Inspired to deliver peace to trauma-affected children, My Bear Jeff officially launched its teddy bear relief effort in late July after a successful kickstarter campaign, said Rachel Cohen.
“The support we’ve had is so insane and absolutely wild — like this community and my friends and family saw this vision and were like, ‘Yes, let’s support these kids,” said Cohen, founder and “chief bear officer” at My Bear Jeff. “I’m really excited to move more bears and just impact as many kids as I can. The stuffed animal [part] — that’s just the beginning.”
Click here to read more about My Bear Jeff’s December kickstarter campaign.
Fueled by a buy-one, give-one model, My Bear Jeff customers not only receive a teddy bear; their purchases pay for corresponding bears to be donated to an area organization that supports kids impacted by trauma — with Cohen hoping to give the same experience of comfort found in stuffed animals that steadied her throughout her own battle with health at a young age.
“Bears were so huge for me as a child. I never really knew until I was an adult how significant they were,” she said.
Born with a heart defect, Cohen went through a difficult and rare procedure at 4 years old — the options were slim for her family and her life expectancy was as low as in the teens, she said.
“I remember the night before [surgery,] they took family pictures because they just didn’t know if I was going to live through it or what was going to happen… but I had my bears with me, every step of the way,” Cohen said.
My Bear Jeff is named after the teddy bear Cohen held tight during those times, she said, noting that the name “Jeff” actually means “peace.” Prototypes and the newly produced and delivered bears each feature a red heart on the left side to reference Cohen’s experience with heart surgery.
“Getting through that moment in my life really marked me in the way of really wanting to help other people feel like they could get through anything,” she added, noting the bears have blank name tags on their chests where a child can fill in a name.
Click here to order a bear from My Bear Jeff.
Physical touch is psychologically proven to be extremely important to healthy development in children and it carries into adulthood as well, Cohen said, noting teddy bears have been thought to be able to be a proxy for such touch in many situations.
“There’s a sense of healing that comes with physical touch and it also can be felt with stuffed animals — when you’re hugging something against your chest, it’s protecting your heart, which is one of the most vulnerable parts of our bodies,” she said. “I’m not a psychologist, but you can see that almost every child has carried around a blanket or stuffed animal. … There’s an amount of stress and anxiety that it takes off the child, just knowing that it is there with them.”
My Bear Jeff is currently partnered with local Children’s Mercy Hospital locations, Olathe-based nonprofit KidsTLC, and the Front Porch Alliance — and looking to expand, Cohen said.
“I’ve gotten incredible feedback from Children’s Mercy, as well as the people who actually purchased the bears, so I’m extremely excited to go and give more bears to the other partners, and then to develop more partnerships to impact kids all over the country,” Cohen said.
Despite some hiccups in the bear distribution process — thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns — Cohen is setting sights on bigger projects to increase the impact, she added.
“I still want to continue working with hospitals because they see all sides of trauma and I think it’s just really beautiful to be able to support them, but we’re continually looking for organizations who support trauma-affected children — I’m not sure yet what’s ahead because child trauma is just so big…” Cohen said.