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Giving Grace Project brings joy to Alzheimer’s Patients

Members of Girl Scout troop 13616 gathered at Oxford Health and Rehab Center on Monday afternoon for the inaugural Giving Grace service project.

The girls have spent the last few weeks collecting baby dolls and hand-sewing blankets, which they passed out to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients at the center. The project was inspired by Oxford resident Beth McCullen’s daughter, Laura, who gave her baby doll to a woman with Alzheimer’s while visiting the nursing home a few years ago.

This unselfish act, as well as a recent Facebook video, is what McCullen said inspired her to start the project.

“We took Laura to the nursing home to visit and took her baby doll, Grace, with her. We visited with a lady who wanted to hold her doll and didn’t want to give her back,” McCullen said. “She was talking to her, rocking her. It was really sweet, and Laura just decided, ‘I can get another doll.’ We went back several weeks later, and the lady still had it and loved it.”

After seeing the viral video of a similar project on Facebook, McCullen and her daughters decided to reach out to their friends on social media to see if they would be interested in the program.

From there, interest grew, with people from all over sending messages of support and donating dolls, which cost about $20 apiece, to the project. Then one day, Shannon Sullivan, one of the Girl Scout troop leaders, contacted McCullen about working with Girl Scouts to reach the 25-doll goal.

“People always wonder where the Girl Scout cookie money goes,” Whitney Byars, who helped distribute the dolls, said. “They use it for projects like this to better the community.”

After collecting the dolls, troop 13616 met up with volunteers from RSVP, who helped them make hand-sewn blankets to swaddle the dolls, which were placed in a toy wagon and wheeled throughout the facility on the way to their new homes.

Alzheimer’s and dementia patients at various stages were presented with their very own baby doll, as well as a personal wish from each Girl Scout that their new companion would bring them joy, comfort or love. Some cried, some held their new dolls as if they were real babies and others simply smiled as a sign of thanks.

Karen VanWinkle, activities director at Oxford Health and Rehab, said the Giving Grace project was a literal answer to her prayers.

“I saw the same video, and I knew we couldn’t buy 25 dolls,” VanWinkle said. “So when [McCullen] came in, she said, ‘I’m going to ask you a number. If you wanted to get dolls, how many would you need?’ I told her 25, and she and her daughter Sarah got so excited because that was their goal. It’s like it was meant to be.”

The girls nearly doubled their goal, however. Exceeding their expectations is something McCullen said she attributes to the kindness of others.

The final count for the Giving Grace project was 42 dolls, which was enough to give out at Oxford Health and Rehab as well as their upcoming trip to Hermitage Gardens.

“The people were just so generous,” McCullen said. “I had people calling and texting saying, ‘I’ll send you four dolls.’ One man who I don’t even know messaged me on Facebook and said, ‘I love what y’all are doing, this is so great. I’m sending you five baby dolls.’ It’s just been awesome to see that generosity in people.”