Small dolls, a huge difference

Old socks and pillow stuffing — the stuff of passion and children’s dreams fulfilled?

Indeed. As Pagosa resident Diane Kleinman has shown, taking materials that most people throw away, and sewing them into sock dolls is, in fact, a viable way of bringing a gift to hundreds of kids around the world who have always dreamed of having a toy of their own. At least it is viable when Kleinman can find people to help her mail or deliver the dolls in person to children in need.

Kleinman, a mother of six, grandmother of 22, and great-grandmother of one, churns out hundreds and hundreds of one-of-a-kind dolls each year.

So far, dolls have made it to northern Africa, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Peru, as well as to a number of young people in need in the United States, such as poor Navajo children and children in crisis.

But, lately, mailing costs have risen, and it has become too expensive for Kleinman to send dolls overseas. It is a problem of distribution: how to get hundreds of dolls into the arms of children who would love to receive them.

“If anyone in the community wants to help out by making a donation for mailing costs, or by delivering some dolls in person when they are traveling abroad that would be great,” said Kleinman. “I’d also love to teach anyone in Pagosa who’d like to learn how to make these dolls, so that we can make more to give to more children,” she added.

Kleinman began making the dolls in Bulgaria, in 2000. “My husband, Wayne, and I were there for eighteen months on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” said Kleinman. “I taught the local women we met through the church to make the dolls, and also things like braided rugs and quilts for orphanages, and all kinds of things they could make out of stuff people threw away.” The women were glad, Kleinman said, to finally have something they could give away as gifts to other people in need. She also taught them how to take apart their old sweaters and knit them into socks for orphans.

Then, in 2004, the Kleinmans went to Indonesia on another mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And, again, she taught people there how to make the dolls. And she had the chance to personally give dolls away to a group of students attending what is called a “free school” in Indonesia — a school for children whose parents cannot afford the $1 a month tuition for regular school.

Diane was able to bring 100 dolls to the free school and give one to each child. The kids were absolutely amazed at being given their own doll, said Kleinman.

“These were children who’d never had anything for themselves,” she said. “They were so poor, in fact, that at school they were obliged to learn everything by rote, because the school had no pencils, nor paper, nor books, nor blackboard. The children sang three songs for us. Their smiles were huge and they loved the dolls.”

Then, the tsunami hit. Kleinman and her husband were in Jakarta, about 1,500 miles away from where the tsunami broke. She and a group of other women knew they wanted to do something to help the victims of the storm.

“Our little group of women made about 750 dolls for kids affected by the tsunami,” she said. “When we came home I continued making the dolls. They all come from socks people have given me, and I make all the clothes from cutting up T-shirts and other clothes that people give me, and people also give me old yarn for hair and old pillow stuffing.”

The only thing more impressive than the sheer numbers of dolls that Kleinman churns out to send around the world, is that each doll is unique. Kleinman’s array of yarn hairstyles and doll fashion seems endless.

“They’re so individualized, each one is different, and each has a whole outfit of clothes that can be taken off and washed and put back on, and the best things is that each doll is so happy, it has a big smile painted on, and bright, happy clothing,” said Becca Blauert — a young Pagosa local who brought dolls to orphans in Kenya last year. Blauert spent about four months total in 2008 on her second volunteer service trip to Kenya. During that time, she spent 10 weeks working at the Nakuru Baby Orphanage in Nakuru, Kenya.

“I spent my twenty-second birthday at the orphanage, and I saved up the dolls to give away that day. I had decided I wanted to give away presents on my birthday, instead of receiving them. So I made cupcakes the night before, and spent a long time picking out individual dolls to give to each kid. By that time I had gotten to know them and it was fun to choose which doll was right for which child,” Blauert said. “The children were so happy, they loved the dolls so much that they had a really hard time putting them down for dinner. We had to tell the kids that it was time to put their dolls to bed in order to get them to come and eat.”

Blauert is looking forward to the day when she can go back to Nakuru and bring more dolls, this time not just for orphans, but for the village children as well. “These are kids who will never have a possession of their own,” she said. “Their toy is a plastic bottle or a soda bottle cap.”

Perhaps it is as Kleinman said: “I guess you don’t have a passion for giving to children who are so in need unless you’ve been in a place where poverty is that overwhelming and seen it for yourself.”

Luckily for the recipients of her dolls, Kleinman has been there, and has seen children without a toy. And her passion for making doll after doll after doll to give away seems only to be increasing.

“If I’m watching television, I’m working on dolls. When I travel, I bring supplies with me so I can make dolls. I sew all the clothes for each doll, so if I don’t have any socks, I work on sewing the clothes until I have socks again. I have lots of other things I like to do, but the dolls are a passion,” Kleinman said.

“I think the thing that makes these dolls so special,” affirmed Jason Rose who has given out dolls at the Casa Hogar orphanage in Manzanillo, Mexico, “is that they’re handmade by somebody. Each one is specially made with love. For the kids to see something that is so thoughtfully and uniquely made for them makes it a really authentic kind of gift.”

Rose traveled to Mexico last year with Pagosa family nurse practitioner Dan Keuning to the orphanage that Keuning helps support through coordination of medical supply donations, as well as providing volunteer laborers from the United States. “Dan is a member of our church, Grace Church of Pagosa,” explained Rose. “And when we heard what he was doing at the orphanage, we wanted to help, too. Bringing the dolls with us last year was great; the kids absolutely loved them. I’m looking forward to handing out more when my family and I travel down to the orphanage next week. This time, we’d like to bring some more dolls to give to the children of migrant workers who live on the outskirts of the town of Manzanillo. They are very poor, and own almost nothing.”

Several organizations and individuals have helped Kleinman in her giving pursuit. She would like to thank The Homemakers of Pagosa, The Humane Society Thrift Store in Durango, the Fireside Inn and many of her Durango and Pagosa friends for donations of supplies and help with distribution. But, in order for this little grassroots movement of making and giving away toys to children who’ve never had them to continue, Diane Kleinman needs more support.

For more information about how you can make a donation toward the cost of mailing dolls overseas, or about dolls to give away when traveling overseas, contact Diane Kleinman at 731-9375. Kleinman emphasized that she’d love to teach anyone who’s interested how to make the dolls. “This would be a fun project for a 4-H Club or a scout troop, or any other group or individual who wants to learn,” she said. Just call her.

SUN photo/Anna Lauer Roy
Since 2000, Pagosa resident Diane Kleinman has made thousands of sock dolls from recycled materials to give away to children around the world.

Photo courtesy Becca Blauert
An orphan in Nakuru, Kenya, holds a doll made by Pagosa resident Diane Kleinman.

Photo courtesy Becca Blauert
Pagosa’s Becca Blauert has spent many months of her young life volunteering at an AIDS orphanage in Nakuru, Kenya. Last year, she brought handmade dolls from Pagosa to give to each orphan.