Beth Lunkenheimer · Friday October 8, 2010
In October, 2008, Carl Edwards showed off his soft spot for children when he pulled a special beaded necklace out of his firesuit following his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. A few days before that trip to victory lane, Edwards, along with David Gilliland, had visited the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorder Service in the city.
While at the center, Edwards met a young cancer patient named Dalton Kammer, who loaned his “Beads of Courage” necklace to the driver in hopes of bringing him good luck Sunday afternoon—and it did. This weekend, as teams take the track for race number four in the Chase for the Championship, Edwards’ No. 99 Aflac Ford will sport the Beads of Courage logo in support of the newest bead to the program—the “Wingman” bead.
The impact the Beads of Courage program has had on children just like Dalton led to Aflac’s partnership with the program to help encourage and renew strength in children who are forced to fight for their lives. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a wingman is “a pilot who flies behind and outside the leader of a flying formation.” Just like a wingman to a pilot, the duck shaped bead is designed to signify the doctors, nurses, specialists and families backing up each child’s battle with their illness.
“When I visit the Aflac Cancer Center I am moved by the courage of these heroic children,” Edwards said. “My personal experience with Beads of Courage inspired me; so I am proud to be a part of this program.”
And it’s not difficult for fans to embrace the newest program introduced. A five dollar donation will send one of the Wingman beads along with a special encouragement book to a cancer patient child, and a $25 donation will provide five children and the sponsor making the donation a bead. For more information on sponsoring a bead, click here.
The Beads of Courage program was founded by Jean Baruch while working towards her PhD in Nursing at the University of Arizona College of Nursing. While in the PhD program, Baruch spent some time working as a camp nurse at one of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, listed on the Hole in the Wall Gang website as a “nonprofit, residential summer camp and year-round center serving children and their families coping with cancer and other serious illnesses and conditions.”
With the help of her family and friends, Baruch kicked off the program in February, 2004, and the program has been extended to children’s hospitals in the U.S. along with New Zealand and Japan. Beads were chosen based on the numerous functions to different cultures throughout the world. They have often signified strength, courage, value and status. Additionally, some societies believe beads carry healing and protective powers.
According to their website “the program is a resilience-based intervention designed to support and strengthen the protective resources in children coping with serious illness.” Once a child is enrolled, in the program, they’re given a string with beads that spell out their name along with a guide explaining the significance of the many different colored beads available. As the child undergoes each procedure, they’re given a bead, and each necklace tells the individual story of what they’ve endured throughout their treatment journey.
In honor of the Aflac Duck’s tenth birthday, the duck will make his first ever track appearance Sunday at Auto Club Speedway to bring awareness to the newest bead in the program. Executive Director and Founder Baruch is excited at the addition to the program that has grown since its inception.
“That loveable Aflac Duck inspires smiles in children,” Baruch said. “Our long‐standing relationship with the Aflac Cancer Center, the immense strength of the Aflac Duck’s image, and Aflac’s commitment to pediatric cancer treatment and research gives me great confidence that this program will be a tremendous success in helping more kids cope with serious illnesses.”
One particular story the really tugged at my heartstrings was that of a current seven-year-old patient at the Aflac Cancer Center, Nolan Blake. A huge NASCAR and Carl Edwards fan, Nolan was diagnosed with a brain tumor last October that has required surgeries, chemo and radiation therapy.
The first grader and his mother Brittany, a single mother of five children, were the first to receive the Wingman bead. During his treatments, Nolan has accumulated nearly 800 beads for various milestones during his battle with cancer, and he wears multiple necklaces that extend to his knees featuring each and every one of them.
My favorite thing about NASCAR when I started watching more than 15 years ago was the involvement drivers have had in charitable organizations. They’re not in any way required to, but it’s heartwarming to see the time each driver spends using their image to bring attention to charities that help out various individuals every day.
No matter how you feel about the 43 drivers that take the track each weekend, it’s hard to deny the good these guys spread using their “celebrity” status. So next time you consider booing a driver, think of all of the good he does off the track to help others in need.
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