OPINION: Even when crisis is far away, we can help those in need

Atlanta-based teddy bear project brings hope to children in Ukraine and Uvalde

In the early days of the pandemic, C. Joyce Farrar-Roseman had a lot of time on her hands.

After retiring from a career in education, she relocated to the Retreat at Westridge, a 55-plus community in McDonough, and asked herself, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

She found the answer in an experience she had during her final year as a teacher in metro Atlanta. A young girl’s struggles with trauma and pain inspired Farrar-Roseman to begin making Hope Teddy Bears, therapeutic bears for children in need of healing.

“I call them my pandemic bears,” said Farrar-Roseman, 69. “I wanted to make a therapeutic bear that combines music therapy, goal setting and the power of visualization and positive affirmations.”

Working with five other women in the Westridge community, Farrar-Roseman recently sewed 22 bears to send to the Ukraine. In August, the women shipped 12 bears to the Children’s Bereavement Center in San Antonio, Texas, for children and families impacted by the Uvalde school shooting.

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“Ukraine and Uvalde were all over the news. You just feel a sense of helplessness,” Farrar-Roseman said. “I was just sewing and ripping and saying, ‘This isn’t right and that isn’t right.’ It gave me focus knowing that (the bears) were doing some good.”

Given the challenging times in which we live, our sense of humanity can sometimes feel upended. We speak often of the resilience of children, but conflict can make children vulnerable.

In the Ukraine, almost two-thirds of children have been displaced from their homes and communities. In Uvalde, some of the children who survived the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24 are just now experiencing symptoms of trauma.

Local communities and volunteers aren’t waiting for global or national leaders to deliver innovative solutions. They are healing themselves and their communities right now.

A clinical psychologist from Houston traveled to Uvalde to train school counselors on trauma treatment as well as training all school staff to identify trauma and grief in students.

In a recent op-ed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Emory Morsberger, former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and current president of the Tucker Summit CID, recounted the humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. He founded HelpingUkraine.us to connect members of the Atlanta community with individuals in the Ukraine in the hopes of building additional sources of aid.

“Isn’t it remarkable that we can feel a kinship with someone on the other side of the world in their time of despair?” Morsberger wrote.

Farrar-Roseman feels a sense of responsibility to help children who have experienced trauma. She first got the idea for therapeutic bears during her final year as a special education teacher. A girl in kindergarten was lashing out physically and another teacher asked Farrar-Roseman to help restrain the child. “She said, ‘I’ve got her arms. You take her legs,’” said Farrar-Roseman. “I said, ‘I am not going do that. This child is not a hog.’”

The child, who was in and out of foster homes, had suffered trauma and abuse at a young age. She was not on Farrar-Roseman’s caseload, but that day, Farrar-Roseman whispered in her ear, “If you promise not to run, I will tell them to let you go.”

The young girl kept her promise, took Farrar-Roseman’s hand and asked her to play the inspirational song “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Farrar-Roseman searched online for the song and played it, watching as the child became calm and focused for the next two hours.

She never forgot that experience, and when she retired in 2018, she tossed around with the idea of creating therapeutic bears that would help children like the young girl she had encountered.

“It is hard to treat kids. Cognitive therapy doesn’t work as well,” Farrar-Roseman said. “I wanted to create something interactive so they could start the process of healing themselves.”

Farrar-Roseman didn’t have particularly impressive sewing skills and had no idea how teddy bears were constructed. She went to Goodwill and bought a teddy bear with a sound box which she then ripped apart to determine how it had been made.

She tried to hire a manufacturer in China but lost money on ugly prototypes before deciding to source all the parts on her own and make the bears herself from a pattern she purchased at a craft store and sound boxes she ordered from a company in the U.S.

It took a year and half to find music for the sound box, but the artist agreed not to charge her for any donated bears or the first 1,000 bears sold. Farrar-Roseman will pay 5 cents royalty for each $89.95 bear sold after that.

Online, she found voiceover artists to record the inspirational messages in English, Spanish and Ukrainian. She created special outfits for the Ukrainian bears in the national colors of blue and gold.

The biggest challenges have been connecting with groups that can get the bears to the children who need them and raising money for supplies to make the bears.

The group has relied on crowdsourcing platform GoFundMe and their own contributions, but Farrar-Roseman wants Hope Teddy Bears to be self-sustaining because she knows there will always be traumatized children in need of soothing and care.

“If it helps one individual deal with whatever trauma they are going through, it is well worth it,” Farrar-Roseman said.

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