Madeline Bethea, 14, of Minden, La., an eighth-grader at Webster Junior High School, has delivered more than 15,000 stuffed animals over the past eight years to nursing homes, children's hospitals and emergency first responders in seven states, to comfort those in need of a friend. For as long as she can remember, Madeline went with her mother to visit the residents of local nursing homes. "I love spending time with the residents and listening to their stories," she said. But one day when she was 6 years old, she noticed that some residents looked sad and lonely, and that gave her an idea. "When I am sad I hug my teddy bear," she said. "Why can't I give them a teddy bear to hug?"
She began asking friends to give her the stuffed animals they no longer wanted. Then she asked churches, schools and civic organizations to host stuffed-animal collection drives. She also recruited volunteers through Girl Scouts, Lion's Clubs and student councils, and now has about 150 that she relies on to help clean, sort, tag and store the donated animals. "The joy that I receive from the looks on the residents' faces is indescribable," said Madeline. "As long as I have people who support the stuffed-animal drives, I will continue my quest to decrease the loneliness and depression in nursing homes and hospitals."