Jeweler inspired child with Tourette’s
Charlotte Observer
Monday, July 2, 2012

Tommy.jpeg
Dan Levinson, owner of Ellis Jewelers in Concord, North Carolina, awards Tommy Molten first prize in the Elementary School division of the “Future Designers” jewelry design contest. Tommy’s design gives him the opportunity to speak out and educate others about Tourette's Syndrome.

North Carolina--When Tommy Molter was in preschool, his teacher approached Tommy’s mother, Kerri Molter, about the seemingly involuntary car and train noises he was making throughout the day.

That was the first indicator of what eventually was diagnosed as Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder characterized by involuntary vocal tics or rapid, sudden movements that occur repeatedly.

Now approaching his 12th birthday, Tommy’s hair is styled to mask his tic of throwing his head backward. He pops his knuckles and shoulders, blinks often and experiences something akin to electrical shocks coursing down his spine. Sometimes he is unable to sleep due to a new shaking tic, even though he is exhausted.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Molter said of the helplessness she feels. “There’s nothing I can do to help him.”

Tommy attends Pitt School Road Elementary, where he faces social obstacles and teasing from peers. Tommy has embraced a role of speaking out about Tourettes:

“I would rather they ask instead of staring and whispering so their questions are answered.”

Tommy’s maturity and confidence as he speaks and educates makes it hard to imagine the struggles he faces.

“I want to get the word out. It’s not just swearing,” Tommy said, referencing the type of Tourette’s Syndrome known as coprolalia, which affects fewer than 15 percent of all people with Tourette’s and involves involuntary verbal outbursts. “Lots of people have Tourette’s. It’s OK to speak out and tell people.

“It’s OK to be different, because that’s what makes you special.”

Tommy is an inspiration to other kids with Tourette’s and for everyone who wants to be appreciated and accepted for who they are. He wears a 14K gold necklace with a blue-diamond ribbon representing the emblem of the Tourette Syndrome Association. The pendent features the word “inspire,” the motto of the Tourette’s Syndrome community.

The first time Molter saw the piece of jewelry, it was not hanging from the chain on Tommy’s neck. Instead, it emerged from Tommy’s backpack, hand-drawn on a piece of notebook paper. Tommy explained that Ellis Jewelers in downtown Concord was having a “Future Designers” contest, and a winning design would be crafted into a piece of custom jewelry and presented to the designer.

Tommy thought, “Oh, this could be my chance to get the word out,” he said.

His initial design was a ring that took 30 minutes to sketch. Molter ultimately persuaded her son to morph his design into a pendant so he could continue to wear it as he grows.

“I look for things to do to reach out to say ‘thank you’ to the community,” Ellis Jewelry owner Dan Levinson, 49, said of his inspiration for the second annual contest. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to let the kids draw and create designs?’ For a child to put on paper a design and then see it made within 98 percent accuracy, they think, “Look what I did!

“It is the responsibility of a business to give back to the community. Maybe there is someone in the 115 entries that has never had a pat on the back. No one’s ever told them to believe in themselves. I sent out a certificate of accomplishment to each child,” said Levinson, who as a child began working in the jewelry store with his father, Ellis Levinson. When Ellis retired, Dan Levinson took over and continued the business that has been serving the Concord area since 1953.

“There is always one entry that stands out,” Levinson said of the submissions in elementary, middle and high school categories. The contest has been embraced by Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Barry Shepherd and Dr. Robert Kirk. Art teachers in the school district encouraged student participation.

Winning the high school category was Jordan Mesimer, 18, of Kannapolis, a 2012 graduate of Northwest Cabarrus High School. Jordan designed a pendant of an antlered wolf as gift for her best friend, Tatiana Little.

“In sixth grade, I needed 25 cents for a meal. I asked a random person in line, and that was her,” Jordan said. “She is the sister that destiny forgot to give me.”

After Jordan won the contest and was presented her necklace by Dan Levinson in a ceremony May 24, Jordan’s mother dissuaded her from giving away the original and encouraged her to have a second pendant made for Tatiana.

“I felt like I was on top of the world,” Jordan said. “I am not the kind of person that wins something. It’s always someone else. This is going to be one of those things that I can look back on and have the proof to go along with it. It is amazing.”

Stephan Dimusto of Concord, a student at Hickory Ridge Middle School, designed an emerald-shelled turtle to win the Middle School category.

“I liked the simplicity of the turtle,” Levinson said. “Nice lines. The detail in the shell looks just like you are looking at a real turtle’s shell.”

The youngest winner, Tommy Molter, accomplished more than designing a 14-karat gold conversation piece.

“He’s a really bright, smart young man,” Levinson said. “That kid is awesome. I am reproducing his design in sterling silver to sell them to the public. Parts of the profits will go toward Tourette’s research.”

“The timing is impeccable,” Kerri Molter said, referring to the conclusion of a difficult year for Tommy and the award, which coincided with Tourette’s Awareness Month, May 15-June 15. “Mr. Levinson’s kindness and generosity, I’m speechless. To find someone who takes an interest in my child as a person and wants to take it forward means more than he’ll ever know. (Levinson) didn’t have to do all of this.”

Future plans for Tommy include becoming a Tourette Syndrome Association youth ambassador when he turns 13, continuing jiu-jitsu training, attending a camp for children with Tourette’s Syndrome called Twitch and Shout, and eventually becoming a counselor at the Georgia camp.

Perhaps becoming a professional jewelry designer? Maybe not.

“I want to be an astronaut and go to Mars,” Tommy said.