By Kim Pallozzi
DURING A CHILD’S formative years, learning the essentials is about more than just the
ABCs and 1-2-3s. Other values—such as honesty and empathy—are equally important.
But in today’s gadget-filled world, that can be
hard to achieve.
“We’re all entertained with technology,”
says Brenda Katz, president of Great Divide
Corporation. “You go to dinner with your
kids and they’re playing with tablets or they
aren’t interacting with you.”
Her company has a creative response. My
Friend Huggles are a group of life-size dolls that
encourage core values and promote character-
building qualities in children. Mia is honest,
Lily is kind, Kira is cheerful and Sofia is gener-
ous. Rubi is grateful and Bia is fair. Special-
edition twin dolls Myles and Mimi exemplify
courage and confidence, respectively.
“My vision is that every child will obtain
and acquire these core values and integrate
them in their everyday life,” says Katz. “I want
to bring back meaningful play, and not just to
entertain the child, but introduce a toy that
they can learn from and grow with.”
Inspiration for the dolls started two
years ago from unfortunate events. “I’m the
mother of two boys, and one of my sons was
bullied as a child,” explains Katz. “Because of
this, I knew that I had to make a difference. It’s
a problem that seems to be prevalent in our
society, and it has to be addressed. I knew that
through my creative process as a designer that I
could make a difference.”
The My Friend Huggles website is an
interactive space where kids are challenged to
develop the virtue of every doll. Guided by a
series of interactive character-building activi-
ties, children learn the specifics of what each
doll did to acquire his or her personalized vir-
tue, and then try to emulate that positive
behaviour in real-life situations.
Once they’ve accomplished the set goal,
they can come back and share the details of
their experience on the site. And they can
receive a downloadable certificate to reward
their actions of kindness.
“They don’t have to own all the dolls, but
they can learn the values from each,” says
Katz. “The certificate is very colourful and
they can post it up proudly on their wall. It
helps parents and gives them that extra tool to
say, ‘You see, this is what happens when you’re
kind.’ It’s like the star method.”
The dolls themselves have many detailed
features that make them special keepsakes.
Company: Great Divide Corp.
President: Brenda Katz
Number of employees: 14
Address: 5653 Paré, Suite
201, Mont-Royal, QC H4P 1S1
Products at Costco:
A variety of My Friend Huggles
dolls in select warehouses
Comments about Costco:
“For us, being associated
with Costco means an opportunity to reach more children
and a validation of the value
and quality of our product.
Making this powerful connection allows the My Friend
Huggles brand to be part of
the ultimate shopping experience backed with the integrity, value and dependability of
Kids learn important values
through special dolls
Each doll’s chest has a “Forever Mark” in the
shape of a heart, where children can write
their name to pledge their friendship. A satin
ribbon attached to the back of each doll
explains the character’s specific value. A seal
of authenticity adorns each doll’s hand for
Although many uplifting stories are associated with My Friend Huggles, one child in particular has made an impression on Katz.
Five-year-old Liam Armstrong had to endure
countless treatments to help combat his diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The My
Friend Huggles doll Bia, who exemplifies fairness, was his constant companion through it all.
“The child would fall asleep with the doll
and it would accompany him to all his chemotherapy treatments,” explains Katz. “It just
added a source of comfort and companionship that he craved. I had no idea the emotional tug it would have on this child.” She was
so touched by Liam that she created the character Myles, whose value is, fittingly, courage.
To reach more kids like Liam, Great
Divide Corporation is donating 1,000 dolls to
children’s hospitals across Canada this year
through the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
Katz feels that My Friend Huggles dolls
send a message that is more important now
than ever before. “My vision is that children
will actually learn how to be good people,”
she says. “It’s a labour of love.” C
Kim Pallozzi is a freelance writer in
“My vision is
to be good