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Monica Anderson and Sister Nancy Malburg guide service projects to create inclusive, meaningful experiences that bring Sisters from every living group together to companion one another in service and mission.

In 2019, Nancy Malburg OP called Bethany Christian Service and asked “What can the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids do to comfort the children caught up in the refugee and immigration crisis?”

When told the children arrive with nothing, Sister Nancy put into motion a plan that would put creature comforts into the arms of children.

This retired educator, school administrator, personnel director, and project manager wanted to create tactile, playful items for children to cuddle.

Modest in all things, Sister Nancy said: “It wasn’t anything. I used fabric from my stash and just got creative with pattern making. If I could offer anything, it was the benefit of my creativity; I have plenty of that. And I have these ladies [Sisters] who can help.

Sister Elaine LaBell shares the final look of a completed stuffed bear.

“Over the past four years, Little Friends Dolls have provided comfort for children caught up in adult problems: immigration and asylum issues, domestic disputes and violence, separation from parents, grief and loss,” said Sister Nancy, who designs each doll.

“We have provided 80-85 dolls per year. Even during pandemic isolation, Activities Coordinator Leah Hansen worked with Sisters at Aquinata Hall to stuff and dress dolls. With the help of Ann Hehl OP and Julia Nellett OP, piecework is prepared and sewn, then packaged to send forward to more Sister dollmakers to stuff and, later, dress. Together, Sisters have created more than 340 dolls.”

The Critter Brigade coordinated by Elaine LaBell OP functions much like the doll workshops. Sister Elaine has been designing the huggable creatures since 2018. Once cut and piecework sewn, the critters are stuffed by Sisters, loving notes are signed, and all are packaged for delivery to Bethany.

More than 270 frogs, puppies, elephants, fish, turtles and bears have found loving arms.

Sister Ann Hehl helps create the accessories for Little Friends Dolls. Special touches like seasonal outfits, backpacks and purses, hats and more accompany each doll.

Retired Registered Nurse Ann Hehl OP transitioned from full-time nursing after 52 years to spiritual care companioning and then pastoral ministry at Marywood Health Center (MHC). “When the pandemic forced closure of MHC, I transitioned to spiritual companioning Sisters and helping with doll-making.”

Sister Ann’s availability has been a gift for Sister Nancy Malburg. “Macular degeneration is taking my vision. I’m not sure how long I can continue my doll ministry. I’m happy to continue as long as it fits my interest, capability, and stamina.”

Enjoy other articles and photographs in the 2022 Spring issue of Mission & Ministry

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