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Volunteers sew comfort dolls for domestic abuse victims

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Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 12:15 am

The small, travel-sized doll was nearly complete. Martha Dolan just needed to add some cute clothes, and it would be finished.

“She’ll be ready to go out,” Dolan, 57, said in a soft Alabama accent, laughing.

Although Dolan has never been big on sewing, she felt compelled to join 18 others at Wild Iris Books on Wednesday evening to make comfort dolls for women seeking haven in local domestic abuse shelters through the Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network.

A group also met Saturday to make more plush companions.

Dolan said her past made the context of the event especially personal.

She was married to a man who she said controlled and beat her during the final four years of their 28-year marriage. She divorced him and fled under a shroud of secrecy with the assistance of an attorney.

She said the dolls will remind women that someone cares about them, even when it seems there is no comfort in sight.

“What a blessing for someone,” Dolan said. “They’ll know someone’s thinking about them.”

Pat Winters founded the national Comfort Doll Project in 2007 to give soft, small dolls to abused women around the world.

Brenda Hutchings took over the project in 2010, and it was featured as Sew News’ 2012 charity sewing effort. After an article ran in the publication, she said, interest in the project skyrocketed.

“I just enjoy how many people reach out to give,” Hutchings said. “It’s just wonderful.”

Crystal Sorrow, who teaches with Dolan at Millhopper Montessori School, saw an article about the project in Sew News and wanted to plan a comfort doll night in Gainesville. Hutchings gave Sorrow permission to localize the project for Alachua County. All dolls created will go to women seeking refuge in county abuse shelters through the Peaceful Paths program.

“I’ve seen different friends go through horrible situations,” Sorrow said. “After they get out, you can see how much their self-worth was eaten away.”

Sorrow recruited the help of Summer Lubart, a 21-year-old political science senior, to help plan the event and spread the word.

“I jumped at the chance,” Lubart said.

Those who attended were requested to make a $5 donation to cover the cost of supplies to make the dolls.

Participants could choose from several pre-cut fabric patterns for dolls’ bodies, hair, clothes and other accessories. Sorrow said no experience was necessary, and that the dolls were easy to stitch in about 20 minutes.

Dolan said the appearance of the dolls doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts.

During her abusive relationship, she said she would hold a teddy bear during her hardest times.

“It was very comforting,” she said, wiping back tears. “Now I don’t have to hold one because I’m a strong person.”

Since her divorce 11 years ago, Dolan remarried, has a new career and climbed Blood Mountain, Georgia’s highest point on the Appalachian Trail, three times.

She said therapy helped her get to where she is now and recommends that women in any abusive situation seek help.

“I have a voice now,” Dolan said, flashing a smile. “Growing as a person has been fun.”

Contact Shelby Webb at swebb@alligator.org.

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