Tanya Bryant founded The Jaybird Project in memory of her husband, Jack (Jay) Bryant Jr.
“Jay was lovingly known to his family and friends as ‘Jaybird,’” she said. “We were married for twenty-seven years when the Lord unexpectedly called him home in January 2021. Let’s just say, I wasn’t prepared. He was with me on a Sunday morning, then he was gone. Just like that, everything changed.”
Jay was a former St. Charles Parish Public Schools educator who taught and coached for many years at Destrehan High School.
“He and I both,” she said of working in SCPPS. “Jay did 33 years and I retired early after 20 years. In my last year, God just kept prompting me to leave. He kept telling me there were other things I was going to do. My husband thought I was crazy … we had three kids in college at the time. Everybody I ran into said I was nuts, but Jay was very supportive of me.”
Jay worked for one more year before the couple each worked part time. Their time was spent traveling, Bryant said, as well as visiting their children who lived out of state.
“We had two years together before he passed away,” she said. “Those two years gave us a lot of time to be together. When you’re busy parents with three children involved in sports and school and extra curriculars, you just don’t have a lot of time … you know? Those two years gave me a lot.”
Bryant said she will forever be grateful that she retired early.
“Had I not listened and stepped out when I did, we would have never had those two years together,” she said. “I think about the things we didn’t get to do, but I’m thankful for the time I did have.”
Tanya said there are many things that she misses about Jay – most simply holding his hand.
“We held hands all the time – riding in the car, watching TV, and at night before we fell asleep. People thought we were weird actually,” she said laughing. “But we truly did. Jay said we filled each other’s gaps. We were just connected together from the time we met. The feeling of being alone at times is unbearable. I longed to hold his hand just so I wouldn’t feel alone.”
Tanya stayed with her son Jared in Texas after Hurricane Ida, and it was there that inspiration struck.
Jared, an occupational therapy student, came home one night and told his mother about learning to make stress balls using rubber medical gloves. He told her that while other students fashioned theirs into a ball, he had made a hand.
“I had been searching online … I looked on Etsy and all sorts of sites looking for a flexible hand and I couldn’t find anything,” she said. “When he told me that I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what I’ve been looking for.’ I had never told my kids.”
When Tanya got her own hands on the constructed hand, she knew it was what she had been looking for.
“I slept with it that night,” she said. “I still do sometimes. It just felt right … it just made me feel better.”
Tanya eventually covered the glove with one of Jay’s old golf gloves for protection from her curious dog.
“God speaks to me in quiet times, and I was just thinking about the hand,” she said. “He really said to me, ‘That’s Jay’s hand, but that’s My hand too. I’m holding you in My hand during this time.’”
Tanya said it wasn’t long before her friends and family members encouraged her to make more hands to help other hurting or lonely people.
“I thought it could help other people, because it was helping me,” she said.
After a year of planning, The Jaybird Project has been shipping out comfort hands for a few weeks. With each one is enclosed a prayer card and personal note.
“What I kind of envisioned was partnering with hospices or funeral homes or a nursing care facility … places where people need comfort and hope,” Tanya said.
With word spreading on the project via social media, Tanya said she has been busy shipping out packages to individuals.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “The Jaybird Project was founded with God’s grace and patience. It’s a simple and beautiful way to remind us that God has a plan. He is always with us, holding on to us even in our dark and difficult times.”
For more information on The Jaybird Project or to donate to the cause, visit www.thejaybirdproject.org.