Avery Schwartz, 9, is the creator of the Hug Buddy.
Avery Schwartz, 9, is the creator of the Hug Buddy.

Viewspire aims to do exactly as its name says: to inspire through views.

It was the brainchild of a 9-year-old boy.

When Avery Schwartz of Commerce, who attends Hillel Day School, wanted to give his Nana Margaret Garvin a hug, he created a “Hug Buddy.” 

Since Avery couldn’t hug Nana in person because of pandemic distancing, he instead created a two-dimensional “hug” figure that was drawn on paper and mailed to Nana, who was moving to Traverse City.

For Avery’s father, Glen Schwartz, co-owner of the West Bloomfield-based mental health clinic Viewpoint Psychology & Wellness, his son’s creation was a way for people to connect at a time when many families had become disconnected due to social distancing. Avery’s “hug” drawing soon became a Hug Buddy, and Hug Buddy turned into the mascot for “Viewspire.”

Viewspire aims to do exactly as its name says: to inspire through views. It’s a platform developed by Schwartz and Viewpoint Psychology & Wellness child psychologist Nikki O’Donnell, in collaboration with 9-year-old Avery, to help decrease stigma against mental illness and encourage people to ask for help when needed.

Just launched in early April, Viewspire includes clothing, art and other items that promote acceptance and healing. It’s also the outlet where people can create and send their own Hug Buddies, just like Avery sent to his Nana. 

“There’s a need for an approach to mental health that’s accessible and friendly,” O’Donnell, 39, says. “An approach that’s not clinical.”

O’Donnell says that the concept for Viewspire had been in the works for about a year. Previously, the mental health practice was creating calming jars. These jars could be shaken alongside special breathing techniques that were designed to reduce anxiety and stress. Avery’s Hug Buddy, she says, was the missing piece of the puzzle that pulled the concept for a positive mental health platform together. 

Boy’s Efforts

Avery’s small act of kindness turned into a movement. Glen Schwartz says his son devoted all his spare time to make Hug Buddies available to everyone. Avery created a Pinterest board, spent hours working on graphic design programs and told everyone that he knew — from friends, to family, to even his principal at Hillel — about his idea for Hug Buddies. 

As his father and O’Donnell worked on building Viewspire, Hug Buddy grew to be the face of the platform. Now, with the launch of the site officially underway, Hug Buddies can be sent by anyone, anywhere via postcards that cost $2. Each postcard also comes with the option to make a nominal donation toward mental health causes.

“It’s a new way of viewing mental health,” Glen Schwartz says. “It puts a really positive spin on it.”

While the adults manage Viewspire inventory — which they say they’ve had overwhelming demand and response for since its recent launching — Avery and O’Donnell’s son, 8-year-old Zane, hand-color each Hug Buddy that goes out by mail.

“If you know somebody in your class is being bullied, or you have a relative in the hospital, or you just miss someone because you haven’t been engaged in the community for a while, you’ll be able to send these Hug Buddy postcards,” Glen Schwartz says.

Visual Inspiration

Hug Buddies are the perfect connection to Viewspire, he says, because they also inspire people through views (or in this case, hugs). Many of the images used in Viewspire’s products are created by patients, including pictures of birds and flowers. 

“One of [O’Donnell’s] patients actually created a bird one day in session,” Schwartz describes. “It was his way of expressing himself.”

After the patient was able to convey his feelings through the drawing of the bird, Schwartz says the patient began to develop a more positive mindset. It was a key motivating factor for Viewspire, but the only thing missing was a mascot. 

“I was driving home one day with Avery,” Schwartz recalls, “and he said, ‘How come we’re not using my Hug Buddy?’”

The lightbulb turned on. “I sent the picture of the Hug Buddy to O’Donnell,” Schwartz continues, “and within 10 minutes, she digitized it and she was like, ‘This is it! It’s totally it.’”

Yet it’s only the beginning for Viewspire and its Hug Buddy mascot. “Our dream is that this goes into a brand where the Hug Buddy is the recognized symbol for positive viewing of mental health,” O’Donnell says. “It shifts the whole experience of how we view it and ask for help.”  

To see more, visit shopviewspire.com.