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Teddy Bear Project Raising Hope for AIDS Victims
Brian Belding, Staff Writer
Published on-line in the Sonoma State Star in 2006

What does Bono of the rock band U2 and a group of SSU staff members have in common? They’re both taking part in a worldwide effort to end poverty and raise the hopes of people affected by the wrath of HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Though those at SSU lack the celebrity power Bono brings to the table, they don’t lack the heart and commitment which are displayed through their teddy bears created for suffering orphans in South Africa, Uganda, India, and Zambia.

The Mother Bear Project, a worldwide program, was originated in Minnesota by Amy Berman. Berman recognized the crisis occurring in South Africa and decided to provide the children with unique teddy bears, each handmade. The effort has expanded and found a home on the SSU campus under the guidance of Betsy Ward, SSU Human Services Assistant. Her dedication to the project holds a very personal meaning.

“I lost a couple of dear friends to AIDS. I plan on this being a lifelong project and it helps me with the grief because something positive is coming from that feeling,” explains Ward.

While many children are suffering from the HIV and AIDS viruses themselves, a growing number are orphans because their parents have already succumbed to AIDS.  In light of the current Live 8 concerts, meant to bring relief and raise awareness about the current events in Africa, Ward feels that the world isn’t doing enough.

“The number of orphans is devastating. More needs to be done. Everyone’s awareness can always be expanded,” says Ward. 

She hopes to visit South Africa next year with Berman to personally deliver the bears. Ward also plans on creating soft toys for local fire departments in the cases where children are left frightened and in need of comfort.

“My goal is to help children locally and globally,” says Ward.

Though the program at SSU is running strong, Ward doesn’t hesitate in recruiting new volunteers to assist in creating even more teddy bears. She plans on sending out bears every other month.

“We welcome both men and women of all ages to participate because it’s wonderful for teaching hand and eye coordination and it supports a great cause.”

Ward holds knitting sessions every Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. near the lake or inside the SSU Commons. Recently, Sue Foley, the Administrative Coordinator in the Hutchins Program learned the art of knitting from Ward, creating twelve teddy bears in the process.

“I never knitted before and recognizing the bear was for someone in need made it easier to focus on learning,” said Foley.

Every bear follows a basic pattern provided by Berman, although, the knitter is free to make one their own. Different yarn colors and patterns allow for Ward and others to design original bears to their liking. Every knitter also adds their signature to a heart-shaped tag on the wrist of each bear.

Recently, Muench Yarns of Petaluma began donating yarn to the SSU Mother Bear Project. Volunteers are provided with the patterns and supplies and are only asked to donate $3 per bear for shipping.

Whether you’re an international rock star leading the fight against poverty, HIV and AIDS, or you’re comforting orphaned children with gifts of teddy bears, a difference is being made. Currently, a total of 6,755 bears have been shipped overseas because of the Mother Bear project. With the help of Ward, Foley and the growing list of volunteers at SSU, many more will soon be in the hands of needy children. Additional information regarding the Mother Bear Project can be found online at http://www.motherbearproject.org.

 

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