Local nonprofit with a global impact, Beads of Courage, celebrates its fourth World Beads of Courage Day on Thursday, Sept. 15, during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The organization, which offers an innovative “arts-in-medicine” approach to improve the quality of life of children coping with serious illnesses, was founded in 2003 by Jean Gribbon. The festivities also kick off its yearlong 20th anniversary celebration.
Invoking the roaring courage of the “Year of the Tiger,” activities include a sponsored bead station, art card decorating station, bead stringing and a raffle from 4 to 8 p.m. The event will be held at the Beads of Courage headquarters, located next to the Tucson Hop Shop at the Tucson Metal Arts Village.
“It’s truly our Tucson community and through their volunteer efforts that help us package a lot of the program materials that we distribute,” Gribbon said.
Tucson-based Beads of Courage has no other volunteer stations elsewhere in the United States. Out of the 14 million beads that are distributed annually to children in nine countries, roughly 2 million of them are individually packaged by local volunteers.
The organization, which relies on financial donations from the public, allows them to cover the cost of beads that are freely gifted to children coping with long-term illnesses.
“While I was working as a pediatric oncology nurse, I was really seeking ways to better support the patients that I was caring for and created Beads of Courage as a way to honor that courage that nurses and clinicians witness every day and caring for kids going through treatment,” Gribbon said.
At Beads of Courage’s genesis, Gribbon was working at the University Medical Center, now known as the Diamond Children’s Medical Center. She was taking care of children going through treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses.
With an extensive background in human caring as a graduate from the University of Arizona College of Nursing, she also earned a doctorate in nursing science from the UA. Most recently, she began the Watson Caring Science postdoctoral program under renowned nurse theorist Jean Watson at the Watson Caring Science Institute.
In February 2003, Gribbon launched the pilot Beads of Courage program at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Two years later it would be incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“The things that you do as a nurse may not always be experienced as caring, but there are things that you do that can really strengthen that feeling (that) a patient has been cared for,” Gribbon said.
What Beads of Courage accomplishes is just that.
Through colored beads made of glass, polymer and other materials, children can document their individual experiences throughout their medical diagnoses. According to program guidelines, each bead carries a specific meaning. For example, a black bead represents every needle poke, a fish for an “upstream battle,” or travel-required care or a purple heart for the completion of treatment in oncological care.
“We educate nurses who help implement Beads of Courage and the hospitals and units that they work in to think about every bead they give as a dose of narrative medicine,” Gribbon said.
“(It is) just as important as all the medications that they might be giving through an IV.”
Most children who participate in the Beads of Courage program receive well over 500 beads a year, Gribbon said.
“You bestow honor upon them, much like a well-decorated military official and really honor that journey,” Gibbon added.
The beads become powerful metaphors that children and families can ascribe meaning to across the world. Their global outreach supports over 300 worldwide hospital partners and over 180 in the United States.
From silver stars to fishes and golden origami cranes, children can receive their respective bead prescriptions consisting of courage, hope and resilience.
If you go
WHAT: World Beads of Courage Day
WHEN: 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15
WHERE: Beads of Courage HQ, 3230 N. Dodge Boulevard (Metal Arts Village)
COST: See website