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Squeeze the Stuffins

September 29, 2017

Anyone who knows me knows business owner was never on the list of aspirations for my life.  Within the first five minutes of any of my speaking engagements, I establish that I really only dreamed to do two things in my life.  I am glad that my life grew larger than my childhood expectations, Yet, I never imagined that in addition to mom, wife, educator, writer and speaker, I would sandwich in business owner.

And I have cheetahs, a bowling alley, and some divine inspiration to thank.

Although that eclectic mix seems to be the making for another National Lampoon’s movie, the true heart of this business lies at the love that a family, no – make that a community, has for a young man who left us way too soon.  Following the passing our son, Reed, we wanted to give back to the hospital where he passed away.  They were kind and gentle to us as we had one son who died there and one son who was fighting to live.  Even though they were only briefly a part of Reed’s life, we wanted his legacy to live on there as well.

Our big idea was to help other grieving children by celebrating the way Reed lived – loving others.  We never wanted his tragic death to be his biggest headline. We decided that we would like to give comfort to other grieving children, because when we finally were able to leave that hospital nine days after the bus crash we left with two grieving parents and three amazing, but grieving children.

It took us a while, but we finally chose giving stuffed cheetahs, which we lovingly call, “Reed-A-Cheetah’s” to the surviving siblings of any child who passes away in the same hospital. Why cheetahs? Simple. They were Reed’s favorite animal.  I am not sure why one of the pokiest kids in the world loved the fastest land animal, but he did.


The shortest distance from one place to another is a straight line, but much in my life is a winding country road with curves, hills, and valleys and maybe a gaggle of geese for whom we have to wait to cross the road.  We chose to partner with our friends at the local bowling alley because they owned a bear factory business for stuff your own stuffed animals.  That seemed like a slam dunk, until it wasn’t because it took over a year before stuff-able cheetahs made their way into the wholesale catalog.  But once they did, a legacy program was born.

The Reed Stevens Legacy Program was off and running and it continues today only because of a completely jaw-dropping, heart swelling gift from our dear, dear friends.  They watched as the success of the cheetah program continued over the years, which is a difficult thing to boast knowing that the 500 cheetahs we have given thus far represent a loss another family has endured just like ours. When times changed for the bowling alley business, it would have been easy for our friends to sell the bear factory like they did with the remainder of their business.

But they didn’t.

In an act of the amazing love, they gave the entire build a stuffie business to our family so that “Reed-A-Cheetahs” would live on forever.  Even today, I am tearing up.  There are not many friends who love like these three, and we will forever call them a part of our family, bound by love, if not by blood.

So, the cheetahs and other animals (which we regularly take to the Ronald McDonald house) live on.  We are all pretty sure that the boy who gave the biggest and best hugs this side of heaven would be proud of our efforts.  Given the crazy busy life we live here at Team Stevens headquarters, hospital cheetahs and other little stuffies for families of sick children were all we were able to muster.

We knew however we justified it, that our small efforts, while noble, were akin to hiding our light under a bush.  That is when the business idea began to take shape.  Our family decided that we would like to use the bear factory as way to give back to others, but still make it affordable to families.  Emulating the TOMS shoes model, for every stuffed animal purchased, one would be given away and secondarily as a partner for fundraising for anything related to kids  We had a plan and we were ready to go forward, but we were stuck on a business name  . . . until a moment of divine inspiration happened.

Originally, we came up with “Hugs from Heaven” because of the symbolism of Reed’s all encompassing, sneak up behind you bear hugs, but the name just didn’t have the punch we were desiring.  We were all ready to make our first launch at an adoption fundraiser this weekend and even posted using the “Hugs from Heaven” name when a little memory I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my mind.

When Reed executed those sneaky, behind the back hugs, he would always say, “I’m going to squeeze the stuffins out of you!”  A quick family text and we were all in agreement, that from here forward, Squeeze the Stuffins would be our business name.

I think I was wrong earlier in my assertion.  While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, taking that route might mean we would have missed out on some breathtaking blessings.  Sometimes, it takes a big idea, some stuffed cheetahs, one bowling alley, faithful friends, one wrong business name, and a whole lot of love to make a journey.

No matter the winding road we took to get this business up and running, we hope and pray that love will be always be its hallmark.

Special note: We could not be more touched by the sweet words of Noah regarding how excited he is for this love to partner with his adoption fundraiser! We shed a few tears here.





  1. Tammy permalink


  2. Val breczinski permalink

    This awesome Kandy the bowling alley owners would be proud like I am. What a gift of love.

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