Teddy Bears Helping Kids Of Deployed Parents

Build-A-Bear Workshop Held In Memory Of Lance Cpl. Jonathan Collins

A family's grief for their fallen Camp Pendleton Marine has now turned into a heartwarming legacy for other Marine families.

Combat cut the life of Jonathan Collins short, but now a teddy bear keeps his legacy alive.

In the Al Anbar province in Iraq in 2004, Camp Pendleton Marines are in the fight of their lives against what was then a surprise insurgency. Among the casualties that year was 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Jonathan Collins of Crystal Lake, Ill.

"One of the hardest for me when Jonathan died was... not saying his name anymore," said Angel Collins, Jonathan's mother. "That's how they get forgotten."

With their hometown contributing to a memorial fund, Jack and Angel Collins gave to Jonathan's favorite things in high school, which were the drama department and the soccer team. But even in Iraq, Collins was always partial to children.

"He grew up in a large family: lots of nieces and nephews," said Jack Collins.

That memory became an idea that took hold to help children of other Marines on deployment. In their son's name, Jack and Angel Collins forged a bond with the Build-A-Bear Workshop with a twist. Before they are deployed, Marine fathers and mothers can record a message to their children.

That message is inserted into a bear of the children's choosing as a way to keep their parents close while they are away, or as 7-year-old Autumn described it, "help people who need extra protection in Afghanistan."

Each of the children had priceless expressions on their faces as each received a bear with the voice of their mother or father.

"[Angel Collins] told me about Jonathan and it brings it home, you know," said a mother who was at the event.

Aside from the voice recording, a little heart is also inserted into the bear.

It was a bittersweet moment for Jack and Angel Collins, as they still struggle with their son's death. But because of what became of it, in a real way they said he is still here.

"When they listen to those messages, did you see the moms get all emotional listening to the messages, listening to their voices? It's all good. Yes, it's all good," said Angel Collins.

They travel at their own expense to the Build-A-Bear events near Camp Pendleton from their home in Illinois and do get a discount for the bears but they still incur expenses. To donate, visit the Jonathan Collins Memorial Fund website.

At the event 10News attended, 120 children were received bears and another 130 children also received bears at a later event. Since then, Jack and Angel Collins have been back twice. In March, depending on the donations to their foundation, they hope to give bears to 500 children.