Many children with chronic illnesses undergo what can feel like countless medical treatments and procedures, which is why Vernon’s Tara Steck dedicates her spare time to helping sick kids mark each step of their journey through recovery.
Beads of Courage is a public charity based in Tuscon, Arizona, established in 2003. Its goal is to integrate arts into medicine, providing an innovative way to help children and families cope with serious illness. The program runs in hundreds of hospitals in the U.S. and other countries, including 10 major hospitals in Canada.
Steck sends handcrafted beads to the B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, the only participating hospital in the province. The beads are given to children upon every procedure, which they typically collect on long strands.
In the three years since she began, she’s sent more than 600 specialty beads to the hospital. The program never has too many beads; some children may collect hundreds depending on their illness.
Most of the beads are a single solid colour signifying a particular procedure. Black beads are for needle pricks, yellow beads are for overnight hospital stays, red beads mark every blood transfusion and so on.
The beads Steck creates have an added artistic touch. The specialty glass beads are used to mark special occasions in a child’s recovery.
“Maybe it was a good day, maybe it was a bad day, maybe it was an unexpected procedure that they had to have, or maybe they had to spend a birthday in a hospital,” Steck explained, spreading out her current stock on a table at her workplace in Coldstream.
Beads of Courage also has an outreach program to B.C. Children’s Hospital, so kids who have their procedures done in outlying clinic can get their beads through the mail.
In 2013 the Children’s Hospital in Tuscon added a Hall of Fame to commemorate its most dedicated bead makers – folks who spend their free time and resources helping kids form beaded chronologies of their recovery.
Steck was among the Hall of Fame inductees for 2020. One of her signature beads now decorates a wall in the Tuscon hospital.
“It was quite unexpected and very thrilling, very nice to know that what I do is making an impact,” she said.
Beads of Courage posts pictures of children with their collections on Facebook. Steck says the images say a lot about what sick kids and their families endure.
“When you see the scars on them you realize that these kids are going through an awful lot,” said Steck. “You never really understand what they go through.”
Steck says there are many ways to support children’s hospitals, but Beads of Courage is a unique way to help in an affordable way.
“I can’t afford to donate money, (but) this I can do, and it goes directly to the kids. It doesn’t go to an umbrella charity.”
Steck spends 10 to 20 minutes on each beads she makes, and while her output has made her a hall-of-fame contributor, she hopes others will join her.
“Beads of Courage will accept beads that are made out of polymer clay, so if there’s anyone in the area who makes polymer clay beads this would be a great thing for them to get involved in,” she said.
Steck also wants to put a call out to local quilting guilds who may have members interested in making the quilted bead bags children use to carry their collections.
“They’re always short on beads and bead bags,” she said.
For more information on Beads of Courage and how to get involved, visit www.beadsofcourage.ca.