St Jude Children Tour Inside Gems’ Magical World

A young boy looks through a microscope.
St Jude patients and their siblings had a chance to view gems with a microscope at the GIA GemKids event at the hospital. Kimberly Overlin, dean of students at GIA in Carlsbad, helped the children use the microscopes. Photo courtesy of St Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The world inside gemstones can be magical – a journey through crystalline forms and colours – especially to the vivid imagination of a curious child.

Young patients at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis were guided inside this amazing world by a GIA team who brought gems and minerals to the leading medical facility, known for its treatment of childhood cancers and other paediatric diseases.

Families never receive a bill from St Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live, according to a St Jude spokesperson.

“St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Our purpose is clear: Finding cures. Saving children,” a St Jude spokesperson said. “Treatments invented at St Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 per cent to 80 per cent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago.”

St Jude’s board invited GIA to visit as part of the Institute’s work with Jewelers for Children, a jewellery industry non-profit organisation that helps children in need, including at St Jude and several other institutions.

“These are special kids and they were thrilled at what we brought for them,” said Judi Schechter, director of global business development and beneficiation for GIA, who accompanied the group on the November 2018 visit. The gems included 24 hands-on specimens such as pyrite, a ruby in zoisite matrix, green fluorite, several geodes, various types of quartz crystals, agates and an amber ring with an ant inclusion.

“The kids loved that amber ring with the ant,” said Kelly Bennett, who supervises GIA’s GemKids programme. “And the pyrite was also a hit.”

The GIA team set up a table near the St Jude cafeteria at a time when the children and their visiting families had some free time. Six microscopes, the gem specimens and GemKids educational workbooks, which the Institute provides to the school children who participate in the on-campus programme, were available for exploration.

The children could handle the crystals and other mineral specimens, but it was the microscope views that really brought the “wows” as they viewed several synthetic sapphires, a synthetic emerald, a natural feldspar and quartz.

“Most of the kids had never looked at gemstones with a microscope, so it was all new and exciting for them,” Schechter said. “They got to look, touch and feel the gem specimens and look through the microscope to see inclusions and other internal features. It was all very hands-on.”

A woman hugs a young girl.
Judi Schechter, director of global business development and beneficiation for GIA, hugs a patient’s sibling at the event. Photo courtesy of St Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Kimberly Overlin, GIA’s dean of students, was also part of the GIA delegation and noted that about 50 children visited the table. “Most of them went away really enthusiastic,” she said.

The visit was organised through the GIA’s GemKids programme, which is based in Carlsbad and provides an engaging gemmology learning experience for local school children aged 9 to 12 - nearly 5,000 pupils a year. GemKids programmes are offered at its Carlsbad campus and several locations in Africa, including Botswana and South Africa. Using hands-on activities in a fun and interactive environment, the programme is intended to instil a passion for the science of gemstones.

The GemKids website is a digital resource that teaches children about gems and jewellery, including about the different careers in the jewellery industry and a glossary of gemmological and jewellery search terms. There are also easy and interactive GemKids materials available online for students, parents and teachers.

While there are no specific plans to return to St Jude, Schechter said the experience was “so heartwarming. We were all in tears – joyful tears—the entire time we were there.”

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.