Oct. 11, 2022 – During the early days of the pandemic, Alivia Gustman, then just 8 years old, was in a class tasked with the goal of starting a business.
For Gustman, this wasn’t the time to pitch a bake sale. Instead, having recently watched her mom go through breast cancer treatment, an idea immediately popped into her mind: Why not sell teddy bears to raise money to help kids with cancer — or to anyone whose loved ones are in treatment?
After doing a virtual pitch to her Boca Raton, FL, teacher and classmates, the idea broadened when her dad jumped on board and helped build a website and secure a trademark.
The result: A family-run project and the launch of Cancer Bears, a nonprofit that has already sold more than 1,000 bears in over 30 states and abroad.
Best of all: Thanks to all of these bears being sent across the country (and globe), Cancer Bears has raised $30,000 to date and donated those funds to cancer centers across the country. In fact, since they started the organization, they’ve set up donation partnerships with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, and NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center – all locations that played a role in helping Alivia’s mom – and formed an alliance with Keaton’s Child Care Alliance, a nonprofit that provides support services to families facing a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
So how did a then-third grader make all of this happen?
“Knowing that my mom would be OK motivated me,” says Gustman, now a very busy fifth grader who turns 10 on Oct. 16. “I wanted anybody going through treatment to be able to hold onto something. I thought a bear would be the perfect thing to cuddle with.”
For Tara Gustman, Alivia’s mom, helping others is in the family DNA.
“This was such a simple act of kindness that happened during virtual school and right when I was getting back on my feet again,” says Tara, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in December 2018 and went through a double mastectomy, the removal of 12 lymph nodes, 16 rounds of chemo, and 7 weeks of radiation. She's now been in remission for 4 years.
“The feedback that we get from everybody is remarkable. We can’t wait to continue to make a difference to those in need.”
And, while Alivia admits that she’s busy with schoolwork– it’s all about time management, she says – there’s nothing better than seeing all of the bears lined up and ready to be shipped out of her (and her grandparents’) garage.
Recently, Alivia and her sister, Savannah, 8, have gotten very busy attaching ribbons to each bear before it’s shipped.
“You can request the ribbon for the person’s cancer – so teal for ovarian, yellow for childhood cancer, and pink for breast cancer,” she says. “My sister is really good at organizing the ribbons.”
Ultimately, this is one family that’s laser-focused on helping others.
“Every 2 minutes, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. and, while that is unfortunate, what we’re doing keeps our entire family motivated,” says Tara. “We’ve become a resource of encouragement in the form of bears and conversation with people in our community. Happily, Alivia’s story keeps getting shared, and the more people know about us, the more we can help others."
Ask Alivia and she’ll tell you that being a kid should never be a barrier to rolling up your sleeves.
“Personally, I’d tell other kids to follow their dreams,” she says. “If something motivates you to help others – do it.”