Building community

Wright State staff member Callista Hess was recognized for her lifelong philanthropy work

Jena Pado, left, chief development officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital, and Callista Hess, founder and coordinator of Bears4Children’s and a social media coordinator at Wright State. (Photo by Knack Video + Photo)

What began as a monkey stuffed animal given to her 3-year-old twin brother by middle schoolers when he was in the hospital has developed into a 16-year-long passion project.

The joy provided by that stuffed monkey led Callista Hess, a social media coordinator and 2023 marketing graduate at Wright State University, and her family to create an organization that helps make and deliver several thousand personalized teddy bears to sick children.

“I’m very honored that people have noticed this work,” said Hess, who is also a graduate student in Wright State’s Master of Arts in Physical Education: Sports Management Program.

Hess was recognized for her efforts with the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Dayton. Hess was honored during a National Philanthropy Day luncheon on Nov. 13. The Wright State University Foundation was a major sponsor of the event.

Now in its 16th year, Bears4Children’s has put more than 3,700 Build-a-Bear stuffed animals in the arms of patients at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

“It is a lot of work at times, but it is definitely all worth it. It’s very rewarding,” said Hess. “My favorite part is afterwards seeing parents post pictures of their kids in the hospital with the bears because it really does make a difference even though it’s just a very small act of kindness.”

Bears4Children’s teams up with Build-A-Bear Workshop. Many of the bears are purchased by sponsors and built by volunteers at the local Build-A-Bear store. The bears are then packed up and delivered to the hospital.

Up until Dec. 23, people can go to Build-a-Bear at The Mall at Fairfield Commons anytime during store hours and purchase and stuff their bear(s) and leave them there for Hess to pick up.

The idea for Bears4Children’s was planted following a stay in the hospital by Hess’ brother, Tayton, during which time he was given a stuffed animal. A few years later, Hess, her mother and brothers got some cousins together and built 12 bears. And then it just kept growing.

“When patients receive these Build-a-Bears, it’s not just something someone ordered on Amazon and bought in bulk and sent to the hospital,” said Hess. “This is what other people are taking their time to stuff and put some love into to give it to a complete stranger that’s just got the extra stress of being in the hospital over the holidays.”

Hess said being a part of the community is crucial, and it’s important to look out for each other. “We are meant to be a community, and we’re meant to be together,” she said.

Callista said Bears4Children’s is a great opportunity for younger children to make an impact on the community.

“They spend all this time picking out a bear, stuffing it, dressing it, just to leave it here to be given to a stranger. That’s really difficult for some kids sometimes,” she said. “For many kids, this is their first time learning how to give back, and I think it’s an awesome step.”

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