Why do we call it the Circle of Hope?--Teresa's Story

by Barbara van Look, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

Why do we call it the Circle of Hope?

To understand that, we have to introduce you to Teresa.

Spontaneous and snarky, dedicated and talented, Teresa was Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' first photographer. When we started using color slide film to shoot our product pages, Teresa was leading the charge. She didn't have a photography team, a jewelry design team, a model shoot organizer, a stylist team--she did it all. She shot every image, created illustrated uses and cajoled fellow employees to cram into her tiny studio to let her take our pictures for the catalog. She worked with us for over ten years.

Then she got breast cancer.

Fire Mountain Gems had just moved from our overcrowded Cave Junction building to our larger place in Grants Pass. Teresa finally had the studio of her dreams: no windows to mess up her lighting, new digital cameras that made her pictures look even better, jewelry designers to help her create pieces that fit the page and all the space in the world to set up. She wasn't going to miss out on this.

So, while she underwent chemotherapy, Teresa came to work every day--even when she was so ill and vulnerable that nobody else could go into her studio for fear of killing her with the common cold. We slid cards under her door, emailed her jokes that we probably shouldn't have (just to hear her laugh through the door), found her wild wigs to wear and worked extra hard to make sure she wasn't overextending herself.

That's when we started the Circle of Hope. We asked bead makers and lampwork artists to donate a handmade bead. We collected them into a single necklace, a "circle of hope" for a cancer-free future, and offered it up for auction at the Bead and ButtonĀ® Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to raise money for breast cancer research. We did it again the next year.

It wasn't enough. By the end of 2002, it was clear that Teresa wouldn't be coming to work again. One cold, sunny Saturday in February 2003, we crammed into cars and minivans to attend her memorial service. It was hard to find our inspiration for the Circle of Hope that year, but we did it. We couldn't be any less dedicated than Teresa had been.

And we kept on doing it. Over the years, the Circle of Hope grew and changed. We no longer strung the beads into a single necklace--we discovered that more of our customers could get involved if we sold the beads individually. We saw how many wanted to be part of the Circle of Hope but couldn't get to the Bead and Button show--so we started offering the beads on our website instead. We learned that the bead makers and lampworkers had their own stories to tell about why they participated and there was meaning behind the beads they shared with us--so we made a place for them to tell those stories. Many of our Jewelry-Making Contest Winners created beads for the Circle of Hope: artists such as Ezartesa, Michela Verani, Julie Anstaett and others.

Not every story about breast cancer ends the way Teresa's did. We started celebrating the successes, too. We've worked with a lot of breast cancer survivors since the Circle of Hope began, people like Marlynn and Tanya and Diann, who fought the disease to a standstill and have been in remission for years.

For many years since that first Circle of Hope, we asked for donations: handmade beads created by caring artists who choose to be part of a worthy cause. Every October, we sold them on our Circle of Hope page.

100% of every Circle of Hope sale went to fund breast cancer research. Every cent. In Teresa's honor, we pledged never to keep a penny of it for ourselves.

And we never did.