In December of 2013, my then 11 year-old raised money to give American Girl dolls to children that would not otherwise get one. What at first glance seemed like a cute one-time service project continued the next holiday season. And the next. By the end of 2019, the dream of two teenagers became a non-profit organization and will have placed more than 750 dolls and raised more than $80,000. All of this is wonderful. The hope that they have spread in their work is tremendous. But Dolls For All is more than a charity. It is more than a way to get service hours for a resume. For my daughter, this work has changed her life and been a gift of hope to HER.
Today, she hosted the first holiday tea party to honor 5 recipients. We went back to my daughter’s elementary school. In those halls, she became acquainted with anxiety and panic. She learned that there was something different about her insides. She could not explain it at the time, but school seemed to trigger the worst in her brain. Yet, she excelled at this thing called “education.” The same place that brought on terrible tears and fears also gave her space to be challenged and shine in the classroom.
As she navigated the ups and downs of her own journey, her compassionate heart was always drawn to kids. I like to say that she came out of the womb wanting to mother. She is, by her very DNA, a tender nurturer of all young people, especially the hurting ones. As Dolls For All grew, she began working with and reaching out to organizations that cared for kids on the margins. She learned about CPS and CASA and Child Advocates. She worked with school counselors to encourage kids that had been through their own personal trauma.
At 15, she hit a personal wall. One that could not be climbed in the “traditional” education system, so a shift was made to online school. What felt like defeat in many ways was the open door of hope. It was because of this change that her schedule was freed to explore ways to grow Dolls For All and in-turn her own love of children.
She recently wrote her college application essay. She didn’t shy away from the messy parts of her story. She spoke her truth. She also gave much of the credit for the shape and the trajectory of her future to the opportunities, people and organizations she has met as a part of her Dolls For All journey. What began as an opportunity to give children a toy has been a tool of redemption that God has used to be a light of hope in the midst of some very dark days.
That’s the tricky thing about hope. It can surprise you. What started out to be a light of hope for others has turned into the greatest hope show imaginable. There is nothing like leaving a tea party or delivery and seeing the sheer fullness in my girl’s heart. As my friend John says, “HOPE. Like a prayer to get through the night.”