By Cecilla Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Madison J Ringgold said stringing together a bunch of colorful plastic beads into a bracelet was meant to cheer up one of her friends.
“She would come to school sad,” the 11-year-old Gilbert resident said. “I just want to make kids happy and make the world a better place.”
That act of kindness five years ago by Madison J, a Kyrene Middle School student, has turned into the Happy Bracelet Project, which became a nonprofit a year ago this month.
It has grown from a family effort of making and giving away bracelets to put a smile on children’s faces to a community one, according to her grandmother, Elizabeth Jackson.
“It’s children making bracelets for other children,” Jackson said. “We’re teaching community service. Some have never done it. I tell them it’s a way of giving back.”
Jackson, whose background includes licensed child-care provider and after-school project director, wants to expand the group’s reach into schools and use the program for character-building.
With problems such as school violence and bullying, she believes having children make the bracelets would help calm them down and refocus their attention to helping others.
The kids get to come together, socialize and at each venue, she brings up a topic for discussion such as bullying, according to Jackson.
One day last week, Jackson and her family members – daughter Elana Ringgold, Madison J and her younger sister, Morgan – traveled to the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Valley in Gilbert to make bracelets with fifth- to seventh-graders. The group works with kids age 5-18.
“Today’s bracelets will go to Los Angeles’ downtown Skid Row,” Jackson said, who put out the supplies along with slips of paper on each table with words such as “patience,” “kindness” and “love.” “We will make 300 bracelets that will go to children who are homeless and less fortunate.”
She asked the kids to think of the recipients as they crafted the Happy Bracelets. She tells them the bracelets are a sign of encouragement, hope and love to someone in need.
“When you make these bracelets, you are making bracelets for kids living on the streets,” she said. “We can’t provide a home for them, but we can provide a smile.”
The Happy Bracelet Project has a number of sponsors, including Chick-fil-A in Gilbert, which gave gift cards for the group to hand out to the children who help make the bracelets, said Jackson, who also brings snacks for the participants.
The group also has received some donations such as $1,000 from the Enterprise Foundation, which helps pay for the supplies and shipping costs, Jackson added.
Jackson was at the same Boys and Girls Clubs last December, when the children made bracelets for their counterparts in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria had pummeled the island, destroying the Boys and Girls Club building there.
Happy Bracelets have been donated to Ronald McDonald House, Casa De Los Ninos, Samaritan’s Purse, Gospel Rescue Mission and children from three elementary schools in Houston, Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Bracelets also have gone to Luke Air Force Base’s Airman Family Readiness Center for children who have a parent who has been deployed or is actively serving.
Jackson said the group was helping children on Feb. 14, 2017 make bracelets when news broke of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
The children made 500 Happy Bracelets that were shipped to the students at that school, Jackson said.
She estimated the project has to date made and donated at least 5,000 Happy Bracelets.
The next project involves finding children, especially those who play soccer so they can make bracelets for the members of the boys’ soccer team who were trapped 17 days in north Thailand before rescue, according to Jackson.
For Mariah Willis, 10, of Mesa, it was her first time making the Happy Bracelets.
It was fulfilling, she said, “because you are making them for the poor.”
It also was fulfilling for Madison J.
“I think it’s pretty amazing that one bracelet turned into all of this and there are happy kids all over the world and not just in Arizona,” she said.
To help thee Happy Bracelet Project buy materials: gofundme.com/happybracelet