Wednesday, June 8, 2011

‘A real honor’

Coeburn teenager named one of 10 Huggable Heroes
Each Huggable Hero will receive a $7,500 scholarship and a $2,500 cash prize to be donated to his or her charity of choice.



COEBURN — Sixteenth birthdays don’t get much sweeter than the one Deventae Mooney just celebrated.
Two days before the party celebrating his “Sweet 16,” the Coeburn High School sophomore learned that he was one of only 10 youths from the United States and Canada to be named one of 2011’s Huggable Heroes.
“I got an e-mail that said they had some exciting news for me and that I should call in. As soon as they told me, I started dancing around the house. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone,” Mooney said.
The only problem was he’d have to wait — more than a week.
“Initially, I could only tell my immediate family,” he confirmed.
Build-a-Bear Workshop received approximately 1,200 entries in the eighth annual search for Huggable Heroes, which rewards youth for giving back to their communities, their schools and the world. Over the next several months, the field was pared to 75 semifinalists, 25 finalists and eventually to the 10 Huggable Heroes announced last week.
Each of the Huggable Heroes receives a $10,000 prize — a $7,500 educational scholarship and a $2,500 cash prize from the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation to be donated to the charity of the hero’s choice. In addition, they will travel to Build-A-Bear Workshop World Bearquarters in St. Louis on July 20-22 to be honored for their achievements.
“I’m not sure anybody from little Coeburn, Virginia, has ever been selected for something like this. It’s a real honor,” said Mooney.
By the time Mooney actually marked his 16th birthday on June 5, the official announcement had been made, and he could finally celebrate his achievement with the rest of the world.
“They gave me a key to the town at the school’s awards ceremony. That was a big honor for me,” Mooney said.
“I don’t think a lot of people knew about all the things I’d been doing. When they read the list at the ceremony, they gave me a standing ovation. That was pretty amazing,” he said.
Coeburn High School Principal Dante Lee, who will accompany Mooney to the awards ceremony in St. Louis, and Coeburn Town Manager Loretta M. Mays were among those who believed all along that their hometown hero would be among those selected.
“I immediately knew that I wanted Mr. Lee to go with me (to St. Louis) because he was the one who got the scholarship and really got the ball rolling for me,” said Mooney, who himself wants to become a teacher and coach, and eventually a principal.
Collectively, the numbers associated with all that was donated and built by the 10 young people, ages 12 to 18, selected as the 2011 Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes are staggering: 30,000 brown bag lunches; 10 tons of fresh produce; 29,000 books; 10,700 gift boxes; 2,500 sports uniforms; 250 soccer balls; 31 drinking wells; 18 homes; eight soccer fields; and four school libraries.
“These 10 young people elevate the bar on giving,” said Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Workshop founder and chief executive bear. “They selflessly accept challenges and devote their time and energy to make a difference. They demonstrate kindness, compassion and leadership and motivate grass-roots change.”
On its own, Mooney’s list of charitable works is astounding.
He volunteers as a coach and referee for youth sports, serves as the secretary of the Coeburn Little League, tutors summer school students, and has raised more than $20,000 for cancer patients and $21,000 more to benefit youth sports in his hometown.
Yet, it’s the Brown Bag Lunch Program at Friendship Baptist Church that Mooney is most passionate about. It’s the program that will benefit most from his being named a Huggable Hero.
“I’m going to donate the money ($2,500) to my church for the Brown Bag Lunch Program,” Mooney said. “We just had a meeting where we talked about not being sure how we were going to be able to do it this year, and someone made the comment that ‘If it’s meant to be done, God will provide,’ and I think he has.”
Each summer, the church prepares and delivers lunches to children in need. Mooney started volunteering with the program when he was in the sixth grade and has since had a hand in making and delivering an estimated 30,000 brown bag lunches.
“Seeing a kid standing on the porch waiting for you and knowing that your being there means that they’re going to get a lunch today — or that they’re going to eat at all that day — makes it all worthwhile,” Mooney said.
Giving back and helping others is, after all, what the Huggable Heroes program is all about.
“I think a lot of people see me as little happy Deventae. But every person has their own difficulties, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I have mine,” Mooney said.
“I get help. People take the time to help me, so I feel like I owe it to them to try to give my best to help someone else,” he said.
Before his trip to St. Louis, his first by airplane, Mooney will join some of the other Huggable Heroes on the “Tell Your Story Project.” The video clips will be available for viewing online.
To watch the clips or to learn more about the eighth class of Huggable Heroes visit the Web site at

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