“We’re all about healing,” says Lee Rhodes, glassybaby’s founder.
If you live in Seattle, you’ve probably seen a glassybaby on a restaurant tabletop; they’re hand-blown glass vessels, often used to hold candles. To Rhodes, they represent not only her business, but also her promise to the community. A portion of the proceeds from glassybaby sales goes to charity, UW Medical Center’s cancer programs among them.
“We saw it [the business] as a way to participate in giving,” Rhodes says.
Her generosity was motivated, in part, by personal experience. In 1995, doctors at UW Medical Center found two tumors in Rhodes’s right lung. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed. Sitting in the chemo waiting room, Rhodes realized that cancer was a great equalizer. Rich, poor, in-between: no one was immune. “Inside there,” she says, “we were all the same.”
She also realized, though, that resources were crucial to recovery. Rhodes could drive to her chemo session and buy healthy food, she says; the girl sitting next to her couldn’t even afford a bus pass.
Enter the soothing glow and generous mission of glassybaby. The company, created as a cottage industry after Rhodes gave her husband glassblowing lessons, is now a multi-million-dollar-a-year enterprise, one that supports the Collegiana, a home away from home for UWMC cancer patients and their families.
The company also created the White Light Fund, which supports the Living Well With Cancer Series, a program run by the UW Medical Center Service League.
Living with cancer, says Patricia Poulin, director of Community-based Services and Volunteer Services at UWMC, is unimaginably stressful. “People are going through so much anxiety, and they have so little control,” she says. With glassybaby’s help, the league brings anxiety-relieving yoga to the patient’s bedside. The company’s generosity also supports weekly art therapy sessions, as well as a popular Knit for Life group, in which patients and families talk and stitch.
The White Light Fund was inspired, in part, by Rhodes’s six-year experience as a patient at UWMC. She’s still grateful to her oncologist, Robert Livingston, M.D., and to other UW Medicine staff. “The care was the absolute best,” she says.
The company’s generosity also was inspired by Rhodes’s friend and business colleague Debra Loft, former president of the UWMC Service League. When Loft’s husband, John Cortner, passed away in 1987, Loft created a memorial cancer library at UW Medical Center. The White Light Fund, says Rhodes, is an extension of the Cortner Library — another set of resources for patients and families.
Friends like Rhodes and Loft are vital to the hospital, says Stephen Zieniewicz, FACHE, executive director of UWMC. Not only do they support the hospital’s services, but they’re also great advocates for the hospital’s work. “We are very fortunate to be associated with glassybaby,” says Zieniewicz.
According to Rhodes, the feeling is mutual. “You guys were everything to me,” says Rhodes, now in remission. “We love contributing to the University of Washington.”