A sock, some googly eyes and a few craft materials can make a big difference in the life of a child going through a traumatic experience.
Creating a sock puppet is just the type of activity that will engage a child’s mind in a fun project and help take it off the stressful, and likely scary, ordeal they might be going through.
That’s exactly what local woman Leigh Donaldson Carman aims to do with her new Newport Beach-based nonprofit, Project Solemates.
“The kids, they know that there has been a trauma and they need a distraction,” she said. “It’s giving something fun…bringing a little joy into a situation where they’ve walked away from (or lost) all their possessions.”
Donaldson Carman started Project Solemates after seeing a newscast about tornados in the Midwest in 2014 that tore the community apart and caused families to lose everything. While watching an interview with a mother and son, she felt for the family. The child didn’t have a stuffed animal or toy of any kind left, she noted.
At the same moment, Donaldson Carman walked into her laundry room and saw a basket of “lost socks.” Both the child and the single sock seemed lonely and had lost something, she commented.
“That’s where the idea started,” she said.
Some local kids participated in a “focus group” for Donaldson Carman as she worked on the project. After some trial and error, the kit evolved to include an activity book, stickers, chalk, bubbles, and a small toy, along with the materials needed to craft two sock puppets, all inside a small backpack.
As she spoke about the program with others, several expressed interest in the project, including a friend of hers who is on the board of Human Options, an Orange County nonprofit that provides safe haven and life changing programs to abused women and their children and families to rebuild their lives. The group works with the community to break the cycle of domestic violence.
The sock puppet and activities give the kids something to fun to do while their mother is filling out paperwork and getting processed, said Julia Demlow Sofferman, who connected the two organizations.
It’s a good fit between Project Solemates and Human Options, she added.
“The kids are brought here under difficult circumstances and aren’t usually able to take much with them,” Demlow Sofferman said. “(The kits) provide something to keep their mind off the situation and what they’re going through.”
Donaldson Carman hopes the kit is comforting for both the child and the parent.
“As a parent, whenever you go through something stressful, you don’t want your kids to be focused on it, you would like them to be distracted. It also gives you time to figure out what you’re going to do,” she said.
It’s also important that the kids have something that is their own, she added.
“It’s something that is theirs, something that can comfort them, something they own as they go through this,” Demlow Sofferman said.
Donaldson Carman recently sent 30 backpacks to Human Options.
The kids are using them and liking them, Demlow Sofferman reported.
Donaldson Carman is currently funding and filling the bags herself, but the goal is to bring in volunteers, do some fundraising and find donors to help. She’s also been in touch with a few other local organizations that work with children in need.
She encourages anyone who wants to get involved to contact her through the Project Solemates website.
“It’s been really exciting to see it come this far,” Donaldson Carman said. “If I can spread a little joy in a bad situation, that’s really what our goal is.”
For more information, visit projectsolemates.org and humanoptions.org.