'Now they've got a buddy'
Trenee' Zweigle's goal is simple: to bring a smile and sense of comfort to children faced with adversity. She does this by crafting specialty dolls — like the Chemo Buddy and the Hospital Buddy, which she designed — for children who are undergoing cancer treatment.
Zweigle, an Oregon rotating nurse, is the director of Smiles for Kids Today — an Oregon Benefit for Good Corporation, an umbrella over nonprofit organizations, LLC's and other corporations — comprised of nurses and community volunteers that makes stuffed dolls for children.
And this holiday season, Zweigle's mission is to hand out enough Chemo and Hospital Buddies for children who will spend Christmas at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
"It's just such a great thing to give them something for a while, to bring them some happiness and a diversion to what's going on," Zweigle said.
The idea to create stuffed dolls for children sparked five years ago when Zweigle worked in children's oncology at a hospital in Southern California. She wanted to make something special for the children — something they could keep, hug and cuddle with at night when they were scared.
"You should have seen how bad the first one was that I tried to do," Zweigle said. "But it was a start. Then I kept improving on it."
After seeing the reaction she received from her first round of Chemo and Hospital Buddies, she started creating the dolls in bulk.
"It's the best feeling in the whole wide world when you get to go there (the hospital) and the little kiddies are looking at you and you hand them the doll," Zweigle said. "It just melts your heart."
She gathered a group of nursing friends who spent time and money every month to hand craft the dolls — everything from cutting the material to sewing the doll clothes and stuffing the doll — and eventually sought donations through Smiles for Kids Today.
When she moved to Oregon more than a year ago, she wanted to continue Smiles for Kids Today.
"Oregon's awesome. Everybody's community-oriented and they pull together and care about others, especially kids," Zweigle said.
Currently, Smiles for Kids Today has about 12 dedicated nurses and community members who create the dolls, after another volunteer screen-prints faces on the dolls.
"You should see my house, there's stuffing in the corner; there's dolls all over the place; there's material on the table," she said. "It looks like a mini doll factory over here."
So far, Zweigle and volunteers have given dolls to children at Sacred Heart Hospital and Willamette Hospital in Springfield but they want to do something special for Doernbecher.
"Another great thing about the dolls is it takes the focus off the ill child and they like that. They don't like the focus being on them and being sick," Zweigle said. "Now they've got a buddy."
She said she's seen children take their Buddy with them for an MRI, since the dolls do not contain metal, and to chemo treatments.
The only problem with producing the dolls is finances.
"These are so expensive to do," Zweigle said, adding that each doll costs about $15-$20 to make. "We're hoping to get enough donations to make enough dolls for all eight (or so) units at Doernbecher."
She hopes to deliver the dolls prior to Christmas and have a party in the lobby with treats, games and prizes, or go room to room for those children who are very sick. Each type of doll also comes with a customized poem card that Zweigle wrote herself.
But the Hospital Buddy and the Chemo Buddy aren't the only dolls Zweigle has crafted. She also has dolls like the Dentist Buddy to remind kids to brush their teeth and the Military Buddy for children whose parents are deployed. The Military Buddy — which she's working on now — has a clear pocket on the front of the uniform for a picture of the deployed parent. The doll will also have a voice module where parents can record messages.
Additionally, Zweigle accepts donations for people who want to purchase dolls on her website.
"My goal is leave no child behind," she said. "There's lots of families, my heart goes out to them because you know they have maxed out their savings, their checking account. They've sold everything they can to get the best treatments for their child."
To donate money for materials, visit https://smilesforkidstoday.org/.