Helping Works

Anna Webb: Dolls reflect American families

Sharon Katz (back, center) donated a new shipment of DiverseFamilies dolls to the Learning Lab recently, much to the delight of the center’s staff and students. Kids from all backgrounds can recognize themselves and their family members in the dolls.
Sharon Katz (back, center) donated a new shipment of DiverseFamilies dolls to the Learning Lab recently, much to the delight of the center’s staff and students. Kids from all backgrounds can recognize themselves and their family members in the dolls.

Psychologist and RN Sharon Katz has a long legacy of service in Idaho and the Treasure Valley. She is a co-founder of the Cancer Connection, the nonprofit organization that provides programs and non-clinical support for people touched by cancer. Her counseling specialties include grief and loss, particularly for parents whose child has died. Katz started the first hospice in Eastern Idaho in 1980 and was a founding member of SPAN, the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho.

Her good works have continued in a warm and creative form: dolls.

It all started with Katz’s thought about her own family. Both her daughter and stepdaughter are in same-sex marriages. One couple has a child, the other is hoping to.

“As a psychologist, I wanted to do something for the kids, something to help them feel like they fit in and belonged. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if a child could have a family of dolls that looked like their family?” said Katz.

She realized that a lot of kids, regardless of the configuration of their families, might like to have a doll that looked like them. So a year ago, she founded DiverseFamilies, a specialized doll company. Katz’s dolls, each made by hand by “stay-at-home moms and grandmothers” in Spokane, are made of soft, bright fabric with a folk art style. Customers can order ready-made or customized dolls. The collection includes adult dolls, child dolls — even a dog and cat.

After several of Katz’s friends mentioned that they would love to buy a doll but didn’t have anyone to give it to, Katz started a matching program for anyone who buys a doll to donate. Katz will match the donation doll-for-doll. She already has donated around 50 dolls to local groups including the Women’s and Children’s Alliance and the Learning Lab. Hers is a “for-profit company with a nonprofit heart,” she said.

“My goal is to create a community of parents, grandparents and advocates for diverse families and to contribute to the marketplace for diverse families who are still woefully underrepresented,” said Katz.

The cost to buy a doll and have a second doll donated is $49. Find more information online at

‘Pet Peace of Mind’ program keeps pets and families together during hospice care

St. Luke’s Hospice is now part of a national program for hospice patients who need help caring for their pets while they’re in hospice care. The program began in January. St. Luke’s Hospice serves an average of 115 patients each day. Around a third of those patients have pets.

Through the program, trained volunteers provide services including walks, taking pets to veterinary appointments or arranging boarding. Services are available to people receiving hospice care who cannot care for their pets because of physical or financial limitations. Hospice and homecare providers refer patients to the program. Idaho is one of 35 states with a Pet Peace of Mind program.

Learn more online about the program at and about offering support through a donation or becoming a volunteer. Contact Karen Jeffries, St. Luke’s volunteer coordinator at 208-381-2789 or

Help put books in kids’ hands

Boise writer and teacher Jane Freund recently worked with a group of 3rd and 4th grade students at a Boise elementary school with a large number of low-income families. The students wrote and illustrated a book of stories through a project called “Young Authors on the Horizon.” Freund is trying to raise $600 so that each of the young authors can have their own copy of the book as well as a book to give away or sell. Each book costs $3. If you would like to contribute, send donations to Freundship LLC, P.O. Box 9171, Boise, ID 83707, donate by PayPal at or through the GoFundMe page, “Young Authors on the Horizon.” If you donate $25 or more, you will receive a copy of the book autographed by the young writers.

Contact Freund at for more information. We’ll keep you posted about the project.

United Way seeks donations to support homeless students

According to the State Department of Education, there are more than 3,400 homeless students living in the Treasure Valley. United Way is collecting donations for hygiene kits for these students throughout the month of March.

Kits, which include deodorant, shampoo, soap, feminine supplies and other hygiene items, cost $20 apiece. If you’d like to support the project, donate online at

Deadline nears for student Arbor Day photo contest

As part of Idaho’s annual Arbor Day celebration to be held on Friday, April 29, the Idaho Forest Products Commission is sponsoring its sixth annual “Look to the Forest” photography contest for Idaho students in grades 5 through 12. Young photogs can enter two digital photos that reflect their thoughts of forests and trees. The commission will award prizes and recognize winners at the state Arbor Day ceremony and tree planting. The deadline for entries is March 31. Find contest information, entry forms and past winning photographs online at

Life Care Center of Treasure Valley calls for volunteers

The nursing and rehabilitation center has a variety of volunteer opportunities available for shifts throughout the week and weekend. Possibilities include playing cards or board games with residents, bringing your pet (with current shot records) to visit residents, teaching a skill, offering free haircuts or manicures to residents, playing a musical instrument or singing for residents, becoming a pen pal, assisting residents during outings and more. If you think this might be a fit for you, contact Rayna Beilman, assistant director of recreational therapy at 208-377-1900 ext. 3102. Volunteers will need to fill out an application and fulfill other requirements.

2nd Annual Pooch Pageant brings in the kibble

More than 150 animal lovers showed up at the recent Pooch Pageant fundraiser in Boise. They participated in a silent auction, raffle and a slew of fun contests, including human/pet look-alikes. But most importantly, the event raised over $2,100 and 1,050 pounds of pet food, all for the Idaho Humane Society’s Pet Food Pantry. More than half of the food donations were cat food, a much-needed resource.