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Thursday, July 15, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Sharon Bush, Educator, Philanthropist and National Mother of the Year

As an inner city, elementary school teacher, Sharon Bush witnessed the harsh life of many of her students. Because of those experiences, she has devoted much of her time to children's issues and to strengthening the environment in which children must grow, live and learn.

In 1988, when Sharon created the Karitas Foundation, she was a young mother with 3 small children, Lauren, Pierce and Ashley. Her was goal: to raise funds by selling Teddy bears and children's clothing nationally. A large percentage of every sale was distributed around the country to organizations aiding homeless and abused children.

It has always been her belief that if children are taught to help others, they will grow up to be much more sensitive, caring and concerned, compassionate adults. By using Teddy bears in the fund raising efforts, the goal was to interest children as well as parents. We previously covered Teddy Share:

Many community members in Denver and Houston witnessed Sharon and her small children helping in homeless shelters, in hospitals or at charitable fundraising events. While Sharon has served on many boards and received numerous honors, the one that she is most proud of is the “National Mother of the Year” award in 2001. She is pleased to be working with her daughters Lauren and Ashley on the latest Teddy Bear Company.

The purchase of PLUMPY® or NUT, the FEED Teddy Share Bears, provides critical nutritional supplements to children dying of starvation in Africa. Using Teddy Bears, one of the most prized children’s possessions, is a reminder to children as well as adults that we can help those who have less, in this country as well as those in countries far away. Sharon says, “If children are encouraged and guided properly, they really can make a difference in this world, purchasing PLUMPY® or NUT will makes a critical difference in the life of a child.” We are definite enthusiasts of Teddy Bears and all stuffed animals at Whom You Know, and we are so pleased to present Sharon Bush as our latest Mover and Shaker!!!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Sharon Bush for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What inspired you to become a teacher? 
Sharon Bush: I was inspired to become an elementary school teacher because I have always loved working with children. I am constantly touched by their innocence, honesty and vulnerability. 

What are some of your most successful strategic partnerships you developed with other organizations through the Karitas Foundation and Teddy Share and what was the catalyst for them? 
Some of my most successful partnerships were with my Karitas Organization, which I founded in 1989 to aid abused and homeless children's causes. We worked with Herb Raiffe, the CEO of Gund plush stuffed toys and also Michael Searles who was then CEO of Toys R Us. I was able to partner with Gund and they retagged and renamed their best selling teddy bears. They were called the Karitas bear. A portion of every bear sold went to my Karitas foundation and we redistributed every dollar nationally to agencies that dealt with homeless and abused children. Toys R Us sold my bears nationally so we were able to raise and distribute almost one million dollars. (A large sum of money in 1989!) 

What issues affect children of Manhattan the most today and how do you think they should be addressed? 
I think that the issues affecting children living in NYC today are the same issues that have faced low-income families for generations: childhood hunger, abuse, poor education and poor (or no) health care. Many agencies are working hard to address these issues. The high unemployment rate of parents and child providers affects everything in a very serious way. 

How does charitable work differ in Manhattan compared to Houston, Denver and other areas of the country you are familiar with? 
I have found charitable work (and charitable workers) in Houston, Denver and NY very similar. When big hearted and generous people band together for a common goal- much can be accomplished and contributed to those less fortunate. 

Are your other two children involved in an organization of their own as Lauren is involved with FEED? 
Ashley started a college Feed group that has fundraisers to feed children. She also organizes Saturday night functions to raise money for local New York shelters. Pierce, my son, lives in Texas, where he is a Big Brother and has a “little brother” that he mentors.

What future ambitions do you have for the Karitas Foundation and Teddy Share? 
My future work with Teddy Share is to impact children's issues in a national way by selling my teddy bears throughout the country and raising and distributing much needed funds through the sale of these bears. I also hope that children purchasing these bears will realize that they are impacting another child's life by this purchase. I feel that it is imp for children to learn about being proactive and charitable at a young age. And that they can make a contribution to society.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My daughters Lauren and Ashley have had the most influence on my pursuit of excellence. I have always believed in the saying, "It is not what you say but what you do " that teaches children their lifetime priorities. When my children were small I took them to every shelter and soup kitchen that I was involved in. My children helped in these efforts at a young age, becoming familiar with those less fortunate by handing out food, toys to children in hospitals at Christmas, raising and distributing dollars to shelters, etc. 

What are you proudest of and why? 
I am proud of my three children, Lauren, Pierce and Ashley and the wonderful, caring and compassionate adults that they have become.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
I would like to increase the size, scope and distribution of my teddy bears so that they are readily available in stores throughout the US and the world, so that we may raise and distribute large sums of money. It is a small world and it is important that we help those that are less fortunate, especially the children, who are our future and our most valuable natural resource.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
Some of the honors that I have received are from agencies in Texas and Denver (where I lived for many years) that deal with children's causes. Also- KIPP Academy honored me for the 7 years I served on their Founding Board. (We started with 2 KIPP schools and now there are 40+ schools for disadvantaged children throughout the country) I was given the National Mother of the Year award in 2001 in New York City alongside Nancy Kerrigan and Jane Seymour, the other 2 recipients.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
My favorite place in Manhattan is Central Park. I love to jog, bike, boat and ice skate there. Last summer, Ashley and I rode around the park on a Saturday afternoon. We saw four weddings taking place; it is a great place to people watch. The Boat House is my favorite restaurant for out-of-town guests. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
My favorite store is the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. I am taking lessons and struggling to learn everything about my Mac.

What is your favorite drink? 
My favorite summer drink is a white wine spritzer with a twist of lemon. In the winter, I love hot sake.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
My favorite restaurant is Swifty’s/the food is great and reminds me of my mother’s home cooking. Also Scalinatella Restaurant, because my mother is Italian so I grew up with delicious pasta sauces.

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
Anything written by my friend, New York author Jay McInerney.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
I would love a soup kitchen and shelter that could be built with funds raised from my Teddy Share Bear project. In this country of great abundance, no one should be without food and shelter.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Training for the New York Marathon. I sprained my ankle and couldn’t run it doing so is on my “bucket list.”

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Renting a boat and motoring around the island. Seeing the city from the water gives it a grand perspective.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
Seeing a U-2 concert and than having a 45 minute private conversation with Bono. He is a great humanitarian.  (You lucky duck Sharon!  Peachy is so so jealous Bono is her favorite!)

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
New Yorkers are underrated as “people.” In other states, they think of us as cold hurried and calloused. New Yorkers are in fact warm, generous and welcoming, as I have experienced since I moved here in 2006. 
New York toy stores are overrated because they don’t carry my Teddy Bears yet. Look for them in Bergdorf’s children department in the fall. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
The Nightlight column because it celebrates the fabulous New York nightlife and the wonderful charity benefit circuit. Also the Fashion Alert column because it gives me tips on the latest fashions etc.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
I was born upstate in Rome, New York.
Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen are dear friends of mine and I watch them on TV every Sunday if I am not with them in Houston, Texas at Lakewood Church.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
Email me at To order my Teddy Bears, go to

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