Campbell Remess – known as “Bumble” to his family – isn’t like most 12-year-olds. Instead of being told to get off his Xbox or to turn the TV off, his mom tells him the opposite. Campbell, in fact, has an unusual hobby for a boy of his age. Indeed, instead of spending hours on a games console, he’d rather spend his time on a sewing machine. But while Campbell made toys for sick kids, his dad would receive some devastating news.
Campbell’s mom describes him as being “wired really differently.” Unlike other kids his age, when he was nine years old Campbell wanted to purchase some Christmas gifts for sick children at a hospital in his hometown of Hobart in the Australian state of Tasmania. But when he asked his parents, they said no.
As much as Campbell wanted to bring a bit of joy to those less fortunate than him, his parents couldn’t justify the expense. With eight other kids to feed as well as their thoughtful son, they were already barely making ends meet. Campbell, however, would remain undeterred.
When Campbell told his mom he would make something for them instead, she envisaged a few pictures he’d draw to brighten up the ward. But Campbell had something a little more challenging in mind. He went online and found a sewing pattern for a nice stuffed toy.
Then, when he couldn’t decipher it, Campbell asked his mom for help. But she couldn’t figure it out either. Determined to see it through, however, the then-nine-year-old sat down and worked it out for himself. Five hours later, Campbell turned out his first – albeit rather crooked – stuffed bear.
“I had a pattern and wanted to make it and I knew I could do it if I practiced,” Campbell told Today via email in October 2016. “Mom told me ‘Just don’t sew your finger,’ but I’ve done that a few times and once all the way through.” However, he wasn’t going to let mere sewing-related injuries hold him back.
Entirely self-taught, Campbell continued to develop his skills with the sewing machine. As he turned out his fourth bear, he was already starting to get quite good at it and each bear was being produced in a shorter time. It was then that he had the idea for Project 365.
Campbell devised a plan to make one bear a day to give away to sick kids in need of a little joy in their lives. His reward for the gesture? He simply got a kick out of seeing their faces light up. “They smile and hug me. It makes their whole day better,” he told Today.
And over the past three years, Campbell, now 12, has brightened the days of nearly 1,000 kids. Indeed, in 2016 alone he would produce more than 400 stuffed toys, raising around $4,000 for charity. His tally is now in excess of 800 bears. Meanwhile, he makes regular visits to his local hospital.
Campbell’s mom, Sonya Whittaker, was blown away by what her son had achieved. She told Today, “I literally shake with emotion – it’s an incredible thing to witness. One small idea, one small gesture can make huge impacts.” It was an impact that was also destined to be felt closer to home.
In 2011, Campbell’s dad Nathan, had been diagnosed as having cancer. Though a mass as large as a tennis ball was removed during treatment, he was warned there was an 80 per cent chance the cancer would return. But when it did, his son knew exactly what he needed to do.
Campbell told the Australian television channel SBS in October 2016, “When we discovered dad had cancer it was really upsetting.” But knowing the impact his toys have on kids, he then made a bear for his dad. “Cancer gets worse with stress, so I made him the bear so he could get rid of the cancer.”
And it seems to have been working. Since Campbell gave his dad the bear, the cancer has stayed away. In fact, it’s the longest Nathan has been free from cancer since he was first diagnosed. He told SBS, “There’s a little bit of magic in them. A lot of magic in Campbell though.”
It’s a magic that he sends to children throughout the world. And while most of the toys Campbell makes are bears, there are also other animals in his repertoire. Using materials of the softest, brightest and most colorful kind, each creature is customized with the recipient child’s name.
One mom of a child who was given a bear wrote, “Bumble, you really do bring sunshine to people’s lives. It’s amazing how something so simple as a teddy bear can make such a difference… I hope everyone can take a piece of your message and pay it forward.”
But as well as giving bears away, Campbell also makes them to auction for charity. He’s raised money in aid of domestic-violence support charities, as well as to help the homeless.
Campbell has also collected several awards for his project. In 2016 he won his state’s Young Citizen of the Year award, as well as being an Outstanding Achiever finalist in the Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards.
“Lots of people like skateboarding and socializing with their friends. I just like coming home and sewing,” Campbell told SBS. His mom added, “If Campbell could be on that sewing machine 24/7 he would.”
Sonya said, “Campbell is just wired really differently. He looks at sadness and tries to turn it upside down.” It came as no surprise to the mom, then, that the project was such a success. “He’s not a quitter – I only see bigger and brighter things for him.”
For Campbell, the objective is clear. As he continues to make stuffed animals, he relies on donations to keep his project going. He said, “I think being kind and not mean will change the world.” It’s a goal he seems to be achieving, one stuffed toy at a time.