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Escondido “Teddy Bear Fairy” among seniors’ volunteerism

Michiko Rice and some of the custom Teddy bears that she makes for children with rare diseases.

Deep community connections have always been in the DNA of those who live and work at Redwood Terrace. As we celebrate Older Americans Month and the contributions of older adults, two residents at this Escondido senior living community stand out in this spirit through their support of vulnerable children. 

For three years, Michiko Rice has participated in the RARE Bear program, which provides custom, handmade Teddy bears to children with rare diseases. A lifelong quilter, Rice uses leftover cotton fabric to make the intricate Teddy bear “skins” from scratch. After they’re stuffed, Rice and other volunteers sew them together and embroider eyes, nose and other features. 

“My husband was a dentist in the Navy, and we’ve always volunteered after he retired,” said Rice, who estimates she makes more than 30 bears in a given year, and recently completed a batch of 18 Teddies. “We just like to volunteer and help other people.” 

Through unique labeling on each bear, she occasionally receives a reward for her efforts. 

“Sometimes we’ll get a picture of the child with the Teddy,” she adds. “I’m really happy to get those pictures and know who got my bear.” 

Just a few apartments away from Rice at Redwood Terrace, Pat Kellenbarger has her hands in countless volunteer ventures – making helmet coolers for troops overseas, collecting bras and bags for local homeless women, maintaining Little Free library stations near the community with children’s books, advocating for the welfare of thousands of junior enlisted military families, and making trauma pillows for kids in emotional crisis. 

The pillows, shaped like soccer balls, footballs, hearts and clouds, are stuffed by Kellenbarger and other Redwood Terrace residents and donated to local first responders, hospitals and child protective services. They help comfort for children during traumatic events. 

“I’m a force to be reckoned with,” said Kellenbarger with a laugh. She is a U.S. Marine Corps widow and former social worker. “I’m either blessed or cursed with an inordinate amount of energy. I’m not ready for a rocking chair just yet.”

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