The ‘Bags for Build-a-Bear’ project provides a symbol of strength and growth

When patients take the brave first step of entering treatment, they often face a myriad of conflicting emotions – fear, relief, anxiety, confidence, and uncertainty are
all commonplace feelings. At Rogers Behavioral Health, we do our best to provide comfort in these times of need. Sometimes, though, comfort can come from an unsuspecting source, like a former patient.

Mia knows first-hand what it’s like to be a teen going through treatment for mental health challenges. She also knows the joy of being a teen in recovery, which is why she is dedicated to using her experience to give hope and make others’ lives better.

It all started on an especially hard day when she went into care at a hospital near her home. Feeling alone and scared, she was given a Build-a-Bear. This small gesture made a big impact on her spirits and provided her with much-needed comfort at a time she needed it the most.

Afterward, Mia transferred to Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Here, she worked hard to overcome her mental health challenges. When not in active treatment sessions, Mia began finding joy in decorating plain canvas bags. This is not unusual, as research has shown that mindful interaction with art and drawing can result in a heightened sense of wellbeing.

After her treatment program was complete, Mia returned home in a much better place than when she left. With a fresh outlook and passion for life, she decided that she wanted to find a way to pass on hope to future patients at Rogers. That’s when the idea came to her. She could make and sell her hand-painted tote bags and raise funds to purchase Build-a-Bears for other children and teens on the inpatient units at Rogers.

Eager to get started, she approached a non-profit program in her community, where she received a $200 mini grant to purchase enough totes and supplies to get her started. From there, she poured her heart and mind into creating one-of-kind designs featuring everything from whimsical mushrooms to fiery hearts to colorful flowers and more.

With the beautifully decorated totes in hand, she set off to sell them in her school cafeteria, church, and other locations throughout her community. She priced the bags at $15 each with 100% of the proceeds used for “brightening up children’s lives” through the gift of a Build-a-Bear.

“Rogers really helped me,” Mia said. “It was one of the hardest things ever. I know that stuffed animals can provide comfort and help people feel like they are at home, especially when sitting in your room at night.”

When Mia completed the Bags for Build-a-Bears project, she had sold 187 bags and raised a total amount of $5,070, allowing her to purchase 274 Build-a-Bears for patients going through child/adolescent inpatient care. As an additional stipulation upon receiving her donation, Mia requested that the kids be able to pick out
their own Build-a-Bear, one that means the most to them.

 Each Build-a-Bear is distributed with a special message from Mia. In her note, she says, “I want to prove to you that there is hope. It does get better, even if it doesn’t seem like that right now. You need to remember that it is darkest before dawn. You will get to a better place; you just need to keep pushing. I want to give you this Build-a-Bear to show you that it gets better. Someday, you will look back on the stuffed animal and see your strength and growth, like I do every day. Hopefully you, too, can use your hard experiences to better someone else’s. I know it’s hard right now, but once you get through this, you’ll be ready to face any challenge the world throws at you.”