Hope Pearce makes Christmas ornaments like a person would expect a Swiss watchmaker to make a watch.
She’s ultra-focused. There’s no wasted motion as she goes quickly from one bright-colored pen or sparkled-glue to the next. A wooden disk, with her own penciled design, goes to colored and glittering in a matter of minutes. She coats them with a sealant to preserve them when they dry. She threads twine through a hole in the top, snips off the excess, and they’re ready for a tree.
“That’s how it’s done,” Pearce said matter-of-factly and with a warm smile, from her home in Georgetown.
Pearce begins each ornament with a design in pencil. She then uses a Sharpie to trace over the picture. She said she gets inspiration from images she finds online, but for the most part she comes up with her own designs. She shows off an ornament in its beginning stages that features goldfish jumping over a Christmas tree.
Pearce’s dad Rodger helps by providing some of the material. There’s an old cypress from the backyard that has sacrificed branches so he can make the wooden disks and the bases of trees used for display. There’s an oak tree from which he saves fallen branches to make the trunk of the display trees. He drills the holes for the twine to be threaded through, but after that, it’s all Pearce.
Pearce is a 21-year-old with autism who makes the ornaments for Autism Delaware, because, she said, she wants to give back to the organization that has helped her.
Making the ornaments was Pearce’s idea. She said she made them last year for some of her coworkers at Kilwins, and this year she just decided to do something for Autism Delaware.
“I like tracing and coloring,” Pearce said. “It keeps me entertained.”
“She’s always liked arts and crafts,” said Rodger.
The family, which also includes mom Kim, moved to Georgetown from Baltimore about 15 years ago. By then Hope had been diagnosed with autism. Before the move, Rodger said, the family did a lot of research into the different programs offered locally, but ultimately they chose public school.
Sussex County has well-respected autism programs – Sussex Consortium, Howard T. Ennis School – but Rodger said Pearce is high-functioning enough to be in regular education classes with a little bit of help. She graduated from Indian River High School in 2016.
There’s a wide spectrum of abilities for autistic kids, Rodger said, and Hope is very capable. It can be tough, he said, because at a glance she appears to be normal, but pretty quickly into a conversation it’s apparent something’s just not right.
“She was very delayed in just about everything as a child,” he said. “It can be a lonely place as parent, but Autism Delaware has been there to put an arm around us and tell us we’re not alone and that they’re there for us.”
Rodger said when Pearce was first diagnosed there was concern she would not be able to speak, read or write. But through a lot of hard work at school, home and with Autism Delaware, she’s made amazing progress, he said.
“I still have trouble spelling,” Hope interjected, interrupting her dad.
“Plus,” he said, with a big smile. “She’s got a heart of gold.”
The ornaments are on sale for $5 at Lilypad Children’s Boutique in downtown Rehoboth. Rodger said Kim put on Facebook what Hope was doing, and somehow Lilypad owner Kimberly Carey saw it and reached out.
“It was very sweet of her to do that,” Rodger said of Carey. Rodger said Hope keeps surprising him with how quickly she makes the ornaments. When the project first started, all of a sudden, there were 75 done, he said. “I don’t know why I’m surprised by her anymore,” he said.
Hope has been working at Kilwins candy store in Rehoboth Beach for a number of years now. She puts the finishing touches on the candy – dipping, striping and adding sprinkles – for the candy being sold on party trays. “It’s right up her alley,” said Rodger, adding that over the years she’s gotten better at dealing with customers.
Hope has also been a self-advocate for legislation that would help programs that would aid her and other special needs individuals. Most recently, she traveled to Dover to speak with her representatives – Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Timothy Dukes, R-Laurel – to get House Bill 104 passed, which increased funding to programs like Autism Delaware.
“She can represent the case much better than I can,” said Rodger. Rodger said every single dollar of all the ornaments sold goes to Autism Delaware. He said Hope can, and likes to, make custom ornaments. He points to one hanging from the display tree on the table with Duke basketball and New York Yankees symbols.
“Dad is a big Maryland and Orioles fan,” said Hope.
“It’s all about the charity. I didn’t hold it against her,” he said laughing.
Each design is hand-drawn, which means similar reproductions can be made, Rodger said, but each one is going to be unique. He said if a custom design is desired, the best way to let Pearce know is to talk with Carey at the Lilypad Children’s Boutique or with Ann Athas at Autism Delaware in Lewes.