Basketball Players Show Heart during Valentine's Week

Feb. 12, 2002

BERKELEY - Valentine's Day is traditionally a time for kisses and hugs. And thanks to six members of the University of California men's and women's basketball team, many sick youngsters at the Children's Hospital and Research Center of Oakland will have their own cuddly teddy bears to hug this year.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Cal senior team captains Solomon Hughes and Ryan Forehan-Kelly of the Bears' men's basketball team, and Kiki Williams, Leigh Gregory, Alisa Lewis and Amber White of the women's team, placed stuffed bears in the arms of hospitalized children as part of Cal's 'Bear Hugs Program.' In addition to Hughes and Forehan-Kelly, the university's Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services Horace Mitchell and famed bear mascot, Oski, joined selected private donors in helping in the distribution of the Cal bears.

Bear Backer Youth, the fund-raising organization for the University of California's recreational sports program, launched the innovative Bear Hugs initiative this year as part of its donation program that benefits two groups of children in need: seriously ill kids at Children's Hospital Oakland who receive the bears, and also Bay Area at-risk children, who receive scholarship assistance to attend Cal's recreational sports program year-round.

As part of the Bear Hugs Program, every person who contributes at least $100 to the university's non-profit sports program will have a toy bear donated to a child at Children's Hospital. Each bear distributed had the name of a donor attached to its paw.

The money raised will also make it possible for thousands of economically challenged kids to participate in Cal recreational sports program, which features a wide array of activities such as tennis, swimming, ballroom dancing, windsurfing, ice skating, yoga and camping. The programs currently service 42,000 Bay Area participants annually, including 10,000 families.

'In the future, we expect thousands of boys and girls to take part in our programs due to the Bear Hugs Program,' said Kathy Andrews, executive director of Bear Backer Youth. 'These are kids whose parentsotherwise could not afford to send their children to the classes or activities.'

Andrews said that monies donated also would be utilized for staff training and development, enhancement of facilities and expansion of programs.

Tuesday's visit marks the second distribution of bears to Children's Hospital Oakland, as more than 130 Golden Bears were delivered during an earlier visit over the holiday season.

'It was one of the most moving days of my life,' said Paul Cataleta, one of the program's recent donors. 'The bears brought huge smiles to their faces, even kids who were in pain.'

Besides having the knowledge that they have brightened a sick child's day, donors will also be given a.25 percent cost discount rate on all youth and outdoor sports program offerings in Cal's 2002 recreation catalogue as a token of appreciation.

Yet, for donors like Ed Isaac, the added perks are not really necessary.

'I feel like I am making a difference,' recently remarked Isaac. 'It is so gratifying to make a personal connection with each child.'

Susan Martinez, public & media relations manager at Children's Hospital, also recognizes the importance of the Cal program.

'Children's embraces the Bear Hugs program,' she said. 'During the holidays and all year, keeping a child in good spirits helps them to heal. I am sure that these bears will be well-loved by the kids.'

For more information about the Bear Hugs program, contact Kathy Andrews at 510-643-1299.

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