By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — Michael and Erin Bogan, owners and operators of Promise Monsters, are making good on their pledge to be a positive influence on the world.
Promise Monsters are stuffed toys designed by the couple’s five children. Each comes with its own “Monster Mission,” a random act of kindness that once its owner completes can enter a code on the Promise Monsters website to redeem a reward.
This spring the Bogans, who live in Avon, ran a contest at Riley Hospital for Children, asking patients to design their own Promise Monster.
“We wanted a way to give back to Riley,” Michael said. “I’ve been there, we’ve had kids there, nieces and nephews. We wanted to do something in the community with a local organization.”
They ended up receiving just less than 50 submissions.
“That was less than what I anticipated, but apparently it was good for a Riley contest,” Michael said. “I learned it’s hard to get kids who are in the hospital to do things. Usually it’s either they’re in and out really fast or really sick and don’t want to worry about anything else. It’s not an easy situation.”
The Bogans whittled those submissions down to five, then posted them on their website for the public to vote on. The winning entry came from Sophia Eager, 9, of Fort Wayne. Her Promise Monster is named Blobby Katy and her mission is to “sneak into houses and give people food who need it without being caught.”
Sophia came to Promise Monsters’ westside office last Friday with her parents, Jason and Melissa, to pick out fabric for Blobby Katy and design a smaller version of her, known as a Smarshmallow. Afterward she went to Wilbur’s Lincolnwood Toy Store in Brownsburg for an official “winner’s photo.”
Sophia at least knew Blobby Katy would wear a pink beret because she’s French. The fact that Sophia’s been in ballet since age 2 probably helped inspire that.
That came to a temporary halt when she was 4. Sophia was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She spent the next nine months in and out of Riley for chemotherapy and other treatments.
“I call that the year we lived at the hospital,” Melissa said. Sophia has been in maintenance mode ever since.
She’s always been artistic. It’s a trait she gets from her mom, who studied fine arts at Purdue, and not her dad.
“I have trouble drawing a stick figure,” Jason said.
When he found out about the Promise Monsters contest, he asked Melissa if she thought Sophia would be interested. The response was absolutely.
“She came up (the monster) all on her own,” Jason said.
Cassie Martin, officer of special projects for Riley, says the Promise Monsters contest was highly unusual for the hospital. The closest one she could compare it to was the holiday card design.
“We work with our child life staff to identify some of the families (who might want to participate in a contest),” said Martin, adding activities like this help Riley in two ways.
“We’re always looking for ways to spread the word about Riley and the families it impacts,” she said. “Sophia is a great example of that.”
And then there’s the financial component. Promise Monsters will donate $5 from every Blobby Katy sold to Riley’s foundation. The toy is expected to be available this Christmas.
“More than half of our programs aren’t self-sustaining, so we’re reliant on donors to help bridge that gap,” Martin said. “That way we can not only maintain but enhance the programs we have.”
As for Promise Monsters, they reached the thousand sales mark last Christmas and now have merchandise in more than 30 stores in 16 states. They raised $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign this summer to buy more manufacturing equipment. Sewers are needed to ramp up supply for the impending holiday season.
“Believe it or not, we’re trying to get ready for Christmas already,” Michael said. “I already feel like we’re behind.”
And they still have lots of ideas for new Promise Monsters.
“We still plan on releasing new monsters every year on an ongoing basis,” Michael said.
Visit the website PromiseMonsters.com for more information.