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Remembering through ornaments

by: Vern Uyetake, Sarah Stanley shows off an ornament from her ornament line Ornaments to Remember, sold localy at R. Bloom’s in downtown Lake Oswego. All profits from sales go toward The Learning Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping parents stay involved with their children’s education.

Everyday brings reasons to celebrate. Everyday has milestones - riding a bike for the first time, visiting a foreign country, buying new shoes - and for every special moment, just about, Sarah Stanley's company has an ornament to help you remember it.

'Things that are unusual attract me,' said the Wilsonville resident who started the company Ornaments to Remember, sold locally at R. Bloom's in Lake Oswego.

'My design ideas are never terribly typical but it's just something that interests me,' Stanley said. 'People say, 'how do you come up with your ideas?' I say, 'it's just life - stuff that I find amusing and attractive.''

And celebrating 10 years in business and more than 400 ornament designs, thousands also find her designs amusing and attractive. Also attractive is that 100 percent of the company's profits fund an organization for parents helping their children.

But, these are no ordinary holiday ornaments.

'I think ornaments should celebrate and inspire who people are. So we don't do what everybody else does. It's about the memories of life. It just gives you a little smile in your heart,' Stanley said of the ornaments made in Europe and shipped to Wilsonville.

Richard Bloom, owner of R. Bloom's, said there is an ornament for everyone - skateboards, swim trunks with turtles.

'We are thrilled about the line (of ornaments). Each ornament is very whimsical. When people look at them it's a memory and it's a chuckle,' said Bloom.

But Stanley said she can't take all the credit. Claiming to be an 'idea girl' she says she's not an inventor, she just conceptualizes aspects of life and turns them into ornaments.

'I didn't invent the hibiscus; that was Mother Nature's doing,' she said of the tropical flower. 'The only thing I thought about was putting it in glass.'

Stanley - a former teacher and principal in public schools - believes that positive involvement is the key to a child's success. Motivating, disciplining and encouraging parents raise successful children, she said.

'It doesn't matter what sex you are, what race you are, how much money you have, a good parent is the key to a kid's success,' Stanley said. 'A parent is a child's first and foremost teacher. It's all about being there and being consistent.'

Stanley started The Learning Community in the early '90s as an online resource for parents with video downloads, print materials and links to helpful information because, 'kids don't come with guidebooks,' she said.

The Learning Community is a nonprofit organization funded from Ornaments to Remember profits. The goal is to help families and schools work together on behalf of children.

After earning her doctorate at UCLA's graduate school of Education, Stanley went on to coordinate evaluation and test-development projects at IOX, a Los Angeles-based educational research and development company. She later produced the series Education Plus, designed to help parents help their children. Soon after, The Learning Community was established.

Ornaments to Remember was started to generate ongoing revenue for The Learning Community. In 2001, Ornaments to Remember created the first Tommy Bahama Limited Edition aloha shirt ornament and has customized many one-of-a-kind ornaments for the retailer since. They've also carried ornaments in Macy's, the Ritz Carlton and Universal Studio.

Just like many parents want what's best for their child, many are not comfortable asking for help. That's where The Learning Community's free Web site becomes a silent partner.

'Not everyone feels comfortable calling a neighbor or a relative and admitting that they're having these problems,' she said. 'What do you say if your kid says, 'I don't have any homework,' (every day). Go to the Web site and look up the homework tips.'

'The only agenda for The Learning Community is helping parents and families grow stronger.'

Bloom said the ornaments have been a big hit at his shop.

'We've noticed this year that a lot of people are staying home - not doing the heavy travel and so that nostalgia and building a memory (at home) is important,' Bloom said.

And Stanley said ornaments can be utilized year-round, not just during the holidays.

'People tend to think of them as Christmas ornaments,' she said. 'When we're celebrating and inspiring people - celebrating what you've done and inspiring someone to learn something new - that's 365 (days a year). … If you have a passion for something you can celebrate that.'

Stanley suggests utilizing frames, shadow boxes, a mantle, tabletop or bookshelf to display ornaments year round. Every day, she said, should be celebrated.

'To do this just to make money didn't seem right,' she said. 'Having been a teacher and principal in the public schools I have a sense of public service. I'm a Kennedy generation kid, you try to make a difference in your world and your community and so this was a way for me to do that.'

The Learning Community is at www.TheLearningCommunity.us. Ornaments to Remember is at www.ornaments2remember.com/.