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Teddy Bears Become Problem Solvers : Therapy: The bears, made by fifth-graders, will be used in counseling adults facing up to having been molested as children.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adults need teddy bears, too.

Standing in the library of Painted Rock School in Poway, Joel Marable choked up as he hugged a fluffy white bear, knowing that one day some of the 125 children that sat cross-legged before him will need the services of a similar teddy bear.

Marable, a therapist for the Escondido-based North County Interfaith Council, uses the bears for counseling adults, many of whom have not overcome abuse and molestation they experienced as children.

“When you see this many kids in one place, you know some of them are being abused. You come to a nice school in a nice community, and you want to say these are all wonderful kids and nothing is going on here, but you know that’s not true,” Marable said.

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Over the past year, Marable has given away more than 120 bears, handmade and donated by last year’s Painted Rock fifth-grade class. This year’s class learned that Marable was running low and decided to give him a refill.

“Your supply is going to carry me until next Christmas, when we do this again,” Marable told the children.

“I work with big people and adults, and the people I work with come from all sorts of backgrounds, just like yourself. But they’ve never been able to talk about the problems and the hurts that they have,” Marable said in explaining Bear Therapy to the audience of mostly 10-year-olds.

“When we are growing up, and if we don’t have a person we can talk to and trust, when we are grown up and become adults, we tend not to trust anyone,” said Marable, who himself has a bear.

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“You can trust these bears,” he said.

Marable has been conducting bear therapy for nearly four years, helping people who have grown up with abused backgrounds and find it hard to trust in others.

“Somebody not too long ago brought in a monkey, but monkeys just don’t do it,” Marable said.

“I’ve used hand puppets like sheep and stuff like that, but there’s a whole lot of psychological stuff that goes with bears. Bears are strong, they are protective and warm and soft and cuddly.”

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The children, many of whom had grown attached to their bears, expressed concern about the future owners of their bears and how would the bears be treated.

“Have you ever had anyone steal a bear?” one student asked.

“If some people got really mad in your office, has anyone ever tore up their bear?” asked another.

“How do you know they like the bears?”

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Ten-year-old Dani DuDeck was proud of her Francine D. Bear, with its yellow whiskers and burgundy body.

“This bear has to come from your heart because it’s going to people who aren’t as fortunate, and it makes them feel better because they know who made them,” DuDeck said.

Each bear comes with adoption papers and a photograph of the child who made it.

“I explain to every person who comes to me where these bears come from, who makes these bears and that these bears were made out of love, for love,” Marable said.

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It’s also a lesson in giving for the children, their teachers said.

“They’re affluent children for the most part, and, for some of them, it’s one of the few times that they had to make something and give it away as opposed to going out and buying something,” said Kimberlee Rizzuti, a fifth-grade teacher.

“Some of them have never picked up a needle and thread before,” she said.

The stuffed animals, made from a variety of fabric scraps, range from Baby Christine, who was decked out in a bib and diapers, to Clare, a martial arts specialist with a black shirt and missing teeth.

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“Your bears are giving somebody a lot of love, and it’s helping them to go back to when they were your age and start thinking about things that happened a long time ago,” Marable said.

The recipients say the stuffed animals make life more bearable.

“I smiled when he gave it to me. Somebody loved me,” said Andrea, a 33-year-old Escondido mother of three, who had been molested as a 5-year-old in Tennessee.

“It helps in making a person feel not so lonely. To think that those nice kids made those bears, and they were innocent children who made them. I hug him, and I can talk to him,” she said.

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Andrea, whose own daughter had been molested by her father, has been going to Marable for counseling for about a month and calls her bear T-Day, since she received it shortly after Thanksgiving Day.

“He’s gray, and he’s got one eye bigger than the other eye, and one looks like he got hurt, and the other eye is like a big bright world out there. There’s some hope in that eye,” said Andrea, who keeps T-Day on her bed.

“He’ll stay forever on my bed, and it will be something that I will keep for the rest of my life,” Andrea said.

Suzanna, another of Marable’s clients, calls her bear “just very plain and very comfortable.”

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“It really makes you feel kind of warm inside. They are very plain, but when you hug them, they really do do something for you. It’s really hard to explain,” the Escondido mother said.

Suzanna, a 44-year-old former professional dog groomer who has been unemployed for five years, has severe arthritis in the neck and shoulders and is still recovering emotionally from a mugging two years ago.

“I need to get myself back together, not just for me but for my little girl, and I’m going to do it,” she said. “The thought and caring that’s put into making a bear, it kind of gives you hope that there are people out there that care about people who are hurting.”

Marable has been giving out bears to the young and old since 1987, and only three times has a person rejected a bear.

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“One guy said he would rather talk to his dog. He didn’t want to use an inanimate object,” Marable said.

“Sometimes adults have a real hard time taking a bear. Sometimes they feel like they don’t deserve a bear,” Marable said.

Marable himself comes from an abused background. Having grown up in Los Angeles and having been molested when he was 8 by a member of his church parish, it was not until four years ago that he was able to tell his mother about the incident, he said.

“I wrote a letter and told her and explained to her everything that happened, and I didn’t hear from her and didn’t hear from her, and finally she wrote back and said she was disgusted,” he said.

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“What happens with a lot of people is that they get into alcohol and drugs as a means of masking over the pain. I was a real prime target for that, but I never did,” he said.

Marable said his experiences have allowed him to relate to other victims of molestation.

“Once they find out that I’m an (adult molested as a child) just like them, then they can relax and be more open,” Marable said.


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