This past weekend I participated in my favorite charity event. I got to make glass beads for Beads of Courage at my local glass shop.
Beads of Courage is a charity program for children dealing with serious illness, primarily cancer. As of right now there are over 90 hospitals participating in the program in the U.S., Japan and New Zealand. When a child signs up, they get a starter necklace with their name spelled out in letter beads. After that, any time they undergo any type of procedure related to their illness they get a new bead for their necklace. There’s a color code for the regular beads; red for transfusions, brown for hair loss, silver for surgery, etc. My favorite is that they get a glow-in-the-dark bead for every radiation treatment.
It might not sound like much, but it means a lot to the kids and their families. At its most basic level, the beads are a little something to look forward to after a treatment, but it becomes a lot more. Their necklace becomes a chronicle of everything they have been through. When they are going in for another round of unpleasantness, their beads remind them that they have done it before and they can do it again. The beads also help them tell their friends what they are going through. Instead of trying to explain everything at once, they can point to a bead and say, “I get one of these for every injection, and these ones are for my chemo treatments,” and so on. Each bead is a trophy in their own personal war on cancer.
Along with the regular glass beads, Beads of Courage also takes donations of handmade glass artisan beads. These are given out as special Acts of Courage beads. According to the website, “Children choose from this selection to acknowledge special milestones, a particularly rough time or for instances not on the regular bead guide.”
That’s what last weekend was about. One of the local glass shops opened up their workroom to any glass artists who wanted to come by and make some beads to donate. We ended up with about 75 beads in all shapes and sizes. I could have made beads at home, I have my own studio, but every time we get together, we learn some new angle that the kids have come up with. This time someone told us that they had decided that “bumpy beads are for bumps in the road,” so there was a beautiful selection of bumpy beads.
Last time I went to a BoC event we learned that one of “our” boys (we get a little attached to the kids at our local hospitals) has lost some fine motor control as a result of his chemo treatments. He likes to play with his beads and restring them as part of his physical therapy. It’s things like this that inspire us to be a little more creative, to push a little harder to make something that these kids will love.
I was lucky enough to get involved with BoC last year for the Dream Bead event. Dream Beads are the brain child of Nancy Campbell, a local nurse here in Atlanta, and Robert Simmons, BoC’s National Director of Donations. Some of Nancy’s patients requested specific beads and Robert made them. As Robert put it, “Word got around and the Dream Bead program was born.” Beads of Courage is working on making it a national program, but the Atlanta bead makers had the honor of being the pilot group. The Atlanta area kids in the program got to request whatever kind of bead they’d like; we got a great big list and did our best to translate the requests into glass. There was a wide variety of requests. Some were simple, like “a pink bead with green zebra stripes.” Some were more challenging, like “a Bumblebee Transformer bead.” I made as many beads as I could, but my skill level isn’t up to making a recognizable Bumblebee, so I felt like I was most useful using my iPhone to search for pictures of the characters that the artists hadn’t heard of. The one that kills me was the request for a Moose A. Moose bead. Moose A. Moose is a character on Nick Jr., geared toward pre-schoolers, so it’s safe to assume that the child who requested this bead was no more than five years old. Every time I think of that bead it makes me cry. If I had my way no pre-schooler would ever get cancer ever again. Hell, if I had my way no one of any age would ever get cancer again. Until that day comes, I am fiercely proud that I can do something to make some of those kids smile.