Retirees spend time creating hearts and teddy bears for grieving neighbors
Seniors at Chesterwood Village Senior Living in West Chester are using their hands to help mend grieving hearts across the nation. And grief is not new to this group of retirees, as several are dealing with their own losses in life, but the common goal that they all share is to give back and to help others any way they can.
“I guess I find strength for myself in helping others deal with their grief,” says Don DeVore, a resident at Chesterwood. “I lost my wife in November of 2015.”
For several years, these seniors have been hand-crafting stuffed bears for children experiencing loss and trauma. The creation of one child’s bear is a seven-step process that takes several hours. The group also makes rice-filled fleece hearts for those grieving of any age.
Out of the nine members, some cut out patterns, some stuff and some sew, utilizing each person’s strengths to the fullest.
Cathy Howard, Assistant Director of Activities at Chesterwood Village, estimates they have created and donated over 4,000 hearts and over 500 bears.
It began about five years ago when a resident passed away and left behind a large amount of materials.
“Originally we started making the bears to take to Children’s Hospital and to give to first responders,” Howard explains. “Our intention was for firemen and police officers to have them in case there was a child in distress, so [the child] could hold onto them.”
In 2016, the group of seniors partnered with Companions on a Journey, a local faith-based bereavement organization. They began making “healing hearts” in addition to the teddy bears. The hearts are intended for anyone experiencing grief at any age.
The group has donated hearts and bears to victims of tragedies nationwide, including victims of hurricanes, floods and wildfires. One of those hearts went to a grieving grandfather who lost his family in the recent California wildfires.
“Children, families and widows all over are receiving these hearts and bears, and it’s bringing strength to them,” says Sheila Munafo-Kanoza, founder and executive director of Companions on a Journey. “It’s been amazing to see the ripple effect of how it’s brought people from young children to seniors together.”
Each bear has a unique name on it, and recipients can request certain names in honor of the person they lost. While the group purchases most of their materials, grieving families can also request that the bears be created out of someone’s shirt who has passed away.
Because of the impact of their efforts, Companions on a Journey awarded the Chesterwood Village group their Hope, Strength and Healing Award in 2017. Recipients included Cathy Howard, Shannon Bryant, Donald DeVore, Doyce Schleusener, Virginia Elrod and Mary Lou Benson.
“It was special,” Benson says of the award. “It just gives me a good feeling that I can do this…and it really does feel wonderful, knowing you’re doing something for somebody who needs help. You can still give back.”
Schleusener adds, “That’s why I do it, because I hope that it’s helpful, especially for children.”
Congressman Warren Davidson officially recognized the group for their award and efforts, and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley declared November 17, 2017 as “Hillandale Family of Communities—Chesterwood Village Day.”
“We keep getting calls after we got these awards from family members saying they heard about it all over the country,” Howard says with a smile. “It’s kind of amazing.”
Send Your Heart
Cuddly bears and felt hearts are made with love, and most of the supplies are donated by the group of seniors who create these special items. You can contribute by sending Joann Fabric gift cards to:
Attn: Cathy Howard
8073 Tylersville Road
West Chester, OH 45069