World’s most huggable teen nominated by Build-A-Bear

Renaissance High School junior Christina Johnson was surprised with the news that she is a 2008 Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Hero during class on May 28. - Photo courtesy of Wendy Bain

One local student received quite a surprise when a gigantic, walking teddy bear interrupted her English class on May 28, to name her one of Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Huggable Heroes of 2008.

Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology junior Christina Johnson said she was shocked to be named one of only 12 worldwide to receive the honor that’s selectively awarded to youth who inspire change in their communities.

“I was never surprised like that before,” she said. “My heart literally stopped for a minute.”

The award continues the Johnson family legacy, as her older sister, Geneva, has and continues to win various entrepreneurship and leadership awards for projects, many of which were started with Christina.

Greeted by Build-A-Bear Workshop representatives, mascot Bearemy and her mom and sister, Johnson said the latest award presentation was a treasured moment she’ll never forget.

“I was glad my mom was there because I wanted to share the moment with someone special,” she explained.

Recognized for co-founding “Bring it On,” the first and only non-profit youth-run organization in the northeast Bronx, along with winning a $7,500 educational scholarship, Johnson also received her own customized Build-A-Bear friend.

Dressed in shorts, a pink tee and flip-flops, the 17-year-old teen said it was her rabbit’s accessories that made the bear truly unique.

“She was so New York and glamorous with her sunglasses on,” she said giggling.

As part of her award, the Build-A-Bear Foundation will also donate $2,500 to Johnson’s favorite charity.

Without hesitation, the young entrepreneur said she’s selected Urban Neighborhood, a non-profit that offers computer classes for youth and adults.

“They were my starting point for all of this,” Johnson explained about the company her mother is heavily involved with that inspired Christina to create her own organization promoting youth leadership and community involvement through service learning projects.

The Williamsbridge resident said it was important for her to create a program she lacked growing up in Eastchester Heights.

Also spearheading the “You Go Girl Go” empowerment forums, she said, “They’ve really helped some girls in our community get on the straight path.”

Currently narrowing her list of prospective colleges, Johnson said the award helped in more ways than one.

“I was just like, ‘Thank you God,’ because I do need the money so I’m just excited to see what else the future will bring.” She added, “Plus, I have a lot to put on my resume now.”

Like she didn’t before?

In addition to volunteering more than 1,100 hours and helping “Bring it On” raise more than $25,000 for charity, Johnson is also the vice-president of her family’s hand-painted African American ceramics business and runs her own catering business, Homestyle Caterers.

As a Huggable Hero, Christina will participate in a leadership symposium in Washington, D.C. this July, as well as be featured in the 2009 Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes calendar.

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