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USF nursing students, alums ‘bear’ holiday spirit
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Newborn Adonis Brown give a big yawn after receiving his first teddy bear from the USF College of Nursing’s B.E.A.R.S. program. Mom Pharyn admires the bear and Adonis, who was just born that morning.
CLEARWATER – New moms still exhausted from childbirth had another reason to smile on Dec. 5 at Morton Plant Mease Hospital. That’s because the USF College of Nursing students and alums were handing out special teddy bears in the mother-baby units and the NICU as part of the college’s B.E.A.R.S. program.

“This is the second year that we’re doing B.E.A.R.S., which stands for Bulls Encouraging and Assisting through Research and Scholarship,” said Edwin Hernandez, assistant director of alumni relations for the USF College of Nursing. “Basically it’s an opportunity for us at the College of Nursing to get into our community and give the chance for our alumni and our students to participate in something that expands from what they’d normally get from their alma mater.”

In addition to a chance to give back to the community, it also helps raise funds for the nursing research programs and scholarships, he said. People can sponsor the bears for $50, and the proceeds go toward research and scholarships as well as buying the bears to give to new moms, families in neonatal intensive care units, and children in the pediatric wards of local hospitals.

In the first year, the college gave out 300 bears, and this year they gave out 800, Hernandez said. They delivered bears to six hospitals: Morton Plant Mease, Countryside Mease, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Tampa General, Florida Hospital of Tampa, and Sarasota Memorial.

“We hope that this brings them a little bit of comfort throughout the holiday season,” Hernandez said of the patients who were about to receive bears at Morton Plant Mease. “No one wants to be in a hospital in the holiday season, and it’s an opportunity for us to let them know that we care. At the College of Nursing, our goal is to always take care of our patient but to take it a little further than what they normally would do as far as health care. Give them a little bit of comfort throughout their stay. Bring some smiles to the community. Especially to our children.”

There were more than 100 volunteers who signed up to help deliver the bears, Hernandez said. Among those on Dec. 5 were current USF nursing students, Katie Witte of Oldsmar, Beth Wiliamson of Safety Harbor and Mallory Mettler of Clearwater. Witte and Williamson are in their fifth and final semester of nursing school, and Mettler is in her third semester. Each of them had also volunteered at previous hospitals to give out the bears, and it always was a happy experience.

“It really helps them during the holiday season for kids who are stuck in the hospital to kind of know that people are looking after them and want to give them something, and I think a little teddy bear brings joy to their life,” Mettler said.

“I think the new moms enjoy them, too, because it’s one of the first things that they get as a new mom,” Williamson added.

Each of the bears are dressed in matching USF College of Nursing uniforms and also have their own ID and hospital band. The bears tended to be about the same size as many of the newborns to whom they were given.

Participating in the B.E.A.R.S. program helps reinforce why these students wanted to go into nursing in the first place. Witte said she chose this career because she wants to make a difference. Williamson agreed.

“Just to be able to help others and improve their health and be able to impact their life in any way I can,” Wiliamson said.

Mettler agreed with those points and added that in addition, she loves the practicality of nursing as a career.

“I always wanted a job,” Mettler said. “I wanted to help out people, but I wanted to be able to consistently have a job and be able to do new things and you can do that with a nursing degree. It’s not really stagnant and you can change it up and I really like that.”

New mom Pharyn Brown of Oldsmar had just given birth to her son, Adonis Brown that morning and was one of the moms to receive a bear.

“It was actually very sweet when we found out you guys were bringing a bear,” Brown said to the group in her room. “Not for nothing, I didn’t think the bears were going to be so cute, all dressed up and everything, but it’s very nice and very special,” she added with a laugh.

Adonis is her fourth child. Pharyn already has two girls and a boy, and her husband, Anthony Leon Brown, has another daughter. As mommy and baby snuggled with their new bear, Pharyn and USF volunteers admired Adonis’s large feet and hands and wondered if he would follow in his father’s footsteps. Anthony was an all-around All-American basketball star for Lakeland High in his day, Pharyn said.

A few doors down, Brittany Gentile of Largo also received a bear for her daughter, who was born at 1:36 a.m. the previous morning.

“These are so cute,” Gentile said to the volunteers. “This is so nice of you guys. It’s her first teddy bear.”

The parents were debating on the spelling of their new daughter’s first name and what her middle name should be, so Gentile was polling everyone she met regarding the choices. At last tally, though, Destiny Lynn was the leading name. Destiny is Brittany’s third child, so the USF volunteers also brought extra bears for the other children.

In another family, the Hilarios of Clearwater, Angela had just given birth to their newest addition, Gael, that morning. Her husband, Telesforo brought Gael’s three older brothers to the hospital to meet their new baby brother. All of the boys – David, 13; Erik, 9; and Kevin, 4; as well as baby Gael – got their own teddy bear.

Sara Lynn White is a social worker at the hospital who was working on the floor when the bears were handed out. Seeing some of the reactions moved White to tears. While she thinks the gift of bears is special to everyone who gets them, White said it is especially meaningful to the moms who may not have a lot.

“It’s also able to help the other siblings,” White said. “It’s inspiring, too, seeing the uniform on the bear because the older siblings can think ahead about school and things like that. It’s never too early to start talking about it. We always talk about reading and helping the child, and this ties in with that.”

One room in particular moved White so much that the memory of it brought tears to her eyes.

“A lot of times, there is a language barrier and you can’t communicate back and forth, but your heart talks,” White said. “And this really helps them relax and makes them feel calm because a lot of times they’re scared, you know, because sometimes they’re very afraid that they’re going to be sent back to Mexico. They’re working very hard and they’re really good moms. Really good mommies. So to see kindness by some other people is really special.”

White is a hometown Clearwater girl who was born at Morton Plant Mease and whose mother was also born there, so it has a special place in her heart.

“We’re family here,” White said.

Teena McCullough, manager of the NICU and of labor and delivery at Morton Plant, agreed that it was an exciting event and that it brings the community together. There are 28 beds in the mom-baby unit, she said, 10 in the NICU and 15 in labor and delivery. She had checked with the moms before the USF team arrived to get permission to deliver the bears, and it brought a smile to all of their faces. Only one said no, she would prefer to receive the bear later because she was still in too much pain from delivery, McCullough said.

For McCullough of Dunedin, she always knew she wanted to be a nurse.

“As a child, I used to watch my brother, and he’s so accident-prone and I felt I needed to know what to do,” McCullough said. “Every time he’d have an accident and would come home bloody, I’d worry and anted to know what to do. So there was never a doubt about what I wanted to be, growing up. My dad said I was very focused.”

McCullough joined the Air Force right out of high school to help her afford nursing school, and as soon as she got out, she completed school. She found her love right away with labor and delivery, but she has loved every area she has tried. Nursing is a wonderful career, McCullough said, and one of the great things about the B.E.A.R.S. program is that it could help young people consider a nursing in that field.

“I’m definitely grateful to USF,” McCullough said. “I think it opens the eyes of the patients about USF being part of our community. It brings it to the bedside. Even though a lot of our s taff goes there – even if they haven’t gone to nursing school there, they’ve done other things there like workshops and seminars – this really brings USF to the community.”

To sponsor a bear, visit www.u­sfnur­singb­ears.­com.
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