Making a difference one doll at a time

Published 3:12 pm Thursday, June 8, 2023

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By Carrie Hudson

Intern Reporter

When the director of the Jessamine County Victim’s Advocacy Program, Taunya Northup-Mendenhall, posted an article in the Jessamine Journal promoting volunteers, little did she know it would bring a volunteer of 15 years.

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A woman who goes by the name “Granny Jan” stumbled upon the article and felt compelled to enlist as a volunteer.

Growing up, Granny Jan experienced the generosity of volunteers at Good Fellows, a nonprofit organization that works to serve less fortunate families.

She recalled a time she received a feed sack dress made by the volunteers, “That stuck with me for the rest of my life- getting a dress homemade from someone I did not know, and would never find out who it was. But that was okay. I didn’t really need to know who it was. The fact was, that they took the time to make that dress for someone they had no knowledge of.”

Granny Jan stated the generosity of the volunteers at Good Fellow led her to give back to others.

“It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be neat, it just has to be homemade and something that you took the time to do and give it away,” she said.

Over the 15 years in which she has volunteered for the Victim’s Advocacy Program, Granny Jan has dedicated her time to hand-making various dolls, purses, Christmas stockings and more.

She is often used donated scrap fabric from local furniture stores in her creations.

In her volunteer work, she was not alone. It evolved into a family venture where all her children lend a hand, whether that is stuffing the legs of a doll or gathering makeup to fill purses.

Regarding Granny Jan’s children’s role in her volunteerism, Northup-Mendenhall said, “They each have such commitment to bettering whatever she started. I think that is beautiful.”

While Granny Jan’s work for the program is not what one conventionally envisions when thinking of volunteer work, she believed sewing and crocheting was her way to help others.

She believed that everyone has a talent that lends them the ability to help in unique ways. Individuals can use their abilities to give back in special ways.

“Try something different, be a little different. Everyone has hidden talents; you just have to dig it out,” Granny Jan said.

Throughout her time with the Victim’s Advocacy Program, she volunteered 18,643 hours and donated 15,649 items she has made.

Most recently, the Governor’s Office named Granny Jan a Commonwealth Ambassador, an award presented to an individual who is not from the state of Kentucky but has shown service and character to the state.

Additionally, she was awarded the Sesquidecade Volunteer Award on behalf of the Jessamine County Victims’ Advocacy Program and the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office. The award recognized Granny Jan’s 15 years of service to the community.

Despite her accomplishments and service to the community, she wishes to stay anonymous.

In her 15 years of volunteering, she has never seen the faces of individuals when they receive the work she has spent countless hours creating.

Granny Jan stated, “There is no need to see it.”

Since Granny Jan began volunteering, Northup-Mendenhall said no one has left without something in hand, “No little girl comes in there without something to take back; it begins a healing process.

The work of Granny Jan is something Taunya Northup-Mendenhall and the Victim’s Advocacy Program greatly appreciate.

“It is incredible to me. There is no selfish bone in [her] body. There is not one thing that she does that is out of anything except her heart,” Northup-Mendenhall said.

A few days after completing the interview for this story, Granny Jan passed away. Her impact will live on through her work and service to the community.