Huggable Heroes award nominations being accepted

Maxine Clark, an outstanding member of the St. Louis Jewish community, is both a merchandising genius and a creative philanthropist. In 1996, the brilliant former Payless Shoe Source and May Company employee developed her own business, the Build-A-Bear Workshop where kids of all ages make Teddy Bears from scratch and accessorize them. Under Maxine’s guidance the idea caught on and spread like wildfire. Today there are nearly 300 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom as well as franchised stores in Europe, Asia and Australia.

According to founder Clark, “Build-A-Bear Workshop is ‘beary’ committed to supporting charitable causes that improve the lives of children, families and animals.” In addition to various fundraising programs that help not-for-profit organizations enhance their coffers, Build-A-Bear has developed Huggable Heroes, a rewards program recognizing young persons 18 years old or younger who are doing great things making a difference in the lives of others. The company is now taking nominations for its Fourth Annual Huggable Heroes program which rewards everyday kids in communities all across North America, Canada and the United Kingdom who go to extraordinary lengths to make life better for others. From collecting food for the hungry to raising money to bringing arts to the elderly, from reaching out to assist animals to reading to children, kids are volunteering and making contributions.

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Ten youngsters will be selected as 2007 Huggable Heroes. Each will receive a prize worth $10,000 ($7,500 in the form of a scholarship and $2,500 from the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation to be donated to a charity of the hero’s choice.) In addition the out-of-towners receive a trip to St. Louis where the winners will be honored, meet other Huggable Heroes and participate in a photo shoot for the 2008 Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes Calendar. So pay attention, parents, grandparents and teachers and whoever knows of a great kid to nominate. Nomination forms can be found on the Build-A-Bear Workshop website at www.buildabear.com and will be accepted through Feb. 14.

I perused the 2006 Huggable Heroes calendar with its photos of ten wonderful youngsters but none were from the St. Louis area. Does this mean that we do not have among us kids who make contributions to the community or does it mean that no one has nominated one of our youngsters? I prefer to think that it is the latter, so since the time is short, get on your stick, download a nomination form and return it a.s.a.p. While you are at the Build-A-Bear website you may want to log on to the 2006 calendar for a look at the winners’ helpful and creative projects.

VERNA GREEN SMITH is my role model. A vibrant, creative, intelligent, caring, attractive and savvy woman of 87, she is just now retiring from the Board of the St. Louis Metropolitan Press Club on which she has served for 16 years. Press Club President Alice Handelman tells me that Verna will be honored with their Woman of Valor award at a luncheon on Feb. 5 at the Press Club’s Board meeting at the Seven Gables Inn, 26 N, Meramec in Clayton. Arranged by Joan Quicksilver, it promises to be a beautiful luncheon and the cost is only $15 a person. There will also be complimentary valet parking. For reservations call Glenda Partlow, Press Club executive director, at 636-227-2100.

Where do I begin to tell you about this remarkable woman? Let’s start with Marylen Mann, chairman of the OASIS Institute where since 1982 Verna, as her right hand woman, has always been her most enthusiastic booster and source of ideas. A champion for the elderly, teacher, journalist, and volunteer storyteller, well into her eighties, Verna continues to work to make St. Louis a better place to live. She has been showered with honors, but one of the most amazing and satisfying events in her life was when she was selected as a torch bearer for the 1996 Olympic Games. I have heard people say that they want to be just like Verna when they grow up. Me too!