A simple idea of sharing a passion for jewelry-making with troubled kids has blossomed into a community effort to give teens a way to express their creativity in a positive way.
Nearly four years ago, Richland resident and local artist Lucy Dole first agreed to teach a group of teens girls on probation in juvenile court how to make necklaces and bracelets as part of the Girl Power program.
It didn't take long to hook Dole, who decided to start Beads Behind Bars by going into the juvenile detention center every Sunday afternoon to work with locked up kids.
And as the weeks went by -- and generous donations came in from the community -- Dole's program expanded to include working with two alternative schools in Richland and Kennewick and three youth mentoring groups. The expanded program is called Art Connection.
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"It's great to be able to watch this transformation. They can come in, in the dumps and grumpy, and then they leave with a, 'Wow, I did this thing that I didn't think I could do,' " Dole said. "It's such a positive in their life. I'd say for 90 percent of them, it has made a significant memorable change in how they feel about themselves."
Beads Behind Bars was featured in the Herald in 2009, almost a year after Dole started going to the detention center in Kennewick to work with girls, then expanded it to include boys who are in custody.
After the story ran, Dole said she got calls from people across the state who heard about it and wanted to donate beads and money to help.
"People were paying money to send me stuff," she said. "I think it's also good for people because it gives them an opportunity to be a part of something and to get rid of something they really want to get rid of but can't quite part with it if it's going to the Goodwill box."
Dole's bead program has been supported by several stores and community organizations in the Tri-Cities, including Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and Women Helping Women.
Three Rivers Community Foundation recently gave a $5,000 grant for the program. The foundation gave $4,333 to the program last year. All the money is used to buy jewelry-making supplies, said Dole, who sells jewelry at Allied Arts in Richland and represents the Allied Arts Association through the program.
"The word is getting out, not only among the adults but with kids," Dole said. "We're creating a good synergy ... and I think that was really a part of what Three Rivers Community Foundation picked up on as to why they wanted to continue it. ... They invest in me, and they're also investing in Ignite Youth Mentoring and (other groups)."
The objective, Dole says, is to use jewelry-making as an avenue to teach skills like listening to instructions, following through with ideas, getting along with others and to teach that each teen has creative abilities that can add value to their lives.
Kids in detention have to be at a certain level at the end of the week -- meaning they followed the rules and did what they were supposed to -- in order to get the opportunity to attend the class.
Dole typically has help when she goes to the detention center, but last week she was by herself, and she saw a teen who had been in custody for a number of months stop what he was doing to help a new person while Dole worked with someone else.
"They become a teacher too, and that's an awesome thing ... to be helping each other and affirming each other. Often these kids have done what they've done and are not getting any affirmation in their life," Dole said. "They can see the positive of it in the jewelry. Hopefully it creeps into them that they can say, 'I am able to think through something and make a good choice and be proud of what I've done.' "
When a Tri-City teen gets released from detention, Dole gives them a coupon worth $5 in beading supplies to be used at Dreamweaver's Bead Shop, in the Uptown in Richland. The business owners there have welcomed the teens using the store's tools and will even help them work on a project.
"This is a place where the kids can go and feel comfortable," Dole said. "They have made a big commitment because they're encouraging these kids who have been in detention to come into their store and welcome them."
Parents of a boy who learned to work with beads through Dole make donations to the program at the store because they were grateful their son found a positive activity that has changed his life, Dole said.
Dole said she feels privileged that she has a hobby she can use to help make a change in kids' lives, and again credits the community for helping continue the work.
"I am just so impressed, and the kids are too, that people care. The kids get it that this stuff's expensive ... and that people will continue to make it available to them when they've done nothing to deserve it -- that it's just because people think they matter," Dole said. "I think that's a big, big plus. I talked to them about the grant and that the money comes from the community, and they were excited. I think they're almost stunned by it."
Donations to the beading programs can be made through Allied Arts or by calling Dole at 628-0963.