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Building with our bear hands: The journey of a teddy bear


When it comes to volunteering, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe you spend your weekends building houses for Habitat for Humanity, walking dogs at your local shelter, or lending a hand in your church—every little thing you can do for your community is not only beneficial to others, but also yourself (rumor has it that it can even make you live longer!). But did you know that sometimes the best opportunity to “do good” can be found in the workplace?

Enter: Teddy bears.

That’s right. Teddy bears.

In March, members of leadership across Adventist Health came together in Roseville, California to participate in the annual Mission Day, which is a day devoted to connecting each other with news, inspiring stories and learning new ways to reach our communities.

“Mission Day is, historically, all about education and inspiration,” says Dustin Aho, the assistant vice president of community mission at Adventist Health in Roseville, California. “But we added a third piece this year: action. How do we not only talk about things but physically do something that will help our community?” Aho goes on to say that event organizers wanted choose an activity each member could participate in that would provide “something tangible that represented health, wholeness and hope.”

Partnering with Impact 4 Good, a company that specializes in creating community service opportunities that can be used as team-building exercises, nearly 200 Adventist Health leaders put their mission to action by stuffing bears, dogs and moose to be given to kids in our pediatric units.

Following a detailed list of instructions that went beyond placing stuffing in the bears, the makers were also delighted to place the heart over their hearts to “give it love”, warm it between their hands so it will “know warmth and security,” and to place it on their foreheads so it would have “intelligence and imagination.” Then these little hearts were wished and prayed upon before being sealed inside the bears.

man holding teddy bear

teddy bears

man holding teddy bear

After being named and oo’d and ahhh’d over (just look at those faces, how could you not?), each of these bears were sent to 20 Adventist Health hospitals across Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii to be distributed to their new owners.

One of these bears (“Fluffy” to be exact—made by Kevin Erich, interim CEO of the Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital) found a forever home in the arms of a young girl at Ukiah Valley Medical Center.

During a leadership meeting, Gwen Matthews, CEO of Ukiah Valley Medical Center, brought “Fluffy” with her to share the heartwarming story behind the origin of the teddy bears—how it was important that each bear be made with love, joy and compassion before making its way to its recipient, and how community projects such as these were at the core of why they do what they do.

And then mission led to action—during the meeting!

“I was called away [from the leadership meeting] to join our surgery team attending to a child who had undergone a difficult experience,” says Heather Van Housen, chief nursing officer of UVMC. “As I stood there at her bedside with the child’s family, I got a text from Gwen that said ‘Do you need Fluffy?’ ‘Yes!’ was my quick response.”

Within minutes, Fluffy was in the arms of his new owner. “Oh the joy on this child’s face—those outstretched arms immediately reaching out for this messenger of love and caring!” says Heather, adding that the family was touched by the story of Fluffy’s origin. “It was a privilege to have been a part of Fluffy’s journey bringing health, wholeness, and hope in a very special way.”

child holding teddy bear

We may often think of “healing” as going to the doctor and getting a prescription, a diagnosis or surgery. While these things are key components—sometimes “healing” can mean the comfort of a teddy bear named Fluffy, made with love. Because at the end of the day, we know what it’s like to need something beyond medicine.

And sometimes we just want to make teddy bears.