In 2011, Steve Lehmann went to Haiti to help victims of the horrific earthquake that had devastated the country a year earlier. What he saw there changed his life.
“I saw the problem of trauma, particularly in children,” Lehmann said. “There was less attention paid to it at that time than today. My thought was, it’s a big problem, it’s hard to solve and is there anything to be done to address it? Being an engineer, I thought through a bunch of ideas and kept them in the back of my mind.”
After time doing refugee advocacy work for the American Refugee Committee in Washington, D.C., Lehmann went to Notre Dame to get his MBA. There, the ideas he’d contemplated years before came floating back to the forefront. Finally, the answer struck home: teddy bears. After all, Lehmann’s own stuffed animal, Floppy, had been an incredible source of comfort for him growing up. Why shouldn’t it be the case for refugee children too?
Children who have teddy bears develop a strong psychological connection with their comforting companions. Too often, these sources of solace for refugee children are left behind, lost or destroyed while fleeing from their homes or during life at the camps. Children who already have few tools to cope with the trauma of their situations have one less significant childhood coping mechanism taken away as well.
As he developed the idea for a special teddy bear, he and his partner, Andrew Jones, a roommate from college, reached out to researchers to develop a kit to cope with trauma. Inspired by Dr. Megan Marsack’s research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Lehmann and Jones created a psychological care and coping kit, which they also call a psychological first aid kit, developed specifically for refugee children. Inside the kits are cards with pictures depicting trauma coping techniques that parents and aid workers can use when working with the refugee children.
But the work reaches beyond placing specially designed teddies, which Lehmann and Jones have dubbed Threadies, into the arms of children. The very manufacturing method has been designed to help at-risk women in the West Bank of Israel gain independence through work. Profits go to fund children’s programming for refugees in the West Bank. But that’s just the beginning.
When you buy a Thready bear, its twin bear is sent to a refugee child somewhere in the world. Threadies has partnered with various nonprofits, including the Karam Foundation, which distributes the bears to children in refugee camps. Lehmann went to refugee camps in Jordan to test out the specialized bear prototype before going to market. There they saw children hugging the bears, rubbing the fuzzy ears against their faces or between their fingers, and quickly developing bonds with their toys.
The design of the Thready allows for easy repairs. “The patchwork nature of the bear lends itself to mom mending and adjusting it over time, whereas with a Mickey Mouse, probably not,” Lehmann added.
So far, Thready bears have made their way to three continents. Based on the date you bought the bear, you can see where its twin landed. Since October 2015, Threadies have gone to Reyhanli, a village on the Syria-Turkey border which now houses thousands of people fleeing from the chaos in Aleppo, Syria.
Interestingly, Lehmann has never given a Thready to a refugee child — and he’s OK with that. In fact, he’s happy just seeing the pictures.
“The purpose of giving the bear is to develop a bond. We wanted bears to be given by parents or psychologists, or health workers,” Lehmann said. The bonds between the givers and the refugee children have lasting impact as the children work through their trauma.
Love the mission of Threadies? You can buy a bear for your loved one or donate one to a refugee child in need. It’s a gift that’s sure to be treasured.