Chiropractors dedicate a good part of their lives to giving adjustments and relieving pain. Dr. Todd Askenas of Askenas Chiropractic in Pearl River makes a similar commitment — only sometimes the pain relieved is in little hearts and the adjustments are to mouths of children throughout Rockland County and its surrounding areas.
Every year in March, Dr. Askenas holds a Teddy Bear Drive in which he collects donated huggables and distributes them to various Rockland County organizations that come into contact with children who are in trying situations. Dr. Askenas’ goal is to turn frowns into smiles and make it easier for children to work through some difficult times.
“I was looking for a way to give back to this community,” says Dr. Askenas, a lifetime Rocklander who grew up in West Nyack and currently resides in New City with his wife and two children. “Rockland and its residents have provided me with a good life, and I wanted to pay them back in some small way.”
The stuffed animals are donated to police departments in Orangetown, Stony Point, Spring Valley and Clarkstown, to name a few, as well as local fire departments and EMTs. The idea is for police officers, firefighters and ambulances to have a bear or two in their vehicles at all times. If they are called to a situation where a child is involved, they have something to give to help ease little worries.
“The bear is a great distraction for the child,” says Orangetown Police Officer Kerri Schiller, who works with Dr. Askenas on the program. “It gives parents something to fuss over to keep the child’s mind off the situation.” Officer Schiller also feels it helps portray the police in a positive way to children and makes officers seem more approachable for future situations that might occur in the child’s life.
The animals also show up at various organizations and facilities like Nyack Hospital, Rockland Family Shelter and Rockland County Social Services, which put them to good use. “I can’t tell you the smiles it puts on kids’ faces when they get those kinds of things,” says Lori Check, pediatric nurse manager at Nyack Hospital. “It really reduces anxiety and fosters communication between caregivers and the children.”
“We love the donations,” says Emmett Griffin, coordinator of volunteers for Rockland Social Services. “The animals end up in gift bags that we distribute to needy children throughout the county during the holiday season.”
Rockland is not the only area with a bear donation program. Dr. Askenas got the idea from a friend in Dallas, TX, who organizes a similar drive. “He’s been doing it in Dallas for a while and now has built his ‘big city’ drive up to over 150 bears per year,” he says.
Three years ago, Dr. Askenas took to the streets with flyers, and hung signs in his office to let his patients know about the drive. Not only was he donating his time and energy, he also gave a free checkup or adjustment to anyone contributing. Rockland came through with an astounding 1,300 teddy bears the first year. That generosity and success has enabled the program to extend across county borders to help neighboring communities though the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Westchester and police departments in Montvale and Park Ridge, N.J.
“The animals take over the practice for the week,” explains Dr. Askenas. “We receive so many that we give them their own rooms.”
The animals are split up into four offices: bears and bunnies in one, dolls in their own room, characters (Disney, Muppets, Warner Brothers) in a third, with the last office for brand new animals (the hospitals can only take new stuffed toys). This year they’re looking for 800 to 1,000 donations.
“The program has so many benefits and teaches so many lessons,” says Dr. Askenas, “that it’s a very rewarding experience for all.” He feels that in addition to helping the kids who receive the bears, other children benefit from volunteering and receiving community service experience. Some parents also use the program as a way to teach their own children to ‘give back’ by donating a bear or two of their own to help an unfortunate child.
One of the greatest stories came from that initial drive. One of Dr. Askenas’ patients and her family were in an automobile accident in Albany. While the patient and her children were OK, her husband suffered injuries and had to remain upstate. The family spent two months traveling back and forth to visit — an experience they will never forget. The Albany area had a similar program and the woman’s son received a bear from local police to help get him through the night of the accident. The young man donated that same bear to Dr. Askenas’ first drive in the hopes that it would help another child the same way it had helped him years earlier.
This year’s Teddy Bear Drive will be held March 3-8 at Dr. Askenas’ chiropractic office, 13 North Main Street in Pearl River. Donors are invited to bring in a new or gently used animal that is of “huggable size” (10-20 inches). Donors can receive a FREE chiropractic adjustment or a thorough, new patient exam. Call to schedule an appointment at (845) 735-3737. For more information, visit Dr. Askenas’ website at www.elitespinecare.com .