As part of our project we also volunteered at a non-profit organization called BEAR. They provide the bare necessities to Child Protective Services (CPS) workers to meet the needs of the children they are working with. As part of our project we interviewed Merri Hahn who is the Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator. Below is an FAQ summary of our interview.
What do you do at the BEAR organization?
I am the community outreach and volunteer coordinator.
Our project revolves around stuffed animals, who are your main suppliers of stuffed animals?
We get them randomly throughout the community. If you go into our BEAR room you will see a lot of stuffed animals, coloring books, toys, some of that is left over from Christmas and some of it is simply people in the community donating items. So we might have a Girl Scout troop do a toy drive for us. We recently had someone do a teddy bear drive for us, so it was literally just teddy bears. The stuffed animals come from the community we don’t purchase any of the toys or what we call “big ticket items”…. all the fun stuff really, all that’s donated from the community.
How many volunteers do you typically get?
We get most of our volunteers through our programs. For example, Back to School or Christmas. Christmas program is the biggest and we usually have around 1000 volunteers in one month.
How long have you been working at BEAR?
I have been working here for two years.
Who are your biggest donors?
People in the community. Sometimes it’s the little old lady down the street, sometimes its big organizations, and sometimes it’s simply Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts knocking on our door with drives that they’ve done on our behalf.
How do the children receive the things you’ve collected?
Case workers collect things and give it directly to the kids. You have to have a case number to come through one of our facilities. We have four BEAR rooms throughout the greater Houston area, this is probably our largest and our most popular because case workers are here and not only get what they need out of the BEAR room, but they can also get “big ticket items” stored in our warehouse such as pack N’ play, carseats, booster seats. When the children are removed most of them have nothing other than the clothes on their back, so case workers can come through and get what these kiddos need for the first 24-48 hours, like socks, underwear, hygiene items, the bare essentials.
About how many kids do you help every year?
Every year we serve 12,000 kiddos, just with our BEAR necessities program. Our BEARing gifts program is probably the next largest, we serve about 11,000 kiddos with that, and each kid get two to three gifts depending on the donations that we receive from the community. Our Back to School programs serves about 5,000. That program is smaller because we have so many other organizations in Houston that do very similar programs.
How does this facility differ from the others in the Houston area?
This BEAR room looks like all of our others, but it is a little bigger and a little better stocked. Its kind of a one stop shop so case workers can get what they need out of the BEAR room but also get their “big ticket items”. This is the only location where they can come in our warehouse and get their “big ticket items”.
How frequently can people volunteer at this location?
We have all our volunteer opportunities listed on our website. So we have any number of things where you can come for a specific program. For example, like you guys volunteered today with our Back to School program. We have our Christmas program and what we call Family Day and we do that quarterly. In our warehouse we will set up tons of hygiene items and we encourage everyone to bring their favorite hygiene item and we put them out on pages. We encourage everyone to bring their friends and family, so little bitty kids too grandpas. And everyone on your team comes and we pack hygiene packs that we’re able to put into our BEAR rooms.
How many kids does a case worker usually have?
That varies and depends on what department they’re in. For example they could be in litigations or child fatality. There’s a million different units.
Are there any volunteer opportunities in between your big programs?
At the moment, no. But yes, there will be. I manage community outreach and volunteer. We normally have a program person that would run this program, I would bring these volunteers in and that program person would manage the program itself and the volunteers that are brought in. We do not have a program manager at the moment so I’ve picked that up as well and I’m not able to offer as many opportunities. Our opportunities are a little more narrowed at the moment, but we do offer quarterly Family Days which are a huge hit. I think we have 40 volunteers each day. We will have some more random things come up. I just need someone to take some things off my plate.