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Girl Scout turns tragedy into triumph with project

Daughter makes bracelet to encourage her mother in fight against ovarian cancer

Published: May 16, 2023   
Courtesy Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert
The Bracelet Club founder Mary Elizabeth Hiebert (foreground right) and 23 other St. Joseph School students meet April 24 to make bracelets for Highlands Oncology in Springdale.

Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July, but before she began chemotherapy, her daughter Mary Elizabeth gave her bracelets that she had made for them to wear.

"I will never forget the day she gave it to me," Wyandt-Hiebert said. "We called it my 'power bracelet.' I wore it to every appointment, every scan, every chemo infusion.”

The bracelet of encouragement soon became one of inspiration.

Mary Elizabeth, a fifth-grade student at St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, wondered if this bracelet could also comfort others. From there her idea took root. As a third-generation Girl Scout deciding on her project for Girl Scouting's third highest award, the Bronze Award, she explored the idea of expanding the bracelet project. Although some of the girls in her troop decided on a different project, Mary Elizabeth felt called to find a way to turn the tragedy of cancer into something hopeful.

"I don't want people to think I did this just for an award," Mary Elizabeth said in a matter-of-fact manner, "It's not really about me. I did it because it's the right thing to do."

"It became less about the Bronze Award and more about her following something she was passionate about wanting to do," said Wyandt-Hiebert, who serves as the director of the Campus Sexual and Relationship Violence Center at the University of Arkansas.

Fortunately, she did not have to look far for help. After approaching Deacon Jason Pohlmeier, principal of St. Joseph School, about starting a club, the project was born. In March, she initiated the the Bracelet Club at St. Joseph. Every other Monday, she and 24 other students, ranging from third through eighth grade, meet for an hour to make loom band bracelets. Since then, almost 500 colorful fabric bracelets have been made.

Made with love, representing encouragement and hope, the bracelets are then given to cancer patients in the chemotherapy infusion suite at Highlands Oncology in Springdale. Each bracelet comes with a card that reads, "This loom bracelet was made by a grade school student with the special intention to bring hope and encouragement to you. When you are down or feeling alone, know that others care and believe in you. You can do this!"

With assistance, Mary Elizabeth also created a website called "Winning Warriors." The online tool, complete with inspirational quotes, has links to other resources for cancer patients and their families. To spread the word, Mary Elizabeth also created a bookmark with the web URL and a QR code to take patients to the website when scanned. Since patients often read during chemotherapy, the bookmark made sense and supported the project with the website logo.

In helping her create the website, Wyandt-Hiebert said basic analytics were tied to the site and the QR code so that the number of visitors to the website can be documented and new resources can be added.

Today, that original bracelet's power has multiplied exponentially as it continues to help others.

"When things were challenging, I'd look at my ‘power bracelet’ and say, 'I can do this,'" said Wyandt-Hiebert, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Tontitown with her husband Jay for almost 20 years. "Our hope is that her project will help spread word of the website and its resources across Arkansas. The students who help make the bracelets have been amazing and want them to give hope or cheer to someone's day. The project’s success highlights the fruits of Catholic education and the support Catholic schools lend toward their students."

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