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Rotary Friends Forever Program
    Marbleheader Penny Wigglesworth discusses her Penny Bear Company’s
involvement with the Friends Forever program. COURTESY PHOTO

Friends Forever

Posted Sep. 14, 2014

On Sept. 11, the Marblehead Rotary club was delighted to have Penny Wigglesworth as its luncheon speaker. Wigglesworth talked to club members about the origins of her Penny Bear Workshop and about her plan to contribute special Penny Bears to the Friends Forever program, which will bring a group of teens from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Marblehead on Tuesday, Oct. 21 in a Rotary-sponsored plan to bridge the divide between Catholic and Protestant youth.

This event is co-sponsored by the Marblehead Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor and will be cochaired by Marsha Christensen and Cindy Kilbarger.


Wayland Care Provider Honors Marblehead's Penny Bear Company
Jul. 11, 2014

Penny Wigglesworth Send the First Bear 1995

Nearly 19 years ago, Penny Wigglesworth of Marblehead gave a teddy bear with a penny for good luck in its sweater pocket to Seth, a young man who needed a double lung transplant. Thus began the Penny Bear Company.


Wayland-based Parmenter Community Health, a provider of home-care, hospice and supportive services, has named the Penny Bear Company of Marblehead as its July Partner of the Month.

Nearly 19 years ago, Penny Wigglesworth of Marblehead gave a teddy bear with a penny for good luck in its sweater pocket to Seth, a young man who needed a double lung transplant. The bear brought so much comfort to the boy he wanted to find a way to bring similar comfort to other children who were suffering from illnesses or other personal tragedies.

Wigglesworth decided they needed to start a company She would be the president, and Seth would be the vice president. The company was named the Penny Bear Company Inc., after the penny inserted in the bear’s pocket. Sadly, Seth only lived a year longer, but Wigglesworth has continued with the Penny Bear project and given away thousands of bears over the years.
The stories are endless, the volunteers vast and the love from the bears unconditional. The Penny Bear workshop is in Wigglesworth’s basement. Volunteers from all walks of life have helped in the workshop, including local children, scout troops, friends, family, mission groups and more. The bears are sent to children and adults near and far to help with their healing. Many go to children who have lost a loved one.

Camp Erin Boston is a bereavement camp sponsored by the Moyer Foundation and run by Parmenter Community Health Care in Wayland. Fifty-five children ages 6-17 will spend the weekend, free of charge, at Camp Bauercrest Aug. 15-17. The children will be matched with a buddy (volunteer) who will listen, share stories and become a special friend. The volunteers create and attached a special bracelet with each child’s name on it to a bear. The bears are on the campers’ beds waiting to welcome them when they find their bunks.

The camp is a very special experience for the children, according to organizers. They share their grief with one another and experience a number of activities specially planned to help them through a difficult times. Children may have lost a parent, sibling or other close family member or friend, and together they help each other heal. The Penny Bears play a special part not only during the weekend but once they go home, organizers added.

Wayland’s Mimi Bernstein helps to sponsor the bears given to children. Bernstein met Wigglesworth years ago at a compassionate-care conference. Bernstein is a longtime ambassador to Penny Bears and helps spread the word and find organizations that would benefit from receiving the bears.

Penny Bears Help Take on Polio Eradication Effort
Polio Program

Penny Wigglesworth’s famous Penny Bears, which have been of enormous comfort for hundreds of reasons to thousands of people and children, have become this year’s flagship for the Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor’s continuing efforts to help wipe out polio world-wide.

In an extraordinary act of generosity, Wigglesworth has donated any number of her famous bears, needed by the club to raise this year’s $2,000 pledged contribution to Rotary International by the Rotary Club.

Over the years, Penny Bears have been provided for Hospice organizations throughout New England, New York and Florida. Shelters, camps for critically ill children and assisted living facilities have felt the hand of hope and friendship through the Marblehead home grown project. For the extraordinary outreaching efforts too numerous to list, please visit

The Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor will debut a full crop of Penny Bears at the September 10th Farmers Market at Marblehead Middle School. The $20 price per bear will go directly to the Rotary International effort to end polio worldwide.

The Club, now celebrating its 15th anniversary in the Rotary year 2011-2012, will commemorate this important anniversary with 15 service projects this year.


Penny Wigglesworth is shown with Maryellen Wyman,
who was representing Rotary Foundation
and the Rotary Club of Arlington.

Paul Harris Award 4

Penny Wigglesworth, a longtime Marblehead resident and founder of the nonprofit Penny Bear Company, was awarded her second Paul Harris Award June 14 at a luncheon hosted by Marblehead Rotary Club.

David and Maryellen Wyman, who are both members of the Rotary Club of Arlington, gave the award. Wigglesworth was joined by many of her friends as Wyman spoke eloquently about Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, and about Wigglesworth and her wonderful contributions.

Wigglesworth also received a citation from the Massachusetts House and Senate, commending her for the warmth and care that she and her teddy bears give to thousands of people every year.

Wigglesworth’s nonprofit Penny Bear Company, launched in 1995 with 30 teddy bears made to offer comfort, compassion and friendship, have since multiplied into thousands of bears, including a “Hunter Bear” and an “Allie Bear.” They have touched many lives at organizations including Youth Haven, the Shelter for Abused Women and Children, Care Club, Hope for Haiti, Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, Avow Hospice, Ronald McDonald Houses, American Cancer Society, overseas with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rotary International mission trips and local schools, just to name a few.

Wigglesworth noted that the fuzzy creatures are perfect for anyone in need of a hug.

“Our goal is to keep the Penny Bears ‘out there’ to touch hearts, give love, hope, comfort wherever they are needed,” she said. “We always think: one person, one bear at a time.”

Wigglesworth is also the author of “Penny Bear’s Gift of Love,” a heartwarming story about a child who finds comfort and hope during his journey through grieving. From personal experience and also as a Hospice volunteer, Wigglesworth understands how difficult it is to work through the loss of a loved one.

She also started a program called “Circles of Hope.” This weekly program was developed to offer encouragement to people whose lives have been affected by cancer, Parkinson’s disease, care-giving responsibilities, and bereavement. She expands “Circles of Hope” as often as she becomes aware of needs in surrounding communities.


Lucky 13: Penny Bear celebrates “amazing, magical years”
Adapted  from an article by Kris Olson, Editor,
Marblehead Reporter, July 2008


Penny Wigglesworth (background in photo) and the rest of her volunteer Penny Bear workers will celebrate 13 “amazing, magical years” during August at 6 Elmwood Road, Marblehead, Wigglesworth’s home, the basement of which has long since been “bear country.”

Thirteen an unlucky number? Never, says Penny Wigglesworth, but then, you would expect nothing less from the self-proclaimed “dreamer” whose unfailing optimism has propelled the Penny Bear Workshop to some amazing places over that span of years.

The Penny Bear Workshop has its origins in Wigglesworth’s service as a hospice worker. Back in 1995, she was paired with Seth Bailey, a 16-year-old boy who had been battling cancer since age 3. When Wigglesworth met Bailey, he weighed all of 65 pounds and his doctors had given him three months to live.

Together, Wigglesworth and Bailey decided to use their thrice-weekly meetings to start a non-profit company — buying bears, selling bears and giving them away. Their initial shipment was 30 bears.

“We thought that was huge,” Wigglesworth said with a laugh while seated amid just a portion of the shipment of 5,000 stuffed animals she recently received.

Bailey would defy the odds, helping to see the Penny Bear Workshop through its first year of operation.
“We met in August, he died in August,” Wigglesworth noted, explaining why she and others had long ago decided that they would have to plan something special (an open house celebration) for Aug. 8, 2008 (8-8-08).

Bailey still very much inspires the Penny Bear Workshop’s efforts, and the connection continues in tangible ways, too. Just this past Monday, Bailey’s mother came to help prepare a shipment of 50 Penny Bears to the Ronald McDonald House in Brookline, thus honoring two institutions near and dear to her heart.

Don't call it a business

To call the Penny Bear Workshop a “business” would miss the mark, however. Wigglesworth noted that a Harvard Business School student once expressed an interest in working with her. With ever-present twinkle in her eye, she politely told him that would not be possible. Seeing his confusion, she said, “Ask me some questions.” So he did — about the company’s “five-year plan” and other things his professors had no doubt assured him were essential to a business’ survival. After frustrating him with a few answers, the student finally caught on, and Wigglesworth got the concession she knew would come.

“‘You’re right,’” he said, ‘We can’t work together,’” Wigglesworth recalled. And yet, despite the lack of a five-year plan, the Penny Bear Workshop has endured longer than many a venture that has expended great effort to turn a profit. The Workshop has never held a fundraiser, instead relying on sales of its products and donations to be able to continue its charitable efforts. “The money just comes,” Wigglesworth said appreciatively.

A new face

Not that there haven’t been challenges. A most recent one came when, as of last October, the Penny Bear Workshop’s manufacturer decided to stop making its bears. Wigglesworth said she briefly considered “retirement” but knew that too many people would never let her make such a move. So the challenge became finding a new fuzzy face of the company.

On a visit to Naples, Fla., Wigglesworth said the perfect face “just popped out at me.” The bear turned out to be manufactured by Gund, a well-respected manufacturer of children’s toys.

While her search had ended, Wigglesworth’s decision to go with Gund brought with it a couple of other dilemmas. The manufacturer required Wigglesworth to take delivery of no less than 5,000 of the 16-inch bears. The cost was not so much of a problem — again, the money just “came” — but then there was the practical issue of where to store all the crates of the critters. Thankfully, her son volunteered to store a good portion of the order, Wigglesworth reported.

But the move to Gund will also, sadly, bring to an end a couple of time-honored Penny Bear traditions. Each of the now-retired bears was shipped with a “lucky penny” in its pocket from which it took its name. For safety reasons, Wigglesworth had to pledge to discontinue this practice, though the name “Penny Bear” has been stitched into each bear’s right foot.

Also for safety reasons, the company required the bears to be produced with permanently attached attire. Over its first 13 years, Penny Bears had come adorned with sweaters knit in a variety of colors by volunteers. Now, each bear will sport a similarly colored sweater — Wigglesworth and crew chose a bright royal blue with a rainbow heart for 2008 — and the company’s current “stock” of hand-knit sweaters will be provided free to current Penny Bear owners at the open houses. In addition, 13 of the new Penny Bears will be raffled off.

Where the bears go

Many of the rest of the 5,000 bears will eventually head off, free of charge, to where they are needed most. Photos affixed to poster board blanketing the walls of the workshop in Wigglesworth’s basement depict just some of the earlier bears’ far-flung new homes. The zip codes may vary, but the photo collages share one thing: Smiles are omnipresent.

Hospitals and shelters are perhaps the most frequent Penny Bear destinations, but the bears have also been dispatched to the Gulf states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to West Virginia and Utah after the coal-mining tragedies there, and to Paducah, Ky., and Columbine, Colo., after the school shootings in those communities. The bears have also gone overseas, to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, with local Rotarians on a mission to Guatemala and to an orphanage in Haiti, just to name a few.

The company also provides “Hunter Bears,” named after Hunter Craig, the victim of a fatal car crash in October 1999, to those who obtain their licenses at Marblehead High School as a reminder to drive safely. Wigglesworth assures that, even with the move to Gund, she has a stash of Hunter bears that will allow the program to continue.

Efforts expand

Since then, Eager has collaborated with volunteer Marilyn Freeman on a pair of children’s activity books and also illustrated personal journals for use by several hundred critically ill campers at the Double "H" Ranch summer camp in Lake Luzerne, N.Y., Camp Sunshine in South Casco, Maine, and Camp MerryTimes in Hendersonville, N.C., along with Marblehead-based NANCamp. The books are now very much part of the Penny Bear Company’s “product line,” raising both funds and, perhaps more importantly, spirits.

Eager will among the special guests at the August open house, during which her colorful original artwork will be available for sale. Eager will be joined by authors Karla Wheeler, whose Naples, Fla.-based Quality of Life Publishing Company published Wigglesworth’s book and sales of whose book “Afterglow” benefit the Penny Bear Workshop, and Elissa Al-Chokhachy, who wrote “The Angel With the Golden Glow” with the encouragement of the Penny Bear organization.

The Penny Bear Workshop is also the “hub” for what became known as the “Circles of Hope,” support groups for people “whose lives have been affected by cancer, Parkinson’s disease and care-giving responsibilities, or who are experiencing a life transition during a time of bereavement,” explains the company’s Web site,

The cancer support group has spun off into Sue’s Circle of Hope, named for Sue de Vries, which now has its own headquarters at 76 Lafayette St., Salem. Wigglesworth is proud that the Penny Bear Workshop could serve as a “stepping stone” for Sue’s Circle, and that “someone else’s dream is now up and running, too.”

Though distributing bears remains central to its focus, over the years, the Penny Bear Workshop has come to do far more, including publish books. Among the workshop’s earliest volunteers was Michiko Eager, a native of Yokohama, Japan, who was attending college in Boston. Though she had no formal art training, Eager had always dreamt that she would one day illustrate a children’s book. When she read Wigglesworth’s text for “Penny Bear’s Gift of Love,” she knew she had found her project.

No shortage of help

Freeman, whom Wigglesworth calls “the wind beneath my wings,” facilitates the Parkinson’s support group, which meets the second and fourth Monday of each month and counts Wigglesworth among its members. Freeman also created the butterfly garden in Wigglesworth’s backyard as a peaceful oasis for quiet reflection and daily performs countless unglamorous behind-the-scenes task to keep the Penny Bear Workshop on track.
“I’m the dreamer; she gets things done,” said Wigglesworth.

Others have been welcomed into the fold as well. Gail Kobialka will be at the open houses to explain the Reiki offerings she brings to the Penny Bear Workshop’s regular wellness days. Wigglesworth notes that a couple of male members of the Parkinson’s support group had been skeptical about Reiki’s benefits but were quickly converted. After finishing with Kobialka, they would say, “I don’t think I have Parkinson’s anymore,” according to Wigglesworth.

Patti White has brought an expertise in journaling to the Penny Bear Workshop’s efforts, while Tai Streff served as director of the “touring cast” of the Penny Bear Players. The list could go on and on.

There are many other Penny Bear “friends,” like Sally Miller, who could be found Tuesday morning sipping tea in Wigglesworth kitchen. Spying the Penny Bear without which Wigglesworth would not let this reporter leave, Miller remarked, “Nobody leaves here alone,” perhaps unwittingly creating the company’s new slogan. But then again, magical moments of inspiration are par for the course at the Penny Bear Workshop.

2006 Penny Bear Company Award - Click here to link.

The Penny Bear Company
c/o Penny Wigglesworth
114 Moorings Park Drive, A-308
Naples, FL 34105

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