DISTRICT HEIGHTS, MD. (WUSA9) — In an apartment complex common room in District Heights, Maryland a group of pre-teen girls sits down at tables full of glue, glitter and sparkling bits of cloth. They’re about to learn how to make dolls, but also, a very important lesson about life.

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The founder of the RagBaby Exchange, Sherri Lumpkin, uses doll making as a lesson in self-esteem.

“A doll represents beauty and sweetness and kindness and I think all of us have that in us. So, if you create the doll of yourself you can see for yourself how beautiful you are,” Lumpkin said.

As a long-time doll maker, Lumpkin said she founded her non-profit when she realized girls were struggling with their self-image at a very young age.

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“When I started so many kids were trying to make dolls that looked like something on TV with blonde hair and blue eyes when theirs was brown and black. So, I just said, ‘Why don’t I make this doll look like you? We want to think about how beautiful your skin color is.’ And I would do the hair like theirs and add some close similar to theirs and I thought, ‘Wow! That could be a way to really help people see their own beauty and believe in themselves,’” Lumpkin said.

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She starts by asking the girls to write down a negative message they need to release. It could be something that someone said to them, or something they feel about themselves.

As she walks around the room, she sees notes that read things like:

“I wish I wasn’t fat.”

“I wish I was smart.”

“Why am I so dark-skinned?”

For Lumpkin and others watching the class, the realization that girls who aren’t yet teenagers are carrying these heavy messages is like a gut-punch.

“We work from the inside out releasing negative self-thought and replacing it with positive affirmations,” Lumpkin tells the girls.

She has the girls rip up their negative messages and write down a new, positive thought about themselves. That message will get tucked inside their doll.

“When you put that inside the doll it’s holding this energy of love. It makes an impact because if you love yourself you can love the world,” Lumpkin said.

She uses donations to rent rooms to hold her workshops and purchase all of the material to create these custom dolls. She also uses funds to work with incarcerated juveniles to work on their self-image and self-esteem, as well as to ship some of her creations overseas to children who don’t have access to dolls.

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