Some gestures touch your life in such a way that the experience must be paid forward. For John and Ann Barton of Prescott, Arizona, it was the gift of a teddy bear to someone they loved, that inspired a project to bring smiles to more people.
Adopted as an infant, John has a soft spot in his heart for those on a similar journey. It is a lifelong process to adapt to the conscious choice that adoptive parents make to build a family, and John’s road wasn’t easy. Ultimately, however, he fostered a close relationship with his adoptive mother and stepfather, describing it as “blood by choice, not by chance.”
His wife Anne came to know and love John’s parents late in their lives, remembering them as warm, kind and funny. As John’s stepfather, Phil, became frail and less mobile, the local Methodist church gifted him a teddy bear. The humble bear coaxed smiles, drew his conversation, and created moments of calm.
The shaggy brown plush was present at Phil’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery, then moved in with John and Anne’s daughter-in-law, Nancy, who was fighting breast cancer. Besides the tactile comfort, the cuddly toy was a good listener who soothed her anxieties and was always at her side.
The therapeutic impact was not lost on the Bartons. Research shows that the classic teddy bear is more than just a sentimental residual of youth. Teddy therapy is utilized by many social workers, psychologists and trauma centers, from soothing young children and those on the spectrum, to reducing agitation in adults coping with stressors.
Soon the original gesture was replicated, and thus began the Burtons’ Teddy Bear Ministry. Stuffed bears are gifted to the church, to provide cheer and company to the elderly in nursing homes or children living in foster care.
Their teddy bear ambassadorship has since touched the lives of hundreds of people. And in the past two years, during the holiday season, a big box of teddy bears arrived at Spence-Chapin, ready to bring a smile to children who will provide “forever homes”.
“It’s one way we can give back,” said John, thinking of his parents’ decision to adopt and the rough patch they traveled together. From experience, he knows that children need all the help they can get. And what better gift than the soft furry comfort of a timeless childhood relic, for young adoptees traveling a similar path.