BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - It started with a simple action on the way to a family crisis.
Madeline, Cathie Rourke's mother-in-law, had been in a serious car accident in Dayton, Ohio. Right before they left their Bloomfield Hills home for Dayton, Rourke's husband grabbed a stuffed animal out of their children's toy basket. Rourke's husband gave that stuffed animal to his mother as soon as they arrived.
"It turned out that she had a five-month hospital stay and was basically broken from her neck to her feet and could only move one arm," Rourke said.
The stuffed animal spent all five months in the hospital with Madeline. The family named it "Will."
"Will became a lot of things. He became something she could just pet him with her one arm. We would use him to have conversations and pass the time together during the day. And then when she was alone at night we would kind of prop him up so she knew, even though we weren't in the room with her, we were all thinking of her and praying for her and we didn't ever want her to feel alone when she was there by herself at night.," Rourke said.
When Madeline was better she sent Will home, but he didn't stay put for very long.
"We had somebody in my family who faced a medical challenge. We just put him in manila envelope and sent a note saying 'Will was with Madeline and now he's here with you.' And what happened was every trip he made like that, he took on the courage and strength of the person he had been with before and took it on with him to the next person," said Rourke.
Will was passed between family and friends for 10 years. Rourke said it was her sister who suggested she share Will with the world. So Will became Will Found A Way and Rourke began selling the stuffed animal online along with a story about how he came to be.
"I like the name Will for what it says about where there's a will, there's a way and love will find a way, and so that's why he became a lamb and that's why he got the name Will," Rourke said.
Mary Bester gave Will to a friend battling breast cancer.
"I just quietly left Will on her front doorstep wrapped in tissue paper," Bester said. "She loved him and today is her last chemo treatment, so I am so happy for her and proud for her and she says that Will was just this quiet source of strength for her."
Bester helps Rourke package up Will to send off to others.
"I think that there are many times in our lives where we need a source of strength and a source of inspiration beyond, just beyond our mere mortal selves and I think that's what Will gives," Bester said.
Rourke said Will can be a beloved friend for anyone in need, including those in the hospital, facing illness, losing a loved one, traveling alone, facing a new challenge or just going to a new school.
Rose Abbot bought Will with no where to send him, but then Will found a way to be put to good use.
"The next day my mom went into the hospital for just a short time. It wasn't serious, but it was just nice to take something to her that would be supportive and uplifting," said Abbot. "She loved the story and she called me right away and said 'I read Will's story and I'm so happy I have him now and I'll be happy when I get to send him on his way to visit someone else."
Will comes with a book that shares his story and a journal for people to write down their story of how Will helped them.
Rourke said she is amazed with the different stories she has received. Will has traveled to Prague, France and all over the United States.
Rourke still works full time as a marketing financial expert but she loves fulfilling her passion with Will Found A Way. She hopes to see her idea grow and grow.
"It has become my favorite past time to put a Will in the mail to somebody. As soon as I hear somebody needs him, I just want to drop everything and get him on his way," Rourke said. "I want it to be successful because I want it in as many hands as possible however that happens."
People are encouraged to pass Will on to someone in need when they're done with him.
Will can be purchased for $25 for the lamb and storybook or $38 for the 4-piece gift set.
Will Found a Way is available online at WillFoundAWay.com.
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