By Victoria Feng, AKOM Writer and Money Smarts Editor
Jessica Carscadden is the founder of the We Care Bears Project, a nonprofit organization that delivers stuff animals to children in need. We Care Bears has donated more than 3,000 bags of toys to help ease the pain in unbearable situations. She is a Peace First and 2016 Care Bear Share Your Care Kid Ambassador.
AK: What inspired you to start the We Care Bears Project?
JC: Well, I was cleaning my room and had a bunch of new stuffed animals that I didn’t play with. I lived across the street from the fire station so I thought I would donate them to fire fighters to give to kids who are scared or injured. I’ve had 7 major surgeries on my face and I know how much a stuffed animal helps when you are scared or hurt. I wasn’t adopted until I was 5 years old, that’s when I got my first stuffed animal and it really helped me through some very scary times.
AK: So far, what has been your favorite part of this project?
JC: Every day there is a new great thing. I LOVE getting letters from kids or parents of kids who received a stuffed animal; it makes me feel good that my work helped them. I love getting to meet all the first responders who work hard to keep us safe every day. I get to meet so many other kids who do great work too and with Peace First I get to learn so much more about how make my work even better. I’ve gotten to meet Ranni and Rico Rodriguez and that was pretty amazing.
AK: What were your emotions when you found out you were a Peace First Ambassador?
JC: Oh my gosh, I was so humbled. I started my project just as my way to do something nice, I never thought anyone else would care about my work. Being a Peace First Ambassador has given me the opportunity to talk to other kids about ways they can make a difference in their communities. I just love having the chance to share with other people and that never would have happened without Peace First.
AK: What inspired you to choose bears as the subject of your program?
JC: I knew that all kids KNOW how much a teddy bear helps when you are scared or hurting, so I knew that other kids would want to help, and boy did they. We have collected more than 35,000 stuffed animals so far.
AK: What was/is your biggest challenge when working on the project? Is there anyone in particular that helped you overcome this challenge?
JC: I had two big challenges when I started. The first one was bags to put the stuffed animals in to deliver them. Kids donated lots of new stuffed animals but I couldn’t just deliver arms full of stuffed animals to fire stations. Shirley and Don Zink from Kids are First Fundraising in Corona California donated hundreds of bags to my project; they made my entire project possible because I didn’t have any money to buy bags. Money is the other challenge. Kids and companies like Care Bears are very generous and they donate all the bears I use, but my project still uses money, especially now that it’s bigger. I buy my own bags now, pay for storage, I pay to ship bears to places that need them, and there are things like tags for the bears and costs for bear drives, just a lot of things. I am lucky I have won some awards that have money prizes and I use all of my allowance to pay for my project too.
AK: When you aren’t working on the We Care Bears Project, are there any activities you enjoy doing?
JC: I love to speak to kids about my project, I play lacrosse and I really like spending time with my family.
AK: What are you goals for the future – both professionally and personally?
JC: My biggest goal or dream is to be able to talk to Ellen about my project. I love her show so much that I make my Mom record it. Then when I grow up, I want to go to college at UCSD and be a third grade teacher.
AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?
JC: I want people to know that you don’t need a big project like mine to make a difference either, you can hold a door open for someone, pay someone a compliment, do something nice… a little thing can make such a big difference in someone’s day – you never know what a difference that can make.
AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JC: I want everyone to know that they are not too young to do amazing things…that’s actually part of one of my favorite songs, “A Seed”, by Paul Sikes.