Meet the social worker making dolls for kids who ‘never see themselves’ on store shelves

Amy Jandrisevits’ dolls are a lot more than just toys. In fact, they don’t even look like the toys kids are used to finding on department store shelves.

“I make dolls for kids who will never see themselves on the store shelves,” Jandrisevits told In The Know. “So this includes kids with limb differences, kids with birthmarks or facial anomalies, albinism. Pretty much anything that you can think of, I’ve probably made a doll for.”

That idea is the driving force behind A Doll Like Me, which Jandrisevits founded in 2014. Through GoFundMe, the campaign allows total strangers to donate and sponsor a doll for a child with any number of physical differences.

A Doll Like Me has already raised more than $223,000, meaning thousands of kids have received fully customized toys that look exactly like them. For Jandrisevits, those toys mean a lot more than just giving a child something inclusive to hold, love and play with.

“We underestimate the power of dolls,” she told In The Know. “And not just because I love them, and not just my dolls, but we underestimate what a human likeness can do and how therapeutic it could actually be for a child.”

Jandrisevits knows that power firsthand. Before starting A Doll Like Me, she worked for years as a social worker. That experience gave her an understanding of how much a single toy can mean in a kid’s life — especially when it resembles them.

She’d worked with children with cancer, and as a passionate doll collector and creator, had already made a few bald toys for chemotherapy patients. But one conversation led her to an idea she admits she’d never even considered.

“A friend of a friend saw this doll, and it kind of looked like her daughter. But her daughter had just had her leg amputated,” Jandrisevits said. “And so she’d asked if I could do a doll like the one I’d done that she’d seen, but with an amputated leg.”

So, she started working. The concept quickly took off on Facebook and she had hundreds of orders in just a few months.

That’s a heavy workload, considering the fact that Jandrisevits makes the dolls by hand, sewing them out of fabric to create soft, lovable toys. Her DIY method means the dolls are expensive — they can cost anywhere between $70 and $100 — but clearly, it’s a price many are willing to pay to help a child they’ve never even met before.

The results are also clear in the kids’ responses, which Jandrisevits calls one of the “biggest perks” of doing what she does.

“One of the biggest perks of doing this is being able to see a picture of the child with the doll once they get it,” she said. “I always feel like they’re so — when I know that they’ve received the doll, there’s always this, ‘Oh, please let there be a picture or a video.’”

In Jandrisevits’ mind, each doll makes a difference — especially when many kids have few ways to see themselves represented in the world around them.

“There’s a whole subset of kids that are underrepresented,” she said. “And we can do something about that. Again, who do you see in commercials? Who do you see on TV shows? Who do you see in toy catalogs? And what are we going to do?”