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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver nonprofit toy drive collects ‘Heavy Helpers’ to soothe kids

Weighted bears popular gift during holidays, beyond; gifts for teens needed

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: December 16, 2022, 6:04am
4 Photos
Volunteers Andrea Nelson, left, Terri Pedigo and LaVonne Crimm work on making weighted teddy bears Wednesday, as part of a toy drive at The Children's Center in Vancouver.
Volunteers Andrea Nelson, left, Terri Pedigo and LaVonne Crimm work on making weighted teddy bears Wednesday, as part of a toy drive at The Children's Center in Vancouver. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

This holiday season, the Children’s Center is hosting a toy drive to help bring cheer to the families the nonprofit serves.

“Children are our future. If we’re not here helping them, then we really have no future,” said volunteer LaVonne Crimm. “To be able to give and help them have a better life is amazing. We like to do what we can to make everyone’s life better.”

For the past 30 years, the Children’s Center has been serving primarily Clark County youths who receive Medicaid benefits. It provides mental health care support services to clients ages 2 to 18 through its outpatient programs. The Children’s Center has therapists and psychiatrists on-site, as well as at school-based mental health programs in Vancouver, Battle Ground, Evergreen and La Center. The organization also works to support children who have suffered from sexual abuse.

Most of the kids seen at the Children’s Center are struggling to get their basic needs met, said Executive Director Matthew Butte. Staff at the nonprofit work to connect the kids and their families to services.

“To be able to slow things down, give kids the support that they need, get the families the support they need, that’s something. That’s an organization that I want to be a part of,” said Denise Burgoyne, vice president of the Children’s Center Board of Directors.

During the holidays, one way this is done is through a toy drive. Through Dec. 23, the Children’s Center is collecting toys to be wrapped and gifted to many of its patients.

Currently, the nonprofit is hoping for more donations of gifts suitable for teenagers, according to Liz Luce, vice president of the Children’s Center Board of Directors.

Year-round, the Children’s Center gives out a few hundred “Heavy Helpers” to its patients. The “Heavy Helpers” are large teddy bears stuffed with aquarium gravel to give them weight. The idea came from a psychologist working at the Children’s Center around 20 years ago who recognized the therapeutic qualities of a weighted blanket, but knew the cost was a barrier for many families, according to Butte. So the “Heavy Helpers” were born.

The point of the “Heavy Helpers” is to provide youth something they can hold and snuggle that has weight to it, which can help reduce anxiety.

“Kids (of all ages) love them,” Butte said. “Who doesn’t like to hug a cute, soft stuffed animal, and it also provides that therapeutic relief.”

The “Heavy Helpers” are created by volunteers from the community.

There are three main ways community members can help support the work being done at the Children’s Center, according to Butte.

First, you can donate toys by stopping by the Children’s Center or donate money to the nonprofit online.

Second, the nonprofit is always looking for more volunteers to help stuff “Heavy Helpers.”

And finally, Butte encourages everyone to support childhood mental health by working to reduce the stigma by having conversations about mental health and community resources.

“I just have always felt that every kid deserves unconditional love. And if you can get that and help for that child, they’re going to be fine,” Luce said.

“There is hope, and treatment is effective,” Butte said.

For questions about how to donate, volunteer or access services for a young person visit thechildrenscenter.org or call 360-699-2244.

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Columbian staff reporter