After seeing how a baby doll soothed her mother, a Columbia County woman joined with her granddaughter to see that elderly women countywide have the same comfort.
Just before Christmas, Shirley Waldera and her granddaughter Kayleigh, 9, delivered 150 dolls, complete with new outfits, hand-sewn blankets and names to women in three nursing homes.
"My mom has two in there," Waldera said of her 90-year-old mother, Bertha Reynolds, who lives with Waldera in her Lewis Road home off Wrightsboro Road. "From the time we gave them to her, she sleeps all night. She sits there with a big smile on her face. It is just unreal what it has done for her. She won't let go of them."
Kayleigh said the joint venture inspired by her great-grandmother began when she found a doll on the back porch of Waldera's new home in late summer. They decided to clean the doll up and give it to Reynolds.
Reynolds doesn't fuss or whine anymore, said Kayleigh, an Evans Elementary School fourth-grader.
"She has those babies tucked in there with her," said Waldera, who was accustomed to checking on her mother several times a night. "You go in there in the morning and she's just smiling. We saw that at the nursing homes. Some of the ladies are the same way."
In less than five months, Waldera and Kayleigh purchased about 150 dolls, mostly from Goodwill stores, sanitized them, styled the dolls' hair, dressed them and wrapped them in hand-sewn blankets. Kayleigh named each doll before they delivered them to Kentwood on West Wheeler parkway in Augusta, Westwood Extended Care Facility on University Drive in Evans, and Elmcroft Assisted Living and Alzheimer's Care on The Pass in Martinez.
Beverly Maynor, an associate in Elmcroft's Heartland Village for residents with Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia, said the residents there love the dolls, which she called a blessing.
"When they brought the babies, their faces lit up," Maynor said. "They relate to the baby dolls as their babies."
Kayleigh, who spends most afternoons working on the dolls with Waldera, said giving the dolls she had worked so hard on to the women made her happy.
"I felt real good about it," Kayleigh said. "It was unbelievable ... Some made us cry."
Waldera said the patients, particularly those with Alzheimer's disease, wanted a baby and were often seen hugging, kissing and rocking their dolls.
"One lady kissed (Kayleigh) because she had prayed the night before for God to bring her something to take care of," Waldera said. "We went back later, and she had that baby."
The women who receive the dolls seem to love them, Waldera said, and the staff members at the nursing homes have been overjoyed by the effects of the dolls on the patients.
"Especially a lot of the ones with dementia or Alzheimer's, it calms them down, gives them something to focus on," said Christina Morris, the activities manager at Westwood. "It is good stimulation for them. It brings back memories to them."
Waldera and Kayleigh started a Web site, lullabyebabies.com, and say they hope to expand the project. There is already a project chapter in Pennsylvania.
"(We want to) try to get people at least from every state to start doing it so practically every elderly person, they can enjoy and have happy thoughts and be happy," Kayleigh said.
Because the cost of purchasing the dolls and clothes and supplies to sew blankets and clothes can be overwhelming, Waldera said, they are accepting donations of baby dolls, clothing and blankets to continue the project all year.
Donated dolls should be easy to cuddle and cleaned up. Barbie or Barbie-like dolls and those that are too large, small, heavy or fragile will not be accepted.
Waldera said they are looking for dolls that the elderly women can safely and comfortably hold. Any doll clothes or baby clothes that would fit the dolls also are appreciated.
Donations can be dropped off at B&S Engraving and Trophy Shop at 3733 Washington Road in Martinez. Arrangements to pick up donations can be made by e-mailing Waldera at email@example.com.
Waldera concedes that the project also has some personal benefits. In addition to doing something for others, she gets to pass along her love of sewing to her granddaughter.
The doll project also gives them a good excuse to spend a lot of time together.
"It has been a fun thing," Waldera said.
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