A few months ago Ken Owens was looking for a project to bring to the Lockport Woodworkers meeting. In his quest he came across an idea in a post on the American Association of Woodturners website: Treasure boxes for children suffering from serious illnesses. These chests wouldn’t hold gold but would be brimming with a different treasure: Beads.
The wooden boxes were needed for beads collected by sick children participating in the Beads of Courage program. The program was started at Phoenix Children's Hospital in 2003 by Jean Baruch, a nurse working on her PhD at the University of Arizona. In the years since it has expanded to include over 100 hospitals.
In world history, beads have served a variety of purposes. They are considered by some to be amongst the earliest form of trade. During the Qing dynasty in China, beads were used to signify status. Beads of Courage members use them to show bravery and accomplishment.
Children participating in the non-profit program are first given a string of beads spelling out their names. Throughout their courageous journey, the children receive more of the colorful beads in commemoration of the different milestones they achieve in their treatment. Some Beads of Courage members receive thousands of beads. The thought behind the beads is they allow the kids to cope with their illness while retaining a tangible reminder of the challenges they faced.
“It gives them something to look forward to,” Lockport Woodworkers president James Nelson said.
After learning that Roswell Park Cancer Institute is a participant in the Beads of Courage program, Owens successfully pitched his idea to some of the members of the Lockport Woodworkers and Woodturners club. They would make "treasure boxes" to hold the beads.
Owens made his box from black walnut wood, deciding to turn it using a lathe.
”You start off with a block of wood ... you turn the outside into a shape and then you hollow out the inside,” he said.
Before Boxes of Courage, Roswell Park's pediatric patients were keeping their beads in bags, according to Owens.
Last week, after close to six months of work, Owens and Nelson delivered 26 boxes to Roswell Park.
While most club members made one box apiece, a bit of online research inspired one woodworker to make more. While searching Google, Jim Norton stumbled upon a heartwarming CBS story about Beads of Courage. “It was a real motivator,” he said.