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Teddy bear drive, speeches help Emery Miller inspire children to overcome adversity

Courtesy Emery Miller

Perry High School’s Emery Miller appears like the average, over-achieving high school senior.

He’s on the baseball team, the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club and has done more community work than most adults have in a lifetime. But to understand why all those things are remarkable begins with what he’s endured — four open-heart surgeries, countless additional procedures and enough time spent in the hospital growing up that he calls Phoenix Children’s Hospital his second home.

“We joke, we had a parking spot,” he said. “It actually had my picture on it.”

Miller’s face being on his parking spot isn’t hyperbole. He has become a poster boy for all the good the hospital does, but that’s only part of what the long-time patient contributes to those who need a bit of inspiration.

Miller’s success story goes well beyond being healthy enough to play baseball.

His charity work began when he started doing the local Heart Walk, and his group, Team Emery, has led the event’s fund-raising 12 out of the last 13 years, he said.

The miss? A 2014 visit to the White House and Barack Obama to speak with the president about child healthcare got in the way. He’ll take that L.

Miller is most well-known for the annual bear drive that began in Phoenix. It now spans eight states and 22 hospitals. He hopes that reaches 10-12 states by next year and even has a contact in Poland interested in doing a bear drive.

So far, it has raised 17,504 teddy bears that are handed out to hospitalized children. Beyond the material stuffed animal, the bears come with a note, introducing Miller to young patients with the hope it inspires them to fight. Then, it asks them to pay their fight forward.

“You know that someone went out of their way to get to you,” Miller said of the teddy bears. “I hope when they get it it just makes them stronger. Half of it is mental, half of it is you’re sick. Half of it is, ‘I’m going to do it.'”

Miller came up with the idea when he was in the fifth grade. After hearing a church sermon, he asked how he could give back. His mother and he came up with the teddy bear idea; she went to Facebook simply to show how proud she was of his thoughtfulness.

“She posted our conversation on Facebook, which was seven years ago now. Within a half-hour, we had over 45 comments,” Miller said. “That’s how it started.”

Now, it’s grown at an incredible rate.

That keeps Miller busy, but his experience has gone well beyond helping to run the non-profit.

He has been a keynote speaker for the American Heart Associated, PCH, United Way and currently talks to at-risk children for Lift Up America. Miller speaks on his own experience with the motivational message of overcoming negative life experiences.

Miller wants to do more with that message that has helped him understand and connect with young children who face adversity.

His next goal: Create a scholarship given to those who have overcome adversity and done something to give back. Miller wants the scholarship to be in the name of his late friend, Dustin Tack.

As for his own future, Miller is in good hands. Between his speaking experience and business experience that few high school students possess, his path seems certain. He would like to continue playing baseball, perhaps on a scholarship. More importantly, the senior says a double-major in communications and business with a minor in ministry would fit him perfectly.

That will help him continue running Team Emery while eyeing a career as a professional motivation speaker.

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