When there’s a need, Utah Valley’s angels are waiting in the wings. This year’s group of Angels Among Us is ever-inspiring and ever-influential. Both at home and abroad, these angelic individuals prove that no need is too small (or too big, for that matter) to lend a hand. Talk about heaven on earth.
Sandy Dubois needs you to bear with her.
“I need to warn you — I could talk about this forever,” says the Bank of American Fork employee with a contagious countenance. “Just the thought of it makes me want to smile — and burst into tears!”
The “this” is Project Teddy Bear, an annual teddy bear drive sponsored by Bank of American Fork for local children in crisis. And the wide-ranging emotions are simply part of the deal.
“This is about more than a teddy bear,” says Sandy, who is the founding angel behind the project. “It’s just so much more than that. These bears help the kids heal in so many ways.”
And that’s no understatement. Every teddy bear Bank of American Fork collects goes to two local centers for in-need children — the Family Support & Treatment Center in Orem and the Family Support Center in Midvale. The teddy bears are given to the children when they arrive at the center, and the stuffed animals are used primarily in play therapy to comfort the children and aid in the healing process.
“It’s just so rewarding,” Sandy says. “For every teddy bear we donate, a child has something to hug and something to love. We’re in tears all the time. It’s completely overwhelming.”
Sandy first came up with the idea for the teddy bear drive 10 years ago. It was Christmas time, and she and her fellow employees were preparing to exchange festive gifts and treats like they always do.
Then it came to her.
“There were so many of us, and I started thinking about what would happen if we pooled our resources,” she says. “So I sent out an e-mail and said, ‘I know it’s fun to remember each other around the holidays, but how would you feel about finding little children in need and giving to them instead?’ I immediately got e-mails back saying, ‘Let’s do it.’”
And did they ever. That first Christmas, they collected 257 teddy bears.
“It was such a small number,” Sandy recalls. “But it was a start. And then customers started seeing what we were doing and wanted to help. And then the schools heard about it. And then church groups. And before we knew it, the entire community was on board.”
Fast-forward to the present, and Project Teddy Bear is stronger than ever. In 2008, Bank of American Fork collected 6,037 stuffed animals — the largest number yet. And the community looks forward to the magical mayhem that comes with collecting the bears every year.
“We’ve run out of places to put them!” Sandy says. “We have to make a walkway in the bank just so people can get through. It’s a sight to see.”
The other sight to see is the willing community members — and oftentimes children — who contribute to the cause.
Last year, two little sisters wanted to contribute, so they went door-to-door in their neighborhood collecting teddy bears.
“Who could say no to those little faces?” Sandy says.
There was also the athletic club at Spanish Fork High School. They collected hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears — and the big, tough, teenage boys delivered them with beaming smiles on their faces.
Then there was the little girl with brain cancer who came into the bank a few years ago with her walker — completely bald from chemotherapy — and brought all of her teddy bears to give to the children who had been abused.
“I know what it’s like to need a hug,” she said.
“We have the best, most wonderful customers. They’re like family. And the fact that everyone has taken this little idea to bigger and better heights is just overwhelming. It’s magical,” Sandy says. “Oh no, here we go again. Here come the tears.”
Someone give this angel a bear hug. UV
Bette and Stephen W. Gibson are teaching people in the Philippines how to fish, so to speak.
Ten years ago, the Provo couple started The Academy for Creating Enterprise, a center that teaches students how to create their own jobs and provide for themselves and their families.
“We were adamant this academy be about building self reliance,” Stephen says. “We didn’t want it to simply be a charity.”
Stephen’s push for economic ingenuity comes from his history as an entrepreneur. He has founded a number of successful businesses (including one business that graced the Inc. 500) and is currently a volunteer at the BYU Marriott School’s Center for Entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is in my veins,” Stephen says. “I just love it.”
And in 1995, he met another love: the Philippines.
After hearing a lecture about a non-profit organization, Enterprise Mentors International, Stephen traveled to the Philippines with the organization’s founder. He was instantly taken with the Filipino people.
“I was enamored with them. They’re so kind and hospitable. Plus, they love fat people — it’s a sign of wealth. So of course I felt comfortable there,” he laughs.
And the more he learned about the people, the more he realized their need to break the cycle of poverty through business education.
“If you give people money, they don’t know what to do with it,” Stephen says. “But if you give people education, they can find the money themselves.”
While a great organization, Enterprise Mentors International wasn’t a perfect fit for what Stephen and Bette wanted to do. So in 1999, they set out to start The Academy for Creating Enterprise, which was designed for Filipino people who have served LDS missions. (They have since expanded into Mexico and Brazil.)
“We packed up 10 suitcases and 13 boxes of books, literature and used computers, and we shipped them to the Philippines,” Stephen says. “It was right at the turn of the century when we didn’t know what was going to happen with Y2K. So we thought before our airplane falls out of the air, let’s get over there and start serving.”
The Gibsons moved to an island called Cebu for 19 months and immediately located a building to host the academy. The space had 12 bedrooms, seven bathrooms, two kitchens and a training area.
But even with the building, there was still a tremendous amount of prep work to be done.
“I’m the kind of guy who thinks with a broad brush, so once we had the building secured, I relaxed,” Stephen says. “But Bette thinks details. She knew we needed food, beds, toilet paper, mattresses — she took care of everything.”
The academy enrolls approximately 30 students at a time. While it may seem like a small number, the Gibsons are concerned with quality over quantity.
“The people we teach have been home from their LDS missions for four to six years,” Stephen says. “We find the best candidates — those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We move them into the academy for eight weeks, we emerge them in the curriculum, and then they learn how to determine their own destiny. There is a way out of poverty, and we teach them how to find it.”
Since its inception, the academy has had 1,500 graduates. Within that group, 52 percent own their own business and another 30 percent hold steady jobs.
What’s more, the students become the masters.
“From that very first group we hired two of the students as faculty members,” Stephen says. “We still direct the vision of the school, but students are now learning keys to success from their own people. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
The Gibsons’ favorite moments come from alumni who have broken the cycle of poverty and have gone on to feed their families and succeed on their own merits.
“Our culture teaches us we have the responsibility to lift up the poor,” Stephen says. “How could we not be involved?
“This is my mission. I was meant to use the resources and knowledge of business that I have to help the less fortunate — not by giving them things to eat, but by teaching them how to be providers. My favorite quote is, ‘My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me.’ Don’t you just love that? What an honor it’s been to be a part of this.” UV
Brian Nichols was driving past his Cascade Collision Repair center in Lehi when he noticed something unusual.
“I saw a truck sitting out front with all of its doors open, so I called my manager to see what was going on,” Brian says. “Turns out a local man died an untimely, tragic death in the vehicle. The car needed to be aired out, and our Lehi team was working to fix it for the man’s wife.”
Not only were they working to fix it, they decided to raise money to pay for the repairs.
“This man’s wife had a brand new baby, she had a funeral to pay for, and she felt like her world was collapsing all around her,” Brian says. “So our employees got together and wanted to help where they could.”
The employees then approached the five owners (Brian owns Cascade Collision with his three brothers and their mother) and asked if they would be willing to contribute. The owners told them they’d match whatever amount the employees could raise.
When it was all said and done, the woman’s car repairs were taken care of, her car rental was covered and she had $1,200 in cash left over.
“It’s one of those opportunities that puts your life in perspective,” Brian says. “It meant a lot to be able to help.”
And what meant even more to Brian and the owners was that this good deed was employee-driven.
“We came out of this with the greatest amount of pride for our employees,” Brian says. “We have a value system in place we live by that says we care beyond ourselves. We don’t just come to work everyday — we care about our customers and their needs. Our employees have taken that to heart.”
And this isn’t a one-time occurrence, either. The employees at Cascade Collision make it a point to help local citizens and charities in need.
“We love helping out where we can,” Brian says. “Our employees are always doing great things. And while this story is nothing spectacular — it’s just an ordinary act of kindness — it shows the high caliber of employees we have.”
Not to mention it debunks that ol’ stereotype.
“You know, everyone thinks of body men as people that are gruff or hardened, but these are the kindest people you’ll ever meet,” Brian says. “They’re really just a bunch of softies.” UV
In 1982, Dr. Ronald Pugh had his eyes opened.
The Utah County-based optometrist was at a conference in Boston with eye doctors from all over the world, and the keynote speaker shared that more than half of the earth’s population will never once see an eye doctor or have glasses — and every single one of those individuals will have eye problems if they live long enough.
“In that instant, I knew I needed to do more than just stay in my city, my county, my state,” Dr. Pugh says. “I knew I needed to make a difference.”
And in March 1984, that difference began with a journey to Durango, Mexico. On that trip, 14 eye doctors examined 3,200 people in five days.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he says. “And after that trip, I committed not only to come again, but that as long as I could breathe and wiggle, I would use my skills to give the people of the world the ability to see.”
Dr. Pugh has been breathing and wiggling his way to Mexico for the past 25 years — traveling there almost 40 times. Every trip they take thousands of used eye glasses, perform eye exams, and then fit the glasses and donate them to the Mexican people. The glasses are a sight for emotional eyes — they’ve helped people thread a needle, read a book and, best of all, see photographs of their grandchildren.
“The whole trip is worth helping just one person,” he says.
In fact, Dr. Pugh can recall many of those “one persons.”
He remembers a little girl whose vision was akin to “walking around in the bottom of a swimming pool.” Then they gave her cataract surgery, after which she broke into a smile, her eyes filled with tears.
Then there was the 14-year-old boy who was legally blind. He could only see three or four inches from his face, he couldn’t function in school, and he was treated by his family like he didn’t have all of his faculties. But when Dr. Pugh’s team put the right lenses on him, there was nothing wrong with his eyes. He was a fully functioning teenage boy.
“It was one of those little miracles you live for,” Dr. Pugh says.
Throughout his journey to help the people of Mexico, Dr. Pugh has had overwhelming support from his family. His wife, Lynda, has traveled with him on every single trip. His son has been on 19 of the expeditions. And his daughter met and married a fifth generation Mexican and now lives in the country, helping the Pughs coordinate and prepare for the projects from the other side.
“It’s such a wonderful mission to be a part of,” Lynda says. “Over the years, my kids have come home appreciating their own bed, appreciating my cooking. We have it so good here. We have so much. It’s wonderful to be able to give back to those who don’t have what we have.”
Dr. Pugh has also received welcome support from the Provo Rotary Club.
“Ron espouses the idea of Rotary, which promotes ‘service above self,’” says Bryant Larsen, a member of the Provo Rotary Club.
But for Dr. Pugh, it all comes back to his vision for a crystal clear world.
“Eye glasses are so simple when you have access to them,” says Dr. Pugh, who is now trying to expand his services into Honduras. “We need to give people that access. It completely changes their lives.”
And it also changes the lives of those on the other side of the lenses.
“I am forever changed,” Dr. Pugh says. “I look at life in a completely different way.”
Irony intended. UV
On Nov. 9, 2008, Cari Greer’s life changed in a mere moment.
Driving along the highway with her husband, Bill, their two little boys, and a baby girl on the way, their car hit a 2,000-pound cow in the pitch-black night.
After the crash, Bill had glass in his hand, the kids had seat belt bruises, and seven-month-pregnant Cari — suffering the brunt of the impact — had been knocked unconscious.
But in that mere moment, angels were among them.
“People stopped at the scene of the accident to help. One family — who I still don’t know — even took my kids and gave them some food,” Cari says. “I was unconscious, my husband was worried I wouldn’t survive, and this family stepped up and took care of my kids. When I heard that story, I just cried. How can I ever repay them?”
Cari has been asking herself that question for the past eight months — but the “them” has grown to include an entire county of angels. Angels who packed up the Greers’ house in Lindon; moved them to their new house in Lehi; unpacked their things; cooked their meals; cleaned their house; drove their kids to school (sometimes 40 minutes round trip); sent cards, flowers and gifts; made care packages for her kids; sewed bedding for the new baby; created a “secret giver” during the Christmas season; offered companionship; and prayed for them.
“My husband and I have broken down into tears of gratitude on a number of occasions. We couldn’t do this alone,” Cari says. “The car accident has been life changing for our family.”
Life changing is an understatement.
Cari has always been one of those mile-a-minute women. She’s a devoted wife and mother. She’s an entrepreneur (Cari is the founder of the original shoe party company Sole Desires). She’s a daughter. She’s a sister. She’s a friend. She’s vibrant. She’s energetic. She’s contagiously optimistic. And she’s independent.
But her independence crashed right along with the accident. Cari has dealt with insurmountable injuries. She’s undergone reconstructive surgeries. She’s had physical and emotional pain. And she’s endured it amidst moving to a new a home and giving birth to a beautiful, healthy little girl. (“She’s our little miracle,” Cari says.)
Independence — no matter how badly she wanted it — just wasn’t an option.
“It’s hard to ask for help,” she says, “especially when I’m used to just doing everything myself.”
So thankfully, Cari didn’t have to ask.
In fact, when you ask those who’ve helped the Greer family, you’ll get a chorus of, “How could we not?”
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Why are you doing so much to help her?’ But how could we not do that for someone we love and care about?” says Shelley Sims, one of the many angels in Lindon who’s been there for the Greers. “It’s been hard to see her go through the pain, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than stick by my friend in need.”
“I just love Cari. I think of her like my daughter,” says Jill Jorgensen of Lindon. “She is so sweet and so appreciative. It meant everything to me to be able to help her.”
“She’s been a joy to help,” says Vicki Howe, yet another Lindon-ite. “I’m so grateful to know her. We just adore her.”
When the Greer family moved to Lehi a month after the accident, her new neighborhood picked up where Lindon left off (although, truthfully, Lindon never left).
“I received a phone call about Cari from the Relief Society president in her LDS ward in Lindon, and she told me that Cari was pretty special and pretty important,” says Jalaire Terry, a close friend and member of the Relief Society presidency in Cari’s new Lehi ward. “She told me Cari was very independent and that she won’t ask for help — she’ll say she’s fine when she’s not. This Relief Society president made me promise we would follow through and help Cari every way we could. And we felt privileged to do so.”
Cari’s family has also been a rock on her road to recovery. Her husband even learned how to flat-iron (yes, flat-iron!) her hair.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s been so difficult to see her go through this,” says Lisa Greer, Cari’s sister-in-law and a resident of Lehi. “But Cari has always done so much for other people. She has always served others. How could you not want to help her?”
Even more amazing to Cari were the angels she’d never met. A local cleaning company, Above and Beyond Cleaning, was one such angel. The business cleaned the windows in Cari’s new house — free of charge.
“I kept trying to give the owner money, but she wouldn’t take it,” Cari says. “Then I found out the workers had volunteered their own time to come do this for my family. They didn’t even know me. How could they do that?”
The how and why is simple, Jalaire says. It’s Cari’s never-complain and smile-even-when-you-don’t-feel-like-it personality.
“She’s just strong. She’s a wonderful mom and wife, and she’s a God-fearing woman who has relied on her faith to pull her through,” Jalaire says. “She’s an amazing person who has had to deal with more than most of us are asked to — and she’s surviving. She’s an inspiration to everyone around her, and she’ll be inspiring others for a long time to come.”
And that’s no understatement.
“We all have problems we go through, and you just have to keep going with the best attitude you can muster. The first time they un-stitched my eyes, I thought I was someone else. It was so hard. But I learned at that moment that I could either stay Cari or I could disappear and lose myself,” she says. “I knew I needed to stay Cari. Just because I look different doesn’t mean I’m different inside.
“We are lucky. We are blessed. I’m so grateful to be alive and to be able to watch my kids grow up. So many people have it worse than we do. We still have our family. We have our new little baby who makes me smile every day. And we’ve been reminded of what’s really important.”
And what’s important to Cari is her family, her faith, her friends and her gratitude.
“We can’t thank this community enough,” Cari says. “This is literally a community of angels.”
Utah Valley at its best. UV