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Person of the Week
Baby Dolls and Beyond: Ford Makes Connections to Help Others
Reaching out through social media, Jackie Ford recently hosted a virtual collection drive help donors purchase and drop-ship new, life-like baby dolls to give to those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s while receiving assistance from Orchard House Medical Adult Day Center in Branford. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Ford)
As a member of the social media group #Volunteer-ItsWhatWeDo and through her own efforts to help others during the pandemic, North Haven resident Jackie Ford found a way to bring baby dolls, comfort, and joy to non-profit Orchard House Medical Adult Day Center in Branford.
Baby dolls? Yes. Brand-new, life-like baby dolls. Jackie recently hosted a collection drive help provide new dolls to give to those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s while receiving assistance from Orchard House.
“It just gives their lives purpose, and they really feel like these babies need them,” says Jackie, who first learned about the baby doll connection following the passing of her late grandmother, who was in an assisted living facility at the end of her life.
“She passed away a couple of years ago from dementia and it was after she passed away that I learned dementia patients that work with baby dolls, or are given baby dolls as a gift, have a better quality of life through their diagnosis,” says Jackie.
Jackie selected Orchard House to receive baby dolls collected through the Ford Family Annual Holiday Toy Drive, which collects not only the baby dolls, but also toy fire trucks. Jackie established the drive in memory of her late grandmother, Jacqueline Dower, who in life was also known for her love of her doll collection, and her late grandfather, Bob Dower, who dedicated much of his life to New Haven Fire Department. The toy fire trucks are given to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center of Hartford, where Jackie’s oldest daughter, Alexandra, 23, is a pediatric oncology nurse.
While she couldn’t be at Orchard House to help deliver upwards of 20 life-like baby dolls, Jackie was delighted when Orchard House Fund Development Director Ken Engelman got permission from some families to show her images of the clients enjoying their gift.
“You can actually see the emotions on their face and the comfort that holding the dolls provides to them,” says Engelman of the photos.
Jackie said the images were heartwarming.
“When you do any kind of donation, it’s so much bigger than yourself, but when you see someone holding that baby doll and walking around with it, you know that what you’re doing is making a difference,” says Jackie.
Engelman also thanks Jackie for creating this caring volunteer campaign at a time when Orchard House Medical Adult Day Center is beginning a year of celebrations for its 40th anniversary (1981-2021).
Engelman also co-created #Volunteer-ItsWhatWeDo less than a year ago, but he says Jackie raises the bar when it comes to volunteering.
“Jacqueline has run circles around my efforts when it comes to community giving/volunteering while inspiring others around her to do the same,” says Engelman.
Jackie is an active member of #Volunteer-ItsWhatWeDo, which is close to reaching 500 online members at its busy Facebook page.
“What I love most about the group is that if you’re somebody who likes to volunteer or you’re interested in becoming involved in volunteerism, it’s a platform to go to see what the needs are. And the needs, as they’re shared on that website, are so vast,” she says. “There are so many different ways you can help, whether it’s sharing a monetary item or sharing your hands, so you get in there to actually be able to do the work. For any level of interest anyone has, there’s something they can do.”
In fact, with her youngest daughter, 14 year-old Rebecca, now a high school freshman who’s looking for volunteer opportunities, Jackie was inspired to suggest to Engleman the idea of spreading the news about the platform with Connecticut high schools, many of which have community service requirements.
“This outlet on Facebook is a great place for kids to go so that they can see what type of volunteer opportunities are out there, even with the pandemic going on. And it’s not just another box to check—they might find something that they really want to do, where they’re really getting something out of it, and maybe even become a job or a career for them,” says Jackie.
Jackie and her husband, John, raised their two daughters in North Haven. With a little encouragement, both of their daughters have been giving back to others for many years, says Jackie.
“Since they were old enough to understand, they stopped getting birthday presents, and all of their gift donations went to either Halfway Home Animal Rescue or Animal Haven, because I believe they need to understand the gift of philanthropy so early on in life,” says Jackie. “So this whole donating and volunteering has really been a just a part of the tapestry of my life since I’ve been a mom. And it feels good to do something for someone else.”
As a social worker (she earned her master’s of social work from Quinnipiac University) with Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), Jackie is no stranger to helping others by connecting causes.
She recently conducted a teddy bear drive for people being adopted through National Adoption Day, and a received close to 1,000 teddy bears to distribute.
“I do use social media as my platforms,” says Jackie of her many different outreach efforts, each of which have grown considerable lists of followers.
For example, “all of the places that donated to the teddy bears said please remember me for future things that you want to do. So now my network of people who want to help is growing, whether it’s personal with my own work that I do, or whether tapping into #Volunteer-ItsWhatWeDo, or for DCF or for whatever that need is,” she says.
Now with DCF almost for 30 years, Jackie’s newest role is with its Bureau of External Affairs.
“We’re really trying to change the narrative of how people perceive DCF,” she says.
She’s currently working on sharing success stories of families who, through home-based DCF programs, have stayed together without the need to put children into foster care. Jackie’s also working on the Paws for Kids partnership between DCF and the animal advocacy community, promoting child and animal wellbeing through education, cross-reporting efforts, and more.
As an avid animal lover, “I’m just so excited about Paws for Kids, because it’s showing so much about the animal-human bond,” says Jackie.
Through DCF, Jackie is also entering her third year hosting the televised statewide DCF program Doors to Hope and Healing.
“It’s a show really to talk about all facets of child welfare,” says Jackie.
Episodes of the show air once a week and can be accessed at the DCF page at ct.gov, at NutmegTV.org and on YouTube.
Jackie’s also a board member of non-profit Peace Center of Connecticut and volunteers her time and MSW as a social worker consultant for Sacred Heart Nursery School.
Busy as she maybe, now that Orchard House is on Jackie’s radar, she says next year’s Ford Family Holiday Toy Drive will once again include Orchard House in its giving plans. She’s also hoping the holiday drive’s giving levels will return to pre-COVID numbers, so that she can resume delivering dolls to those in assisted living facilities.
“Last year, I received hundreds of dolls. People would bring them to my home or I would meet them in the community. But this year, it was just so much more difficult because of COVID to find facilities where people are living that would accept the baby dolls. So I contacted Ken and we identified the Orchard House and they accepted the dolls, which was just wonderful.”
To get in touch with Jackie Ford about any of her volunteer programs, email email@example.com. To learn more about #Volunteer-ItsWhatWeDo, search for the public group’s name on Facebook.