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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 10:58 am | Fair 58º


Youth Aiding Youth: Bear Hugs Project Expands to the West Coast

The Bear Hugs project has reached children around the world, including refugees in Syria. Click to view larger
The Bear Hugs project has reached children around the world, including refugees in Syria.  (Children of Earth photo)

A project started in 2005 by two Vermont teenagers has expanded to the Central Coast. Now, Santa Barbara locals Robin Eschler and Emily Richan, a Santa Barbara City College student, have taken the lead to see that area youth have the opportunity to lead and participate in an international U.N.-recognized project to bring teddy bears to children around the world who are victims of natural and political disasters.

Bear Hugs started in Vermont when teddy bears were collected and sent to children who had been affected by the tsunami in Thailand and Hurricane Katrina.

This Bear Hugs project reached enough momentum that the two founding Vermont teens, Liz Joslin and Liz Mooney, were invited to present to other youth at the U.N. for the International Day of Peace event.

The Bear Hugs project has since grown with the aid of Children of the Earth (CoE) founder, Nina Meyerhof.  

Both Joslin and Mooney are members of CoE, a nonprofit youth organization with chapters around the world, dedicated to furthering greater understanding among all people.

CoE members create and take part in activities around the globe that foster relationships based in mutual respect, love and appreciation. The primary goal of the organization is to give youth a chance to participate in creating their own future.

As director of CoE, Meyerhof has personally witnessed the profound effect of the Bear Hugs project when stuffed animals were delivered from people in Oklahoma to those who were affected by the fall of the twin towers, and again when Teddy Bear projects reached children in Haiti, Louisiana, Thailand and Africa. 

According to Gayle Billingsley, PhD, counselor and University of Phoenix faculty member, “When a major trauma occurs, children ... experience a profound sense of safety and security when cuddling these inanimate friends. This is especially true when children have lost someone they loved and relied upon.”

Each local youth who buys a bear has the opportunity to fill out a wish tag that is placed around a teddy bear’s neck with a message for the child who eventually receives it.

“What youth have to say to other youth in their greatest time of need is truly heart-warming,” said Meyerhof.

“Big warm hugs to you. May each day become a little bit easier,” says each tag in various words.

“We are looking for local leaders for this project,” said Robin Eschler, West Coast liaison and marketing consultant for Children of the Earth. “The next Bear Hug mission leaves May 4 for Croatia. For that young person who steps forward, we will work together to build Bear Hugs locally including choices of either providing the bears with tags or simply sending money. On the East Coast, kits were created to be distributed to the various local schools and organizations wishing to participate. We’re also looking to expand this to multiple towns across the USA.”

“Kids want to help,” said Meyerhof, who is a former school administrator. “This is an excellent project through which kids can feel inspired and witness the power of reaching out to other youth.”

Interested schools and individuals wishing to participate should contact Eschler at [email protected] or 805.451.4520 or visit the Children of the Earth website.

Robin Eschler represents Children of Earth.

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