Comforting companions

California Kiwanians make special dolls for kids under stress.

By Lydia Johnson

Everyone could use a little more comfort these days. 

Members of the Laguna-Saddle Hills Kiwanis Club in Laguna Hills, California, have comforted kids around the world with handmade “Healing Buddies” dolls since 2015.

“There are so many children in our county who are in desperate need of hope, of love, of joy in their lives because of their situations,” says club member Dottie Jefferies, the sewing coordinator for the Healing Buddies project.

The experienced crocheter and sewer organizes volunteers from her Kiwanis club, the Saddleback College Circle K International Club and Kiwanians across Orange County, California, to make the dolls for kids in need. The 15-inch muslin dolls are cut from a pattern, stuffed, sewn and tagged with a Kiwanis identifier.

Dolls are given to children in pediatric hospitals and to those who have been impacted by natural disasters, as well as young residents in domestic abuse and homeless shelters. Local fire and police authorities and court-appointed special advocates share Healing Buddies with children who have witnessed traumatic events.

The toys come with a certificate, a colorful crochet hat and markers for children to draw their own facial features.

“They help them embrace anything that comes their way,” says Jefferies of the dolls.

The Laguna-Saddle Hills Kiwanis Club covers the US$35 material cost per doll.

Volunteers and pediatric therapists personally deliver the dolls to children in local facilities. A fellow club member also has distributed dolls internationally to children in Uganda, Jordan, Mexico, Jamaica and Vietnam through his work with medical missions at the University of Southern California, Irvine.

Jefferies says that all children respond the same when they receive a Healing Buddy: “‘Can I really take it home?’ They can’t believe it’s theirs.”

In 2019 alone, members of the Laguna-Saddle Hills Kiwanis Club and the Saddleback CKI Club distributed 1,725 Healing Buddies.

Before the pandemic, volunteers created and delivered dolls year-round. Now they’ve pivoted to sewing face masks for healthcare workers.

Volunteers are ready to get back to delivering dolls as soon as it’s safe. Nothing will keep them from their commitment to uplift children and remind them that people in their community care.

“It’s a heart-to-heart thing,” says Jefferies.


This story originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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