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URMC / Strong Memorial Hospital / Friends of Strong / The Best of Friends Blog / November 2021 / Chance Encounter Leads New Group of Friends to Donate 3000+ Teddy Bears

Chance Encounter Leads New Group of Friends to Donate 3000+ Teddy Bears

Four of the ladies from Legends hold up some of their bears as they prepare and stand among a donation of nearly 300 teddy bears.Several skilled and generous ladies from Fairport’s Legends at Whitney Senior Apartment Community were among the first to donate hand-sewn face masks via our pop-up donation center back in March 2020, and before long that chance encounter in the earliest days of the pandemic led to this new group of friends stepping up to keep our long-running teddy bears initiative—which provides comfort and support to pediatric patients throughout Strong Memorial and Golisano Children’s hospitals—going strong.

For nearly 20 years, pediatric patients throughout our hospitals have received hand sewn teddy bears as a way to provide them with a little bit of soft and cuddly comfort, while also creating an additional way for nurses, social workers and doctors to establish a connection and rapport with their young, and often-worried, patients. Sadly, the group that once provided these special bears was no longer able to sustain the initiative.

“With our deepest thanks to those who have supported the initiative in the past, we quietly sought out any new groups who’d be interested in this deeply meaningful and much-loved project,” says Sandy Arbasak, director of Friends of Strong.

“It was with great luck and a silver lining to the great uncertainties of the pandemic that we happened to connect with this new group of skilled and creative artisans,” adds Susan Sullivan, public awareness administrator for Friends of Strong.

One of the very first and most frequent donors of handmade masks at the beginning of the pandemic came from a small sewing shop in Fairport. Soon, Susan discovered that there was a special group of women who were helping create this impressive volume of high-quality masks coming in to our COVID donations center through Sew Creative.

Susan Rhode sits at a table in their workshop sorting fabric swatches to be used in creating sensory mats.“One thing led to another and I discovered that Susan Rhody, who at the time worked at Sweet Charity, the second-hand craft shop next door to the sewing shop, lived in the senior apartments nearby and had been leading a group of industrious young ladies in creating a whole lot of masks that were being donated all throughout the Rochester area, including nearly 700 alone to Friends of Strong,” Sullivan explains.

While their mature living community features a fun variety of activities for its residents, this group of legendary ladies also enjoys spending some of their time finding tangible and creative ways to give back to the community at large. As the need for masks began to fade, the ladies at Legends, led by Rhode, soon expressed interest in the teddy bears initiative.

As of today, this focused group of women have hand sewn, finished and donated more than 3000 teddy bears to Friends of Strong in just over a year’s time.

Equally impressive, they've also made and donated nearly 100 intricately crafted sensory stimulation mats, each with its own unique design, for helping calm and sooth children with autism, as well as those living with dementia, when in unfamiliar places like the hospital.

“The beautiful fabric designs, combined with the love and attention to detail each of these inspiring ladies brings to these projects is evident in each and every bear and sensory mat we've received,” Sandy adds. “None of us are alone in experiencing the challenges of this pandemic, and I am especially grateful and appreciative of their volunteering to support our organization and our patients throughout all of it.”


Pictured: First Photo (from left): Joan Rector; Susan Rhody; Midge Stanton; Annelicse Telek; (not pictured) Joyce Musham; Noel Rupprecht; Donna Rubenstrunk; Sandy Naumchick; Mary Comley; Diane Scott; Barb Scott; Michele Dwyer; Annabelle Day; Norma Richards; Pat Smith; Chris Matyjakowski; Betty Gerring; Dorothy Smith; Rosemary Pecor; Pat Smith; Clare Warner; Donna Hamelink; Joan Morse; Bobbie Van Dussen; Sue Kline; Norma Jean Hildreth; Donna Wegman; Mary Ricketts (in memoriam); Rose Eppilito (in memoriam).
Second Photo Susan Rhody. 


Matt Ulakovic | 11/10/2021

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