Alivia Gustman, who was just 8 years old at the time, was in a class whose assignment was to create a business.
This wasn’t the right time for Gustman to suggest a baking sale. Instead, after recently witnessing her mother undergo breast cancer treatment, she had a lightbulb moment: why not sell teddy bears to generate money for kids with cancer, or to anyone whose loved ones are undergoing treatment?
Her dad went on board and helped develop a website and get a trademark after she gave a virtual pitch to her Boca Raton, Florida instructor and classmates.
The outcome: The establishment of Cancer Bears, a nonprofit organisation that has already sold more than 1,000 bears in more than 30 states and internationally, as well as a family-run project.
The best part is that Cancer Bears has raised $30,000 to date and donated that money to cancer centres all around the country because of all of these bears being distributed across the nation (and the world). In fact, since they founded the organisation, they’ve forged alliances with Keaton’s Child Care Alliance, a nonprofit that offers support services to families dealing with a paediatric cancer diagnosis, Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, and NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center – all of which played a role in aiding Alivia’s mother.
So how did a third-grader at the time manage to pull this off?
Gustman, now a very active fifth student who turns 10 on October 16, says that his motivation came from knowing that his mother would be okay. “I wanted everyone undergoing therapy to have something to hang onto. I believed that a bear would make the ideal companion for cuddling.
Helping people runs in the family, according to Alivia’s mother Tara Gustman.
“This was such a simple act of kindness,” says Tara, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in December 2018 and underwent a double mastectomy, the removal of 12 lymph nodes, 16 rounds of chemo, and 7 weeks of radiation. “It happened during virtual school and right when I was getting back on my feet again.” She has now endured four years of remission.
“The feedback we receive from everyone is astounding. We eagerly anticipate continuing to help people in need.
There is nothing better than seeing all of the bears lined up and prepared to be sent out of Alivia’s (and her grandparents’) garage, despite the fact that she acknowledges that she is busy with homework and that time management is the key.
Alivia and Savannah, their 8-year-old sister, have recently become quite busy tying ribbons to each bear before it is dispatched.
You can ask for the ribbon that corresponds to the person’s type of disease, such as pink for breast cancer, yellow for children cancer, or teal for ovarian cancer, she explains. “My sister does a great job coordinating the ribbons,” I said.
In the end, this is one family that is totally committed to supporting others.
While it is regrettable that someone in the United States receives a breast cancer diagnosis every two minutes, Tara adds that her entire family is inspired by what they are doing. “We’ve developed into a source of inspiration through our bears and interactions with members of our neighbourhood. The good news is that Alivia’s story is spreading, and the more people who know about us, the more individuals we can help.
If you ask Alivia, she’ll tell you that being a young person should never prevent you from getting your hands dirty.
She advises other young people to “follow your aspirations” and to “do what makes you want to serve others.”