Beads of Courage

Hama beads
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Much like grown-ups, children have a need to understand their own stories – and to tell their stories to others. Beads of Courage, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded more than a decade ago, aims to help kids do just that. The organization provides assistance to more than 60,000 sick children and their families in more than 250 children’s hospitals across the United States.

Beads of Courage is a program that helps seriously ill children -- and some young adults -- keep track or take stock of their milestone experiences during treatment and tell the unique story of their survival.

Bead Programs

Beads of Courage goes beyond the traditional use of beads parents may be more familiar to structure to children's activities -- the use of beads in scouting, to mark the mastering of a new skill, or to count the days until an end-of-the-year pizza party, for instance.

Instead, programs are designed to support and strengthen children and families coping with serious illness. The nonprofit describes the program as one that helps children to tell their story using the colorful beads as meaningful symbols of courage that commemorate milestones they have achieved along their unique treatment path -- and it's not just pediatric cancers that have a bead program. Heart conditions, burn injuries, families with children in neonatal intensive care units, and other chronic illnesses are in the mix of conditions and situations for which bead programs have been developed.

How Beads Work

Each child gets a bead color guide with a detachable membership card. Guides have been developed in collaboration with physicians, social workers, and other experts so that the beads reflect meaningful steps in a child's treatment journey.

  • Each child starts out with beads that spell out their first name.
  • Members of the child's health care team give colorful beads to add to the collection, often to recognize and celebrate the fact that they have completed another step in the road healing.

The Program in Action

In her article "Beads of Courage Mark Milestones for Young Patients," Kathy Chang describes examples of bead-related practices at central New Jersey's Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital -- including the following:

  • A white bead is given for a chemotherapy session
  • A glow-in-the-dark bead is given for a day of radiation
  • A tortoise shell bead is given for a lumbar puncture
  • A purple bead is given for completion of therapy

According to Beads of Courage, the program not only provides something tangible a child can use to tell about their experience, but it also helps in other areas: to decrease illness-related distress, increase the use of positive coping strategies, and to restore a sense of self in the battle against serious illness.

At Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, they had wanted to implement the bead program for a long time, but funding was an issue, writes Chang.

It was not until the men’s lacrosse team at Rutgers raised $6,000 for the cause that hospital officials enthusiastically adopted the program. “Each of the lacrosse team members received a companion bead, which they wear on their uniforms during games,” Chang writes, also noting that a boy named Jimmy has already collected more than 100 beads through his treatments for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

More Information

Beads for Courage states that The Program Sponsor or Donor supports the program financially. For questions and additional information, you can write to

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