Sometimes a young child really needs something to hang onto, and Ann Jackson says a doll can be just the perfect thing for that.
"I have experienced foster kids coming to a new home with nothing but the clothes on their back," said Jackson, a Niskayuna resident and Director of Special Education and Student Support for the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District. "They have all the necessities, but they don't have anything that really meant something to them. They usually don't have their toys. The things that were special to them are gone."
Also a foster parent, Jackson said she always keeps a stack of toys in the house to greet new children to her home, but with a group she started last year, Daija's Dolls, she's taking things a step further.
"I started out pretty informally, getting dolls to case workers from the Department of Social Services," said Jackson, whose group has found a home at the Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church in Schenectady since September of 2018. "But I knew as it grew I was going to need more space, and the church was very welcoming. It was great when they adopted us as one of their missions."
A long-time member of the Eastern Parkway Methodist Church, Jackson has been joined by a host of volunteers, most of them church members, who donate their time fixing up dolls to be handed over to foster children.
"I'll take pretty much any doll regardless of the condition it's in," said Jackson. "If a dog chewed off a hand or something, we can usually change an arm and get it restored. We have plenty of dolls and plenty of doll accessories. We don't have a lot of money, but the restoration costs are pretty minimal."
Before she got involved in restoring and giving away dolls, Jackson never realized how purchasing one can be cost prohibitive for some families.
"One of our children wanted an American Girl Doll, and we didn't realize just how expensive they were at the time," said Jackson. "We compromised and ended up buying her a smaller version. But I realized how if I could do this in a cost effective manner, it would wonderful. I didn't want to go broke, but it seemed like such a good idea.
"So we ended up looking for dolls that were, what I like to say, gently or moderately loved," continued Jackson. "When you spend some time and work on these items, the dolls clean up really well. We can bring them back to good condition without spending a lot of money and see that they go to a family with foster children. The necessities are great, but for children there's nothing like a room full of toys."
The Rev. Mark Ledbetter, the senior pastor at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church, was sold on the idea of Daija's Dolls as soon as he heard of it, as was Carol Haack, the chair of the church's board of trustees.
"I would suggest that it's one of the best things we're doing here at our church, and we are doing a lot of good things," said Ledbetter. "Ann has done an outstanding job, and our church members, in particular Carol Haack, have really jumped in whole-heartedly as volunteers. I see this as an integral part of our community outreach."
Also jumping in to help out our a handful of Niskayuna High School students.
"We've partnered up with the high school and we're going to have a couple of young ladies in here twice a week from noon to 1:30," said Jackson. "That's going to help a lot, and I'm taking advantage of some of my fellow church members here who have retired and are willing to help. When the church took us on as part of their mission that was really great."
Daija's Dolls are open on Monday and Wednesday from noon to 1:30 p.m. and for much of Sunday following the church service. Those foster and kinship parents that are in the Schenectady County system are eligible for a free doll or two.
"We're a little hesitant to start giving away dolls without getting the paperwork and the referral from the Department of Social Services," said Jackson, who said families can also make an appointment by visiting Daija's Dolls Facebook Page. "We don't sell the dolls at all, but we want to make sure that they get to the children that really need them."