Stuffed animals have long been seen as cuddly sources of comfort, but with added weight they bear a greater therapeutic benefit. These “heavy helpers” calm the nervous system and help ground children dealing with sensory processing issues or trauma.
On a recent Wednesday, a group of women from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver gathered at the Children’s Center to help sew some heavy helpers.
“A lot of the kids have different issues to where they just might need extra help in calming down, sitting still, that sort of thing,” said Jennie Hoheisel, case manager at the Children’s Center. “Weighted blankets, which are typically used for kids like that, are super-expensive.”
Those blankets can cost anywhere between $50 and $175 and they’re usually not very nice, Hoheisel said. The Children’s Center provides mental health services for uninsured and under-insured children, so typical clients come from low-income families. The children get to pick out their heavy helpers and keep them.
“This was just a much more friendly, soft, cuddly option for the kids and it serves the same purpose,” Hoheisel said. “If they’re struggling and they just need something to kind of ground them, then they can grab their heavy helper and hold onto something more cuddly than a weighted blanket.”
You Can help
- If you want to donate new stuffed animals or volunteer to sew heavy helpers at The Children’s Center, contact Matthew Butte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-699-2244.
- Donations of new stuffed animals can be dropped off at the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center located at 601 W. Evergreen Blvd. Those looking to volunteer can call the center at 360-397-6002.
The stuffed animals are a mixture of animals donated to or purchased by the Children’s Center. Hoheisel said there are sales on stuffed animals after Christmas and Easter. Aquarium rocks, which give the stuffed animals their weight, are donated by PetSmart.
Nancy Cole, a member of the Unitarian Universalist church, said the volunteer opportunity was auctioned through church, so people actually paid $20 to volunteer and have lunch. Many of the volunteers do quilting. Some of them had heard that weighted stuffed animals work well for children with autism.
The volunteers used a seam ripper to open a seam on the back or side of the stuffed animal and remove the stuffing. Then, they placed a sandwich bag of rocks into the animal and rearranged the stuffing around it. Although the end result is a stiffer stuffed animal, it still looks like any other toy.
“Nobody would know ’til you pick it up,” Hoheisel said.
That means it’s less conspicuous if a child brings it to school.
As the holidays approach, The Children’s Center is gearing up for its annual toy drive. But, it’s also looking for donations of these stuffed animals that — when transformed to a weighted stuffed animal — have a tangible therapeutic benefit. The Children’s Center goes through heavy helpers “surprisingly very fast,” and therapists there were looking forward to the incoming supply from the church volunteers, Hoheisel said.
Weighted stuffed animals are also used by staff at the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center in Vancouver, which helps child victims of criminal-level abuse.
“They’re very helpful for kids just to ground them and feel safer. I’ve even had teenagers who like to have them on their laps,” said Deedee Pegler, a lead victim advocate.
The weight of something on their laps keeps them in the present moment. “It’s different from a non-weighted stuffed animals because you can forget you have a non-weighted stuffed animal in your lap,” she said.
She said the justice center can always use donations of new stuffed animals.