DAAP alumna creates custom stuffed animals for homeless children

Macy Meyer (DAAP, ’18) founded Sidekicks Made to bring kids’ illustrations to life

Written by Cindy Starr

Macy Meyer (DAAP, ’18) poses with two children who she made a Sidekick stuffed animal for

Macy Meyer (DAAP, ’18) founded Sidekicks Made, a nonprofit organization that allows children of poverty to create their own stuffed creations called Doodlies.

University of Cincinnati alumna Macy Meyer was researching homelessness in Cincinnati when she saw a void that she was well positioned to fill. Young children in shelters did not always have access to creative outlets, and some lacked a special possession — soft and huggable — that provided a sense of security and could accompany them to their next destination. And the ones after that.

With a heart for children and a degree in fashion design, Meyer (DAAP ’18), her husband Andy Meyer (DAAP ’18) and close friend JaMie Maier (industrial design, DAAP ’18) founded Sidekicks Made, a nonprofit organization that allows children of poverty to create their own stuffed creations called Doodlies.

Before it was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sidekicks Made was serving more than 150 children during its summer programs. The children designed their Doodlies on paper, and the Sidekicks Made team then sewed them into three-dimensional forever friends. Earlier this year Sidekicks Made merged with, and became a program within, the reVIV Family Support Foundation.

Meyer has long known the value of a lifelong cuddly. During evenings at home when she, her husband and Maier sat on the couch and watched movies together, each of them held something near and dear. “My husband would have his blanket, I had my pillow pet and JaMie had her Winnie the Pooh,” Meyer said with a laugh. “Shamelessly, we all had our little security objects, if you will. After one of our interviews with an organization serving the homeless, we asked, ‘Do kids have one of those? Do they have something like this that travels and grows with them?’”

Because many homeless children did not, Meyer said she “did what any millennial would do.” She logged onto Facebook and asked friends whether they had objects from childhood that they still clung to. “Everyone my age said, ‘Yes, I still have this, I still have that.’”

She learned further that these “transitional objects” play an important role in a child’s social and educational development, enabling the child to learn how to take risks and navigate new situations. “The best example I can think of,” Meyer said, “is when you go to the park when you’re little and you want to go down the slide and not die at the end. So, you send your object down first and then you go. Something as silly as a raggedy old blanket or a unicorn helps you be brave.”

Meyer, who grew up in suburban Northern Kentucky, learned sewing and knitting techniques from her grandmother. She became acquainted with issues surrounding homelessness while volunteering with friends during college. The small group visited homeless campsites and served meals and hot drinks during winter. “I had no exposure to this growing up,” Meyer said. “I had a growing curiosity about how these people felt. My husband and I made a point of acknowledging them and getting to know them. We’d ask what we could do for them, and they’d always say, ‘This conversation is enough; this is what I needed.’ You realize the humanness that exists in this community.” 

“Something as silly as a raggedy old blanket or a unicorn helps you be brave.”

Macy Meyer

Macy poses with a student and their drawing

Meyer has been at home with her husband, Andy Meyer, and their two young children during COVID-19. To keep the kids entertained, Meyer says: “We love to encourage different art projects. One of the things, specifically, that we learned from an art therapist is that different types of media can have a different effect on a child. Paint is very challenging to control, whereas a crayon or pencil is much easier to control. That doesn’t mean you should never paint with watercolor, but if a child seems to be emotionally out of control and feeling overwhelmed, giving the child a crayon or pencil – something very solid to use – is extremely beneficial.”

For children, part of that humanness involves developing their imagination and sense of control. And children in homeless settings have little control over what happens to them. “I thought, if I give them a glimmer of that, it will mean the world to them,” Meyer recalled. “My husband, who is an artist, said, ‘What if they’re able to draw, to create something from their own imagination and see it on paper and bring it to life?’”

Sidekicks Made launched a pilot program in the summer of 2017 with four children. One little boy, told to create whatever he wanted, drew a 13-legged octopus. Two weeks later, a colorful, stuffed, 13-legged octopus was in his arms. The children not only loved their toys, they also learned, Meyer said, that people could “hold true to what we said we would do.”

As the number of children served grew, the small Sidekicks Made team realized they could not continue to sew one-of-a-kind Doodlies for everyone. A Doodlie had to be designed and produced within two weeks because children were constantly moving from one location to another. The Meyers streamlined the process by creating stencils of 13 different body parts that the children could use to design their stuffed Doodlie.

“There’s a shark fin, a unicorn horn,” Meyer said. “One little girl took two legs and stacked them on top of one another to make a giraffe’s neck. My husband was super nervous when we shifted to stencils because he thought the children’s creativity would be restricted. But the kids blew us away with what they came up with.”

As the COVID-19 era continues and social distancing guidelines remain in place, Sidekicks Made is striving to adjust. Working with reVIV and its close connection to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Sidekicks Made is providing siblings of hospitalized children with sticker sheets and stencils so that they enjoy a creative activity during a period of trauma.

“It’s not the same program we first built, but we’re very willing to evolve,” Meyer said. “We’re continuing to brainstorm ideas. We’re grateful to have a design background where you’re constantly trying to work with the world around you and shift with the world. Luckily, we have all the experience and education to do that.”

The UC Alumni Association exists to serve the University of Cincinnati and its 315,000+ alumni across the United States and throughout the world. Learn more about how to stay connected with your alma mater and get involved in more than 50 college-, interest- and location-based alumni networks, including the UC DAAP Alumni Network.

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