Oregon City-made Worry Monsters help children deal with grief
It's back to school time and young people are heading out to buy school supplies and new clothes. But two young Oregon City boys are working on putting final touches on a group of Worry Monsters to send to students going back to school in Uvalde, Texas.
After Ben, 9, and Wyatt LaMont, 7, heard about the shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, they told their mother that they wanted to do something help those children.
Michelle LaMont then went online and connected with the Parent Teacher Organization in Uvalde and offered to send the hand-sewn "monsters" to the counselors at the elementary schools that will be taking in students from Robb Elementary School.
"Those kids got hurt and scared, and the monsters will take away those memories," Ben said.
Monster Adoption Agency
But what are these monsters and don't monsters scare kids?
Not so, Ben said, these monsters take away things that frighten or worry children.
"When I was 4 or 5, I had a nightmare about 'Thomas the Train,' so I drew a monster and my mom sewed it together. I slept with it at night and the monster ate my nightmares," he said.
Then some of his classmates at Gaffney Lane Elementary School saw his monster and wanted one.
"His teacher loved the idea so Ben donated one to his class — then his goal was to give one to every kid in his class who wanted a monster," Michelle said.
That is when the Monster Adoption Agency began, she added, noting that Ben and Wyatt draw each monster, and she sews then together. Ben is now learning to sew and Wyatt is in charge of stuffing and design details, she said.
Both boys now attend Oregon Connections Academy, a statewide, tuition-free online public school. The flexible schedule has allowed them to do their schoolwork and still have time to create the monsters, Michelle said.
And it is a good thing, she noted, as the adoption agency has grown from making dolls for one classroom to trying to help more children.
"We have made close to 700 monsters — we can't say no to a kid in need," she said.
Last Christmas, she and the boys donated 100 Worry Monsters to the Dougy Center, a nonprofit organization based in Portland that offers support groups and services to grieving children and young adults.
"It's amazing to think of how many kids we've helped," Michelle said.
She said that each monster comes with a note to parents or counselors that explains how the monsters were created. She said that each monster has a zipper mouth, so kids can put their worries in the mouth, and parents can come in at night and remove the worry.
"Then kids can feel safe and secure," Michelle said.
She noted that the feedback from teachers and counselors has shown that the monsters are therapeutic.
"Kids are drawn to them, because they are designed by kids," Michelle said.
At school, some younger children just want to sit and talk quietly to the monster, she said, adding that she has also heard that autistic kids seem to connect with the monsters.
"I absolutely love these Worry Monsters designed by Michelle's boys and stitched by her. I use them to talk to my preschoolers about worries," said Kristen Baldwin, an early childhood special education specialist based in Molalla.
"We talk about how important it is to talk about your feelings and that sometimes when we talk about what is scaring us it helps the worry go away, the same way the Worry Monster 'eats' our concerns," Baldwin said.
Studies have shown that writing about your worries is actually therapeutic, she said, adding, "this is a great way to begin teaching that process as the kids write or draw their concerns."
The boys now have a charitable organization and a website called Stitchery Designs. The website offers monsters for sale, and all the money earned goes back into buying supplies to make monsters to donate, Michelle noted.
"A lot of monsters are made to order, when kids send us pictures they have drawn," she said.
The Worry Monsters are also available at the Cookie Pot Children's Boutique, 485 Portland Ave., Gladstone.
"Many of our customers see the monsters and mention how cute they are, then they read the story about the origin of the monsters and they have to buy one," said Liz Banta, Cookie Pot owner.
"We get various stories about what the monsters are used for, ranging from tooth fairy pillows, helping with nightmares or comforting a kiddo that's scared to start kindergarten," she said.
Banta added that she keeps a small percentage of the selling cost, but the majority of the money goes back to purchase materials for more monsters.
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