When teenager Alexandra Chiles was battling cancer she turned to community service projects as a way to cope. One favorite activity was beading necklaces, which she gave to the various medical staff who crossed her path, as well as friends and family. Alexandra (Alex) died 10 years ago but her memory lives on thanks to the Alexandra Chiles Foundation, which is overseen by her mother, Anita.
“Most people don’t realize that the Foundation has a dual mission,” said Anita, an Atherton resident and practicing attorney. “The first is to help kids who are stuck in the hospital and who can’t make it to the recreational room by supplying bead kits. Just choosing which beads to use and making the jewelry is very relaxing.
“The other is to promote community service on a regular basis among high school kids. If young people give just an hour of their time just once a month, they can make a significant impact on other young people’s lives.”
Anita, shown right working recently with a group from Castilleja School, explained that Alex started going to the The Bead Shop, operated by Janice Parsons in Palo Alto, when she was around 10 years old. Janice’s daughter was a friend and Janice herself was instrumental in supplying Alex with beads during her illness and helping to start the Foundation. “Janice gave Alex so many beads that I’ve been able to recycle them for new kits,” she said.
Now Anita would like to expand the reach of the Foundation. “I’d like to see Bead Clubs established at all the local high schools,” she said. “In addition, we have a junior board that provides young people with leadership roles. I’ll mentor board members and write college recommendation letters.”
She also stressed how easy it is for a group of kids to put on a bead-kit making day. “There are a wide variety of kits that can be made, all that come with instructions and all the materials needed. Most kids seem to enjoy writing the personal notes that are attached to the kits. Any one interested should contact me [firstname.lastname@example.org] and arrange to pick up the supplies.”
In the 10 years since Alex’s death, about 30,000 kits have been delivered to hospitals throughout the Bay Area. Recalled Anita: “My friends provided me the support to get going. They said, ‘Let’s do this in Alex’s memory.’ It’s been a big job to keep it going but the hospitals are so appreciative. And I guess, deep down, I was looking for a way to make an impact. This is my community service.”
Photos by Rebecca Goodman