GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – When Catholic Central (CC) junior Danny Nelson organized the hockey team’s “Teddy Bear Toss” last December at a game against Forest Hills Central, he didn’t know the story of Billy Wondergem, a former member and captain of CC’s hockey team, or how that too related to teddy bears. Wondergem, a captain of the CC hockey team from 2003-2004, died unexpectedly in his sleep in 2010, shortly before starting medical school. His family and friends formed the Billy Bear Hug Foundation to provide teddy bears to children with life-threatening illnesses (a tribute to his desire to pursue a career in pediatric oncology).
After making the connection, Nelson and the CC hockey team decided to bring BBH into the fold for this year’s second Teddy Bear Toss. Fourteen years after Wondergem netted the game-winning goal against East Grand Rapids (EGR) to send the Cougars into the State semi-finals, the two teams came together in his memory on December 1st to provide bears to two organizations with similar goals though serving different populations: Bear Hugs, which provides bears to children in crisis, and BBH, providing bears to children with life-threatening illnesses.
“When I first saw the Teddy Bear Toss at the Griffins’ game, I immediately fell in love with the concept,” said Nelson. “Such a fun and exciting environment all created in the spirit of giving back and helping your community. Last year’s first annual Catholic Central Teddy Bear Toss was amazing and I couldn’t be more excited to join forces with BBH to make this year’s the best for high school hockey and, more importantly, the community.”
“It’s been a real privilege to get to know Danny and see his passion for this cause, and to partner with the CC and EGR hockey programs,” said Charlie Wondergem, Billy’s younger brother and BBH board member. “Hockey held a special place in my brother’s heart, and he always cherished his time in the CC jersey. Given the level of student involvement we have from both schools through our Youth Advisory Board program, and Billy’s ties to CC, it’s a natural fit.”
This year's event will bring smiles to thousands of West Michigan children in the months to come. A special thanks to the Catholic Central and East Grand Rapids players, students, staff and parents for making this event so special!
About Billy Bear Hug
Since 2011, the Billy Bear Hug Foundation (BBH) has provided the "cure of comfort" to children with life-threatening illnesses in West Michigan. Through partnerships with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Bronson Children’s Hospital, and Hospice of Michigan, we provide teddy bears and other quality of life support to children. In addition, through our Youth Advisory Board service-learning program, high school students gain hands-on experience running a non-profit organization while gaining exposure to area business leaders, philanthropists and medical professionals. BBH was founded to honor the life of Billy Wondergem, an aspiring pediatric oncologist whose lifelong dream of helping children with life-threatening illnesses was cut short with his untimely death in 2010. While Billy is no longer with us, his legacy lives on through the work of BBH. Consistent with Billy’s approach to his anticipated medical career, Billy Bear Hug was founded with the belief that there is more to pediatric medicine than just the science, and aims to ensure that childhood illness is a journey no child or family ever faces alone. To learn more, visit www.billybearhug.org.
About Bear Hugs
Bear Hugs Foundation was recently started by Danny Nelson, a junior hockey player at Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Danny was moved by the Teddy Bear Toss that his team hosted last year, which collected nearly 3,000 bears that Danny and fellow Catholic Central students delivered to an inner city elementary school where, for many children, it served as their only Christmas gift. Bears from the Teddy Bear Toss were also donated to area fire, police and adoption agencies to provide similar comfort to children in crisis. After seeing the smiles the bears brought to so many, Danny hopes to see this happen across Michigan with Bear Hugs. Bear Hugs aims to use connections with local sports teams and students to spread this love across the state.