(PHOTO: Cooper Hughes, 2, with the help of his mother Terri, right, lends a hand in the creation of 'Cooper's Gift,' a new clay dish by artist Tab Boren of Mantachie, left, that will be sold as part of a fundraiser for Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. - photo by Adam Armour)

By ADAM ARMOUR

Staff Writer

Cooper Hughes smiled and giggled as he pressed his tiny hand into the soft clay, grinning tremendously as he looked at the small print left behind.

Tab Boren, owner of Clay Art in Mantachie, returned Cooper’s smile as she checked to ensure his print was firmly set into the mold. It was an important piece — the first of 800 that will be sold as part of a fundraiser for Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis where Cooper, now 2 years old, spent the first nine months of his life. Born with major intestinal problems, he survived his perilous early years with aid of the Memphis-based hospital.

Now, as a touching “thank-you” for helping him live, Cooper is lending his name to the newest clay piece that will go to benefit the hospital. Set to be sold by the members of Le Bonheur TWIGS at a price of $40 each, the profits made from the sale of “Cooper’s Gift” will go to further the hospital’s research and care for young children.

Members of TWIGS will begin selling the piece, which is a small serving dish featuring a cross at its top, in January. Each piece will be individual numbered by Boren. Unfortunately, Cooper’s hand print will only be available on the first four pieces produced, which have already been claimed by his family members.

This is the fifth year that Boren has created an exclusive piece to benefit the hospital. Currently, the group is selling small crosses at a cost of $12 each. The pieces will stop being sold at the end of December.

According to Boren, who donates both time and materials to the creation of these pieces, the fundraiser is a way to use her passion to benefit those who are less fortunate.

“God has been good to me, so it’s my way of returning to Him,” Boren said. “All of this work has come full circle, because my nephew had to be taken to Le Bonheur earlier this year … so I’m glad I’ve been doing this.”

For Cooper’s parents, lending their son’s namesake to the newest piece is a way of thanking the hospital for its help.

“We wanted to help because it’s for Le Bonheur,” his mother, Terri, said, Cooper wiggling around in her arms. “Cooper spent a long time at Le Bonheur so it’s very special to us.”

When asked how Cooper felt about being the inspiration for Boren’s signature piece, Terri smiled:

“It’s very exciting for him,” she said. “He just loves all of the attention.”

The 2006 Le Bonheur TWIGS fundraising piece will be available until Dec. 31. “Cooper’s Gift” will go on sale beginning Jan. 1 until all 800 pieces are sold. Pieces are available at Reed’s Store in the Tupelo Barnes Crossing Mall, on Le Bonheur’s website at www.lebonheur.org, or by calling the Le Bonheur regional office at 662-348-5505.

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