like a baby....and Linda cried right along with him. 

A total of 32,504 hearts have been sent as of Jan 2, 2008, and that does not including the hundreds given out to local VA hospitals and National Guard Garrisons across the country.  That number is well beyond River's expectations when she first envisioned the H4H project, and she is very grateful for Linda and the support of all of the heart-making volunteers.  As she says "A H4H heart is a physical symbol of gratitude and appreciation. And that goes full circle".

Bottles of Hope

diane-gregoire2.jpgWhen Diane Gregoire was diagnosed with cancer, she spent quite a bit of time at the Rhode Island Woman and Infant's Breast Health Center receiving chemo treatments.  While there, she noticed the large amount of glass medication bottles that were thrown away, and was struck with the inspiration of covering them with clay.  She received permission to take home the bottles that were non-toxic, and there she covered each with clay and a unique top.

When Diane brought the bottles back for the nurses, they loved them...as did other patients. Diane began calling the covered bottles "Wish Bottles" and began gifting them to friends she made at the Center. She instructed each recipient to make a wish, write it on paper and put it in their bottle...and it would come true. Diane is not sure why, but people believed in their wish bottles. They were tangible pieces of hope for those battling for their health, and they were something to hold on to through the pain. 

The idea of the bottles spread, and they became known as "Bottles of Hope (BOH)".  Diane began giving workshops for patients to create their own bottles, and polymer guilds in Connecticut, Texas, California and Utah began making the bottles and donating them to local hospitals.  Diane's vision of decorating a medicine bottle to provide hope and cheer took root with polymer artists far and wide, as guilds from all over the country began having their own "BOH" challenges at clay days and retreats. 

In 2006, Amaco began sponsoring a nationwide BOH challenge to benefit cancer research and treatment, and in 2008 Amaco and Staedtler will jointly sponsor "Hope-on-a-Rope (Mini Bottles of Hope)", an effort in honor of Susan Clement and specifically dedicated for children with cancer.

No matter what wish Diane Gregoire may have written in her own bottle, she has certainly seen one wish come true...gifting those battling cancer with a piece of polymer-wrapped hope.

The Heart Project

ron_lehockey.jpgAs a pediatric doctor and advocate for special needs kids, Ron Lehocky has a big heart...and hearts are important to him.  In fact, he even has a dream of one day owning a gallery that contains nothing but heart motif items that he will call "The King of Hearts".

But until then, Ron satisfies his artistic calling by creating polymer heart pins.  These pins perform a double duty, as each one not only helps to use up 15 years of accumulated clay and canes, but is also sold to provide financial support for the Cerebral Palsy-Kentuckiana Institute of Developmental Services (CP KIDS Center).

Three years ago Ron became a board member of CP KIDS, a center dedicated to providing speech, physical and occupational therapies for children with physically disabling conditions. Because the center will not exclude any child from their services, they must rely on fundraisers to make up the over $600k yearly budget deficits.

Each year the center has a Fashion Show fundraiser with beautiful outfits donated by Sears and Macy's. According to Ron, it is wonderful to see kids in chairs, with crutches or walking with assistants rolling or inching their way onto the stage, posing with attitude, twirling and bowing to the applause and whistles of the audience. Parents are so proud of their kids and the kids find ‘ability in their disability'. They are motivated in their therapies, looking forward to the ensuing fashion show next year.

Because Ron loved this event he decided to add to it by making something stylish to help with the fundraising effort. His goal was to help provide continuing education for the therapists, whom he considered the "heart" of the center. Enter the heart pins, which he planned on offering for a $10 donation.  He wasn't sure the pins would sell, but decided to use old canes, fabric sheets and clay...making some whimsical and some sophisticated.  One month before the fashion show, Ron donated 100 heart pins to the center.  They sold out in two weeks.  He ended up making more pins for the fashion show, and hasn't stopped making them since.

As of Jan 1, 2008, Ron has donated 5200 pins to the center. Each pin is designed, sanded and buffed (if needed) by Ron himself.  PC friends have offered to help out, and while Ron appreciates the offer, he wants to keep it a one-man operation to ensure that a little piece of himself is in every single heart donated.  While the pins are not sold on-line, anyone interested in purchasing one can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  directly.

With a goal of donating 10,000 pins in five years, Ron Lehockey may have his work cut out for him...but there is no doubt his heart is big enough to meet that goal.

Photos:  Hearts by River; Linda Weeks; Diane Gregoire; Ron Lehockey