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OH students bullish on bears

Eight-year-old Kelcie Jolliffe remembers her first trip to the hospital like it was yesterday — she was frightened at the thought of having her tonsils taken out.

“My parents walked with me when I had to go into the operating room, but they had to leave me at the door and couldn’t come in,” says Jolliffe. “That’s when I got really scared.”

By the time Jolliffee awoke from her procedure, she’d been presented with a cute stuffed teddy bear adorned with a hospital shirt. The gift put an almost immediate smile on her face. “It even helped me fall asleep on the way home,” she said.

Now it’s Jolliffe and her classmates in Kristie Humphreys’ Orchard Heights Elementary third grade class who want to offer other children something to smile about.

The students have launched a new stuffed animal drive to benefit children at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Tacoma.

From June 5-16, the students hope to collect 1,000 new stuffed animals for children who receive treatment there.

“I could see how heartfelt the students were in wanting to do this,” said Humphreys, who actually initiated the project as part of a Master’s degree thesis.

Humphreys’ 20-year-old daughter had been hospitalized at Mary Bridge and was impressed enough with the care that the teacher wanted to collect pennies to help other children who are hospitalized.

But it was the students who spoke up and requested a stuffed animal drive.

“Helping others is important, not just to us but to other people,” said Hannah Rongholt, 9, who went to her church, the Rotary Club and a food bank where she volunteers to solicit donations.

The Wal-Mart in Port Orchard also pledged a substantial donation last Thursday, days before the stuffed animal drive began.

More than half of Humphreys’ 22 students have received hospital care, and all can relate to the comfort a stuffed animal brings to children.

But Humphreys also saw the project as a way to teach the students citizenship.

As part of launching the stuffed animal drive, the students were required to follow steps that would teach them planning — such as writing a letter to principal David LaRose requesting permission to solicit donations, and creating posters to advertise their drive throughout the school and community.

Humphreys said the students also keep journals of their experiences. They’ll also write poems that will accompany the stuffed animal gifts and will be posted on bulletin boards at Mary Bridge.

“They’re learning how they can serve and still learn at the same time,” Humphreys said “And giving the stuffed animals is a child-to-child effort.”

The stuffed animals have to be new because of the potential for spreading germs to hospital patients. The teacher said school staff and parents have been supportive of the project.

But it’s the kids who have really gotten behind the stuffed animal drive and helped promote the cause.

“We’re showing that, in caring for others, kids can make a big difference too,“ said Kylie Rench, 9.

For more information on how you can donate a stuffed animal, contact Humphreys at Orchard Heights Elementary School, 443-3530.

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