Emma Jazo started her first year of high school this year, but she has different priorities than one might expect from someone her age. This February, she ran her second annual Valentine’s Day Teddy Bear Drive for the patients at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. 

The Teddy Bear Drive is just one of many volunteering initiatives in which Emma participated. This past summer – to scratch the itch to give back – she took a trip to Costa Rica with a program called Global Leadership Adventures. 

“You get to do some fun things like ziplining and horseback riding but you also get to work in the schools with the kids,” Emma said. 

Working with children is one constant among her many projects. Emma loves working with kids, which naturally led her to her current venture with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. 

She remembers how stuffed animals made her feel when she was younger and she hoped to deliver that same feeling to less fortunate children this past Valentine’s Day. 

“When I was little, I always loved stuffed animals…they made me super excited,” Emma said. “I hoped it would have the same impact on the kids, make them excited and a little bit happier because they’re in the hospital on Valentine’s Day and they don’t get to experience the things that the other kids do on that day.”

Last year, following her first Teddy Bear Drive, Emma delivered 85 bears to the hospital. This year, she more than doubled her collection with a total of 197 stuffed animals.

As a part of her efforts to expand the drive in its second iteration, she went door to door in her neighborhood passing out fliers and encouraging people to donate to the box situated outside of her home. In a matter of days, neighbors filled the bear collection basket to the brim. 

Jenni Rogers, who works as a child life specialist at PCH, said her team is continually looking for ways to help so that “kids can be kids” while they are hospitalized, especially during the holidays.

“One way to do this is to provide them with a special stuffed animal and a valentine. Students like Emma are integral in helping us provide opportunities for normalcy and of course bring a smile to their day. We appreciate the tremendous support we receive from not only students like Emma, but also the greater community,” Rogers said.

Emma and the friends and siblings she recruited to join her cause harnessed the power of social media to spread awareness of her Teddy Bear Drive. 

Additionally, she partnered with local restaurants and schools to increase the number of places that people could drop off stuffed animals. My Three Girls Bakery even offered a free muffin or cookie to customers who donated. 

Jenifer Steele, who works with La Grande Orange, helped out by offering 25 percent off of all stuffed animals sold in the shop as well as asking friends and family for donations, one of which was $150 that Steele used to buy stuffed animals that were donated.

Thanks to Emma, dozens of children had their Valentine’s Day brightened by a teddy bear donated from a generous member of their community. 

“For the kids that are in the hospital on Valentine’s Day, it’s a nice thing to get a stuffed animal. It makes you feel better,” Emma said. 

This summer she would like to go on another volunteer trip, but if that doesn’t work out, she’s hoping to work locally with children in some capacity.