(Photos by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- Sitting around her kitchen table at her home in East Prairie, 11-year-old Ciara Grisso carefully sorted and counted about 30 pink and gold beads.
She then picked up a piece of braiding cord and began stringing the beads one by one and alternating between the two colors. When she was finished, she tied the cord's ends together and attached a tag that read: "Made by Ciara Grisso for Relay For Life in memory of my dad Keith Grisso."
Since around February, the fifth grader at Martin Elementary in East Prairie has spent her days after school, weekends and nights making bracelets as a way to raise money for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.
So far Ciara has raised about $1,000 in memory of her father, who died of cancer last summer at the age of 44. Ciara has a goal of reaching $1,500 before Scott County's Relay For Life, scheduled for June 8.
Ciara's mother works at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston, where she takes the bracelets to sell to co-workers and strangers. They have also been sold at businesses in East Prairie.
"At the very beginning she made about $100, and those bracelets sold really quick," Grisso said. "She made some more up, and we're trying to sell them."
The bracelets, which sell for $2 each, are made in all colors and are available in adult and children's sizes. Both boys and girls have purchased the bracelets, and Ciara said she also takes special orders.
Recently Ciara began making "lizard key chains" -- a craft her aunt taught her -- with the same beads and cords she uses to make the bracelets. They're $4 each.
"They were colorful and you can do different things and stuff with them," Ciara said about the bracelets. She added: "I'm doing it because of my dad."
Ciara's father was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2005. Then in August 2006, he was diagnosed with spine cancer and then brain cancer. He died later that month.
"She's had to deal with that," Grisso said. "And she started making the bracelets to help out because of her dad."
Grisso said Ciara and her father were very close.
"He did a lot of things with her. This summer she'll be lost without him. They always went swimming together."
Last summer, as her father's illness progressed, Ciara took care of him, Grisso recalled.
"She did a lot for her daddy. A lot people remember her being 10 years old and wheeling him around (in a wheelchair) at Wal-Mart," Grisso said.
Ciara said she remembers playing cards and games with her dad, swimming and chasing each other around the house.
"He was a good dad," Ciara said.
Kendall Elledge, community manager of development for American Cancer Society who also oversees the Relay For Life of Scott County, said what Ciara is doing is "definitely a special and unique circumstance.
"We are so excited when anyone participates in Relay For Life, particularly when we have youth participate in it. It's awesome to see children giving back to the communities," Elledge said.
Grisso said she's proud of her daughter.
"It makes me feel good for her to be able to reach out to the cancer patients and try to help them," Grisso said.
Ciara's father would be proud, too, Grisso said about her late husband.
"This is a way of dealing with his cancer, and it's helping others with cancer, too," Grisso said.
When asked how long she'll make the bracelets, Ciara said she'd make them as long as she lives.
"I'm glad to help," Ciara said.
Ciara said one of her goals for next year is to make lizards wearing pants, shirt and flip flops.
"I stand behind her 100 percent and do what she wants to do with it," said Grisso, who purchases the supplies out of her own pocket.
While Ciara's mother and grandmother help her count the beads and make the tags, it's Ciara who is the sole bracelet and key ring maker.
And that's the way she likes it.
Ciara smiled: "It's my secret."
To place an order, contact Ciara's mother, Betty Grisso, at (573) 649-9540.