The dining room table is covered with beads. Boxes of beads. Bags of beads. Beads on wire. Beads on string. There are loose beads and glass beads and red beads and green beads. Silver flower charms and starfish trinkets. Jewels shaped like hearts and turtles and ice cream cones.
They are gifts from someone who used to be a stranger — hundreds of tiny treasures that 7-year-old Hailey Scheinman hopes to string into bracelets to benefit her twin sister Olivia, who was born with epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
When Jeff Cousin, president of the Largo wholesale jewelry supplier Cousin Corp., read about Hailey and Olivia in the July 15 edition of the Tampa Bay Times, he devised a way to help them, becoming one of many readers so moved by the girls' story that they extended offers of help and gestures of appreciation to the girls and their parents.
Hailey, a young artist who sells her artwork and handmade jewelry to benefit her sister's physical therapy, was honored in February by the Pinellas County School Board for helping her sister and increasing awareness among her peers about children with disabilities.
But perhaps the most remarkable part of the girls' tale is how steadfastly Hailey has held onto her sister as life has tried to force the two of them apart. Hailey is determined not to let new best friends and soccer teams and sleepovers interfere with the time she spends with Olivia.
"Boy, it would be nice to be able to help those people," Cousin thought after putting the Sunday paper down. The next day, he shared the article with his staff and then invited the twins to his shop.
When the family arrived, Cousin retrieved a cardboard box and told Hailey to fill it with all the jewelry supplies she wanted — and to return any time she needed more.
Hailey's eyes widened as she viewed their showroom with its walls and walls of bangles and beads.
"It would be like going to Legoland for three days," she explained later as she sorted through the materials, laying out the design for a turquoise glass and silver bracelet and demonstrating how to use her new crimping tools.
The Scheinman family has received numerous letters and emails from strangers and friends encouraged and touched by their story.
Heritage United Methodist Church, which Hailey's best friend Ainsley Walling attends, used the story as a focal point for a daylong Vacation Bible School lesson on compassion and invited Ainsley to talk about her friendship with Hailey and Olivia.
The family's website, www.livyshope.com, drew about 1,100 hits from 44 states and 20 countries the week the story ran. Livy received about $2,000 in donations.
Hailey kept busy helping to fill orders of bracelets and note card sets featuring pictures of her auctioned paintings. Hailey has sold 16 bracelets and 19 sets of note cards since the story ran.
"I wished that I could meet you and here you are in the flesh!" Hailey remembers a woman at Dunkin' Donuts saying to her shortly after the story ran.
Notes came in from other families with children of disabilities who said they related to the story. Several asked where the family got the therapeutic swing in which the girls were pictured taking turns.
One woman ordered a bracelet and emailed the family about her 31-year-old brother-in-law, who also has epilepsy. "He always has a smile for us," she wrote. "Your girls are just as inspiring."
Two Olive Garden employees in Palm Harbor read the story, pinned the girls' newspaper photos around the kitchen, then held bake sales for their co-workers. They surprised the family with $300 to help with the girls' school supplies. "I want them to know how special they are," said Vickie Bryant, a cashier at the restaurant.
A recreational woodworker from Pinellas Park hand-carved two 5-inch teddy bears with the names "Hailey" and "Olivia" painted on them, and attached a poem about sisters.
Fundraising for a Cause, based in Tampa, offered the family $500 worth of products for the family to sell to benefit Olivia's therapies.
A woman from New York who used to live in the Tampa Bay area found the girls' story online and sent a package of goodies to the sisters that included Muppet stickers, a yellow bendy man, pencils, erasers and bracelets. "Dear Hailey," Kelly Targett, 40, wrote, "I have to tell you this: Your story is amazing!"
Allison and husband Jon Scheinman said they were floored by the response and are thankful to be able to share their daughters' story and inspire people along the way. They are working on creating an organization to help other children with disabilities.
"We are overwhelmed with gratitude," Allison said. "This was really a life-changing event for all of us. It only gives us more strength and determination to continue on sharing and educating."