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Grin and Bear

Grin and bear it

Volunteers at Goebel Center make stuffed animals to comfort children By Anna Bitong

STUFFED WITH LOVE— Betty Friel of Newbury Park shows off her creation during a meeting of the Bear Group at Goebel Adult Community Center on Monday. The group of 10 or so women create stuffed bears to make kids feel loved. Leaning over tables covered in mounds of white filling and colorful cloth, yarn and markers, Volunteers at the Goebel Adult Community Center spend hours every week painstakingly creating one-of-a-kind toys and blankets that will be sent to underserved and sick children, young accident and natural disaster victims and orphans locally and around the world.

“Someone in the (volunteer) group had a friend who was in an accident,” volunteer Joanna Stone said. “Their little girl was hysterical. The policeman handed her a bear, and with that she just stopped crying and all she could think about was this bear.”

The Bear Group and the Nifty Ladies volunteers meet every Monday and Wednesday at the senior center in Thousand Oaks, a tradition dating back 23 years.

The two groups have hand-crafted thousands of bears and blankets that are kept in the vehicles of police officers and firefighters and given to organizations like Every Child’s Dream Foundation.

The Thousand Oaks-based nonprofit distributes the smiling toys to the Red Cross, hospitals, foster care centers, children in areas that have experienced a natural disaster and orphanages in countries worldwide, including Afghanistan, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Haiti and the United States.

The founder of ECDF, Westlake Village resident Tasha- Nicole Terani, was left for dead shortly after she was born in Iran. A sheriff’s deputy heard her cries and took her to an orphanage, where she was adopted by a couple from Newbury Park.

TEAM EFFORT—Amindita Samanta, above, a member of the Nifty Ladies, and Vera Moore of the Bear Group work together on Monday at the Goebel Center. Both women are from Thousand Oaks. “I didn’t have anything, let alone a blanket or teddy bear which would be a friend to a baby in an orphanage,” Terani said. “I’ve seen pictures of myself in the orphanage where we were chewing on our cribs and our thumbs.

We didn’t have diapers or blankets. A care package makes these kids feel like someone loves them. We want them to feel loved while they’re in that situation and feel like there’s hope.”

Terani wraps the packages at home and sends them all over the globe.

She said no two bears are alike. The back of one bear is mint green with pink and purple butterflies and flowers. A pink bushy yarn tail is attached to its back. On the front a volunteer has drawn a smiling face and a blond doll holding a long-stemmed yellow flower. Other bears have drawings of Sponge Bob, trucks, cowboys, bunnies.

A ribbon is tied around the toy’s neck with a paper label that says “Lovingly Handmade by CSVP Volunteers at The Goebel Adult Center.”

“Anything that people use their individual time to do, more love goes into it than just going and buying it in a store,” said volunteer Kary Weaver, among the 20 women making bears on Monday afternoon. “As I understand, foster children can only take one small bag with them. This is small enough to go in their bag so it gets to go with them.”

Carol Canton spends two hours cutting, painting and sewing each bear at home before it’s stuffed. Her whimsical art is created with stencils or copied from coloring and nursery rhyme books.

“I hope (the kids) are happy with them,” the volunteer said. “I try to make them colorful, interesting and something they’re familiar with . . . that a child would enjoy getting. That’s my primary goal.”

Frances Bailey, a volunteer since the bear-making operation began 23 years ago, said, “I get joy and happiness when you can do something especially for little children. I love meeting the ladies and I love coming here,” she added. “I’ve met so many people since my husband passed away. It just keeps me busy.”

Eight-year volunteer Edna Funnell said she’s never met the children who receive the gifts, but she’s received thank-you notes and drawings of bears with the name the child has given to their bear.

Pictures of some of the children are displayed at the Goebel Center.

“Sometimes the whole class is in a group holding a bear,” Funnell said. “We see their little faces and they look happy.”

Terani approached the Goebel Center nearly nine years ago, hoping to get seniors involved, but she didn’t anticipate how much she would receive in return.

“We thought it would be a perfect match to have seniors who are already knitting knit teddy bears and blankets for us. The volume they’ve put out is . . . astonishing. We never expected it to be that beneficial for the babies and children we serve.”

“ This is something so simple, but it can and will change (children’s) lives,” Terani said.

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