Monday, August 17, 2009


August 17, 2009

I'd like to focus today on the power of spirit (and glass beads). Earlier this summer I got an email from a woman I had never met. Kristen Smith wrote and ask me if it would be presumptuous of her to have a lanyard workshop in Pennsylvania or if making lanyards was reserved for Erin's "real" friends. I could only imagine Erin's joyous reaction to a college woman asking to be her friend and teach others how to make lanyards for pediatric cancer! I told her, of course she could host a lanyard workshop, and that I would help.

I wasn't sure how I would pull off teaching her the process, getting beads and lanyard starts to her 1500 miles away, or any of the other myriad details that running a workshop that was going to produce about as many lanyards in one night as our group had made all year. With a lot of help and patience, she pulled it off. A couple of weeks ago, in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, teen leaders from YMCA programs in six states convened, for camp, fun, and a little lesson in compassion and community service. Here's Kristen (on the left):

Here's her cause:

And here's what happened, in her own words (you can also read her blog regularly):

I would say that our Erin Dream Lanyard endeavor was a huge success!! The night itself was full of glitches, as most special events at PACAA are, however we ran things as smoothly as we possibly could. One of our biggest issues was the time constraint. By the third group that came through, we were smoothly churning out finished lanyards, but the first two groups that went through (which equals about 40 teens) didn't get to finish their lanyards because we were still working out the kinks. I am so thankful for my co-staff members who were down in that basement with me, sweating to death and attempting to direct traffic, dispense beads, tape ends of wire, organize finished lanyards so that they wouldn't get tangled, and pat my shoulder every once in awhile and say, "Kristen, breathe!" It was an amazing night, and I am so incredibly proud of those kids and the interest they showed in Erin, her fight against Neuroblastoma, and her fundraising efforts.

The night had a few touching moments as well. There was one group who's explanation got cut short when the demo lanyard I was holding slipped from my hand (I was holding the tape, and my hands were sweating so the tape just slide right off) and all the beads went EVERYWHERE. As about 5 leaders helped me pick up the beads, I asked if there were any questions, just to fill the time it was taking to find the beads. One boy asked, "Is Erin Dead?" I had carefully explained to all of the other groups that Erin had passed away in April, but I hadn't reached that part in my speech yet and his purely innocent and honest question caught me off guard, especially because I was flustered from dropping a lanyard in front of 40 leaders and 8 staff members. I answered, "Yes, Erin passed away in April. She fought her cancer for so many years and her body got very tired." I watched the boy who asked the question stare at the ground for a few minutes, and the two boys on either side of him patted him on the back. Later on, the three of them sat in the corner making lanyards and actually talking about pediatric cancer, and who they'd ever known that had cancer. It was a great moment for me, and really made me feel like I had made the right decision, to make Erin Dream Lanyards at PACAA. It was a lot of work, and I may have overestimated exactly how many we could make and how smoothly it would run, but I had two ultimate goals in doing it: 1. To help Erin's family stock up on plenty of lanyards. and 2. To show these teens that they can do something as small as putting beads on wire to be sold, and that can change the world. I tried to stress how incredibly important it is to raise money for Neuroblastoma research and family support, because it is a rare cancer and not enough attention is paid to pediatric cancer, let alone NB.

Unfortunately, because of the confusion, I needed the staff members who came through to help with organizing, so they didn't get to make lanyards - although a some of them did make them later in the week when we had some free time. This also cut down on our total number made, however, it was more important at the time for them to be helping me help the kids make them!

Numbers from the night:
316 = dollars worth of beads
170 = wire starts
160 = styrofoam trays
5 = staff members running/helping the station (Me, Tim, Dan B., Rachel, and Meaghan)
122 = teen leaders
6 = groups of teens
48 = finished lanyards
50 = unfinished lanyards
2 = number of times I teared up during the event
2 = number of times a lanyard was accidentally mishandled and beads rushed to the floor
3 = number of times someone connected on their own that Erin had the same cancer as Liam

Here are a few sneak peaks of some of the finished lanyards!

I've been working on those unfinished lanyards on and off for the last few weeks. It's actually pretty relaxing to just put on some music and string away. I also find it kind of interesting to see these unfinished lanyards, because I have to try to figure out where that particular teen was going with the order of the beads. Some of the lanyards are absolutely gorgeous, some are more manly, and some are kind of random. I saw so many boys making beautiful lanyards - which totally took me by surprise. I also saw some girls helping the guys pick out what would be great. One of my favorite quotes from the night was: Boy: "I don't know what colors to go with" Girl: "Choose colors that you think your mom would like" Boy: "Well, she doesn't have a favorite color" Girl: "Then make it green, since that was Erin's favorite color" ... I just liked that because it proved that they were actually listening when I was talking! :-)

So that's pretty much it! I was excited to discover a few days ago that there is a new facebook group for Erin Dream Lanyards, so I'm going to direct our leaders to that website, since an incredible number of them are on facebook. I also have a few people who took some unfinished lanyards with them, and they have them done now, so those will be coming in the mail soon.

All in all, the night was great, many lanyards were made/almost finished/started, and hopefully all of those leaders felt like they were doing something meaningful and amazing, because they were!

With September comes Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. It's absolutely time to spread the word. Arm yourself with facts.

Don't wait. Do like Kristen did and take some action. Let's Do It!


  1. Well Vickie,
    I can just check "Cry" off my list of things to do today. That is so darn sweet!

    Keep on Keepin' on.


  2. Vickie,
    I was one of the Teens that helped at PACAA to create your lanyards and I can honestly say it was one of the most relaxing things anyone could imagine. Thank you for trusting us with your project! I hope that it generates lots of hope for your cause!
    All the best,

  3. Vickie,

    This is so inspiring and touching. It continues to amaze me how far-reaching the lanyard project has become! I just know Erin would be smiling her big, beautiful smile knowing that people far and wide are joined together in this cause that was such a big part of her.



  4. Amazing that Erin has touched so many people with her life all over. How lucky we are to have known her and be a part of her life.

    Lisa Akin

  5. Hi Vickie,

    My lanyards arrived in the mail yesterday and they are perfect! They work so well as flash drive holders/leashes/chains and the colors are fantastic. I think that this is a very good use for lanyards. I'm trying to spread the word.

    And the fact that I also got not one but two cute pictures of Erin as well was such an unexpected treat.

    Thanks again,