Sew Good: Bags for Beads of Courage

on March 29 | in Sew Good (Charity Sewing) | by | with 7 Comments

Allison Evans has a new profile in our monthly Sew Good series. We love to feature people who use their sewing skills to support others! We’re focusing on a smaller group this time that doesn’t have hundreds of participants yet. Allison writes, “Charity projects in all shapes and sizes can be successful and make a big impact…”

You can see Allison’s sewing and happy glimpses of her life via Instagram (@phdstitchery). For more posts in the series take a look at Quilting a Memory, Soy Amado Quilts, info on sewing guild charity sewing and individual charity sewing via online groups. We’re always eager to hear from you if you have ideas for future profiles. (Email: beth@sewmamasew.com + Thanks!)


You’re a crafty person. And one day you realize there’s a need in your community where your craftiness might be able to help. But you’re just you– one person at home– not a blogger or someone with hundreds of Facebook followers, not famous, not “connected” to thousands of other sewers… How can you help? This installment of the Sew Good series looks at how one person or a small group of people can take a simple idea and turn it into a successful charity sewing project, even if you’re starting at the very beginning. You don’t need to be a famous blogger or Instagram legend to be successful in getting your project off the ground. In reality, even the most ambitious charity sewing projects just need one person to get started. Starting a local chapter of a national group is one way to do this, but often the resources you need are hard to come by locally. As many charity groups have found, the online sewing community can be a powerful resource for projects that are just at the beginning.

The Beads of Courage program is a national program that began in 2003. It aims to empower and support children with life threatening illnesses. As the children undergo various treatments and procedures, they receive different colored beads symbolic of those experiences. When a child is enrolled in the program, he or she is given a string to place the beads on as they’re received, and a bag to store everything. The bags are made and donated by volunteers through the organization’s Encouragement Program, whose aim is “to provide a powerful platform… [by] connecting the kindness of others with the courage of the children and families we support through Beads of Courage programs.” Allison Chan, a nurse at The Heart Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, was excited when her hospital became involved with Beads of Courage in 2015. After the program was launched, however, she realized that although they had funding to start the program, over time they would need more and more bags to distribute to new patients. She left a staff meeting determined to find a way to make sure the hospital would have enough bags in the future.

As Allison says, she wasn’t willing to give up on finding volunteers to sew the bags because, “Working on a unit like ours opens your eyes to how resilient kids are. Our patients are some of the sickest of the sick. We have patients whose hearts don’t work, who have tubes coming out of their bodies attached to mechanical pumps to act as their native heart. We have kids who used to be healthy, and suddenly aren’t. We have kids who are born with a congenital heart defect and will forever have medical issues. But, every single one of these kids manages to laugh and smile, even when they are feeling absolutely miserable. By starting the Beads of Courage program, we now have one more way to help bring smiles to their faces.”

Not wanting to see the program struggle but also not sure where in her local community to start, she turned to one of the crafting-related Facebook groups she participates in and posted a question: Would anyone be interested in sewing simple drawstring bags and sending them to her to donate to the hospital? Through private funding the heart center could reimburse volunteers for supplies and shipping costs; they just needed people to actually sew the bags. The sewing community being what it is, people responded with a resounding Yes! This Crafty Doctors’ Wives group includes about 700 women who have, for the most part, never met in person. When Allison posted looking for help these women from all over the U.S. began to respond. Unlike many charity projects where you might be asked to make a quilt block or piece a whole top, this request was a fairly modest one; they need simple, unlined drawstring bags about 8” x 11” in size, in fabrics that would appeal to children from newborn through age 18.

Morgan Nelson, one of the sewing volunteers, says about her willingness to participate in the program, “I would love to be able to get out and volunteer more. There is something about not focusing on me that just brightens my day. Unfortunately, it is hard for me to do because I have a toddler and a baby. When I read about this opportunity to use one of my hobbies to serve others, I knew I had to be involved. Especially after I heard it would help brighten the days of children with serious illness. I used to be a teacher and youth sports coach, so I have a special place in my heart for kids and miss being able to work with children. Sewing these bags for the Beads of Courage program involved so many things I love: sewing, serving, children and helping others.”

Another volunteer Courtney Roshanmanesh adds, “When I heard about the opportunity to sew Beads of Courage bags, I knew that I had to get involved. Although it may seem to be a small contribution, I am sure that it must mean the world to these children’s families to know that someone out there is trying to help them, to be kind to them, and to tell them that they are not alone.” Courtney is now organizing local classes to teach others to make bags to send to St. Louis, despite having no personal connection to the hospital or St. Louis, just because an internet friend asked for help.

If you’ve been toying with starting a charity sewing project but you aren’t sure how to find participants, think about reaching out to all of the communities you’re involved in, not just the one you can physically see around you. In this case, the lesson is, ask and you shall receive.

If you’re interested in sewing bags for The Heart Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, you can contact Allison Chan at BagsForBOC@gmail.com. Need a good drawstring bag tutorial? Here’s a good one!

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7 Responses to Sew Good: Bags for Beads of Courage

  1. Kim says:

    I started making these bags after realizing the need when my 3 yr old grandson was being treated in Atlanta for Neuroblastoma. These kids love the beads. A disposable sticker just does not meet the needs for children experiencing the treatments and procedures of this magnitude. I think I have surpassed the 200 count at this point. However life has been busy and I have not done any in awhile. This served as a reminder that I need to get going on them again.

  2. Lara B. says:

    Wow! What a wonderful program and heart stirring response! It really goes to show you how much people care!

  3. Jessica Hansen says:

    Your Sew Good series is probably my favorite thing you guys post!

  4. Jean says:

    My Grandson Is in the Beads of courage program!! and it is AWESOME!! He was at Dallas children’s. He is 6 years old now and still gets a few beads hit and miss By sending in his information. He was born with a heart condition that he will have forever. So I really appreciate those who contribute to this !! Thank you!

  5. Kelly says:

    My daughter is a student @ U of M and works part-time at the hospital there. One part of her job duties involves passing out the beads to the kids there. Sometimes it it heart wrenching to see how many “beads” some of the kids have. A very effective charity. Thanks to all that help with this charity!

  6. Karen says:

    Beads of Courage is an awesome program. I started making bags for them a few years ago and I have made hundreds of them. I also hope the bags I make brought a smile to a child even if it is only for a few minutes.

  7. Linda says:

    I worked at Children’s Hospital on the oncology unit. This is an AMAZING program. Lots of our patients had long hospital stays and would hang the strings from the ceiling and took much pride in their collections. These beads are made by volunteer artisans and carry a great deal of symbolism and meaning. An anchor is one of the first beads. I also received a set of caregiver beads that they gave to nurses at the launch – one of my most prized possessions.

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