Olivia Brown used the small needle-nose pliers to carefully twist the end of the thin piece of wire until the end is turned back against itself. Using a crimpling tool, she gives the loop a squeeze and when it’s just right, she begins threading beads onto the wire in whatever new pattern she has imagined. Red beads, yellow and green and lots of pinks.
Olivia, the owner and sole employee of Olivia’s Bracelets, is only 10 and a fifth grader at Southwest Elementary School, but already a budding entrepreneur.
“I’ve always loved arts and crafts,” Olivia explains, and her mother, Karen, adds that her daughter has been doing art projects since she was little more than a toddler. “One of the first things I remember her making were little books for her friends.”
The bracelet business began when Olivia was eight. She’d participated in a Susan G. Koman Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness and decided she wanted to do more. Karen had received a hand-made bracelet from a friend who was an art major, and Olivia decided that was what she wanted to do.
“She’s always been very compassionate,” Karen said of her daughter, “and so I wasn’t surprised when she told me what she had in mind. What was surprising was her wanting to raise money for breast cancer. At the time we didn’t have any family members or friends who had cancer and so it wasn’t something I’d given much thought to in any specific way.”
Today, the Browns know more than they want to know.
Michael Brown, Olivia’s father was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in January of this year.
“Michael is a welder and had been working in Macon, Ga., last fall,” Karen said. “It was around Thanksgiving and he was home. He said he felt as if he had pneumonia. He was so healthy and rarely ever sick, so this was a change.”
By January, they had their diagnosis. Michael does have pneumonia now and has been in the hospital since October 11.
“When he was in another section of the hospital, we basically all moved in with him,” Karen said. “But now he’s in the bone marrow transplant unit and Olivia doesn’t get to see him as often.”
Karen on the other hand spends hours at her husband’s side, and in the darkest of hours when she could
feel so alone, it’s not been possible with the tremendous outpouring of love and compassion. Her eyes may be tear-filled, but a smile never leaves her face as Karen talks about the tremendous support given to them by members of their Ardmore Baptist Church family, teachers and staff members at Southwest and West Forsyth, doctors and nurses at Baptist Hospital, neighbors and family members.
“When Michael was diagnosed he applied for disability, and for six months we were trying to make it on my part-time salary while we waited.” Karen said people came forward to help and it wasn’t easy to accept. “Finally a woman said to me, ‘Don’t steal their joy.’”
Karen said she came to realize that what the woman meant was that people feel helpless because there is nothing that can be done to change the situation, but they want to do something. Letting them help by taking care of Olivia, running errands, helping with meals or simply
with their prayers she was allowing others to find a blessing.
For Olivia, being able to make bracelets and raise money to help others is a way to deal with what’s going on in her life and her blessing. “I think I’ll make bracelets for all kinds of cancer,” she said. “Gray and pink are the colors for brain cancer and orange is for leukemia.”
“When this journey is over – however it ends – I want to be able to do for someone else, what’s been done for my family” Karen said.
“My husband is a man of strong faith and he’s said all along, no matter what happens we will be fine. One evening after a very long and stressful day, Karen said she was almost beside herself. “I was in Michael’s hospital room and Olivia came in to say goodbye. She was going home, but she looked at me and came over, gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ she said, ‘no matter what, we’ll be okay.’ At that moment I felt it was God – through Olivia – whispering in my ear, reminding me of that.”
While the bracelet business is going well, Olivia’s next project is shoes. “My sister went with a church group on a mission trip to Belize and she told me there were people who didn’t have shoes. I saw someone make flip-flops using duct tape. There are all colors of duct tape now and I’m going to make shoes in all sizes and see if someone from church will take them over the next time and give them to people who don’t have shoes.”
Donna Bissette, a family friend, says she isn’t surprised that now in the midst of a serious family crisis that Karen Brown is already thinking about being of service to others.
“I can’t think of anyone I’ve met with a stronger faith than Karen’s,” Bissette said. “And Olivia is a wonderful reflection of both of her parents.”
(For more information about Olivia’s bracelets, her email address is email@example.com.)