Lea sat on the front step and watched the little girl across the street. She didn't know her name, but she watched the girl as she unfolded an umbrella, laid it slanted on the ground, and then put a blanket draping over the front for an opening. Lea realized she was making herself a little fort to play with her dolls inside. Lea just stared. She prayed that the girl would invite her to play. She did not.
She wanted so desperately to just hold one doll, to touch the pretty clothes, and to play house with the little girl. She had never had a doll and had always wanted one.
Growing up in a family that was extremely poor and abusive did not provide for much, let alone dolls or toys. There was hardly any food and Lea had to begin working at the age of five.
Her mother worked for a ribbon factory and Lea's job was to puff the ribbons up in the boxes. When she wasn't doing this, she was cleaning rich people's homes with her mother and sister, and eventually graduated to ironing and picking berries year after year.
Lea Lakeside-Scott describes those early years; how her father made them work every waking moment. If they were not working, they had to go to bed.
With sadness, disappointment, and some anger she tells me of the years she had been beaten and how no one did anything about the marks all over her body.
She ended up a single parent raising two girls who, she made sure, never went without a doll. Sometimes, someone would come along and help her a little but most of the times she was alone. Now Lea says, "We need to help these children that are having children. We need to help them throughout their lives, not just at Christmas." She doesn't just say this, she means it.
She worked hard to complete college and raise her children in a manner other than she had experienced. Her children grew up and Lea became a grandma. She married the man of her dreams when she was 46 and is currently employed as a computer technician. But still, she felt unsatisfied and unfulfilled, as if life had not enough meaning.
She approached the volunteer coordinator for the Donald E. Long Detention Center in Multnomah County, Oregon about spending her Saturdays working with the girls in detention on dolls. Her goal was to have the young girls take broken dolls and fix them up and then donate them to little girls of low-income and domestic violence homes.
First, the girls would be giving back to the community. Secondly, she felt that the little girls would have something they could cherish and something that would ease some of the pain in their lives. Lastly, it would show the older girls how you take something that is a little ragged and worn and make it BEAUTIFUL while building up their self-esteem.
The volunteer coordinator came up with the name The HOPE DOLLS PROJECT. Lea wants it to become The HOPE DOLLS, PLANES, AND TRAINS PROJECTS.
In just the very short time that HOPE DOLLS has been in existence, Lea has gotten a group of Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute female inmates to make doll clothes for the dolls. Many people throughout the country are beginning to donate, but not fast enough for the needs.
The juvenile detention girls have been fixing the dolls up on Saturdays with Lea, and then the dolls are given to domestic violence and child abuse homes.
Lea felt this would make a full circle. The adult offenders help the juvenile offenders who help the children experiencing pain (hopefully to deter them from getting into trouble when they get older). Her dream is to have the programs operated by people who share some of the same experiences as the offenders in their early lives. Each one of these groups would understand and help each other.
Lea gets very excited and you can see the HOPE in her eyes as she exclaims, "What a concept! They all help one another, while they help themselves, and guess what -- WHO BENEFITS - EVERYONE AND ESPECIALLY THE PUBLIC."
The girls look forward to Saturday mornings. This is a time for them to laugh, talk, and be themselves for awhile in their very regulated world. They have someone to talk to who makes no judgment of their lives, but who tries to direct them along the correct path.
It isn't hard to get Lea excited when she talks about this project. She'll tell anyone who will listen, "Wouldn't be it just marvelous if we could get women and men all over the country in correctional institutions to help us in this program? The women could make doll clothes and accessories and the men could make wood or other toys for the boys. The girl juvenile offenders could then fix up the old dolls and and the boy offenders could paint or otherwise fix the other toys donated by the public."
I watch her as she can hardly contain herself in her excitement. She continues with, "Think of the little boys and girls who would get these dolls and toys. Won't it be just wonderful to see the joy on their faces?"
I almost detect a tear in her eye and wonder if at that moment she is remembering a wish or hope she had when she was younger. This has now become LEA'S PASSION in life; To make a difference in at least one person's life. A woman once wrote Lea wanting to help and she added at the bottom of her note:
"I am only one, but still I am one, I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. - Helen Keller."
I am pretty sure that is how Lea feels now. Her goals are five-fold:
1. She hopes she can help women in correctional institutions feel better about themselves and see how kind other people can be and how they can help others.
2. She hopes she can help juveniles in detention centers to feel this way also and maybe change the direction of their lives.
3. She hopes she can help children in domestic violence situations to ease the pain as their mothers try to improve their lives.
4. She knows she helps people like herself who have gone through similar type of experiences but when you ask her about it, she kind of smiles and just says, "it's my little secret, how it helps." I have a feeling it's not such a big secret.
5. She hopes that in the entire process of the above, she can also involve the "normal" public to understand why some things happen to certain people and therefore, maybe they will be a little more understanding and also help.
Lea's dreams and her intentions are now becoming a reality as the Hope Doll Project continues to blossom and grow with the help of volunteers donating, time, materials, space, or whatever means they have to help.
Since this story was written, Lea's vision has really taken shape and is making a difference in the lives of many youths. Perhaps, others will duplicate her vision and begin their own programs in other locations patterned after what Lea is doing.
Story Written by Carolyn Kotsovos
We receive email updates from Lea and I thought you may like to read one of her recent emails and what she is up against. Her commitment to helping under-privileged children, with support of others, is changing lives.
June 27th, 2002
I sent the following email to several newspapers trying to get them to pay attention to the plight of our children in this country. A recent helper NJ wrote in a card, "Please let your children know they are in my prayers. They are our country's future and we need them." She is so very right.
"A recent panel of FBI agents, law enforcement officers, and others across the county met to try to establish common factors with all the cases of violence in our schools. They came up with two definitive conclusions: 1. All were bullied or treated differently than others in the school and 2. All stated they just needed ONE friend or ONE mentor, someone they could talk with.
President Bush says:
As many as 15 million young people are at risk of not reaching productive adulthood - falling prey to crime, drugs and other problems that make it difficult to obtain an education, successfully enter the workforce, or otherwise contribute to society;
About 1.5 million children have a father or mother in prison;
Over half a million children are in foster care, more than one fifth of whom are awaiting adoption;
In 1997, more than one million babies were born to unwed mothers, many of them barely past their own teen years; and
More than one out of six American families with children live on an annual income of $17,000 or less.
He also says: "Faith-based programs, volunteers, and grassroots groups are indispensable partners with nonprofit service providers and government programs to serve the poor, renew families, and rebuild neighborhoods."
I have not heard back from anyone yet, but I must admit I do get discouraged occasionally that huge corporate places like Red Cross and United Way get huge monies but I beg and beg to try to convince and demonstrate how the need is there for us to PAY ATTENTION NOW to these kids before it is too late for them and their children.
Enough of that, but we will keep plodding along and pray that ONE VERY RICH person might see what we can do if just given the chance and funds. But please, please tell EVERYONE you know how badly we need financial help.
This month a little girl came into the shop who was about five years old. She was dirty, disheveled, as was her father. My heart broke when I looked at her. I gave her a doll and she was SO excited and was jabbering like crazy. Well, come to find out, this little girl (her name is Faith) has a mother who deserted her and is a drug addict and only a father who is dying of cancer and does not have long to live taking care of her. I don't think it would take you long to figure out that she is my mission this month. These folks don't even have a phone.
Susan kindly sent a box of new clothes for her when I sent her an email telling her about this little girl. Another donator brought about ten beautiful frilly dresses and I am going to have them cleaned and I think she will be excited. We MUST take care of them as early as we can get them so they know we care how they end up.
HOPE DOLLS is also going to OREGON STATE FAIR. Their theme is Making a difference with Home Economics in the Community. They called us and invited us and we are so excited to use this forum to let the public know what we do.
HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEK EVERYONE AND THERE IS "HOPE" WITH YOUR HELP.
(For two years now, Lea Lakeside-Scott (a grandmother nearing 60 years of age) has volunteered every minute of every day to try to change the above statistics with her non-profit grass-roots organization. She has obtained the help of incarcerated men, to enlist their help in paying back the community for the wrongs they have done and to try to stop the trend of our teens ending up where they are.
One prisoner in for life, spends his time writing grants to try to help her help our teens. Another person writes grants for her and she has one question she needs to ask all of you. Why don't the foundations support the new, innovative, approaches of grassroots organization like hers to help her continue, rather than bring about the probability of failing.
Spend some time reading her website hopedolls.org and find out exactly why her approach might work where others have failed. She understands and knows the problems intimately and now is requesting that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE help her raise funding so she can reduce the violence in society that is coming from our teens.