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Read all about polymer clay service projects that you can get involved in with your guild or by yourself! Learn about Beads of Courage, Bottles of Hope, The Samunnat Nepal Project, The Empty Bowls Project, Ron Lehocky's Hearts, and more!

Montage of items made for service projectsby Amy Brown

I have found that many polymer clay artists started with other mediums, or, like me, they continue to keep their hands in other craft projects such as ceramics, beadwork, knitting, or sewing. Many of those groups have nationwide charity organizations that they support. Knitting groups make hats for premature babies. I found this free pattern in the UK. Quilters and sewers of all levels contribute to the One Million Pillowcase Challenge which gets distributed to various charities.

Luckily for us polymer clay artists, we can make just about anything to contribute to charitable organizations. Let us know about any we may have missed as we can add to this article anytime. I’ve outlined some for you to read about below.

Bottles of Hope was started in 1999 by polymer clay artist and cancer survivor, Diane Gregoire. At her cancer treatments, she noticed the staff threw away the small glass Taxol® bottles. Bottle of Taxol and its boxShe decided to take some home and cover them with clay. When Diane brought them back to the hospital to give to her friends that were undergoing treatments, she called them Wish Bottles. She instructed them to write a wish on a small piece of paper, roll it up, and insert it into the bottle.

For more information on Bottles of Hope and how you can contribute, please visit their website. You can also inquire by contacting the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild’s website or their Facebook page

Beads of Courage was founded by Jean Gribbon, PhD, RN, in Tucson, Arizona. Jean’s first exposure to cancer was when she was around 5 years old in 1979 and having a childhood friend die from the disease. She recalls when she would visit, she knew it made him happy. Twenty years later, Jean was working on her PhD in nursing and was a summer camp nurse at Paul Newman’s therapeutic recreation camp for sick kids. It was her mission to help children with cancer cope with the disease.

Jean writes in the article that she noticed kids returning to camp still wearing the beads they made during the previous year. She researched, “What are beads and why do humans care about beads?” She read about Boy Scouts giving beads as symbols of courage and accomplishment. Her then mentor, Dr. Joan Haase, had published a paper that found children who completed their cancer treatment, still worried about the cancer returning and leaving their medical family that helped them go through the treatments. Jean thought to herself, “If beads, similar to how Boy Scouts were using them, were given as symbols of courage and accomplishment to children receiving treatment for cancer, would they provide that ‘something tangible’ to show and tell their courageous journey?” 

There is so much more to this story and I recommend that you read about Jean’s journey on their website.  I’ve linked their website above and they can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

Click here for the link to the donation form. It says "member hospital application" but it's the Bead Donation Form

.A bowl of baseball beads
Baseball Cane Beads Tutorial by Amy Brown

Below is taken from their polymer clay guidelines. It doesn't look like this was written by a polymer clay person, so I left out the first two bullet points on their guidelines. Just make sure you cure the beads long enough.

  • The beads are worn and handled by children and must be sturdy enough to withstand wear and tear.
  • Do not make beads over 1” wide by 1 1⁄2” tall by 1⁄2” thick. (2 1⁄2 cm wide by 3 3⁄4 cm tall by 3⁄4 cm thick)
  • The hole size must be at least 2 mm (1⁄4 cm). The thickness of a round toothpick.
  • Do NOT glaze or clear coat the beads.
  • Make all surfaces smooth. No sharp areas or areas that can break off.

All donated beads can be sent, along with the donation form, to the following address:

Beads of Courage Headquarters 
3230 N. Dodge Blvd. Suite J 
Tucson AZ 85716

Thank you to IPCA member Julie Andrew, for helping me write this section about Beads of Courage. Here are some of her beads that she’s donated to the organization.

A bowl of multi-colored beads in various designsA bowl of ladybug beads in rainbow colorsA bowl of oblong blue beads with star, moon, & sun designs

The Empty Bowls Project was started in 1990 by art teacher John Hartom, and his wife, also an educator, Lisa Blackburn. The idea of this grassroots movement was to teach other art teachers and pottery shops the model for making bowls and using them to raise money for food related charities. The concept started with having an event where participants were served a meal in a ceramic bowl, then the bowl is taken home as a souvenir and serves as a reminder of those who are less fortunate. Empty Bowls does not lead these events; they provide guidance to the event organizers and they ask to distribute the proceeds to local food-related charities. Since its inception, the Empty Bowls Project has helped raise millions of dollars globally. 

I love this concept, but how can polymer artists do this as our clay is not food safe? Bob Riley and his members from the Houston Polymer Clay Guild (HPCG) have participated in this event alongside the Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts (HCCC). He said they do list most of their bowls as “Not Food Safe.” 

Bob said the president of their local Pottery Guild, Tom Potter (he says that’s definitely his name), was looking for charitable opportunities. Bob said, “Tom met with some from the Houston Food Bank and thought that the potters could make and sell bowls to raise funds for the Food Bank.  They approached other guilds to join them, the polymer clay guild was among them, in part due to my friendship with Tom. We made a few bowls the first year and had one of them purchased before the event opened.  At the Empty Bowls event, all of the bowls, several hundred, are stacked on a large number of tables in the exhibit area.  The visitors, then select the bowls that they want, many will choose one or two bowls, some will choose as many as ten bowls.  They pay $25 for each bowl.  All of the money is given to the Houston Food Bank to help provide food to the homeless and disadvantaged.”

You can watch this interesting video from 2012 with John Hartom and Brian McCarthy, from Odyssey, Center for the Ceramic Arts. 

There is a prison program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women with teacher, artist, and creator of PolymerClayDaily.com, Cynthia Tinapple. Cynthia spoke about this in more detail with our members over Zoom on Sunday, June 26, 2022.  A Google search led me to another website by Cynthia called Inside Out Creatives. The program works with women who are within 6-8 years of their release date. The items the women make are sold and the proceeds go to helping women when they get out. For example, the sale of four bracelets can cover the cost of a 30 day bus pass for someone who needs transportation. Cynthia says on the website, “There is no higher praise than to hear an inmate say, ‘For an afternoon, I felt free.’ ”

The Samunnat Nepal Project started when Nepalese friends wanted to provide women in their country with a long-term solution to escaping domestic violence and trafficking. Their website, A Colorful Journey, lists various services, such as legal assistance, that are free or offered at an affordable price. Other services include training in human rights and advocacy, counseling, support for transitioning themselves and their families into new communities and training to acquire the skills needed to generate income for themselves.

Australian polymer clay artist, Wendy Moore, and her husband, Malcolm, were living in Nepal in 2006 when they heard about the organization. The couple wanted to assist the women of Samunnat Nepal which started with Wendy teaching jewelry making. This continued for four years until the couple moved back to Australia and founded Sumunnat Inc., an all volunteer run organization that puts 100% of its funds back into Samunnat Nepal.

The best way to support the women is to buy their jewelry. You can find it online in Australia and, according to their website, it will be available to buy in the United States soon. The women have been working closely with Kathleen Dustin and it shows with the jewelry’s quality and designs.  

Did you know that the word Samunnat means to flourish and thrive? I didn’t either, but spend some time on their website; you will learn a lot and come away inspired. 

Ron Lehocky is a pediatric doctor in Louisville, Kentucky. He started making polymer clay pins to help supplement the fundraising efforts of the Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies. What started in 2005 as making pins to raise money at the annual Kids Center Fashion Show has turned into thousands of polymer clay heart pins. As of June 20, 2022, he has made 49,825 hearts!

You can find Ron all over the internet, on Facebook, on YouTube , collaborating with Jon Anderson, he’s all over Polymer Clay Daily and teaching us his 3-step process on Vimeo

I reached out to Ron to inquire about all the scrap canes, veneers, and blends that artists send him, but as of this writing, he has more than enough. When he’s ready for more, the IPCA will be there to help send out the call.

There you have it, a list to inspire you to use your creativity and talents and turn it into something to help others. I hope to add to this list over the next few years. Please email me with any inspiring news that comes across your radar at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and if any of the links fail to work, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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