Journey Beads to capture the family story

March 14, 2018
First-of-its-kind program fills an important gap

Hospitals have their bravery beads and courage beads, and now Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto is introducing Journey Beads.

Beginning next week, during Child Life Month in Canada, families at RMHC Toronto can start collecting colourful beads to reflect their unique experiences at the House.

“Journey Beads fill a significant gap,” says Kayla Slegers, Child Life Specialist at RMHC Toronto.

“Siblings can collect them, children in treatment can collect them, and so can moms, dads and grandparents. The beads represent the story of the whole family’s journey while they are away from home.”

The inspiration for the name of the program comes from families themselves.

“Many families refer to their experiences caring for and supporting a seriously ill child as a ‘journey’, so ‘Journey Beads’ felt right,” says Kayla.

Family members can get a bead, for example, for attending an activity at the House, achieving a milestone or having a tough day. There are also beads for volunteering at the House or going on an outing into the city.

Each string of beads will start with a child’s or family member’s name, and a bead that represents the House. Collectors will get a happy-face bead for their first visit to the Child Life Room and a red-heart bead if someone they have gotten to know at the House goes home. Adults will receive a gold-sparkle bead if they take time out for some self-care, like a massage or mini-yoga session.

Kayla thinks the most popular beads among children will be the dog and cat beads, which represent a visit with our PAWS dog, and the safari animal beads, for learning to navigate their way around the House. Perhaps the most touching beads will be the butterfly beads, given for achieving ‘firsts’. Kayla suspects babies in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) will earn lots of these.   

“Journey Beads are designed to mark the milestones and the achievements in a family’s stay at the House. We want them to be a cheerful and memorable keepsake of their time here so they can share their RMHC Toronto story with family and friends when they get home,” says Kayla.

She also hopes the Journey Bead program will encourage both kids and adults to take advantage of the many programs and supports available at RMHC Toronto. Child Life, for example, focuses on easing children's anxiety and assisting all family members in coping with the stress of their situation. Kayla is available to support families five days a week.

Kayla SlegersKayla Slegers working with a family during Child Life programming

“This bead program is something I’ve wanted to do since I first started working here two years ago and we’ve put a lot of thought into making it meaningful for families,” says Kayla.

RMHC Toronto is believed to be the first House in the world to develop such a program, and we hope it inspires other Houses around the world to adopt something similar.

Kayla is not yet sure whether most families will choose to collect the beads as individuals or as a family – they can do either – but she hopes everyone will enjoy the experience and carry their beads with pride.

“Journey Beads acknowledge their experiences and give them credit for thriving through a difficult time.”