Nicolas Bast's incredible efforts to collect Teddy Bears has caught national attention, and he has been chosen for Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" for April 23. Nicolas shares the honor with hundreds of other individuals across the country who are doing great things in their community.
Forget your Wall Street-inspired perception of bear and bull markets for this story.
For five years 16-year-old Nicolas Bast has reaped soul-satisfying dividends as a big-time trader in the "bear" market for 620 WTMJ’s annual Teddy Bear Patrol collection.
WTMJ has sponsored the Teddy Bear collection in southeastern Wisconsin since 1993. The bears are given to local law enforcement and fire agencies, who then hand the bears to kids in the thick of a traumatic experience—like a house fire or ambulance ride—to help calm their anxiety and fears.
WTMJ has collected 98,000 bears in the 20 years of the drive. The drive has received a big boost since Nicolas joined the effort. Last year, Nicolas' collections accounted for one-third the total bears the drive brought in. And, the 4,000 bears he's collected over the past five years represent roughly 5 percent of all the bears donated during the program's two decades.
He’s earned the moniker “The Teddy Bear Guy” for his work, and looking into the family living room it was evident that he knows the bear market well. Nicolas had this year’s bounty of about 400 bears displayed on the couch.
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“There are 400 bears in this room right now, but they also represent 400 children’s lives that I’ve helped change,” Nicolas said pointing to the occupied couch. “That’s something very rewarding and powerful. It’s a good thing.”
One needs to look 12 years in the past to understand the origins of “The Teddy Bear Guy.” When he was 4 years old, Nicolas’ mother, Anne Bast, was filling the lawnmower with fuel. As she did, a large amount of gasoline splashed directly into her eyes.
The young Nicolas, worried about his mother, dialed 911 to call for help. When the ambulance arrived, emergency workers not only had to help Anne Bast with her injury, but also tend to the understandably frightened 4-year-old Nicolas.
His worries were derailed temporarily when an EMT handed him a Teddy Bear.
“I was terrified and it helped me get through the experience,” Nicolas recalled. “That’s what drove me to give back the community because children that have emergency services sent to their home need to be comforted.”
As a member of 4-H a few years later, an 11-year-old Nicolas received an email one day requesting help for the Teddy Bear Patrol. He answered the call in a big way. Now, most of his bears are collected via word of mouth from contacts he’s built up over the years. People in Waukesha County know to send bears to him. He’s even had bears shipped in from out of state.
“There are 400 bears in this room right now, but they also represent 400 children’s lives that I’ve helped change,” Nicolas said pointing the occupied couch. “That’s something very rewarding and powerful. It’s a good thing.”
Nicolas is becoming the face of the drive. He’s made radio and television appearances on WTMJ promoting the event. He spoke before elementary school students in Genesee Depot about the importance of community and charitable work.
“I’ve learned responsibility, loyalty, honesty through the past five years,” Nicolas said. “I kind of came up with the motto, ‘Changing the world one Teddy Bear at a time.’”
Nicolas is also an avid musician, artist, and is a skilled scale model painter. He won a silver medal in Switzerland for the paint job he completed on a scale model soldier. He also found a way to give back through one of his favorite hobbies. He helped collect some $60,000 worth of scale model kits that were sent to wounded soldiers at Camp Pendleton.
Nicolas also helped the Feline Folks program, which helps trap, neuter, and spay stray cats.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Anne Bast. “You always want to teach citizenship and leadership to your children, and I am very proud of him. He’s helped bring a community together.”
The official Teddy Bear Patrol drive ended April 20, but Nicolas will still gather bears for the upcoming collection until April 26. However, Nicolas said it’s a year-round job for him. He’ll take bears anytime.
“I’m always looking to increase my bear revenue,” Nicolas joked.
If you would like to donate Teddy Bears or other stuffed animals to help Nicolas get to 5,000 or 10,000 bears someday, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a drop-off time.
If you miss this year, there will always be next. It’s likely that Nicolas will still be on the job as well.
“I want to keep this going on for the rest of my life, it’s kind of my thing,” Nicolas said.