Kids see themselves in alumna’s creations.
A big brown box arrives from New Berlin, Wisconsin, addressed to a child just back from the hospital, or in between regular doctor visits. The child doesn’t know who sent it, but what’s inside they recognize at once—herself, a doll that looks just like her. The doll might be sewn with a missing limb, bear the markings of a skin condition or have a plastic feeding tube attached to its stomach. Each doll is different, but all are instantly beloved to the child who holds them, and all of them are made on the dining room table of Amy Jandrisevits ’95.
“I make dolls for kids who will never see themselves on a store shelf,” Jandrisevits says about her nonprofit organization, A Doll Like Me. Over the last four years she has handcrafted nontraditional dolls for children with disabilities—more than 350 dolls in all, reflecting limb differences, surgical scars and pediatric afflictions of children across the world. When a recent online crowdfunding campaign for A Doll Like Me went viral, millions of people saw her work, and were thus introduced to the spectrum of differences that make each child, and doll, unique.
“The degree of exposure was definitely unexpected,” Jandrisevits says, “but I saw it as an opportunity to change the narrative for these kids. In some cases, it’s the first time people will learn about some of these conditions. And the narrative then becomes how these kids deserve a seat at the table—not an obligatory one, and not in a condescending way. Then there’s the individual aspect as well, how these kids are seeing themselves in the face of a doll, and that’s just as it should be.”
While her love of dolls has lasted since she was a child, Jandrisevits says UC San Diego’s Muir College was where she truly developed her sense of service and the drive to care for other people. “UC San Diego does such an amazing job of keeping their foot in the community,” she says, remembering her days as a student in the Community Service Club, where she volunteered at a local AIDS treatment center and homeless shelters in the area. That time spent volunteering instilled a lifelong devotion to support others. “Amy has always been very passionate and willing to go fight for a cause,” recalls her former suitemate, Danielle Pederson ’95.
After UC San Diego and graduate school at CSU Long Beach, Jandrisevits did social work for children, where she used dolls in play therapy, a method in which dolls mimic real life situations. Yet all too often she found that their appearance wasn’t reflective of the children playing with them. This issue stayed with her over the years as she raised her three children and decided to start A Doll Like Me.
“What I’m bringing to this is my own skill set of knowing kids and, well, very practical sewing skills,” Jandrisevits explains. “We all have something to bring to the table.”
Jandrisevits manages the nonprofit from home, where her dining table serves as her unofficial work desk, complete with sewing machine, thread, fabric and other supplies spread about. With all the recent attention, she hopes she can produce more dolls while still keeping things handmade, as she now receives more doll requests than ever. But along with the increased demand, she is encouraged by the people who have likewise stepped up to support the organization and sponsor dolls. “No family should have to pay for this,” she says. “It’s something that should come from the community.”