Wolves, HopeKids Take Over Mall Of America

Lindsey LaBelle
Web Editorial Assistant


It’s not often that three men over 6 feet 7 inches tall venture into Build-a-Bear at the same time, but the Timberwolves FastBreak Foundation made it possible for Tuesday’s Mall of America Takeover.

Timberwolves players Derrick Williams, Greg Stiemsma and Chase Budinger hosted children from HopeKids as part of WolvesCare month presented by C.H. Robinson for a day of bear-building, ice cream and a visit to SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium.

The guys hadn't entered a Build-a-Bear workshop until now, and were struck by the multitude of design options.

Build-a-Bear has become a fuzzy Disneyland for many kids – any creature, from bear to wooly mammoth, is poised and ready to be stuffed, dressed and taken home. No one from HopeKids ventured too far from the traditional stuffed friend paradigm, but Budinger was impressed by the kids’ creative prowess.

“That’s the first time I’ve been in that store,” Budinger said. “Also, just trying to help these kids pick out outfits; it’s really neat to see all their different creative sides. Each one pretty much picked out a different bear, or dog or cat.”

As far as stuffed animals from their past, Williams and Stiemsma didn’t reveal much, though Stiemsma did appropriately own a stuffed basketball.

Budinger thought for a moment, and conjured a memory of one furry friend.

“I did have a giant white teddy bear that my sister got for me back in third grade,” Budinger admitted.

This bear won’t make it to the locker room any time soon, however. As Budinger put it, the bear had a “bad accident” and met his demise at the fate of his dog’s mouth.

Meanwhile, Jack Taggart of HopeKids toted his new leopard to the ice cream window and the pair selected cookie dough. He relished in each activity, but picking out a favorite sea creature proved to be too difficult as he looked forward to seeing them all flop and float around.

HopeKids program coordinator Danielle Skrove began volunteering with the organization as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, and she’s proud to now hold such a rewarding job and witness true perseverance each day.

“Your daily trials that you go through are nothing compared to what these familes go through,” Skrove said. “To see the kids at events with huge smiles on their faces every time, no matter what they’re going through, it’s awesome.”

A former Gopher softball player, Skrove understands the impact an athlete can have on a child, and having the Wolves in attendance is an instant day-maker.

“Just to see them in person and off the court, and being able to interact with them is a dream come true,” she said. “For a couple of our kids, it’s their first event outside of the hospital, so it’s something to look forward to that isn’t going to another doctor appointment.”

C.H. Robinson public relations manager Mike Wilken said the kids are an inspiration to many employees of the company. Employees are honored to be selected to attend WolvesCare events and have developed lasting relationships with families and program coordinators alike.

“It’s fun to be a part of,” Wilken said. “We’ve had a really great relationship with the Timberwolves. It’s been fun to see how it’s evolved, and getting all the players in on the action, and hanging out with the kids. You feel good because they’re having a good time, and this is what they need. That’s what it’s about.”

Even a round of applause at center court from the players makes a kid’s day, and in C.H. Robinson’s third year working with the FastBreak Foundation, everyone is looking forward to many smiles to come.

“Your heart tugs in one direction because of the stories, you try to imagine what they’re going through,” he said. “But on the other hand, there’s this other emotional side, like, look at these kids go.”

And go, they did. The debate waged on as to what was the best ice cream flavor. Stiemsma mediated a cookie dough and strawberry showdown, but he concluded that it’s hard to top ice cream any day.

As the group finished their ice cream and prepared to make their way to SEA LIFE, the three Wolves got ramped up about all the underwater critters.

“They have sting rays and all that!” Williams said clapping.

“And some big sharks,” Stiemsma added.

Williams shook his head.

“I don’t do sharks.”

Throughout WolvesCare month, the Minnesota Timberwolves FastBreak Foundation has turned its attention this January to some of the Wolves' smallest fans, but those with the biggest hearts: children suffering from chronic illnesses. Throughout the month at each Timberwolves game and at several events across the community, the FastBreak Foundation's WolvesCare initiative has worked to make a difference in these courageous children's lives.

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.