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Students' teddy bear drive goes viral

January 3, 2014
Special to the Town Crier

What started out for two 10-year-olds at the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley as a mission to donate some teddy bears to local needy children has become an international teddy bear drive, with commitments from donors well exceeding the girls' original 100 bear goal.

Ridley Clark and Taylor Reynolds, both aged 10, have taken the school's philosophy of global citizenship to heart. Each girl formed clubs at the school focused on helping others. Ridley's club, Heal the World, was inspired by, the country's largest not-for-profit for young people and social change.

"[The website] had a bunch of ideas about how to help people, animals, and the earth," Ridley said. "I wanted to help too. I decided to make my first real project a teddy bear drive because I know how many kids out there are in need."

Ridley said she then discovered that her classmate, Taylor, had similar ideas for making a difference.

"Ever since, we have been BFFs trying to change the world," Ridley said.

"I started my club [R.A.K.] when I met my friend, Ridley Clark,"Taylor said.

Taylor also had recently received an award for leadership in her 4-H group.

"I saw how excited [Ridley] was to give back and help the community. I wanted to give back also so we mashed up our clubs so we could work together."

The girls made a goal of donating 100 teddy bears to Sojourner House and Akron Children's Hospital.

"I was quite impressed when the girls came to me about their teddy bear drive idea," said the school"s executive director, Amy-Anne Kibler from Poland. "They had a good plan for getting donations form the families at our school. In years past, our students have generated plans for food drives, clothing drives, litter clean-up and other methods of helping the community. But this was our first teddy bear drive, and it is amazing how it took off."

Ridley"s mom, Jaci Clark of Youngstown, posted information about the teddy bear drive on her Facebook page. The posting was shared by friends of friends, and soon Jaci began receiving messages from people all over the country. Within 24 hours, there were international commitments for nearly 100 bears and monetary contributions, including as far away as Australia.

The Teddy Bear Drive was held until Dec. 20.

The girls' story is being featured locally on The HandsOn Volunteer Network website. Project Smile, an organization out of Boston, Mass. that donates teddy bears to children who have suffered natural disasters and tragedies, heard about the girls' story and committed to sending 15 new Build-a-Bear stuffed animals for the cause.



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