Beary Nice

Stephanie Lynch, director of life engagement at CountrySide Lakes, is surrounded by 600 bears from last year's Teddy Bear Drive.

Trauma comes in many forms, but children can especially feel it.

Whether victims of child abuse, witnesses to domestic violence, seeing their home in flames, being in a car accident or any type of medical emergency, trauma has an effect on children. But there is there is something about a furry stuffed animal that provides some degree of comfort to a traumatized child.

For the third year in a row, Countryside Lakes in Port Orange is collecting new teddy bears (or any new stuffed animal), which will be given to the Port Orange Police Department and Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for them to give to children who are scared, hurt or in need of comfort.

Stephanie Lynch, director of life engagement at the senior independent and assisted living facility, said the idea started three years ago when she learned Port Orange officers were buying bears out of their own pockets.

“If we can relieve some of the stress so they get the supplies they really need and we can do something as simple as buying a teddy bear so they are not spending their own money, that is kind of how it came to fruition and it’s worked out perfectly.”

Having worked with Sheriff Mike Chitwood in the past, she decided to include the sheriff’s department in the drive.

“We really want to provide it for all of Volusia County first responders who need those types of things, Ms. Lynch said. “We’ll discuss it with the fire department here in Port Orange to see if they need some as well. Ours is just to support the first responders in every way that we can.

“A simple fender bender scares a child that is in a back seat,” she said. “It’s any critical situation that anybody could be involved in. We want children to understand that the police are here for a good reason and not to be afraid of them. All too often because of the crisis situations, children are afraid.”

She added the seniors at Countryside are totally onboard with the project, contributing stuffed animals themselves. The facility has many programs where youth interact with senior residents.

“They love to buy the teddy bears. It brings back good memories of maybe a teddy bear their husband gave them for Valentine’s Day or an anniversary or maybe a teddy bear that they gave a child,” Ms. Lynch said. “They like to know they make an impact on this world even though they are retired.”

Sheriff Chitwood said, “These donations could really make a difference in the life of a kid who might be going through the worst day of their life. Sometimes a small comfort like a teddy bear can make all the difference.

“Crimes against children are the hardest for all of us to fathom, and the deputies and detectives who work those cases are special people who give everything they have to protecting and getting justice for children,” he said. “It's so encouraging to know they have the support of the community through programs like this.”

This year’s goal is 750 bears/animals. Last year 600 were collected. As the numbers rise, Ms. Lynch hopes to help more children in other cities. The bear drive will last through February. Valentine bears are especially sought with their messages of love. Corporate sponsors are encouraged and financial contributions are also accepted for staff to buy bears.

New bears or other cuddly animals may be dropped off at Countryside Lakes, 941 Village Trail, Port Orange. Large donations can be picked up by calling (386) 307-0290.

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