November 7, 2011

Over the years, I have often written about young people who inspire me – especially those who are recognized as Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes. Last week, I had the privilege of working alongside Talia Leman, one of our 2007 Huggable Heroes, and meeting hundreds of motivated, inspiring kids from across the St. Louis region who have that Huggable Hero sparkle in their eyes.

Thanks to a BIG idea from Talia, on November 3, Build-A-Bear Workshop hosted nearly 200 students and teachers from 34 area schools for The BIG Return Summit to discuss important community issues and brainstorm solutions. Each school walked away with a tangible project that will help tackle these issues head-on. And because the projects are led by young people, as Talia says, there will be a BIG Return. Talia was recognized as a Huggable Hero for starting RandomKid, an organization that empowers kids to solve real problems by joining other youth who have the drive to change the world. Through her work, Talia found that youth can turn charitable donations into a 200 – 1,000 percent return for a cause because of their determination and drive. She says that because young people don’t know what isn’t possible, they can think and act more creatively.

The BIG Return leverages the power of youth to make big changes in the world, and those big changes are happening right here in St. Louis. Talia has brought together St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and other community leaders to challenge the community to support these efforts – and guess what? Change is happening.

It’s this type of “sky is the limit” thinking for social change that motivates me and inspires me to run Build-A-Bear Workshop in the manner we do. It’s always been part of our mantra to give back to the communities where we live, work and play and we love helping energize young people to do the same, and to become venture capitalist for social good.

Last Thursday was an important day for Build-A-Bear Workshop, Talia, the participating kids and the St. Louis community. My hope is that this idea of The BIG Return turns into an even BIGGER project – not just for St. Louis – but for the entire nation. Build-A-Bear Workshop hosted the first-ever BIG Return Summit in St. Louis – where will it go next? Chicago? Dallas? Los Angeles? What other cities will step up to the plate and rise to the challenge? I know the energy is there because I saw it from the youth, and it’s contagious.

And who knows? Maybe one of those kids sitting in that very room with us last Thursday will be in the next class of Huggable Heroes. Stay tuned as Huggable Hero nominations for 2012 begin in January.

Kids have the answers to the world’s problems, if we listen! I look forward to hearing about the projects these kids undertake and the differences they make in our community and the world! I know our St. Louis youth will become role models for other youth across America as they carry out the mission of The BIG Return.

Maxine Clark
Chief Executive Bear

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