When a child comes to the Utah County Children’s Justice Center to tell their most difficult and terrifying story of sexual or physical abuse they never leave empty handed. Thanks to a group of women in the Pleasant View 9th Ward, when each child is ready to leave the Children’ s Justice Center they get the opportunity to pick out a special hand made teddy bear. For more than 10 years, the women of Pleasant View 9th Ward have come together each month to make a difference in the lives of the children of the community.
Throughout the month, women cut out and sew the shells of these teddy bears and on the 4th Tuesday of each month they come together to stuff and decorate the bears. In the past 11 1/2 years, they have made and donated almost 9,000 bears. The materials are donated by the woman or other members of the community. These women who are mostly in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were once asked how long were they planning to continue to make bears. Their response was as long as there are children who need them.
There are many “bear lady” stories. One member of the group suffered from terrible headaches and she would sew bears in the middle of the night to get her mind off of her pain. She took a short time off from making bears when it was found out that her headaches were caused by a brain cancer, but she is back at work after chemotherapy and radiation. Another member returned to making bears after suffering a minor stroke. Still another continued to keep making bears while her shoulder was in a sling after a fall. Nothing has stopped these women from delivering a minimum of 50 bears to the Children’s Justice Center each month for more than 11 1/2 years.
There are as many stories about the impact of the bears, as there are children who hold them. One child who came to the Center to be interviewed, but was too afraid to tell her story . She still picked out her bear and went home. That night her stepfather took her bear and cut it to shreds with a knife and told her he would do the same to her if she spoke to anyone about what he was doing to her. The child was so angry about what had happened to her bear, she asked to go back to the Children’s Justice Center and told all of the details of her abuse. She also got to pick out another bear.
The Teddy Bear Ladies are positive proof that everyone has the ability to make a difference and that small individual contributions when joined together, can have a tremendous impact on the lives of children. They are an example of how a community can care for its most important asset- its children.