Making beautiful, bead-based jewelry is master beader Rena Mulrain’s special gift. Now, it’s also a way for her to give back. This week, Rena has organized a small group of volunteers to help her make 400 bracelets based on three of her original designs. Once the creations are complete, 100 percent of all sales of the charming jewelry will benefit the Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services, a program of BHCare, an organization that provides psychiatric, substance abuse, and domestic violence services for several shoreline towns including Guilford.
Done in the purple tones of the Umbrella Center, each of the bracelet styles features Rena’s flair for creative design as well as two symbolic charms: an umbrella and the word “courage.”
BHcare Chief Business Development Officer Emily Granelli said that particular word is especially important to Rena’s design.
“Courage, meaning the ability to do something that frightens one, and/or strength in the face of pain or grief, was chosen by Umbrella staff as a way to acknowledge the victims who had the courage to leave their abusers,” she explains.
The bracelets, which are priced at $19.95, $24.95, and $29.99, will be on sale at Rena’s Guilford shop, The Bead Hive, and also sold at BHCare’s Thursday, May 19 Shoreline Benefit featuring Cupcake Wars at Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club in Branford (all of the night’s bracelet sales benefit the Umbrella Center). Tickets are on sale now for BHcare’s May 19 Shoreline Benefit, which features music, a silent auction, a friendly cupcake war between local bakeries, and fine food.
The Umbrella Center provides a 24-hour hotline, safe shelter, individual and group counseling, advocacy, court-based support, children’s counseling, community education, and general support—completely free of charge—for more than 6,000 victims and children each year. It serves residents from the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Branford, Derby, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton, West Haven, and Woodbridge.
Through a friend involved with supporting BHcare efforts, Rena first began helping the cause by donating original jewelry designs as fundraising items for the annual shoreline benefit. This year, when she found out from her friend that BHcare was planning to purchase bracelets for sale to help raise funds, she offered to step in.
“They showed me what they were working with, and I showed them what I could do,” says Rena, smiling.
The group of volunteers helping Rena construct the big batch of beautiful bracelets have been handpicked from her faithful customers, including some who have been coming to the Bead Hive to take classes and bead together for many of the 25-plus years Rena’s been in business.
The retired Woodbridge district elementary school teacher of 35 years first got involved in beading in the 1990s, thanks to a class offered by the woman who would become her business partner, the late Barbara Lynch.
“Barbara was at Southern Connecticut State University in the Psychology Department and she used beading to help people, because it can take you away,” says Rena of the calming craft. “I met Barbara when she was doing a class in Guilford, teaching people how to make watch bands with beads.”
Together with two other partners, “we started talking about opening a little bead gathering,” says Rena. The basic idea was creating a place where people could get supplies and learn how to “string beads, and put pieces together; how to finish them, how to put a clasp on,” says Rena.
By the mid- 1990’s, the partners’ first gathering opened at the former Bittersweet Farms in Branford. They also started the Connecticut Bead Society at the same time.
When Bittersweet closed, Rena and Barbara opened The Bead Hive in a small space at 115 State Street. Eventually the shop moved to is present location in Strawberry Hill Plaza at 1310 Boston Post Road. Rena travels here from her home in West Haven to open the little jewel box of a business and also offers classes at nights, on weekends, and by appointment. The shop’s extensive collection includes glass beads, semi-precious stones, pearls, findings, Swarovski crystals and many types of tiny “seed beads,” all in a rainbow of colors. And that’s just the tip of the inventory available to help customers create one-of-kind pieces of jewelry.
While she’s never been a victim of domestic violence, one of the reasons Rena sees her effort to assist Umbrella Center as a perfect fit is because so many of her clients are women of all ages. They range from the very young (she offers birthday parties) to “ladies night” groups, like a bunch of Yale-New Haven nurses who enjoy beading together, as well as groups such as bridesmaids and, of course, those regulars who take her classes.
From providing kits and materials to make everything from the latest leather-and-bead wrap bracelet to intricate, eight-strand Kumihimo woven necklaces, Rena puts it all together, sometimes with a little help from some of her best students-turned-stars.
“You see people come in and take off...One customer, who’s become a friend, her family was in the Garment District her entire life, and she wound up with all the beads from her aunt and mother. So she took beginning beading, and started redoing some of her jewelry. And now, she’s become the Kumihimo queen!” Rena says, referring to a Japanese form of braid making. “She’s making so many and selling them—and she’s stayed with us.”
Another student still working on her creations at The Bead Hive, and often assisting Rena, is North Branford resident and award-winning designer Keelin Brett.
“This young lady is phenomenal. She sells all over the world,” says Rena. “She started right here and went on to go to the New York Fashion Institute, and now there is nothing this young lady can’t do. Her work looks like a museum piece.”
Rena’s shop offers some of her friends’ designs, as well as many of her own original, intricate designs. But as she begins setting up strands of purple glass beads, some glittering Czechoslovakian crystals, charms of silver-colored base metal, wire for bangle bracelets and springy coils of “memory wire” on her work table to make the Umbrella Center bracelets, it’s obvious her heart is with the three designs she’s created to help others.
“I’ve always wanted to do something to give back to the community and help a cause, because this community has been good to me,” says Rena. “I actually was going to make more than 400 bracelets, but this is the number BHcare said they need, and 100 percent of every purchase goes entirely to the Umbrella Center.”
BHcare’s Shoreline Benefit featuring Cupcake Wars is Thursday, May 19 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club in Branford. Tickets, $50 per person, available now at www.bhcare.org. For more information on Bead Hive hours and offerings or to sign up for email notifications, visit www.beadhivect.com.