Nine-year-old Millie Stewart’s expression lit up as she talked about how her wish to help fellow children developed into a room full of dolls destined for children in the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program.
"My queen mentor, Taylor Blackwell, she has learned how to give back to the community, and I wanted to do the same," Millie said.
Millie asked donors all over town to provide dolls that she could share with children in the CASA program. She set up bassinets at locations across town, and dolls soon poured in from classmates and faculty members at St. John's Lutheran School, along with donations from the Kiwanis Club, Danni Nicole's, Continental Cement, the Hannibal Board of Public Works and Java Jive.
Millie collected about 200 dolls within a month.
Children in CASA receive personalized support and care when they are in the midst of a court case, and CASA Volunteer Coordinator Rebecca Morrell said the dolls can make a profound difference in their lives.
"We at CASA are thankful for citizens like Millie who know that they have been blessed and want to give back and help children who have some challenging lives," she said. "And to receive a new doll — no matter what the age — can bring a smile to their face."
Morell said Millie's efforts meant children in foster care would receive a doll, too.
Millie beamed as she thought about the impact the dolls could make.
"I'm hoping it will make them feel really happy about what they receive," she said. "I want people to love their dolls like I do."
She fondly remembered when she received her favorite doll, Lily Rose, when she was seven years old. Lily Rose's hair has fallen out from all the love she's received.
"She is my favorite, because she used to have a rose in her hair," she said.
Millie's mother, Beverly, said collecting the dolls was a natural fit for her daughter's passion. Many donors and businesses joined in the effort, including the Kiwanis Club providing a $100 donation to purchase more dolls.
"It makes you feel great to realize the community is behind someone," she said.
Millie plans to collect dolls next year, too. Her father, Jared, credited the positive influence that pageants like Miss Hannibal, Miss Missouri and Miss Marion County made on his daughter.
"To watch her and other girls around her grow and learn positive experiences instead of negative experiences, and to give back, not be on an iPad or a phone all the time — learn a talent, be able to speak well, present themselves well — gives women confidence, and gives my daughter confidence in this day and age," he said.
His wife reiterated how those experiences have shaped Millie's dedication to making a difference.
"She has been part of the Miss America and Miss Hannibal group for a really long time, since she was little-little, so she's had really good examples as she's grown older, and a great mentor who taught her to give back and get involved," she said. Those people have been so wonderful to her. She's very blessed to have such good examples."