Displaying a replica of the check that Rachael Richards Realty gave HopeFull Hands are, from left, Kristi Escarcega, Joann Ridge and Debbie Sheppard.
Special to AFN


Since 2014, when she helped start a charity called HopeFull Hands in Ahwatukee with Debbie Sheppard and Joann Ridge, Brenda Keller has opened her home to sewing sessions.

They’ve made aprons stuffed with three small pillows and put each set into a handmade bag, dubbing them “Breast Comfort Kits” for women who had undergone mastectomies.

The aprons hold drainage tubes and bags while two heart-shaped pillows are positioned under the arms and the third can be placed between the surgery site and a seatbelt.

Last August, Mrs. Keller succumbed to breast cancer.

And last week, her husband, Roy, and her daughter’s employer, Rachael Richards Realty, honored her with donations to HopeFull Hands so their work could carry on.

Richards said her team kicks in $25 from each transaction and gives the money they pool to a charity of a team member’s choice every six months.

It was Kristi Escarcega’s turn to pick a charity and she naturally picked Hopefull Hands, the charity her late mother had helped found. Escarcega said her mother designed the bags that held the apron and pillows, and showed volunteers how to sew them.

To match Rachael Richards Realty’s $3,325 contribution, Roy Keller kicked in another $2,500 – adding to the commemoration he extends quarterly by honoring his late wife’s wish that their Lakewood home remain open for HopeFull Hands volunteers to use every quarter.

Since its inception, HopeFull Hands has made 500 kits and garnered about 25 volunteers – much to the gratitude of the Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus.

Mayo Clinic three years ago gave Sheppard, a critical care nurse who herself underwent a mastectomy, its Mae Berry Award for Service – a recognition given employees “who have acted selflessly to meet the needs of patients with no thought of reward.”

In a thank-you letter to Richards, Sheppard noted that HopeFull Hands still meets each quarter at the Keller home.

“The sewing machines, irons, and scissors start frantically working at 8 a.m. and continue throughout the day,” she wrote, telling Richards:

“Even though we lost Brenda (the true brains behind the operation) this past August, it is with her and her husband Roy’s blessing that we continue to meet and do the work in their home. The gesture of Kristi bringing HopeFull Hands forward as a recipient of your company’s philanthropy is yet another example of the Keller family’s generosity.

“My hope is that one day these kits will not be needed; however, as long as they are, HopeFull Hands will provide them.”

In a story about HopeFull Hands, Mayo Clinic’s newsletter quoted Sheppard as saying, “I hadn’t thought of needing something like that, and I’m a nurse. If I hadn’t had the apron, I would have been pinning drains to my clothes.”

“This is not an individual project,” Sheppard also was quoted. “It takes a group to get this done. We have five sewing machines going, and we have jobs for non-sewers too.”

The pillows and apron are made from “soft, cozy flannel” in a variety of “happy, lively prints.”

While Sheppard and her friends had initially funded the project themselves, the Hematology/Oncology Department recently began providing support, which Sheppard says was “wonderful and completely unexpected,’” Mayo Clinic said.

Sheppard told Mayo that helpful Hands “is really rewarding to all of us,” and that she hopes “the women who get these know that someone has thought of them in advance.”

The clinic said Sheppard’s thoughtfulness is not at all surprising, stating that her supervisor described her as “a good person who knows how to care for people.”

Information: info@hopefullhands.org, info@raechelrichards.org

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