Monkeying around creates comfort

Published 10:53 am Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beth VanSickle, 43, said she feels blessed to have cancer because it has taught her to enjoy life to the fullest.

“And without cancer, the Sock Monkey Ministry would not have come about,” she said.

Three years ago, VanSickle was undergoing chemotherapy in a hospital in Texas, where she then lived.

“People there looked so sad,” she said. “And I thought ‘They need something to cheer them up.’”

Recalling the joy she received from a sock monkey her grandmother made for her when she was a little girl, and feeling that God wanted her to share this joy, she began making sock monkeys for other people.

After VanSickle and her family moved to Chelsea in 2006, she formed a non–profit, volunteer monkey–making program at Lakeview Pelham First United Methodist. The program now involves volunteers in more than 20 states.

A foam heart is placed on each monkey’s chest, with a prayer that it will bring comfort to the recipient.

“We want people to feel loved by God and by other people,” VanSickle said. “The monkeys are given to orphans, the homeless, recently bereaved, people with serious illnesses, anyone in need of encouragement.”

Thousands of monkeys with yellow ribbons have been given to our troops. The “Fallen Hero” monkey, with a U.S. flag embroidered on its chest, is given to families of the fallen with gratitude for their sacrifice.

VanSickle receives photos and notes of appreciation from people around the world. And volunteers gain a sense of mission and ministry. More than 400 students and staff at Chelsea Intermediate School, along with Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven and wife June, made monkeys for Operation Monkey Drop and Monkey Parade last year. Also participating were family of deployed military personnel, representatives from the board of education, Fort Bragg and the Pentagon.

“We want children to learn patriotism and know that it can be fun,” VanSickle said.

Sock Monkey Ministry Inc. is planning a Montgomery “Buddy Walk” in October for children with Down Syndrome. Each child will carry a sock monkey along the walk.

The organization will pass out 300 monkeys at the walk, bringing the total number of sock monkeys given away to 9,000.

With help from family and volunteers, she still directs the ministry from her home even though her health limits her involvement. VanSickle said she feels that intensive cancer treatment is giving her more time for the ministry and her family.

She is grateful for that and still excited about life.