DETROIT, Mich. — There's nothing quite like a hug to help bring comfort and ease, and when 7-year-old Avery Schwartz could not wrap his arms around Nana, he created an embrace that she could feel every time she looked at it.
"The fact that my Nana was leaving to move to Traverse City, and I wanted something for her to remember me because I knew she was gonna be sad, and I was really sad too,” Avery said.
So he invented the Hug Buddy. It's a paper figure with wide-open long arms, and it's now bringing dozens of others comfort as well.
“I really just think they are important because they can help a lot of people feel better if they're sad, or they can help a lot if you're depressed or upset; it can help,” Avery said.
Avery's mom, Melanie Schwartz, said Hug Buddy had helped people, especially while facing the last year's challenges.
“With our challenges, we’ve been through things never dreamed of; lost things we never thought we would," Melanie said. “It absolutely is because of the isolation. The mental health crisis that we are in the middle of, things like this definitely brightens people's moods and lets them know that they're not alone."
You can wear it, or share it. The Hug Buddy now has its own section under a brand they created to help bring healing. They named it Viewspire as part of Viewpoint Psychology and Wellness in Commerce Township.
"The Hug Buddy postcard program that Avery and the boys work so hard in creating these beautiful works of art that they're sending out to people in need and having that be a kindness chain reaction, that is another way that we give back to the community," Melanie said. "When you decide to send a hug, Avery, along with his brother and friends, hook up a custom design that will represent the heart, soul, and squeeze you would like to give."
Melanie explains how the Hug Buddy postcard works. She says it's an add-on option when people are checking out online.
“If they receive a Hug Buddy card, then we will send it to someone that they determine, or we will add it to our donation pile, where we will then send them out," she said. "This week, we've got 50 cards going out to a hospital.”
Glenn and Melanie Schwartz, Avery's parents, own Viewpoint. Melanie is a clinical psychologist. From their perspective, the pandemic has had a critical effect on mental health care, especially for young people.
“One of our initiatives, short term, is not just sending to the hospitals but also sending out to other psychologists (and) psychiatrist in the area because they seem to be a forgotten segment through the crisis, the mental health pros are struggling just as much as the people that they see,” Glenn said
So Avery touched on an important action at a crucial time and Child Psychologist Nikki O’Donnell supported the idea all the way until it blossomed into messages you can embrace and wear.
“We're all very passionate about the work that we do," O’Donnell said. “We want to see mental health portrayed differently; we want to do it differently. I wanna see a time where it is just as easy for kids to tell their mom or dad that they are not doing well or that they want to talk to somebody or see a therapist as it is for them to say, 'I have a toothache and need to go to the dentist."
Glenda Lewis at WXYZ first reported this story.