In December of 1997, I started my first nanny job with a 39-day old baby named Patty. The following month, I turned 23 and felt like my life was heading in a promising direction.

A month later, I was saying goodbye to my little sister and feeling helpless as I watched my family and a whole community grieve.

My sister, Molly, was a beautiful and talented young lady. She was a dedicated athlete. She was a runner, swimmer, and a tennis player. Molly was very kind and had many friends, to whom she was fiercely loyal. She was an avid Winnie the Pooh fan and collector. As the youngest in our family, she learned what NOT to do and never got into trouble. As far as 17 year olds go, she was a pretty good kid.

On the evening of February 21, 1998, Molly was coming home from a friend’s house and was only a few miles from home. Another teenage driver hit Molly’s car on the curve of a country road. The impact threw her into the windshield and then out of the car. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital as my parents received the call that Molly had been in a serious accident.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were told that Molly had suffered a “life ending head injury”. We were allowed to see her in the emergency room before the staff moved her to the ICU. At this point, Molly’s friends and friends of our family began to arrive. For hours, a parade of two people at a time where allowed to see Molly and say goodbye. Our parents felt it was important that all the kids who wanted to could see her while she was still connected to full life support.

On February 22, after the many required tests, Molly was officially declared brain dead. She wasn’t going to wake up. We were counseled by the transplant coordinator and asked if Molly would want to be an organ donor. The answer was yes. We all supported organ donation and knew it was Molly’s wish to give the gift of life to others. We painstakingly said our goodbyes and went home to grieve. The transplant team did their job and five people got a second chance at life.

While Molly was in the ICU, a friend of our mother had a great idea to honor Molly and to give all these grieving people something to do. She started collecting Winnie the Pooh bears and toys to donate to our local hospital, Johnson County Memorial. The Pooh Bears for Molly project was born and donations started coming in right away. Our friends and community came together and didn’t waste a second before they got on board to help.

Every year since then, Pooh bears have been given to every baby born at JCMH and every sick child under the age of 18 who was admitted. Molly was once comforted by her Pooh bear during a hospital stay and we wanted to make sure every child had the same comfort while they were hospitalized. Our pain is eased knowing that something Molly loved gives every child at JCMH the “bear hug” they need to feel better. It is estimated that nearly 8,000 Pooh bears have been given to children at the Johnson County Memorial Hospital.

The months that followed Molly’s death were very difficult, as we looked for ways to honor and remember her. She had been training for the Indianapolis Mini Marathon, so we all completed it in her honor, along with dozens of friends. That was the start of  “Molly’s Team”. For well over a decade, hundreds of people have run, jogged, and walked in memory of Molly. For many years, a pasta dinner was cooked and served by our family’s friends, the night before the race.

On Molly’s 18th birthday, May 28, 1998, the Johnson County Memorial Hospital held a ceremony where they unveiled two beautiful memorial plaques for Molly and her Pooh bears, which hang in two locations in the hospital. Now every family who receives a Pooh can read the story of how this program began.

Our parents also started a scholarship fund in Molly’s name. Every year, we award $4,000 in scholarships to graduates of Franklin Community High School who were competitive swimmers, like Molly was.

You might be wondering what this story has to do with you. My reasons for sharing this very private pain are simple. First, I want to ensure the success of the Pooh Bears for Molly project. As the hospital grows, so does the number of pediatric patients. Although the donations have been fairly consistent, the number of recipients has increased, which may mean that the babies born at JCMH will no longer receive Pooh bears someday. Please help my family keep the project going strong. It only takes a few minutes to donate and you can’t imagine how good it feels to give something so special to a child needing a little extra comfort.

My other reason for sharing this story of giving is to challenge you to give back in your community. You might be saying to yourself “What can I do? After all, I’m just one person”. The answer is ANYTHING. You can start a toy drive, collect baby food for the local food pantry (which is always in need), or host an event to raise money for your favorite charity or cause in your city. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • For those who teach pre-school, nanny, babysit or work with kids in other capacities, gather colleagues and friends to offer an evening of childcare at your local community center. Parents can have date night in exchange for a donation to your chosen charity. Be sure to bring games and fun activities to entertain the kids. You could even ask a local business to match your donations.
  • Visit the local food pantry or soup kitchen. Ask for a list of the most needed items and then set out to collect those items. Get your friends involved and don’t be afraid to ask businesses to help. If you’re a skilled coupon clipper, you can get many items for FREE!
  • Organize a rummage sale, bake sale, or knitting circle. With the help of your community, you can raise money to buy supplies for a needy family, provide special toys or books to sick children, or even start a scholarship fund in memory of someone you love.

I come from a family of givers. From my grandparents to my little niece, my family chooses to help those in need. Give compassion, give time, and give a piece of your self. You’ll never regret it!

To donate to the Pooh Bears for Molly project you can send a bear or a financial gift. Thank you in advance for your support!

To donate to the Pooh Bears for Molly project you can send a bear or a financial donation. 

Please send Pooh Bears (Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger too), books, games, or toys to Johnson Memorial Hospital Foundation at PO Box 549 Franklin, IN 46131

Financial gifts can be made payable to JC Health Foundation. Be sure to write “Pooh Bears for Molly” on your check! Send to JC Health Foundation at 1125 W Jefferson St Franklin, IN 46131

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Cortney Gibson is a Newborn Care Specialist and Parent Educator. She owns and operates Gibson Newborn Services; a company dedicated to helping the parents of new babies succeed through education, newborn care and support.

Cortney has been working with families and providing in-home care since 1997. After seven years as a professional nanny, she began exclusively working with newborns in 2004. She specializes in the care of preemies and multiples, as well as early sleep teaching and parent education. Cortney has spent over 60,000 hours nurturing babies and caring for young children all over the country.

When she’s not traveling the nation working with clients, Cortney resides in Dallas, Texas, and enjoys volunteer work, gardening, and doting on her niece, Kate.