These cuddly teddy bears deliver a dose of delight to kids in refugee camps.

Look at this adorable teddy bear.

This is a Threadies bear.


SO CUTE. All photos from Threadies, used with permission.

Threadies bears are incredibly special.

Threadies bears have a very important job.

They bring childhood comforts to kids in refugee camps.

The idea for Threadies came after co-creator Steve Lehmann visited Haiti a year after the massive 2010 earthquake, where he observed that for the children growing up in the wake of the disaster, it was "as if the basic ingredients of childhood had been violently ripped away."

Looking back on his own childhood, Lehmann remembered how much comfort he got from his favorite stuffed animal. And while his childhood is without a doubt a vastly different experience from that of a child refugee, it occurred to him that perhaps there was something universal about the comforting quality of a stuffed animal.

Here's Lehmann during that trip to Haiti.

After visiting refugees in Haiti — along with refugees in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda — Lehmann resolved to find a way to bring those ingredients of childhood to children living in poverty, war, or in the wake of natural disasters.

Threadies are made specifically with humanitarian emergencies in mind.

Lehmann enlisted help from his friend Andrew Jones, and the two started work on creating, as Jones describes it, "a teddy bear that is both adorably cute and extremely comforting."

After two years of work and the help of experts and nongovernmental organizations around the world, Threadies was born.

Hello, Threadies! You're looking absolutely adorable today!

The first batch of 60 Threadies bears was delivered to Syrian children at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan in August 2015.

The kids at Azraq loved the hand-sewn bears. For a group of children for whom relocation from their homes has been especially hard, the bears were an unexpected comfort. While there's no way to make up for the loss of their homes or the distance from relatives, the children greeted their new stuffed animals with smiles, laughter, and love.

The kids at Azraq loved the bears. One said he's going to name it after his mother.

Each bear comes with a "coping kit." The kit is basically the bear and a set of "coping cards," which fit into its front pocket. The cards are based on the research of Dr. Meghan Marsac of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and they contain useful tips to work through symptoms of trauma, such as night sweats, bed-wetting, bad dreams, and anxiety attacks.

The first delivery was so successful that Lehmann and Jones are ready to take Threadies to the next level.

The pair has enlisted the help of fair trade manufacturer Child's Cup Full, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting refugee women in the West Bank, to produce the bears.

Child's Cup Full trains and employs women, pays them the "wage rate set by the United Nations for a head of a household with children," and helps to fund local childhood education programs.

"We're really proud of this," Threadies co-founder Andrew Jones told Upworthy, acknowledging that, "as a result, each bear from CCF costs us about eight times what it would cost to make in China."

Each handmade bear is a bit different from the others, with fabric and design varying a bit on each one.

CCF works with a group called International Medical Corps (IMC) to make sure the bears reach kids who are the most in need.

For every bear bought in the U.S., a "twin" bear will be delivered to a child in a refugee camp.

In place of the "coping kit" given to the Syrian children, the U.S. bears come with short poems to help their new owners learn about and empathize with the children of the refugee crisis in a gentle, age-appropriate way.

These little poems tackle heavy issues like feeling sad, missing friends, having bad dreams, or being scared.


I'm a grown adult, and I think even I could benefit from these at times.

It costs $40 to buy a Threadies bear and give one to a child in a refugee camp. And while that price may seem a little steep, Jones said the price breaks down into four categories: "labor, programming, logistics, and re-investment."

With an estimated 60 million refugees in the world (half are children), Threadies has their work cut out for them.

In every sense of the word, Threadies is a startup, and Jones said that any money the company raises that doesn't go toward paying the workers, transporting materials and goods, and paying CCF will be reinvested in the company to begin scaling up to get the bears more widely distributed.

"We will not be paying ourselves a dime from the Kickstarter," he said.

"Even if we're wildly successful with Kickstarter, we'll only be able to deliver a fraction of the bears that are truly needed," Jones explained. "In two refugee camps in Jordan alone, we could deliver over 50,000 bears without blinking. The true need is closer to a million, and that's just Syria."

The goal is, with the help of IMC, to be able to swoop in and deliver bears to children wherever there's unrest in the world. ("We want to go to East and Central Africa next," Jones said.)

But right now they're just trying to fund the next batch of bears.

Interested in purchasing your very own bear (and helping fund one for a refugee child)? Check out Threadies on Kickstarter.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less