Youth leaders inspire furry philanthropy

Members of the Oakland County 4-H Youth Leadership Institute sorted, counted and bagged 1,309 cuddly creatures that were donated to comfort kids experiencing medical emergencies.

How many stuffed animals does it take to fill an ambulance? That mystery was solved by members of the Oakland County 4-H Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), who sorted, counted and bagged 1,309 cuddly creatures that were donated to comfort kids experiencing medical emergencies. The animals were loaded into an ambulance provided by Community Emergency Medical Services until there wasn’t an inch of space left.

The high school students accomplished their project goal, but they didn’t stop there. More than a thousand additional stuffed animals were loaded into other vehicles to complete the donation. In total, nearly 2,500 animals were collected, ensuring that no child will feel alone while riding in an ambulance.

“I can’t believe how successful the event turned out to be,” said Molly Robbins, a YLI participant who helped plan the project. “It's great that people still care enough to get on board for a deserving cause.”

Local kids and families are a big reason for the project’s success. 4-H’ers across the county spread the word to their classmates and friends, encouraging them to make a donation. Several individuals brought in collections of brand-new Beanie Babies™, and elementary classrooms created in-school donation sites.

The culminating event was a public donation event on May 9, 2009, in partnership with the Build-A-Bear Workshop store at Troy’s Somerset Collection. Dozens of donors created stuffed animals during the event and attached a personal message of comfort. The activity helped donors feel connected to the children who will ultimately receive the animals.

Sorting and counting thousands of stuffed animals was hard work, but the YLI participants seemed energized by the positive difference they were making.

“It was an overwhelming experience,” said 15-year-old YLI participant Rahul Kodali. “We exceeded our expectations and we had a great time.”

To celebrate their success, the YLI participants were honored at a graduation luncheon, where they received certificates from Oakland County Commissioners Sue Ann Douglas, Mattie McKinney-Hatchett, Tim Greimel and Tom Middleton. Troy City Councilwoman Mary Kerwin also attended the graduation event. Each graduate gave a short speech about his or her experience in the program. The 4-H’ers stressed the relationships they built and the impact they had on the community.

“I liked being in this program because I met new friends,” said 18-year-old Nuna Yang. “Once you are in the Youth Leadership Institute, you can talk about what you have done in the community to make it worthwhile.”

Hazel Park resident Mike Hawley called his experience life changing, adding that he liked everything about it.

Youth between the ages of 14 and 19 can be a part of the 2009-10 class of the Oakland County 4-H Youth Leadership Institute. Applications are available online at (click on the 4-H Youth Development link on the left side of the page), or by calling the 4-H office at (248) 858-0889.

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