Lake Norman & Mooresville

Jewelry helps Japanese native cope with disaster

They're just tiny pieces of colored paper, but Davidson resident Hiroe Noonan hopes her origami necklaces bring hope to residents in her native country.

Weeks after a tsunami devastated Japan in March, Noonan said her sorrow remained overwhelming.

"It was shocking to see my country just being collapsed and swept away," she said. "For the first couple of weeks, I couldn't function. I could not eat or sleep. All I did was cry."

Although she'd never started a charity before, Noonan said the emotional pain became too great. She knew she had to do something to help.

She decided to create origami necklaces and sell them for $1, with all proceeds going to the Japanese Red Cross.

"Origami is really symbolic of Japanese culture," said Noonan. "It's a token to remember that they helped the people of Japan."

Noonan decided on a Japanese leaf necklace design, which is both simple to make and appealing to a range of people.

Since then, the necklaces have evolved into a popular fashion in the North Mecklenburg area, where Noonan estimates she has sold about 700.

Noonan keeps up with demand by working well after midnight each night. She averages about 50 necklaces every few hours, she said.

"It's so deeply personal to her. She's been really sleep deprived over the last few weeks," said friend Helen Cho, an associate professor at Davidson. "I think it was a way for her to feel connected to her relatives and families back home."

Noonan has even started selling origami earrings as well as key chains with origami swans, a Japanese symbol for hope and recovery.

To date, Noonan has raised about $2,500 for the Japanese Red Cross.

Her employer, TransAmerica, matched employee donations for Japanese relief through April 22.

Co-workers also pitched in by using recycled company paper to create jewelry cards and learning how to make the necklaces.

"What has surprised me most about all of this is Hiroe's passion and enthusiasm to expanding her potential client base," said Noonan's co-worker Pamela Granzin.

The charity has helped Noonan work through her sorrow.

It also has made her even more proud to be an American citizen, said Noonan, who earned her citizenship a couple of years ago.

"I'm very appreciative to learn about the American people's generosity to help people outside of the country," she said. "It helped me learn what it means to be an American."