Our Inspiration

Billy Wondergem, the namesake behind The Billy Bear Hug Foundation, was deeply passionate about building a better world for those around him. 

After graduating from Calvin College, Billy spent two years working in a cancer genetics lab at the Van Andel Institute with ambitions to eventually apply to medical school to study pediatric oncology. His intended choice of study made sense for those who knew him best -- few were as good with children as Billy.   

After countless hours in the lab, he eventually discovered a rare gene that could change the way kidney cancer was diagnosed. Unsurprisingly, he was soon accepted to some of the best medical schools in the country.

Billy unexpectedly died in his sleep just a few weeks later, in October 2010, cutting short any chance he had to fully pursue his dreams of helping children with life-threatening illnesses. The loss was unimaginable not just for friends and family, but for his local community and the medical community at large.

All who met him knew he was destined to make an impact bigger than most could imagine. Needless to say, when the opportunity came to memorialize Billy nothing seemed quite right. Nothing they could think of--a scholarship fund, donations towards cancer research--seemed appropriate. A few weeks later, Charlie Wondergem, Billy's younger brother, received a teddy bear from friends who had hoped they could lift his spirits. 

The bear brought comfort to Charlie, and something clicked. "Having the knowledge that there are people out there that care about you, in particular? That's an immediately powerful thing," says Charlie. There needed to be an organization that focused on offering these moments of comfort to those that needed them most. Almost immediately, The Billy Bear Hug Foundation was born. 

The Billy Bear Hug Foundation distributes teddy bears and care packages to children and families at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Bronson Children's Hospital and Hospice of Michigan. 

The organization serves as a living tribute to Billy, a young man whose kindness and enthusiasm were contagious, and whose devotion to improving the lives of others an inspiration. 

"It's an honor to have known Billy as a teammate and friend. It comes as no surprise that his daily endeavor was to advance the human cause. He was a generous guy. His positive impact will be remembered fondly" - Peter Diamond, Catholic Central '05

"Billy made the world a better place to live through his hard work and dedication in professional and personal life." Brian Dudek, former teammate

Join The Cause

There's no limit to the different ways to get involved. 

  • For just $10, you can donate a bear to a child in need. Read testimonials to learn about the impact just one bear can have on a child and their family. 
  • Volunteer your time to assist in the delivery or distribution of the bears
  • Host a bake sale, sporting event, or t-shirt fundraiser on behalf of the organization
  • Join other West Michigan high school students on our Youth Advisory Board
  • Offer to shadow or mentor a member of our Youth Advisory Board
  • Use The Billy Bear Hug Foundation as a "case study" for a marketing or business class. We're always looking for new ways to increase our awareness and impact