Motto: Care, Learn and Have Fun!
Mission: We strive to provide fulfilling work opportunities to individuals with disabilities as well as educate children to accept and respect their peers who learn and grow differently.
What is LorettaRose and My Sibling and My Pal Dolls?
We sell 18 inch boy dolls, doll clothing, and accessories in our online store. We are not a typical toy company, if one considers these three main factors that inspire us to continue doing what we do:
- We are fulfilling the need in the market for 18 inch boy dolls. Boy dolls? Yes, boy dolls! In the toy industry there is an overwhelming supply of dolls for girls, and a great lack of dolls for boys. We think it’s important that boys are given the choice to play with dolls at a young age, and that they are not pressured to fit into the preconceived mold of what society dictates a young boy should play with. Same goes for girls – boy dolls should be equally available to them, too!
- We use this business opportunity to try to spread our message accept and respect people with autism and Down Syndrome. Our My Sibling doll collection is made up of four different characters, each of whom has a sibling with one of these disabilities. The booklets that come with these dolls tell real life – inspired stories about living with a loved one who has a disability.
- We provide stimulating work to adults with disabilities in a local sheltered workshop. Our dolls are groomed, dressed, packaged and stored in the warehouse by the individuals who have the skill level to participate in our program. We also provide training for more skilled tasks, such as printing booklets and styling the hair of the dolls.
Our founder’s 31 year old son with autism is essential to the running of the business, as he is responsible for building and preparing shipping boxes; as well as loading our van with those boxes when they are packed up and ready to go to the post office, and then unloading the packages onto the loading dock.
Why did you feel that starting your own business was the answer?
There are so few job opportunities for adults with autism and other disabilities. Many employers don’t recognize their potential as faithful, dedicated workers, who, with the proper supports can show just how able they are. We want to show other companies, by example, that people with disabilities can be very productive members of the workforce.
As an autism awareness advocate for more than 20 years, our founder came to the realization that she was too late to try and change society’s views because it’s too hard to truly “reach” people who already are set in their ways. That’s why she decided to focus her work on writing stories for children. This way, both young children and their parents or grandparents could learn about children who learn and grow differently from the perspective of a child. Her thought was: if children learn to care and help their peers at a young age, acceptance of people’s differences will hopefully come more naturally to them as they grow up. This is summed up in our slogan: “Care, Learn and Have Fun!”
Is this a business that employs others with autism or special needs?
We do not directly employ any people with disabilities, rather, we provide contract work to a local sheltered workshop for adults with disabilities. Our 31 year old family member who has autism is employed at the workshop. He also works for us on a volunteer basis, as an important part of our shipping department.
What are 3 challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
- Funding – Solution: We had to borrow from our home equity line of credit.
- Staffing – Solution: We found people who were willing to work for use on a contract basis that believed in what we were doing enough to take the risk.
- Fulfilling our mission – We had to convince people that “practicing what we preach” about adults with autism and other lifelong disabilities having job opportunities could become a reality. We began giving contract work to a local sheltered workshop almost 10 years ago, but they would only consider tasks that didn’t involve handling our dolls. In the meantime, our founder went back to the local university, enrolled in a special education masters program and earned an ABA certification so that she would have the credentials to work with adults with autism that went beyond her training as a special educator and a mother of an adult with autism. The staff at the workshop agreed to allow us to work hands on with the workers, teaching them all the steps in grooming, outfitting, packaging and even storing the dolls in the warehouse. Our mission will not completely be fulfilled, however, until we can convince the organization to allow us to train and support the workers in opening up the storefront associated with the facility so that we can sell our dolls to the public, rather than just through our online store. Our workers place a sticker on every package that states the doll has been groomed, outfitted and packaged by adults with disabilities. So far, our customers have had such wonderful things to say about this.
What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting a business?
- Meeting so many good people who genuinely cared enough to have given our crazy idea a second thought… and then giving us a chance to bring it to reality.
- Meeting so many wonderful customers who embrace our mission, express their joy in finding us, and help us spread the word about our dolls and to accept and respect those with disabilities.
- Seeing the smiling faces of the adult workers every time we come into the workshop.
Do you have any customer feedback you’d like to share?
We feel very lucky that we get so much positive feedback from our customers on a regular basis. Emails from customers who are asking general questions about how to place an order or details about our products, often begin with something like,
I just want to start off by thanking you for what you are doing by making boy dolls available and having such a great mission.
Messages from customers like that are what really motivate us. Here are some reviews posted on our website that are more specific about purchases they have made:
“I just wanted to let you know how much my grandson loves his My Pal for Autism doll. I have 4 granddaughters and he always feels left out without a ‘doll’ to play with. He has named him Austin. My youngest granddaughter which is his sister is autistic so it has served perfectly.” (Peggy)
“My 9 year old son who is on the autism spectrum loves his doll – he can now play with his sister! The doll is of great quality and the customer service was top-notch. I am especially thrilled to support an organization that provides people with disabilities real work experience and inclusive opportunities.” (Francesca)
“I believe that boys and girls should have the choice of both doll sexes in order to enjoy a world of creative and healthy play. The real bonus is that your products benefit and encourage advocacy for individuals with autism! I have served as academic coach and companion to kids with autism.” (Kisa)
How about a memorable moment with customers?
Since we sell a product that is meant to promote play, joy, and fun we certainly have heard our fair share of heartwarming stories. One customer that stands out is a customer from Maine who bought one of our boy dolls for his 90 year old mother to represent her late son, the customer’s brother, who had passed away from a severe illness when he was only 8 years old. He renovated an old jeep toy car, just like the one they used to have, and needed a boy doll to sit in it to represent his brother/her son.
Tell us about any upcoming plans, new releases or exciting news!
We recently re-introduced our My Pal for First Eucharist character. Looking ahead, we will be running specials in our online store throughout the month of April in celebration of Autism Awareness Month, Sibling Day, and Earth Day. We will be announcing the exact dates of the sales and the discount codes for each on our social media accounts. My Pal for Tennis is going to be making a comeback in May!
What message would you like to give to other families who are searching for job opportunities for their autistic loved one?
Don’t give up! There are other companies that may offer opportunities for work like mine does, but these opportunities would be for individuals with autism who do not have great academic and communication skills. People with autism who have graduated from mainstream high school and/or college have a different set of challenges, because they generally have a different skill set and need assistance only with the social aspects of working in a company. For individuals like this, finding an agency that provides job coaching and job placement will be most helpful, because they are in touch with companies who are open minded about employing people with autism.
Photo credits – Loretta and Rosalinda Boronat, Rick Stubblebine, and customer submissions
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