Do You Know a Huggable Hero?

Just about this time last year, I wrote a post on my website Let Children Play about the NFL Play 60 program that encouraged kids to invent a new game to play outside over the summer. Such programs encourage innovation and leadership that is rarely seen in today's youth. This year, just as summer begins for most of our school children, I learned of another wonderful opportunity for children and young adults to display their leadership qualities -- Huggable Heroes. This contest is hosted by Build a Bear Workshop and looks for kids, eight to eighteen who are looking to a build a better tomorrow right now. With programs like NFL Play 60 or Huggable Heroes we begin to see the likes of children who are not only interested in personal success, but also in the success and happiness of others. This is an incredible example to be setting for our society.

I had the engaging opportunity to speak with Brittany Bergquist the founder of Cell Phones for Soldiers and winner of a Huggable Heroes award in 2009. Brittany founded Cell Phones for Soldiers with her brother Rob in 2004, when she was just thirteen years old and Rob was twelve. Since then they have worked for the past ten years to build an organization that can meet the personal communication needs of today's military men and women. Cell Phones for Soldiers collects used cell phones, recycles them and uses the proceeds to fund calling cards for soldiers overseas. They also accept monetary donations. With these calling cards, soldiers can call home to loved ones and maintain important personal connections.

What inspired two moderns youths to do such an unselfish act? While having breakfast one morning, Rob and Brittany heard a news story about a soldier abroad who had an $8,000 cell phone bill due to this calls home to the United States. Rob and Brittany were shocked and wanted to help. Their first inclination was to simply help this one person who needed to pay off his bill, but as time went by they heard more and more similar stories.

Soon Cell Phones for Soldiers was born and now ten years later they are able to help not only enlisted military personnel, but also veterans with unexpected expenses they may face upon returning home. For those who may be interested in participating in the Cell Phones for Soldiers program or receiving support please visit

From now until June 12th, community members and families have the opportunity to nominate youth they believe are Huggable Heroes, kids just like Rob and Brittany. Ten winners will be announced on July 30 and each will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a $2,500 donation to a designated charity of their choice. To learn more visit or Build-A-Bear Workshop stores nationwide. While visiting the website you can also learn about past Huggable Hero winners, such as Kyle Weiss who founded Fund A Field which builds soccer fields for aspiring youth players in Africa. You can also learn about Jonny Cohen, one of last year's winners, who has been featured in Scientific American for inventing GreenShields, aerodynamic add-ons that help save gas mileage on school buses.

With our help, kids with inspiring ideas and good hearts can reach more and more folks in need. Please take the time to nominate someone in your community for this beautiful award. Our young people need the support and our culture needs their innovation.