Andrea Bears, wearing black, horn-rimmed glasses and sitting in wheelchairs, are popping up all over the world and 13-year-old Andrea Thorn of Vilonia, is the inspiration.
The bears are being hand-carried; they are being sent by mail, also by bus, airplane and cruise boat. Celebrities, in many genres, are being asked to lend their names— athletes, performers, NASCAR drivers and owners. As well as being in the United States, bears are currently in Germany and South Korea. One attended Nashville’s Country Music Festival where it was signed by a half a dozen or so performers. Autographs on the bears include the names of Eden Wood, Kris Allen, Trace Adkins, Tracy Lawrence, Colbie Calliat, Craig Morgan, Bucky Covington, Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery and The Band Perry.
Plans are currently being laid for one to go to Hawaii. The carrier hopes to find Dog the Bounty Hunter and score his autograph. One bear is going to the Teen Choice Awards in New York. Organizers are also looking for a volunteer to take one to the Summer Olympics in London.
Ultimately, the bears will be auctioned off and the funds will go to fund Andrea’s dream allowing Angels Pageants, for special needs children, to be held around the world at no cost to families.
"We have been nickel and diming it for the past three years," said Andrea’s mother, B.J. Thorn, founder of the Angels Pageant System, Inc., a non-profit organization, which originally began as the Arkansas Angels Pageant. "We are broke. To keep going, we have got to make some money. It would take substantial donations to keep going. There are pageants starting up everywhere. We want people to see the Andrea Bear and hear the story. When we started this—it was just about emotion. Now, we are seeing the business side and realizing what it is going to take financially to keep growing."
Mrs. Thorn began organizing the first Arkansas Angels Pageant, about three years ago. She said stood it as long as she could—watching Andrea sit on the sidelines while her twin sister and also her younger sister competed in regular pageants. Quadriplegic, Andrea wanted to be in a pageant but she didn’t fit the criteria for them.
Believing there were many other special needs children longing to be on a stage, Mrs. Thorn founded the Arkansas Angels Pageant. The first pageant was held in Beebe with more than 100 contestants minus Andrea as well as her mother. Andrea was hospitalized just days prior in a life-threatening situation. The day of the pageant, she was having emergency brain surgery.
This year, however, Andrea was front and center. A big smile on her face and wearing a purple gown, she rolled across the stage in her spruced up wheelchair. A pink boa wrapped around her shoulders, she was crowned as Angels Pageant Ambassador.
The Thorn family has reached out to other cities, states and countries helping each to set up similar pageants.
"Our pageant exists because we are imperfect people who love these perfect children," Mrs. Thorn said. "I have always said we are normal; our normal is just different than some others. I have seen a daddy fall to pieces on stage; I have seen a young child with autism look at a mom and smile. I believe this could be the 8th Wonder of the World."
There is no charge for entering the pageants and all who enter receive crowns and sashes. As a result of the Arkansas Angels Pageant, Thorn said, more than 1,000 special needs children have been crowned.
"Our plate is incredibly full, but our pockets are not," Mrs. Thorn concluded. "We need money to keep this going. One picture of a bear, in a wheelchair, with a celebrity is worth so much. It’s just our goal, using the bears, to draw attention to these special needs children and their families. "