Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

Carroll County 4-Her gives dolls new lives with new families, lands $5,000 grant to expand effort

When Carroll County 4-Her Makenna Steele was about to turn seven, she made a decision. Instead asking for presents at her birthday, she asked for money that she would use to buy items for charity.

That decision was the start of something big — a project that would lead her to be awarded a $5,000 grant and put her on the verge of launching a nonprofit.


“Then, for my 9th birthday, my mom knew someone in the community who knew a little girl who was four-years-old and was just diagnosed with cancer. She really wanted a doll,” said Makenna, who is currently a sophomore at Westminster High School. “So, I took a little over $100 to get her a doll with clothing and accessories”

Although Makenna didn’t get to deliver that doll, she said she saw photos of the little girl with her new doll.


“It was honestly the best feeling in the world,” she said. “You can’t even describe that feeling, and it made me want to do it a thousand times over again.”

Makenna’s mom, Erica McAndrew, said it was amazing to watch her child use her money for another child.

“Later that year we were driving in the van and she said: Mom, I want to bring smiles to others. I want to start Peace Love Dolls,” McAndrew said. “We started super small with maybe a dozen or so dolls that she collected. A year later, I was able to contact social services where she made her first [big] donation.”

Makenna launched Peace Love Dolls five years ago — collecting used action figures and dolls to donate to safe houses, shelters, nonprofits, and others in need — nationally and internationally.

For her effort, Makenna was awarded a $5,000 grant to expand Peace Love Dolls and to apply for nonprofit status.

“The Invisalign Grant is a partnership with the National 4-H Council and the Invisalign brand,” 4-H educator Becky Ridgeway said. “The Invisalign ChangeMakers program identifies 100 teens, with 30 of them being 4-H members. Youth are awarded $5,000 to use toward their service project.”

Now a senior 4-H ambassador, Makenna grew up in 4-H, following in the footsteps of her older sister.

“Makenna would go in my backpack as a tagalong when her sister, Payton, was in 4-H,” McAndrew said. “I think her love of community service occurred because of 4-H. It’s become a part of her lifestyle ... and it has given her so many opportunities.”


Makenna applied for the Invisalign Changemakers program in February when she saw a note in a 4-H newsletter.

“Becky [Ridgeway] wrote a letter of recommendation for me, as well as [Katie Kirby] a friend in the community who runs the nonprofit, Together We Own it,” Makenna shared. “She was one of the first people I donated to when I started Peace Love Dolls.”

It was late April or early May when Makenna got an email that she described as confusing.

“It said ‘you are one of the top finalists, and you might have won.’ Then, on July 1, I got a link to a virtual celebration and then I knew that I had won.”

The email guided Makenna to attend a July 10 virtual celebration, where she joined other winners and some of their family members to celebrate good news.

“If you attended, you actually got access to the money,” she said with a laugh.


Along the way, Makenna said the 4-H ambassadors and her 4-H Club have supported her by helping her collect, clean and package dolls.

“The Ambassadors have also completed a team demonstration about Peace Love Dolls, showcasing the steps it takes from collecting the items to cleaning and packaging them for distribution,” Ridgeway said.

In addition, “The extension office has served as a drop off location for the dolls, action figures, etc.,” she said.

Carroll County Breaking News

Carroll County Breaking News

As it happens

When big news breaks, be the first to know.

In April, Makenna’s club — Deer Park 4-H — packed 100 Easter baskets for Together We Own It, topping each basket off with a Peace Love Doll. Earlier in the year, she worked with The Elephant’s Trunk consignment shop in Reisterstown to provide dolls to two orphanages in Ghana, West Africa. They are two examples of many.

Children pose for a picture with dolls and notes from Joykol Childrens Home in Ghana. Carroll County 4-Her, Makenna Steele was awarded a $5,000 grant that will be used to expand Peace Love Dolls and to apply for nonprofit status.

“I’ve done two to five thousand dolls over the five years that I have been doing it,” Makenna said. “Since I won the award, I have applied to get nonprofit status for the organization.”

Her mom credits 4-H with much of Makenna’s success.


“She’s found confidence, the ability to take on a task that is huge and to break it down and be successful,” McAndrew said. “And she’s also learned about failure. That sounds odd, but in failure they learn to find a new or better way to do a project, instead of giving up. It’s about being a problem solver. It’s amazing to see them give back.”

For Makenna, the reason is easy to state.

“I do it so that kids can know the joy of having a toy when they may not have had one. And to keep [the dolls] out of the landfill when they could have a good home with someone who would love them.”

Those interested in donating can find Peace Love Dolls on Instagram or Facebook. Ridgeway said she would also be more than happy to collect donations at the Extension Office as well.