In 2004, Brea Weil-Hearon and I started a charity event to raise awareness of women’s heart disease. This project, in memory of her mother who died of a massive heart attack at age 45, was intended to be a small jewelry sale, but developed into something much bigger than we ever imagined. Perhaps a larger and more life-changing surprise from my involvement with the Heart Project was discovering my passion for promoting positive change and my organizational skills to make that change happen.
Brea and I met in 2003 through the Bonner Scholars Program at Oberlin, a program that enables students to do community service in lieu of or in addition to federal work-study. We became friends easily spending time together in the program, and she soon became one of my closest friends. When Brea asked me to co-chair the Heart Project, I was as much honored as I was nervous about taking on such a seemingly huge task. We really had no idea what we were getting into! We also had no idea the rewards we would reap along the way.
First on the agenda was setting a date for our sale - and soon the first annual “Untax My Heart” event (held the first Saturday after income taxes are due) was on the calendar. We then began receiving used jewelry donations from all over the country and everyone involved spent many long hours polishing, pricing, researching designers, and untangling necklaces and bracelets. It was our hope to keep everything in order to set it up for the big day! Before we knew it, the big day was upon us. It was a gorgeous sunny April day, there was music and fun, and, most importantly, we saw that we brought people together for a cause. We raised $3000 in just one day and over $4000 total, after holding small sales on campus after the event. For the first time I finally realized our work had paid off, that we were making a difference. It was very empowering to recognize the limitless potential of such a project in its developing stages: it felt like anything was possible.
More fulfilling than the unexpected surprise of the amount of money raised were the stories that came as a result of the event. One woman finally consulted a doctor to look into chest discomfort she was experiencing. In addition to personal stories, we turned something that could have easily been solely within the college into a true community event. All the jewelry display cases we borrowed from a local bead store, and I will never forget the money bag I borrowed from one of the banks and almost lost in the clean up process! “Untax My Heart” day could not have happened without the support of Oberlin area residents and businesses.
Brea graduated from Oberlin in May and relocated to Bloomington, Indiana, shortly thereafter. Reflecting on the event afterward, it became clear that the project was something that could potentially be an annual event. I remember passing out red dress pins from the American Heart Association to students at Oberlin at one of our last sales. Most people were just stopping by to see what inexpensive and unique jewelry was left over. When I mentioned the reason for our sale, I usually received the same answer: “It’s pretty cool you’re doing this.” Offering a red dress pin to anyone who came to the table gave me satisfaction in knowing that there was interest in the issue. The red dress pin usually started good conversations. With this in mind, I knew I had to keep it going. If we had as much success as we did this first year, who knew what it could lead to in the future?
I think most Obies would agree that so many of our experiences at Oberlin stay with us for years to come. Sometimes ideas or events even develop into bigger projects. Case in point: The Heart Project became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in February of 2008 in Indiana. No matter what happens to The Heart Project in the future, I am so proud of what we started and how many lives we touched. I feel so lucky to have been in Oberlin the time that I was there, for the existence of the Bonner Scholars Program (which is now endowed!), and for my friendship with Brea and everyone else who supported The Heart Project.