Data from 2020 shows that, on average, 3.9 million surgical procedures in the United States each year are performed on children, and up to 4.7% of children in the U.S. undergo surgery each year. While some kids only undergo one surgical procedure, many chronically ill children undergo more procedures than the average adult will have in their lifetime.
Chronic illness and dozens of medical procedures can be traumatic for anyone, but they are especially scary and traumatic to kids.
Sandy Melillo, an adjunct professor at Broward College and Oakland Park Kiwanis member, volunteers much of her time toward working with the Kiwanis to help children in the area who find themselves having to face these difficult situations. One of her projects involves making Beads of Courage bags that are given to children’s hospitals for young patients to collect their beads after each procedure.
Beads of Courage is a non-profit organization that has established collaborative partnerships with hospitals both nationally and internationally. They work with community organizations to promote healing through the use of beads. According to BeadsofCourage.org, their mission is “to provide innovative, arts-in-medicine programs for children coping with serious illness, their families, and the clinicians who care for them.”
After a surgery or medical procedure, kids at participating hospitals are given a bead. Throughout history, beads have been used to signify strength, courage, and accomplishment. In some cultures, beads have healing powers, and practical uses, and even imply a prestigious social status.
Sandy Melillo first got the idea to start making the bags after Kim Benson, an Oakland Park Kiwanis member, posted on the Kiwanis website explaining that Beads of Courage was in need of people to make bags. Sandy quickly volunteered and continues to deeply enjoy the project.
She explains that getting a new bead after a procedure is almost like “going to the dentist and picking from the treasure chest. They [the children] feel a certain pride about their beads, and the kids even put them on chains and necklaces. In a way, it encourages them.”
Sandy Melillo makes bead bags using the Beads of Courage step-by-step bag-making process. The bags are donated to children so they have a place to store their precious, well-deserved beads.
Sandy puts her talent to good use as she sews each of her bags by hand, mostly with fabrics that have been donated to her by Morning Day, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
The majority of the bead bags are donated to kids who are battling cancer, many of whom have undergone countless numbers of surgeries and procedures while continuing to exude courage and strength. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10,470 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022.
So far, Sandy has made 250 bead bags, bringing a little light into the lives of 250 brave children. After she finishes making a batch of bags, she and her husband, Rick, drop them off at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
Sarah Buwalda, an employee at Joe DiMaggio children’s hospital, delivers the bags to the children on their behalf, allowing the children to pick which bag they want and bringing a little joy to their day. Although Sandy doesn’t get to deliver the bags directly to the children due to the need to maintain the privacy of the families, she says the hospital is always thrilled when they call and say they have more bags ready to drop off.
Making the Beads of Courage Bead Bags is a careful process that requires some level of skill. If you can sew, knit, or find yourself looking for a hands-on activity that gives back to the community, creating these bags is a great option for you! Learn more about the Beads of Courage Bead Bags, how to make them, and how to register as a Bead Bag stitcher at https://beadsofcourage.org/bead-bags/.
Cassidy Webb is a Texas native and South Florida transplant. She grew up just outside of Dallas, TX, and moved to South Florida four years ago. She now considers Fort Lauderdale her home.
Cassidy is the project manager at a small digital marketing company and she enjoys freelance writing on the side. In her free time, you can catch her exploring local parks or taking long walks through the neighborhood with her dog, Bella.