Beading the Odds: Beads of Courage (Part I)

Jean Baruch is a medical professional with a heart for children. During her early years as a nurse, Jean discovered some gaps in the specialized care aimed at children battling serious illness. She returned to school at the University of Arizona's College of Nursing in pursuit of a PhD and a dream: What if she could find a way to meet those needs? Happily for hundreds of children and their families, Jean created Beads of Courage.

Jean's PhD endeavor provided the time and resources necessary for her quest. She began by reviewing respected child care literature and identifying areas for improvement. Her research showed that children combating serious illness feel better when they can acknowledge the circumstances they're in and can display what they've been strong enough to endure. At that time, there wasn't a platform in most children's hospitals for this type of expression. So, Jean developed the Beads of Courage program. Labeling her technique as "resilience-based intervention," Jean's goal was to provide these children with a way to showcase their achievements, and then, in turn, draw strength from that.

Her solution was one that all beaders would applaud: Give each child a starter strand with beads spelling his/her name; then, for each treatment milestone conquered, add a representative bead to the strand (one yellow bead for each night spent in the hospital, one green bead for each chemotherapy treatment, and so on). Jean approached the Arizona Society of Glass Beadmakers and the International Society of Glass Beadmakers with her idea. Both groups readily donated special, handmade glass beads for the project. (And both organizations remain an integral part of the Beads of Courage program to this day.)

Jean piloted the Beads of Courage program at the Phoenix Children's Hospital in 2003, and her theories proved accurate. The children responded positively (and immediately) in very measurable ways. The academic foundation underlying the Beads of Courage program caused it to be taken seriously by Jean's medical peers from the get-go; but, an even more appreciative fan group was the children and families participating. Since its inception, Beads of Courage has grown immensely. More than 140 children's hospitals around the world have a Beads of Courage program, reaching 30,000 children. And, Beads of Courage has expanded its offerings, with programs aimed at parents, siblings, friends of children battling serious illnesses, and children fighting their illnesses from home.

Why beads? Jean actually devotes an entire page of the Beads of Courage website to answering this question. Yes, beads are tactile and fun for kids to handle, but Jean notes that beads also have carried great meaning for many societies over time, symbolizing strength, status, value, and healing. The Beads of Courage program provides children with a map of their progress – something to be proud of and to be encouraged by, to help relieve the tedium, anxiety and frustration accompanying the battle against a serious sickness.

Beads of Courage is a fitting name. Many of the children participating have strands upon strands of beads, representing months and years of treatment. I was privileged to speak with Joellyn Boggess whose daughter, Erin, is a participant in the Beads at a Distance program, for children fighting illnesses outside of hospitals.

Check back tomorrow for Part II of this post and to meet Joellyn and her daughter, Erin. In the meantime, spend a moment visiting the colorful and inspirational Beads of Courage website. You'll be so glad you did.


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