Fifteen of the nation’s top junior philanthropists visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis Thursday, July 19, to learn first-hand what makes the hospital one of the nation’s most well-known and trusted charities.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Brenda Abshure, from left, joins patients and Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Maxine Clark and Tina Klocke to honor Build-A-Bear’s Huggable Heroes young philanthropy winners.
(Photo Courtesy of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)
St. Jude this year celebrates 50 years of treating children from around the world with cancer and other catastrophic illnesses, regardless of their families’ ability to pay.
The group of 15 youths was chosen as part of the “Huggable Heroes” program, an initiative of Build-A-Bear Workshop, a global make-your-own-stuffed-animal entertainment-retailer, which has a charitable partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Build-A-Bear Workshop, which has local stores at Wolfchase Galleria and Carriage Crossing, launched the Huggable Heroes program in 2004 to recognize young people making a difference in their communities and around the world.
This year’s class of Huggable Heroes, selected from a field of more than 1,100 nominations, range in age from 8 to 18.
Each is awarded $10,000, which includes a $7,500 educational scholarship and a $2,500 donation toward their cause.
The group – whose members come from California, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Washington D.C. – spent Wednesday, July 18, through Friday, July 20, participating in a number of special ceremonies, which included the stop at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Collectively, the group has raised nearly $1.4 million to support worthy causes such as homelessness and poverty, bullying, literacy, health issues and recycling.
Many, like teen Sarah Cronk of Bettendorf, Iowa, have even founded their own nonprofits.
Cronk’s organization, The Sparkle Effect, helps students across the country form cheerleading and dance teams that include students with disabilities. She founded the nonprofit four years ago after her brother, who has disabilities, found his quality of life and high school experience improved dramatically after he became involved in sports.
The Sparkle Effect to date has raised more than $150,000 and generated 55 inclusive squads across the country.
“I love Build-A-Bear, and when I heard about the award and the whole program I thought it sounded fantastic,” Cronk said. “I’m so excited to be here at St. Jude. I’ve seen the commercials with the kids and the celebrities and I’d heard about what a great institution this is, so it’s such a great honor to be here.”
Build-A-Bear’s founding CEO Maxine Clark said she began “Huggable Heroes” to encourage young people to volunteer and begin a lifelong commitment to giving back.
“Every one of these heroes has a tremendous heart,” Clark said. “They are young social entrepreneurs that have made differences in their own communities, starting their own social ventures for not-for-profit. It’s still quite a business undertaking, with business plans and processes and procedures, and a tremendous commitment of time and hearts.”
Clark, who said she believes the nation’s future leaders are among the youths selected for the program, thought introducing participants to one of the nation’s most respected children’s charities would provide them with continued inspiration to improve the lives of other children.
The Huggable Heroes visit gave young social entrepreneurs an opportunity to interact and lead crafts and other fun activities with St. Jude’s pediatric patients and their families.
Thursday’s festivities also included a visit from Build-A-Bear mascot Bearamy Bear, and the dedication of an original, colorful bear-themed work of art to celebrate the philanthropic partnership between Build-A-Bear and St. Jude.
Build-A-Bear stores help St. Jude year-round by hosting “Cause for Celebration” parties, in which Build-A-Bear Workshop guests can have fun while making a difference by donating $10 to St. Jude when they book a party at any Build-A-Bear store. In turn, Build-A-Bear will give a St. Jude patient the opportunity to design their own furry, huggable friend.
The birthday girl or boy can also create their own fundraising Web page to collect online donations from friends and family.