Build-A-Bear Workshops Reward Huggable Heroes

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Oscar Wilde famously (and somewhat sagely) opined that youth is wasted on the young, but he might have retracted had he met any one of the 100 or so exceptional, altruistic kids unearthed by the Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Huggable Heroes program.

Running annually since 2004, the unique interactive retailer’s event seeks to recognize kids aged eight to 18 who have “made a commitment to serve, help others, and make a difference in their community,” usually by spearheading a project or website that, for instance, collects food donations to feed animals in shelters, supports adult literacy programs or the environment or assists senior citizens.

Take-charge kids from across North America and Puerto Rico (where Build-A-Bear Workshops have a bricks-and-mortar presence) are nominated for their good deeds, often by teachers or parents. Shortlists are created by an independent judging organization, which bases its decision on criteria including impact of the accomplishments (75 percent of total score) and inspiration to others relating to the cause (25 percent of total score). The kids must also submit a story about themselves.

When the final 10 Huggable Heroes are selected for a given year, each receives a none-too-shabby $10,000: a $7,500 educational scholarship and another $2,500 donation to the registered charity of their choice. Plus, chosen kids and a parent or guardian get a trip to St. Louis –Build-A-Bear Workshop HQ where they’re feted for their work.

To date, some 100 Huggable Heroes have been recognized (four from Ontario) and collectively awarded $1 million in donations and scholarship money. This year’s contest is accepting nominations until February 27 (via website; winners will be named in June.

Given how distinctive the Build-A-Bear Workshop concept is — it’s accurately described as an “interactive, make-your-own stuffed animal retail-entertainment experience” catering to children and adults alike — the Huggable Heroes program is a no-brainer: rewarding hands-on engagement with a tangible result.

“There have been so many great charities started by the Huggable Heroes over the years,” offers Angela Broughton, chief workshop manager at the Oshawa Centre Build-A-Bear Workshop, who has worked for the company for four-and-a-half years.

“From what I’ve seen, most of the Huggable Heroes pursue charitable work that speaks to something that has touched them in their lives,” she tells “For example, we’ve seen Huggable Heroes do things for the military because their father is overseas. Or a mother got sick and that’s something they want to help out with. So by the time they are nominated as a Huggable Hero, they have already been recognized for making a huge difference in their communities.”

Broughton adds that nomination forms are distributed through the stores by staff “and starting on  Boxing Day every year we have a Huggable Heroes calendar we give out free with a purchase and we explain to the guests what the program is, who the kids are and it tells a bit about their stories.”

Plus, one presumes the uplifting vibe of the Huggable Heroes program serves as a nice counterpoint to a job that can carry the emotional heft of helping people make and personalize stuffed toys. 

“We have shed a lot of tears,” Broughton allows. “We have people making bears for many different reasons, happy and sad. Sometimes it’s for loved ones who have passed away, a memorial for pets, a gift for children who are ill and in hospital. We’ve done baby showers and bridal showers, too.

“We did a birthday party once for a child that had passed away, and all her friends and family were there. That was a challenging party because they were celebrating the child’s life but everyone in the stores was in tears. We’ve also had parents who are going overseas for a year in the military making bears for their children and recording a message that’s stored inside the bear so the child can sleep with it at night and hear the parent’s voice.  

“I mean, I get choked up just talking about it. But you know you are making a difference and you’re bringing joy to people during a very hard time. So it’s challenging, but helping feels really good.” is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.