October 11, 2022 – During the early days of the pandemic, Alevia Gustman, then just 8 years old, was in a class tasked with starting a business.
For Gustman, this wasn’t the time for a bake sale show. Instead, after she recently watched her mother undergo breast cancer treatment, an idea immediately popped into her mind: Why not sell teddy bears to raise money to help children with cancer — or for anyone whose loved ones are receiving treatment?
After giving a virtual presentation to her teacher Boca Raton, Florida, and her classmates, the idea widened when her father hopped on board and helped build a website and secure a brand.
The result: a family run business and launch Cancer bearsa non-profit organization that has already sold more than 1,000 bears in more than 30 states and abroad.
Best of all: Thanks to all of these bears sent across the country (and the world), Cancer Bears has raised $30,000 so far and has donated that money to cancer centers across the country. In fact, since they started the organization, they’ve built donation partnerships with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital, and New York Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center—all sites that have played a role in helping Alevia’s mom—and have formed an alliance with Keton Childcare Alliance, a nonprofit organization Provides support services to families facing a diagnosis of childhood cancer.
How did a third grader at that time do all this?
“Knowing my mum would be okay motivated me, I wanted anyone undergoing treatment to be able to hold onto something,” says Gustman, a very busy fifth grader who turns 10 on Oct. 16. “I thought a bear would be the perfect thing to be able to embrace him.”
For Tara Gustman, Alivia’s mother, helping others lies in the family’s DNA.
Tara, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in December 2018 and underwent a double mastectomy, has 12 lymph nodes, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, and 7 weeks of radiotherapy. She is now in remission for 4 years.
“The feedback we are getting from everyone is fantastic. We can’t wait to continue making a difference to those in need.”
And while Alevia admits she’s busy with school work—it’s all about time management, she says—there’s nothing better than seeing all the bears in a row ready to ship out of her (and grandparents’) garage.
Recently, Alivia and her sister, Savannah, 8, have been busy tying ribbons to each bear before shipping them out.
“You can order the tape for a person’s cancer — so teal for ovaries, yellow for childhood cancer, pink for breast cancer,” she says. “My sister is really good at organizing strips.”
In the end, this is one family that is laser-focused on helping others.
“Every two minutes, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and while that’s unfortunate, what we’re doing keeps our whole family motivated,” Tara says. “We have become a source of encouragement in the form of bears and conversation with people in our community. Fortunately, the story of Alivia is constantly being 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 hindrance to rolling up your sleeves.
“Personally, I would tell other kids to follow their dreams,” she says. “If something motivates you to help others – do it.”