"Her favorite place in the world is 'Build a Bear,'" said Samantha's mother, Kellie Baker. "Any time we go to the mall, that's where she wants to go first. She loves it. She has about a good dozen of her own. It's always been her favorite toy."
She's also a dedicated Girl Scout and has been an active member of Troop 2380 in North Bergen for many years. She received her Silver Award a few years ago, when she coordinated a food drive and collected hundreds of pounds of food to donate to a local food bank.
Now that Olsen is approaching 18, her days as a Girl Scout are waning. So she wanted to earn the highest honor given to a Girl Scout - the Gold Award - before she has to leave scouting.
"This is her final hurrah with the Girl Scouts," Baker said. "She really wants that Gold Award."
So as her community project, Olsen decided to see if she could collect new teddy bears in order to replenish the supply of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad, which gives out new teddy bears to any sick or injured child who gets transported.
"We always keep a few on all ambulances for the kids," said Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad Vice-President Tom Cheplic. "You never know when we're going to have a sick or injured child. It's a frightening experience for the young ones, going with total strangers on a big white truck that's loud with red lights. We give them the bears to calm them down, so we can better treat them."
Idea made sense
Olsen got the idea for the project to collect teddy bears from another Girl Scout on the Internet.
"Samantha heard from someone else that a similar project had been done in another part of the country," Baker said. "Then, there was an article in the Girl Scouts newsletter that showed another Girl Scout collecting bears. It was a perfect idea, because Samantha loved teddy bears so much."
Samantha also wanted to help the Weehawken ambulance squad, because her uncle is ill and needs the assistance of the ambulance squad on a regular basis.
"She really wanted to do something for them, because they've done so much for her uncle," Baker said. "Collecting the bears for the ambulance squad made all the sense in the world to her. This was going to be different and more fun than collecting the food."
After the project received official approval from the Girl Scout Council of Greater Essex and Hudson Counties, Olsen began a campaign to collect new teddy bears, calling it "The Teddy Bear Rescue."
She devised a poster and hung it around town. She sent out a flier to several different groups, informing them of her plan. She put boxes in several different locations around Weehawken like the Free Public Library, the Senior Nutritional Center on Highwood and the Senior Citizen Complex located at 525 Gregory Avenue.
Olsen's drive will continue through Dec. 20 at those locations. Through her school and the Hudson United Bank in Cliffside Park, where her mother works, Olsen has already collected nearly 40 bears. Her goal is to surpass 100.
"I like making other people happy," Olsen said. "I hope that I can make some children smile and make everyone happy for Christmas. I also hope that other people help me with this project."
Olsen has volunteered her services to help the Rescue Squad in the past, cleaning the ambulances as part of her community service badges.
"The Squad has also been very helpful to Samantha," Baker said. "It's her turn to give a little back."
Cheplic said that the Squad's assortment of teddy bears was depleted, and the need for more just recently arose.
"We could always use help in getting more teddy bears," Cheplic said. "I told her mother that if this is something that she could get going, it would be great for our organization. I think it's a fantastic idea. This is one kid who is basically doing this all on her own. We're so absolutely grateful. Our business is helping others. When someone steps forward to help us, it's greatly appreciated. And it's all to help the kids."
Baker said that she is so proud of her daughter's initiative.
"I'm bursting my buttons," Baker said. "It's great that she's doing this. She wants to be able to help the community. That's what she's taught in school. They want the other learning disabled students to be active."
If anyone wants to help Samantha Olsen reach her goal and get the Gold Award in Girl Scouting, they can drop off a new teddy bear at any of the three locations listed above or mail them to Samantha Olsen at 61 King Ave., Weehawken, NJ 07086. Please do not make any monetary donations for the project. Only teddy bears will be accepted.