Some people believe they can hear the sound of the ocean if they place a seashell against their ear.

If Joyce Yeargan’s seashells have a sound, they whisper words of encouragement and gratitude.

Since April 2020, the 78-year-old Beckley resident has drawn upon her extensive collection of shells to decorate picture frames for first responders at hospitals across the United States.

Before she places the packages in the mail — she has shipped to all 50 states — Yeargan slips a typed passage, combining Psalm 23:3 and 23:4, inside each frame.

“I chose, ‘He restoreth my soul,’” she said. “’Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.’"

She said she hopes the words and beauty of the shells combine to provide some level of comfort to those on the front lines of Covid-19.

• • •

Yeargan has found her own comfort in the beauty of seashells for nearly 40 years.

The retired teacher said her affinity for collecting began when she and her husband Charles visited Sanibel Island, Fla., known as one of the top places for shelling, in the mid-1980s.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “We just sat right at the surf and stayed all day. It was remarkable. It seemed each wave brought its own tiny shell.”

The couple returned to Sanibel year after year and each time Yeargan said she felt as though she “brought the seashore” home with her.

The experience and shells meant so much to Yeargan that she developed a unit on the ocean that she taught to her elementary students, as she brought home sand and let them dig for their own shells.

“I tried to give them the experience of finding them because so many kids don’t know the experience of the ocean because they’ve never been there,” she explained.

And during one trip to her beloved vacation spot, Yeargan noticed some barrettes decorated with seashells while visiting a gift shop.

“I thought, ‘I can do this,’” she recalled. “And that was the beginning.”

She soon began making her own barrettes, costume jewelry, hair bands, visors, decorative mirrors and gift boxes.

In time, she started decorating frames with printed copies of the Serenity Prayer.

“Over the years the Serenity Prayer has absolutely saved my life emotionally, so I made copies of the prayer, decorated the frames and gave them away because I thought, ‘If this has helped me, it will probably help other people,’” she said.

Yeargan’s sons are both in the medical field. Her older son is a dentist in Charlottesville, Va., and her younger son is a medical doctor in Newark, Del.

She says both of them have stayed safe so far through Covid-19, but the scenes at hospitals across the country have broken her heart.

They also, very early on, inspired her to create.

“Perhaps it’s because both of my sons are in the medical field it keeps me aware of all those who are in danger,” she said. “All of those who have had the virus, who’ve had family members who have had it, friends who have had it and who have died.

“…As a senior citizen, very limited in what I can do volunteering in this awful time, I thought I could do this,” she said of the frames with verses from Psalm 23.

Yeargan said she began working on the frames in March and mailed out her first boxes in April.

She’s delivered locally in Beckley, but spends hours online looking for hospitals in hard-hit areas whose health care workers might need to know someone cares and is grateful for what they do.

“I want them to know they’re not alone,” she said. “A lot of us Americans are appreciative of the work they’re doing.”

Each box Yeargan ships contains three frames. So far, she has shipped 376 frames and has shipped to nearly every state twice.

She said the shells became such an important part of her life, not only because of their beauty, but because she realizes they were once home to life.

“Just handling them and seeing them is like a gift because I am aware as I walk the beaches down there, there are many (shells) that are quite large and very infinitesimally small and each and every one of them housed, at some point, some ocean creature,” she said. “And it’s like life renewing to me to see these, and to touch them, and to work with them because man didn’t make them.”

With each package, she sends a letter introducing herself and explaining what the shells have meant to her and what she hopes they and the message of hope mean to the reader.

She says she knows not everyone will share her love of shells, but she thinks the most important part is the message and the gesture.

“There are a lot of people who might not see a lot in shells, but the giving of them hopefully is going to bring a smile or the feeling that someone has a friend out there who is very aware of how painfully, poignantly their efforts are day in and day out,” she said. “I just hope they feel my gratitude.”

• • •

Yeargan said she has no intention of stopping any time soon, especially with the discovery of the new Covid-19 variants.

She’s continuing her search for hospitals online but said anyone, who has suggestions for a hospital or facility to which she might send frames, can contact her by email at jannyerg@gmail.com

— Email: mjames@register-herald.com

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