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By Cindy Yoshiyama

Manhattan Beach Woman Finds Peace in Beads
When Heather Ross moved to California from her hometown of Tucson, Arizona at the age of 17, she planned to pursue her love for writing. She instead found herself in another occupation, managing commercial real estate in Los Angeles. After 12 years working in that arena and leaving it to pursue her dream of writing, she stumbled across another opportunity that turned out to be more fulfilling -- creating a symbol of peace.

After watching the 1972 movie called "Butterflies Are Free" last November in which Goldie Hawn's character gives her boyfriend peace beads, Ross said she was inspired. "I wondered, 'Whatever happened to that wonderful simpletradition of offering a symbol of peace to someone you care about.'" Ross said.

Having returned to her writing career, she was researching the Native Americans of the High Plains of Northern Montana when she met Blackfeet tribe member Pat Schildt. Upon meeting Pat and his tribe and witnessing the impact on their community from rampant unemployment, Ross felt she needed to do something to help. Within a few months, she created a website andher first design with a new twist on the 1960s peace bead necklaces. Thus her company, "Peace Beads," was born.

The mission behind her work is simple: to promote peace and freedom in the world today.

Ross enrolled the tribe in her quest for fostering international peace by setting up a manufacturing shop on the reservation. She began by investing some of her savings to get the company off the ground. "It was incredible," she said. "People were lined up in the snow ready to workan hour before the shop opened.

The necklaces are 50 inches long and are made out of glass seed beads and seven azurite gemstones created from lapis and malachite, green and blue in color to represent the planet earth. Seven gemstones representthe seven continents.

The idea behind the peace bead necklaces is that they are passed onto another, thus the tag line "Choose peace...give Peace Beads."

"Peace Beads is a movement," Ross said. "It began grassroots and is expanding rapidly. Our goal is to expand production to include other Native American tribes. The Native Americans believepeace between nations begins with true peace within the souls of individuals.

Schildt, who has been organizing members from the Black Feet tribe to make the necklaces, said the peace beads have helped many find hope. "We live in an area where there is nearly an 85-percent unemployment rate," he said. "I can't say enough about how Ross has improved people's outlook. We thought it was a perfect fit because she's making a difference in people's lives. They love to bead. It's part of our culture. The native people have always enjoyed working with their hands and it's something they take pride in."

Peace Beads are also a fundraiser for non-profit foundations, schools and other organizations that share the mission of peace. Ross has recently partnered with YouthAids to raise funds for them.

She also has been attending various peace and ecofestivals around the country to spread her message through the peace necklaces. Ross said her commitment to widening people's consciousness about global peace is what drives her to make her business to succeed.

For more information on Peace Beads, go to www.peacebeads.org.

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