"With the doll," says Amy Jandrisevits, "a child sees, 'I am not the only one who looks this way...and beautiful enough to be a doll.'"
Amy Jandrisevits has always liked to make kids smile. One day in 2015, a mom whose daughter lost a leg to amputation asked Jandrisevits, a longtime dollmaker, if she could craft a mini-me doll for the girl.
Jandrisevits posted the creation on Facebook, and within months the mother of three had orders pouring in for look-alike dolls for kids with everything from albinism to missing limbs.
“Differences make kids feel isolated and judged,” Jandrisevits, 46, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “With the doll, a child sees, ‘I am not the only one who looks this way…and beautiful enough to be a doll.'”
By August of this year, Jandrisevits has designed and sewed almost 400 of the special dolls in her Wisconsin dining room, each creation uniquely mirroring the child or baby to whom it’s being given. Oftentimes a donor sponsors a doll, which costs about $100 to make, through Jandrisevits’ nonprofit A Doll Like Me and its GoFundMe.
Despite a waiting list of about two years, Jandrisevits insists on making each doll herself, with a little help from her mother and a friend. If a child is terminally ill, Jandrisevits moves them to the front of the list.
“I am invited to such an intimate part of families’ lives,” she says. “I love that connection.”
This kind of compassion drew Jandrisevits to her former career as a pediatric oncology social worker in the 1990s. At the time, she noticed there were no Cabbage Patch dolls mirroring her young charges, with their surgery scars, bald heads, missing limbs and other differences.
“I thought,” she says, “these kids need something that looks like they do.”
Now 2-year-old Keagan Cameron, with brown birthmarks covering his body due to a rare skin condition, has Chip, a doll covered in brown spots. Keagan takes Chip everywhere.
“When kids ask, I say Keagan has chocolate chip syndrome, from eating too many,” says Keagan’s mom, Joy Cameron. “I want Keagan to know it’s okay to be different.”
Joy is in awe of Jandrisevits’ care in making the spots on the doll match Keagan’s. “I thought that was just the most amazing thing,” she says. “This woman is so incredible and everything comes from the heart.”
For more about A Doll Like Me, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.