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Margaret Zinser

Bead-maker Margaret Zinser has carried a torch for Beads of Courage since 2008, when she organized the first Bead Challenge at the Sonoran Glass School (633 W. 18th St.). Local bead artists will hit the torches from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, to make beads for the Tucson-based nonprofit, which supports children coping with serious illnesses. Beads are used to help children around the world celebrate milestones in their treatment. For more on the Bead Challenge, call 884-7814, or go to www.beadsofcourage.org.

How long have you been a bead-maker?

Full-time for about eight years, but I started 11 years ago. The vast majority of the things that I make are stand-alone beads and pendants that are ready to wear, or for my customers who make jewelry to integrate into their own designs. When I started as a bead-maker, I started with a book and a torch. I got a kit and learned about it as a craft long before I decided to start doing it. I never thought it was something that could be done on a small scale or in one's home. But I started burning at home, and then started taking a few classes here and there, and at Sonoran Glass School, and I later joined their board to start the first Bead Challenge.

How did you hook up with Beads of Courage?

It's based out of Tucson, so when it first started up ... I would send in donations from time to time. As I started to get involved with the Sonoran Glass School a little more than five years ago, it seemed crazy to me that the studio wasn't doing collaborative projects with this arts and medicine organization. Once I joined the board, one of my first projects was to work with (Beads of Courage executive director and founder and director) Jean Baruch and do the marathon of bead-making challenge.

Do we have a caring glass community?

Absolutely. There's a lot of that spirit that goes into Beads of Courage and this idea that these objects become tangible milestones for the kids who receive these beads. When we make them, we're imbuing these items with as much positive intention as we can. It's very powerful to see this come full-circle. Kids from local hospitals who've participated come to the challenge, and it's magical for them to see how these beads are made, and it's powerful for artists to see how powerful these are for the kids who wear them.

The overall goal of the challenge is to make beads that go back to the program, right?

That's the primary goal. Because we're serving around 30,000 kids, that's a lot of beads. ... Most of the beads in the oncology and cardiac program are manufactured beads, simply because some of these strands end up being really long. The handmade beads are used for those big-treatment milestones—a rough day, surgery, treatment or an act of courage. For those, we are perpetually short, and we get thousands of handmade glass beads donated, and it is spectacular that they come right in the door and go right out. There's always a big push to help stock our inventory to our participatory hospitals.

How do you feel, being involved?

It certainly is a blessing. The reasons I got into bead-making, honestly, are fairly selfish. This is something I enjoyed doing, and it keeps a roof over my head. But I think the blessing is in getting to meet Jean of Beads of Courage and working with the Sonoran Glass School. It gives my work, in a different context, a lot more meaning.

How does the public get to participate?

They can show up at the event and cheer on the bead-makers, and learn about Beads of Courage. There will be projects that anybody can do that are very family-friendly. There's also a little exhibit of the Beads in Space Tour. We had a small portion of glass beads made by artists here in the U.S. that were able to go on the last two space shuttle launches. We're highlighting those beads on the idea that your imagination can take you anywhere. The beads have been traveling throughout participating hospitals this summer. We'll also have fundraising projects—a store filled with artwork by the artists who are making beads. A large percentage of the proceeds are going to Beads of Courage.

How many bead-makers are participating?

We will have nine torches going all day, working in shifts of two hours apiece, with around 25 to 30 artists. The local glass community really comes out to support this event. It's hard not to.

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