AKRON — A personal experience, as a young child, became a beneficial memory for Madison O’Connell, Mentone. She shared that memory with Jacob McDonald, Silver Lake, and Camden Tucker, Claypool, fellow Kosciusko Youth Leadership Academy members and junior classmates from Tippecanoe Valley High School.
A project was born to complete the KYLA requirement. But it hasn’t ended with completion of the academy. The trio is planning to continue the project next year.
Bears For Blue is a project the three spearheaded to gather teddy bears to give to sheriff’s departments in Kosciusko and Fulton counties. Officers can hand these bears out to children who have been involved in or experienced an emergency in their young life.
“I had an experience when I was little. I had gotten a bear (from an officer) after my dad was in a motorcycle accident,” recalled O’Connell. That bear meant a lot to her. “I wanted to reenforce that and start it back up.” She shared the idea with McDonald and Tucker. “We didn’t have an idea and she brought the idea up so we said let’s do it,” the guys said. The name was chosen as many refer to officers as the men in blue.
The planning began in December working with entities, particularly with the school’s athletic director, to find a date to have a “bear toss.” They contacted Psi Lota Xi, Mentone, which has annually held a bear toss to join its effort. However, the sorority was not planning one and turned the reigns over to the three juniors. Senior night at a Tippy Valley basketball game with Wawasee was chosen. Then began additional planning and getting the word out not only to fellow students but encouraging participation by the visiting school and the community.
But it didn’t end there. With seed money from their parents, bears were purchased to be resold the evening of the bear toss to anyone who may have forgotten to bring a bear. The result was beyond their belief.
“We talked about (collecting) 100 (bears),” said Tucker. “That was our original goal. The generosity was so much more.” People arrived with garbage bags, sometimes more than one, filled with bears. Some of these were added to those available for purchase. The remainder was added to the collection.
Many told the youth to keep the change from a purchase. It was estimated more than 118 bears were tossed that evening with bags and boxes donated after the event. When it was over, they estimated more than 150 bears were collected.
Then came more work. Each bear was placed in a plastic bag, tied with a ribbon that included a tag with the trio’s simple logo “Bears For Blue.” Information was also included on how individuals could make cash or bear donations. The bears were then sorted between the two county sheriff’s departments and delivered.
Among the bear donations were eight large bears. The three, who will be seniors next fall, are already working on a raffle to win the bears. The money will be used to purchase the bags, ribbons and have more tags made, as well as purchase additional bears. They even have a Go Fund Me page: Bears for Blue Northern Indiana.
While their project will help others when in need, it also taught them a few lessons. McDonald hadn’t heard of the bear program, but soon learned “how little things help when you need the most comfort in tough situations.” Tucker not only learned the importance of planning but how much communities get behind important projects.
O’Connell still has her bear she received years ago. “It’s my angel bear,” she said, noting it sits on a shelf, watching over her.
Take a look at the actual bear toss event below