When our son, Cooper, was going through cancer treatment at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, they started a program called Beads of Courage. Each time Cooper had a treatment — whether it was getting chemotherapy, going to the ER or being poked for blood draws or medicine — he received a beautiful glass bead to commemorate the event.

Over his five years of cancer treatment, Cooper accumulated quite a collection of colorful, unique beads. Each bead came with a card explaining its meaning.

Cooper is now 8 years old and doing well. Sometimes he likes to get those strands of beads out and look at them. He reads the card description and then searches for the bead it represents. The Beads of Courage offer Cooper a way to remember all he’s been through. It allows him to focus on the bright colors and unique bead designs rather than the pain and hurt of that time.

Last weekend, our family had a chance to thank the women of the Midwest Lampworkers Guild in Omaha who make the Beads of Courage program possible at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

For years, these women have gathered around a table, each with their own propane and oxygen-fueled flame, and crafted the Beads of Courage. With steady hands, they hold thin sticks of glass in the flame. Then, gently turning a metal rod, they dab the melted glass onto it, bringing to life delicate beads shaped like gnomes, cowboys, cats and flowers.

Each bead is as unique as the seriously ill child it's been created for.

Many of these women have been lampworkers — people who create art with glass — for decades. One took classes in Las Vegas years ago. Others learned locally and self-taught with videos online. All year long, they donate their time and talent to hand crafting Beads of Courage.

But they don't just make the beads. Once a year, this group hosts a fun, special event called “Art in the Bag,” which benefits the Beads of Courage program here in Omaha, as well as the International Beads of Courage program.

This year’s kid-friendly event will take place Oct. 28 at Hot Shops Art Center, 1301 Nicholas St. The event will feature live music, a “creation station” where kids can make Beads of Courage jewelry and a photo booth. Kids and adults alike will have the opportunity to watch glass bead lampworking demonstrations. There will also be a silent auction featuring handcrafted bags, purses and totes.

But one of the coolest things about this event is the chance to sponsor a bead for a sick child at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. For $5, you can pick out a bead and write a special note of encouragement for a child. For $20, you can select a bead to donate and choose a second bead to take home for yourself.

Cancer is scary, but through Beads of Courage, the Midwest Lampworkers Guild is using art to bring light to these children's darkest days.


Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia — and won. Jenni writes weekly for Momaha.com. She is the author of "Forty Days" and "Why Won't God Talk to Me?" You can read more about Jenni here.

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