The Jaybird Project lends a helping hand
Published 2:20 am Saturday, July 23, 2022
NORCO — Founded in memory of former St. Charles Parish educator Jack “Jay” Bryant, The Jaybird Project serves as a reminder that God’s comforting hand is there to hold even during life’s most dark and difficult times.
Jay and Tanya Bryant met on a blind date in 1992. They were engaged three months later and married within the year. After their three children went to college, Jay and Tanya took a leap of faith and retired early from education so they could travel and start building the life of their dreams.
Tanya’s world felt as if it came crashing down only two years later, when Jay passed away unexpectedly at the age of 60 in January 2021. It was difficult to reconcile with the loss of the future they’d envisioned together, but it was even harder to go through the small, quiet moments without Jay’s hand being there to hold.
“Jay and I held hands all the time. We would hold hands watching TV at home, in the car, and every night before we went to bed. I missed that,” Tanya said. “I started searching online for something that could make me feel like I was holding his hand or give me comfort. I couldn’t find anything.”
After Hurricane Ida, Tanya stayed with her son in Texas. Jared Bryant, an occupational therapy student, came home one day and told his mother about how he spent the day learning to make stress balls using rubber medical gloves.
“You made a hand?” Tanya asked. “That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Jared had already given his hand to a classmate, but he got it back and gifted it to his mother soon after. The flexible hand felt warm and familiar, and it brought Tanya more comfort than she could have imagined.
“I started using it. I slept with it. I drove with it. I carried it with me at all times,” Tanya said.
Once her dog started trying to play with the hand, Tanya’s niece suggested using one of Jay’s old golf gloves as a protective layer. Today, the hand is often in Tanya’s car, sitting on her lap to keep her company as she drives. The weight of it is a reminder that she’s not alone.
Tanya was in the shower one day when she heard an unexpected message from God.
“God seems to talk to me during those quiet times,” she said. “He said to me, that’s not only Jay’s hand; that’s my hand. I’m holding you in my hand during this time.”
Tanya also felt called to look up the Bible verse Isaiah 41:13, which reads, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
A few months later, a former coworker messaged Tanya and asked when she was going to start holding workshops and talking to others about grief. The thought hadn’t crossed Tanya’s mind, but the woman urged her to think more about it. She even suggested a name – The Jaybird Project, inspired by Jay’s affectionate nickname.
“Over the course of the year, I started thinking about how my hand gives me comfort and how possibly I can share God’s message with others to help people, not just during grief,” Tanya said. “You don’t have to have someone close to you die to be going through tough times. Everybody needs comfort and a helping hand.”
Tanya and her family began collecting gloves. Each one is filled with a sand mixture to make it feel natural. Each “comfort hand” is accompanied by a prayer card, as well as a card about how The Jaybird Project came to be. Tanya prays over each comfort hand, and she includes a personal note if she knows what the individual receiving the comfort hand is going through.
The Jaybird Project has only been shipping comfort hands for about two weeks, but it didn’t take long for the effort to make an impact. A woman Tanya had never met requested a comfort hand for her sister going through chemotherapy in Kentucky. Others have gone to recent widows, a family enduring tough times, and a grandmother who held tightly to the hand as her grandson went through surgery.
Tanya sees The Jaybird Project as a way to share her faith while sharing Jay’s story. He was a teacher and coach who loved football and golf. What most remember about him is that he was a positive person and a friend to all.
“I want people to remember the impact he had on others,” Tanya said.
Those who wish to help may donate gloves or make monetary donations to cover shipping costs.
For more information about The Jaybird Project, visit thejaybirdproject.org or email email@example.com.