'Daddy dolls' bring support to children, ease burdens
January 29, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Alyx Dudenhoeffer's five tiny fingers wrapped around the hand of a small doll at the 84th Engineer Battalion family readiness support meeting here, Jan. 21.
The doll wore an Army Combat Uniform, and the green hair made of yarn flopped to one side. A picture of her deployed father's face shined behind the plastic coating.
The 2-year-old kept a firm grasp on the doll as she played in the toy-filled room.
"This is my daddy," she said, holding up the doll. "He plays with me."
The doll was donated to Dudenhoeffer and other children in the battalion as part of Operation Give a Hug.
The nonprofit, all-volunteer program was established in 2004 to help comfort military children by giving them special dolls, often called "daddy dolls." Each doll's face has a slot for a photo of the deployed parent, which gives the child a tangible way of relating to that parent while he or she is deployed.
"He loves his doll," said family member Jena Siegrist of her young son, Colin. "This is another tool to help him through the deployment."
"At the age of three it's hard to express feelings," she continued. "With the doll, he can hug it and show love, but also take his frustrations out on it."
Siegrist explained the family has used numerous outlets to help Colin cope with his father being gone, including books and videos. However, the daddy doll is the only one that has stuck.
"It's a great distraction for daddy's absence," said Siegrist, adding Colin talks to his doll each night, telling his "daddy" what he did that day.
"To him, daddy is still here," said Siegrist.
At any one time, more than 500,000 children have at least one parent deployed overseas in support of the global war on terrorism, according to Operation Give a Hug.
To date, Operation Give a Hug has distributed more than 14,000 dolls through various organizations, including family readiness groups (FRG), family liaison officers, family program coordinators, school counselors, casualty assistance officers, Fort Lewis' Fisher House, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).
The goal of Operation Give a Hug is to give dolls to military children throughout the world who are missing mom or dad during long deployments.
A small donation of $6 can provide a doll for a military child. All donations go directly to providing dolls for children.
"This has been so great for the children of our battalion," said FRG advisor Paula Katers. "The response has been overwhelming."
As the meeting ended, children tucked their daddy dolls under their arms and put away toys.
"Me and daddy are going to go to bed now," said 4-year-old Triston Uselton, waving goodbye.
For more information on Operation Give a Hug, visit <a href=http://www.operationgiveahug.org>www.operationgiveahug.org</a>.