Region 8-Based Stuffed Bear Program Provides Familiar Voices of Parents in Iraq

BATESVILLE, AR - A community project in Batesville is providing kids who are left behind with the familar voice of a Dad or Mom sent to Iraq.  And it's as simple as squeezing a toy, stuffed bear.

Project Build-A-Bear involves Citizens Bank and several churches and businesses, as well as individuals and Lyon College.  It has provided the families of soldiers in Company B of the 39th Infantry Brigade with a bear for the children of every parent heading overseas next month.  The 39th Infantry Brigade is under orders to begin a new deployment to Iraq in January.

Project Build-A-Bear provides a large, stuffed teddy bear equipped with a device inside that plays a recorded message when the bear is squeezed.  In the case of these bears, the message is recorded by a soldier for a child being left behind.

Janelle Shell, director of public relations for Citizens Bank, said Project Build-A-Bear is something the whole community is supporting.

Joshau Eddington, a soldier with the 39th Brigade, said the bears really mean a lot to the soldiers, especially as an indication of how the community is supporting them.

Ty Swain, a younster whose stepfather will be leaving next month, welcomed his bear.  He said it was really cool, especially since his stepdad made it for him so he would not miss him when he's overseas.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)