Who We Are – From Collecting to Connecting
For nearly a decade, Joan led the Bitty Baby department for American Girl’s Natick store, a department dedicated to the brand’s Bittys or “youngest” dolls. Every day, she hosted groups of children and was usually found sitting on the floor surrounded by toddlers.
“It was a dream come true for me,” said Joan, who spent most of her life in Framingham. “I love kids, I love dolls and I wanted every child to have the American Girl experience.” She explained that it wasn’t just about buying a doll.
“It was about educating the kids about each one’s unique story, the powerful life lessons behind them and increasing their enjoyment of play,” she said.
Becoming Bitty Queen
Joan’s path to queendom is one that was over 40 years in the making. She spent her entire career as a teacher for the Early Childhood Preschool Center at Temple Beth Am Day School, just down the street from the assisted living community in Framingham, MA, The Branches.
Her mission was that every student has a solid start to their early education by learning things like colors, shapes and singing. And every school year, she gifted each of her families with a beautifully made scrapbook full of their child’s creations. The books were so precious and popular that her former students, some of whom are now in their 60s, still have them.
In 2010, Colleen Kodjian, CDP, The Branches’ Programming Director, was first introduced to Joan. Colleen had started collecting American Girl Dolls in 1994 and was always looking to expand her collection and searching for gifts.
Thanks to Joan, the American Girl Natick store became a refuge for Colleen, who at the time worked with hospice patients, often sitting by their bedsides during their final days. On particularly emotional days, Colleen would find herself at American Girl.
“It became such a happy place for me because I knew Joan would always make me smile when I needed it most. Her childlike spirit and ability to find joy in the simplest of things is infectious,” said Colleen.
Strengthening Human Connections
Over the years, the two continued to indulge in their mutual love of doll collecting. In February 2020, when The Branches opened, Joan decided it was time to retire for good, and she and her husband were among the first residents to move into The Branches.
At the assisted living community, Colleen and Joan’s relationship has deepened thanks in large part to the Benchmark Something in Common program. It’s one in which programming associates like Colleen, conduct in-depth interviews and gather them digitally to help residents like Joan connect to their passions and each other.
Through these interviews, Colleen has gotten to know more about Joan, including where her love of collecting comes from. They’ve also discovered a shared passion for traveling, something they never knew before despite being friends for a decade.
Combined, their American Girl collections amount to over 60 dolls. Frequently, the duo hosts “get togethers” for tea parties and other functions.
“Joan took care of me for so many years, and now I get to take care of her by helping to ensure she stays connected to her interests and goals. It feels really good,” said Colleen.