WHEN NAZANIN NAYERI was in her senior year of high school in 2019, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, an extremely rare cancer that affects soft tissue, mostly in the arms and legs. During her treatment, she felt alienated and isolated as she struggled to balance her new patient identity with her sense of self as a teenager.

As she sat in a lonely waiting room before her radiation appointments, wondering how many patients her age experience the same confusion, she found comfort in a teddy bear given to her by a friend. She says the gift served as a reminder that she was not alone, and that she was valued, loved and cherished. “Now that I survived cancer, it sits in my room as a reminder of my grit,” she adds, explaining that she was inspired to pay forward this act of kindness.

Follow Along

Teds for Beds keeps supporters updated with news of their latest donations via their Instagram account, @TedsForBeds. The page also has details on how to sponsor a bear for $15.

Shortly after starting college in Los Angeles, Nayeri decided to raise money for a donation drive for Valentine’s Day 2020. A Facebook page for pre-med students put her in contact with Lara Jabbour, a student in Charlottesville, Virginia, who had a similar idea to host a Valentine’s Day teddy bear drive for people in need of a boost. “We immediately Facetimed, became great friends, and kind of combined our efforts together,” remembers Jabbour.

The pair founded Teds for Beds, a nonprofit that aims to lift the spirits of hospitalized children, adolescents and young adults, as well as the medical professionals who care for them. On Valentine’s Day, Jabbour had more than 100 teddy bears delivered to pediatric wards across the country, and the pair have now distributed bears to cancer patients and health care workers in over 10 states across the U.S. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nayeri and Jabbour put together baskets for health care workers with gift cards, chocolates, teddy bears and handwritten notes from supporters.

Lived Experience

Teds for Beds was inspired in part by the personal experience of co-founder Nazanin Nayeri.

For pre-med student Lara Jabbour, fellow pre-med student Nazanin Nayeri’s personal experience with cancer as a teenager has offered deeper insight into the young patients Teds for Beds aims to help. “I’ve had some heart-to-heart conversations with Nazanin that have given me more perspective on what it’s like to be a young adult going through one of the hardest things people face in life,” she says. “It’s just given me so much more compassion and so much more drive for this project.”

“[Lara] really went above and beyond to make the baskets, and I could tell that she was just really passionate,” says Nayeri. Jabbour has been tasked with personally delivering the gifts on more than one occasion and enjoyed seeing the reactions of the patients and health care workers. “[The recipients] are always so overjoyed that someone thought to bring them a gift and tell them, ‘Hey, we’re here for you,’” she says.