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Michiko Rice
Michiko Rice, 80, a resident at Redwood Terrace Senior Living in Escondido holds teddy bears that she made for the RARE Bears Program. Photo courtesy of Redwood Terrace
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Senior living residents share passion for volunteer efforts

ESCONDIDO — Redwood Terrace Senior Living in Escondido is celebrating Older Americans Month this May by highlighting two of its residents that, for years, have dedicated their time and energy to serving their communities.

For more than four years, 80-year-old Michiko Rice has participated in the RARE Bear Program, which provides custom, handmade teddy bears to children with rare diseases.

A lifelong quilter, Rice uses leftover cotton fabric to make the intricate teddy bear “skins” from scratch. After they’re stuffed, Rice and other volunteers sew them together and embroider eyes, nose and other features.

After Michiko’s husband retired from his work as a dentist in the Navy, they started volunteering in the community together.

“We used to help with Meals on Wheels… and help volunteer at the community clinic, taking care of children and we also used to drive cancer patients to chemotherapy,” Michiko said. “I don’t know, I just like to help people and make people happy.”

Michiko Rice teddy bears
A few of Michiko Rice’s colorful handmade teddy bears. Photo courtesy of Redwood Terrace

Michiko said that she probably makes more than 30 bears each year, but her favorite part about it is seeing photos of how happy the children are with their bears.

“I think I have about eight pictures of kids with some of the bears I’ve made. You don’t get that picture every time, but once in a while you get one, and it’s a very special gift,” Michiko said.

Pat Kellenbarger, one of Michiko’s neighbors at Redwood Terrace, has dedicated much of her life to volunteering.

The 84-year-old has worked with countless organizations and causes throughout her life including making helmet coolers for troops overseas, collecting bras and bags for local homeless women, maintaining Little Free library stations near the community with children’s books, advocating for the welfare of thousands of junior enlisted military families and making trauma pillows for kids in emotional crisis.

I am either blessed or cursed within an ordinary amount of energy for my, for my age,” Pat said. “And I have been blessed by God with DNA, with a caring heart and a history of caring hearts in my family to help other people.”

Pat, a Marine Corps widow and former social worker, was the director of a nonprofit organization for 14 years responsible for helping junior military enlisted families in trouble.

“I have a heart for helping other people. I always have,” Pat said. “I serve on several boards of directors. I am also a very active hands-on volunteer and I work with three or four agencies in the San Diego area. This year with COVID, I have also been helping my neighbors and friends here at Redwood Terrace, those that can’t get to the grocery store and the pharmacy and things like that.”

Pat said she has no plans to stop her volunteer work any time soon and that she can’t wait for what is to come.

“I’m 84 – or as my husband said, ’39 and holding,’” Pat said. “I’m so grateful for all that I’ve gotten to be involved in, and I’m so excited to keep it going.”