Freeport woman’s hobby of restoring dolls spreads joy across country

FREEPORT — Retired teacher Jeannie Brinkmeier’s dolls are treasured toys for children across the country thanks to her catering and networking skills.

Brinkmeier specializes in making American Girl and similar dolls like new. A seamstress for most of her life, she also makes special outfits for the dolls before donating them to organizations that donate the dolls to children living in poverty and in foster care.

It all started a year ago with the restoration of a doll for her 8-year-old granddaughter. After that, Brinkmeier was hooked. Being able to help other kids get dolls to play with was a perfect way to channel her new hobby for good.

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“If it wasn’t for my granddaughter, I wouldn’t have Googled doll groups,” Brinkmeier said. “I tapped into a new world making sure the dolls I make put a smile on the faces of little girls who have nothing. I’ve been sewing since I was 6, but this is my new passion.

Brinkmeier also does clothing alterations for wedding dresses and ball gowns. In many cases, this means leftover material.

“The first (doll) dress I made was a wedding dress using old fabric,” she said.

“I finished the doll, then I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I then heard about non-profit organizations that took the dolls to give them away. He just blossomed from there.”

Jeannie Brinkmeier holds an American Girl doll on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at her home in Freeport.

Brinkmeier works with three national nonprofit organizations. She said she enjoys networking with organizations to make a difference.

“It’s a sense of community, and we all love dolls,” she said. “It went from loving dolls to adding my love for children. It entered my soul.

One of the nonprofits she works with is Special Dollivery in Utah, which sends the dolls to foster children. Susan Robison started this organization.

Robison praised Brinkmeier for his “humanitarian heart”.

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Robison said that to play with a doll is to allow children to dream and to know that the dream can be achieved.

“Our team encourages these dreams by providing dolls of all ethnicities with wardrobes for foster families and other children in need,” she said.

“Jeannie is always on the front line supporting our special projects. Recently, a large number of Afghan refugee families have been resettled in our region. We thought dolls could help kids transition into their new homes. We put out a call for authentic Afghan outfits and of course Jeannie was the first to respond and rally others to help us. She happily shared her creations with others and we were able to donate 30 dolls to a refugee organization near us. Her outfits were so authentic that the person who took the gift had a little misty eyes.

Brinkmeier said each of her dolls comes with three outfits. She loves seeing the smiles on the faces of the photos sent to her of her dolls with a child. She learned how to restore and repair dolls by networking and watching YouTube videos.

Jeannie Brinkmeier is displaying an American Girl doll on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at her home in Freeport.  Brinkmeier designed and sewed all the clothes for the doll that will become a gift for a girl from Afghanistan.  One of the organizations Brinkmeier works with helps refugee families settle in the United States

She scours thrift stores for clothes, buys gear and dolls, knowing that the retirement money she receives is being put to good use.

“I’m now part of another community that affects children’s lives, and I love it,” Brinkmeier said.

The next step for Brinkmeier is to start a charity group in the Freeport area.

She wants to share her joys of restoring dolls with others. She wants to call the group “The 3 R’s”, which stands for restoration, restyle and regift.

Brinkmeier invites anyone interested in joining her in her work to email her at [email protected]

“I have already made dolls for Afghan children. My next step is dolls for Ukraine,” she said. “It’s a story that started with my granddaughter to become something bigger than me. Making dolls takes me back to my childhood. I had joy and I want to share it with children.

Jane Lethlean is a freelance correspondent.

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