Flagler County, FL – A house fire. A car accident. A family member is removed from the home for drugs or violence.

In a split second life can change, and for adults these moments are impactful. For children it can change the trajectory of their lives.

Seeking to help alleviate fears in those first moments of a traumatic incident, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office implemented the addition of teddy bears as part of a deputy’s response on scene in June 2017 as a calming measure for children.

Businesses from across the community have stepped up to help replenish the supply, and on Monday, members of the TAG Ventures Real Estate Services and TAG V. Bear Foundation were joined by Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly to pick up 300 of the cute and cuddly companions.

It takes a community to help families through tragedy, and businesses like TAG Venture Real Estate and the TAG V. Bear Foundation are among those stepping up to provide teddy bears for Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies to help children involved in traumatic situations.

In local real estate since the early 2000’s, Kathy Austrino, co-owner/broker of the real estate company has seen the impact of trauma by way of addiction on a family firsthand. That insight led to the creation of the TAG V. Bear Foundation in 2015, with a mission to help children and families in difficult situations.

“We had in our family, somebody addicted to heroin and we saw the effects of that addiction on the children,” said Austrino, and through the foundation supports a multitude of programs including Project WARM (Women And Recovering Mothers) and the STUFF (Supplying Things U Find Fundamental) Bus.

“We try to help children in families facing adversities and this is perfectly in line with that.”

Connecting the opportunity to help with the need, Kirk Keller, director of sales at Flagler Radio, said it was something the Austrino family, whose business mascot is a teddy bear, was more than happy to help support.

“I heard about the victim’s advocates and they were looking for things to give to kids to comfort them. I immediately reached out to Kathy, knowing how generous TAG Ventures is, and she without hesitation said ‘I’d love to be part of that program, how do I do it?’” shared Keller.

Surrounded by members of the real estate company and the foundation, Sheriff Staly talked about the situations in which deputies frequently respond, namely traffic crashes, and why the bears are so important to victims.

“We really appreciate TAG Ventures supporting the children in our community by giving these bears to the Sheriff’s office,” said Staly. “I’ve personally used bears in my career and it’s amazing how quickly it calms a child down when something’s happened in their life that maybe they don’t totally understand or think that it’s much worse than it is.”

The proof is in the pudding. Teddy Bears make kids smile. Kathy and Dominic Austrino enjoy Charlotte Reid’s reaction to the TAG V. Bear donations to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on March 15, 2021.

Piling the bears high alongside TAG team members, sixth grade teacher and foundation board director Ana Fajardo held back tears thinking about the children who will be receiving the bears as a result of trauma.

“Obviously children play a very special part of my heart every day and us being able to help them and their families is the most important thing,” she said. “I go home and cry a lot because it means so much to me that we’re trying to do everything we can because there’s so much suffering and we want to be able to help them manage.”

Featured Photo: Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly joins members of the TAG Ventures Real Estate Services and TAG V. Bear Foundation to receive 300 teddy bears on Monday, March 15, 2021 at the Flagler Broadcasting radio station.

From left, Kathy Austrino, Dominic Austrino, Eddie McMaster, Bill Zanette, Bonnie Zanette, Ana Fajardo, Martina Adams, Joe Ricker, Graham Goward, and Bart Barry. Front: Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly, Charlotte Reid. Seated: TAG V. Bear.

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