Making their day

Seniors group and police join forces, using dolls to help children in difficult situations

Seniors group and police join forces, using dolls to help children in difficult situations

May 18, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

The boy clutched a little cloth doll for comfort after he was hit by a car in Washington County. Months after the accident, the child's mother told Juanita Gliniak how much the doll had meant to her son - so much, the mother said, that the boy still slept with it at night.

That's when Gliniak knew for sure that the "comfort dolls" were accomplishing their mission, she said.

The Triad SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) Council of Washington County in 2002 distributed about 900 dolls to county police, fire departments and ambulance companies to help calm children in such crisis situations as traffic accidents, domestic disputes and house fires, said Gliniak, the council's comfort doll program coordinator.

Local volunteers create the dolls from a simple pattern and donated materials, she said.

"If a child is crying, one of these dolls is just as comforting as something more expensive," said Gliniak, of Halfway.


All police cruisers in the Washington County Sheriff's Department's fleet are equipped with several dolls, which enable deputies to do their job better while helping kids cope with crisis, Capt. Doug Mullendore said.

"Sometimes kids are intimidated when they see an officer uniform. The dolls just kind of break the ice and allow the officers to talk to the children on their level," Mullendore said. "The dolls really make the kid's day."

The American Association of Retired Persons, National Sheriff's Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police developed Triad to help meet the safety needs of the nation's aging population. The SALT Council acts as an advocacy and advisory group for seniors and provides a forum for the exchange of information between seniors and law enforcement.

The council launched the comfort dolls program - SALT's only intergenerational effort - about five years ago to help meet a need in the local law enforcement community, said Mary J. Della-Toffalo, who helped organize the local council and served as its first president.

The dolls were first modeled after gingerbread boys, due in part to a large batch of brown fabric that had been donated to the council, Gliniak said. When she began coordinating the program in early 1999, she suggested the "comfort dolls" name and the addition of little red hearts on each doll to better suit the program's mission. The dolls are now crafted from a variety of brightly colored and patterned fabrics donated by caring individuals, Gliniak said.

"It just takes a little stack of material to make each one. That's why they're all so different," she said.

Gliniak credits the volunteer efforts of the Leitersburg Senior Citizens and Beaver Creek Homemakers clubs with making the program successful. Club members - especially Thelma Eshelman and Jeanetta Kline of Leitersburg Senior Citizens and Marilyn Frost of Beaver Creek Homemakers - sew, stuff and decorate all the dolls, Gliniak said.

"It's a total team effort," she said.

The volunteers trace the doll's paper pattern onto the fabric, cut out two halves, sew them together leaving a hole for the stuffing, stuff the doll with soft cotton and stitch the hole shut. A circular piece of white fabric is sewn onto patterned dolls as a background for their hand-drawn eyes, nose and mouth, Gliniak said.

The dolls are finished with a red heart on their chests and colorful ribbon around their necks, she said.

Her friend, Bessie Head, stores the finished dolls at her home until Gliniak is ready to take them to the Sheriff's Department, she said.

Gliniak hopes to interest more senior citizens' and homemakers' groups in creating comfort dolls. The simple sewing project would also be ideal for students, she said.

"The dolls aren't difficult to make at all, but we do so many that we need all the help we can get, dear," Gliniak said. "It's for a good cause."

To volunteer, please call 301-739-7268.

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