1998, I was invited to dress in a fur costume to entertain the children
at the Celebration of Champions, an event for kids battling Cancer
sponsored by Rady Childrens Hospital. I was the "love bear", a brown
bear with a big red heart on its chest. I had the most profoundly
inspiring day. You cannot imagine the feeling when a small child
sees you! I was standing about 30 feet behind a small family, when
the youngest boy, about 3 or 4 years old, turned around and spotted
me. His eyes lit up and a giant smile came across his face. He yelped,
dropped his father's hand and began running toward me at full gallop.
I braced myself as he threw himself into my arms, giggling and grinning.
The rest of his group followed, and soon I was covered with kids.
It was an awesome experience!
At the same event, a teenager
came over to me for a hug, and started weeping softly. I let her
cry for awhile, and then asked why she was crying. She said she
was crying for her brother. "Is he here, I asked?" "No, he died
last year. But every year we came to this celebration with him,
and this time we came to honor his memory". With that, we both started
bawling, she for her lost brother, me for the generosity of her
spirit. I was deeply touched.
After the event, I was sitting with
the other animals, Steve and Pete, recovering from the heat (It
is HOT in those costumes!) and someone said, "Wouldn't it be great
if we owned these costumes, so we could do this more than once a
year?" Wouldn't it, indeed. A dream was born!
Over the next year I often thought
about that day. Here was an opportunity to do something that not
only benefits the children, but deeply touches and moves the volunteers.
Kids are entertained and loved, and volunteers are touched and inspired.
I began asking friends if they wanted
to be a part of it. I got all yesses! Gail made phone calls, Carol
donated a costume, and Jerry created a website for us. Pete and
Steve each purchased their own costume. Sharon took photographs.
We began doing events in July 2000. The Joan Kroc Village for Homeless
Families, the Polinsky Center, and the ChildHelp facility for abused
children were our first.
In 2000, Father Joe invited the Big
Animals to entertain his homeless children on Christmas Eve. Foster
teens from the San Pasqual Academy wore the Big Animals costumes
for the first time that night. So began a relationship with these
foster teens that continues to this day. It is especially poignant
since these teens lives have often not involved a lot of love or
trust. By entertaining the little children, they are learning the
awesome power of giving of oneself and enhancing their self-esteem.
This is perhaps the most important educational lesson of all!
Since 2000, our 40-50 yearly events
bring joy to approximately 4,000 children annually! In 2009, Big
Animals for Little Kids became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Now in 2010, we have expanded completely out of our donated space
(Thanks a million for your generosity and patience, SB!) and we
are seeking expanded quarters.
We are a resource for volunteers and
children. We supply our volunteers with costumes and supplies. They
supply the love. The kids win, the volunteers win, it's a beautiful
Frank Fernicola, Founder
Big Animals For Little Kids