r By Megan Reis
Thousands of Utah children visit local crisis centers each year. These at-risk children may be the victims of abuse or neglect, their homes may be unlivable or their parents may be unable to take care of their children. One family came to a center without shoes — the spouse of the abused wife was suspicious when his family would leave home with their shoes on, so they showed up to a crisis center in the snowy winter without shoes so they would have a better chance of getting away from their scary situation.
So, who is taking care of Utah’s at-risk children?
Each year, Utah communities and individuals pull together to collect and donate stuffed animals for Project Teddy Bear, a drive that collects and donates stuffed animals to Utah crisis centers. While crisis centers always need donations of necessities like shampoo, clothing and food, another — often unmet — need is that of something to help children feel support and love. Stuffed animals are used in play therapy, to soothe an upset child or are given to children to help them feel love and comfort.
This year Kathy Evans and her sister Linda Ockey crocheted dozens of blankets and helped to gather stuffed animals for the drive, a process that took the entire year to complete. Saratoga Springs local, Ashley McClellan, and her four-year-old daughter Kaycee- collected over 605 bears to help support the cause. Every year individuals in our community come forward to make this event great.
Their sister bank, Lewiston State Bank, in Cache Valley, UT, also collected bears this year in the Northern areas of the state totaling over 2,031 bears for crisis centers. More than 120,000 stuffed animals have been donated since Project Teddy Bear began — more than 120,000 children have received a bear through this special program.
“The goal is to give the kids a feeling of being taken care of. We knew we couldn’t change their circumstances completely, but we wanted to help them feel like someone is taking care of them,” said Tracey Kramer, a loan processor at Bank of American Fork who used to work in The Family Support Center’s Midvale crisis nursery. Kramer worked in the center from Sunday evening through Wednesday, where they looked for signs of abuse and made sure the children had three hot meals and a bath. “It’s rewarding work.”
The stuffed animals were donated by customers and community members and will benefit children who have been abused, are at risk of being abused, or have experienced other traumatic situations. Bank of American Fork attributes the huge number to extraordinary efforts of young people and children who helped collect the bears — truly, children helping children.
At a presentation that took place at the bank’s headquarters in American Fork, Richard Beard, president and CEO of Bank of American Fork, presented the bears to the Salt Lake County Family Support Center, the Utah Valley Family Support & Treatment Center and the Family Connection Center in Clearfield. Beard recognized some of the stand-out givers this year, including:
• Spanish Fork Letterman’s Club — Collected 732 stuffed animals this year. Spanish Fork Letterman’s Club has participated in Project Teddy Bear for 12 years, collecting more than 16,000 stuffed animals to date. This year they involved Mapleton Junior High.r• Ashley McClellan and Daughter Kaycee- Collected 605 Bears donated to Project Teddy Bear, with many more donated to her local Sheriff’s office to help traumatized children.r• Baileys Moving & Storage—Provided all of the boxes, labor and a large moving truck to deliver teddy bears to three support centers.r“An important mission of community banks is caring for those among us who are most vulnerable,” said Beard. “I want to thank the people in our communities, especially the kids. We have needs in our own communities here in Utah and we are honored to help facilitate helping in this way.”
The bears will be transported and delivered to each of the centers thanks to a generous donation of equipment and labor by Bailey’s Moving and Storage.
About the Salt Lake County Family Support Center:rThe Family Support Center was founded in 1977 and was the first such facility in the state. The Center serves primarily low and very low-income families throughout Salt Lake and Tooele counties. It provides parent education classes, transition housing, counseling, adoption respite, parent advocate services and crisis nursery services.
About the Utah Valley Family Support & Treatment Center:rThe Family Support & Treatment Center opened its doors in 1984 to serve families and children from Fillmore to the Wyoming border. The Center provides crisis nursery and shelter care, parenting classes, adoption respite, in-home parenting services, and play and other types of therapy for trauma victims.
About the Family Connection Center in Clearfield:rThe Family Connection Center is a private, non-profit agency that serves families and individuals in Davis and Morgan Counties. They have a variety of programs and services. Services include: in-home parenting, crisis/respite nursery, food bank, therapy and transitional housing.