Main image: (Left, clockwise from back left) Alex, Jean-Marc, Shari, and Melody Dubois (photo: Kate Jervis); (right) face masks are among the Coco Bear items that can be purchased in support of the cause (photo: Coco Bear Fundraiser / Facebook)
Shari Dubois has turned her son, Conrad’s, artwork into a fundraiser to help youth fighting substance abuse and mental health issues.
“Conrad was a complicated human—smart, athletic, artistic, handsome, caring, charming, and extremely challenging,” said Dubois. “I loved him with all my heart and just wanted him to be happy. Some days were fun, interesting, and exciting, and others were unbearably difficult. I never lost hope. I would wake up every day and try again and hope for the best.”
Conrad died from a drug overdose in July 2019. Last year, as the one-year anniversary of his death approached, Dubois organized 10 of his closest friends and family to get together and celebrate his life.
She thought it would be a special tribute to have one of his drawings, a bear that had been hanging on her fridge for years, printed on t-shirts for the group to wear.
“The bear represents everything Conrad is…wild, fun, beautiful, crazy, appealing, thoughtful, and look at those sad eyes. Also happy and fun on the outside but sad, lonely and tormented on the inside,” said Dubois. “It was always my favourite drawing of his, very Muskoka and super fun and appealing on a tee, not to mention a conversation starter.”
After photos from the celebration were posted on social media, Shari received more than 30 messages from people asking where they could buy one of the shirts. She could not have foreseen where those requests would lead—before long more than 1,500 “Coco Bear”-themed clothing items had been sold in support of youth mental health and addiction.
Conrad’s family had struggled for many years to find help for his addiction and mental health issues, which began when he was just six years-old.
“We felt like we were always being judged as bad parents because of his behaviour. School was difficult from day one; he was always in trouble. And socially he was also very challenged. He could make friends quickly but they disappeared just as fast. I strongly felt that we needed more help and support for this area. Especially now,” said Dubois.
It wasn’t until she encountered Mind-Aid, which launched in September 2020 and provides people under 30 in Muskoka with assistance navigating the mental health care system, that Shari knew where to direct the Coco Bear funds.
“Their founder, Jody North, is incredible and I love what they are doing and the way they do it,” said Dubois. “It didn’t take long for me to decide to give them all of my profits.”
So far, Dubois has donated $15,000 to Mind-Aid and plans to continue their partnership.
“The community support has been amazing,” said Dubois. “Luckily most people love Conrad’s artwork and then they find out that we are supporting a great cause.This combination has been magical in many ways. We feel very honoured.”
Dubois has mailed Coco Bear orders as far away as Japan
“My nephew and godson told me that his dream is to walk down the street and see a complete stranger wearing Coco Bear and I’m with him,” said Dubois. “Because that would mean that we are raising tons of funds for such a great cause. I just want to help where I can.”
There is an average turnaround time of two weeks for orders, sometimes less, and almost all pieces are custom.
Options in infant through adult sizing include: short sleeve and long sleeve t-shirts, ball caps, toques, onesies, necklaces and keychains, face masks, hoodies, stickers, and tote bags.