Colorful beads took on new meaning for about 100 Fayetteville-Manlius School District fifth grade students who recently made and donated ceramic beads to a national organization that helps children cope with cancer and other serious illnesses.
Beads of Courage, a nonprofit organization, supplies to hospitals participating in the program beads that meet certain criteria, such as being lead-free and having no sharp edges. The hospitals then distribute to their pediatric patients enrolled in the program colored beads that symbolize something the children experience related to their illnesses.
For instance, white beads mark a chemotherapy course. Yellow beads signify every night a child spends away from home. Brown beads symbolize hair loss.
Wellwood Middle School art teacher Mary Sweeney learned about the program in the late fall through a CBS television news story. The segment shows children of all ages wearing or carrying their strands of beads. Some children have more than 1,000 beads, according to the news report. In one interview, the father of a 6-year-old with a cancerous brain tumor is shown wearing strand upon strand of his daughter's beads.
Because he says they are too heavy for her to wear. She'll tip over, he said.
After watching the news story, Sweeney reached out to Beads of Courage for more information about the program.
"I was really moved by the story," she said.
In March, she talked with her fifth grade students about Beads of Courage.
"They were very eager to start making beads," she said.
The students spent one class learning about the program and watching the CBS news segment, another class sketching their bead designs, and several more classes actually crafting and decorating beads.
The Purple Heart bead, which symbolizes when a child's treatment is complete, was a very popular design, she said.
In the beginning of May, Sweeney sent the students' completed beads to Beads of Courage. The Wellwood students have requested that Beads of Courage send to the Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse the more than 100 beads they made. Upstate participates in the national program.