The Great Kindness Challenge is a positive and proactive bullying prevention initiative for PreK-12 schools which creates a culture of kindness on campus. Since its initiation in 2021, the program has touched the lives of over 19 million students in 39 million schools carrying out over 950 million acts of kindness…including one very special event for skilled nursing home residents in Southern California.

Clinical psychologist Kristen Eddy from the team at Executive Mental Health, organized a plushie drive with her 11-year-old son’s elementary school, Willard in East Pasadena, to benefit her patients at Pasadena Meadows and Glendale Post-Acute facilities.

Eddy heard about the initiative to spread kindness from her son. “My son Eli and I decided to ask his fellow students at Willard Elementary School in East Pasadena to partner with us in bringing some joy to the residents at local SNF’s. We thought that Great Kindness Week would be a great time to launch our idea” she said.

“As a Clinical Psychologist, I have witnessed the transformation of my patients in Skilled Nursing Facilities who have a stuffed animal to hold – something silly and sweet that relaxes them and makes them smile. Particularly patients with advanced dementia, having something tangible to hug close meets that basic human need for touch. A sweet, smiley little plushie can go a long way to help them feel calmed and reassured. While we go far out of our way to make Nursing Homes as welcoming and accommodating as possible, no one wants to have to be in one. Away from family and friends, they can be very lonely places,” she wrote.

For Eddy, many skilled nursing homes sometimes don’t feel like home, and a personal touch is very appreciated among the residents. “I have found my patients in nursing homes to be some of the most beautiful souls, so grateful for the tiniest thing you can do for them. They are so deserving of all the good things we can bring them.”

As a mother, Eddy had seen many a plushie taking up space in the toybox, and thought they’d have a better life being shared, not stored. “I have witnessed the phenomenon of seemingly self-replicating stuffed animals, many of which the kids don’t play with. Finding myself and several other mom friends annoyed by these dust-collecting space wasters, I thought to combine has with need. I started by approaching the facilities, and their response was beautiful: “Anything you can do to help our residents feel happy, we fully support. We would love to partner with you and thank you for choosing us!” Eddy then reached out to the principal at Eli’s school, Willard Elementary, to see if they would be willing to ask their students for donations. Their response was also an immediate, resounding “Yes!” They advertised the plushie drive to the kids and families in newsletters and morning announcements for a week and a half, and their response was overwhelming: The Willard Wildcats donated over 200 beautiful, gently loved plushies.

“We let kids know that some Grandma’s and Grandpa’s can’t live with their families anymore, and that truly moved them. They came in with bags and bags of stuffed animals, from tiny to enormous, ready to share the love straight from their hears to our elders” said Eddy.

After cleaning and sanitizing the plushies, Eddy pulled in six willing Wildcats (including her own) to assist and gathered with about 25 residents in the facility’s activities room. Each one of the kids picked which stuffed animal they thought each person would like, and proceeded to hand them out to smiling, delighted faces. Eddy said “the joy on the faces of those residents, giggling and laughing at the whimsical nature of the sweet little toys and absorbing the love of those kids just like a sponge was truly something to see.”

The effect of that one act of kindness was long-lasting. “Later that day, the response was amazing. All the residents were talking about the visits from the kids and the sweet stuffed animals they got just in time for Valentines Day. On and on they went, talking about how happy they felt, eliciting comments
from the nurses and families about the ability of a small toy to elicit such joy from these precious souls” said Eddy.