‘It looks like me.’ Toy Like Me club donates modified toys to special-needs students

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 5:44 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s a gift designed to make kids with disabilities feel included and seen. Tuesday, December 6, a group from Roanoke College made a special delivery just in time for the holidays.

Christmas came early at Virginia Heights Elementary school with wrapping paper and lots of smiles.

The operation that brought the magic to the school is similar to a workshop at the North Pole.

Roanoke College professor Francis McCutcheon transformed into Santa Claus for the project, Toy Like Me. In 2016 she started modifying gifts to fill a gap in the market.

“When we modify a toy, we use household items. A lot of these hearing aids are just buttons,” said McCutcheon.

Those small modifications build a sense of belonging for kids with disabilities.

“When the kids see them, they see themselves. It’s the most marvelous transformation in a toy,” explained McCutcheon.

Teachers such as Anne Travers are the reindeer, helping to deliver the perfect present for each child. They tell the group what modifications are needed and help pick out the right toy.

“And it’s so special and impactful for them to see something that they love that looks similar to them, has equipment like they do,” said Travers.

Elementary student Reah says she’s always wanted a toy like the one she received.

“It looks like me because it got glasses and hearing aids,” said Reah.

Roanoke College students are Santa’s elves who spend hours sewing, gluing, and bending toys.

“Superheroes can have hearing aids, too, just like these kids, and it makes them feel like a superhero. It was really great to see,” said Roanoke College student Tim Hoffstaetter.

Even though Christmas at the school only lasted one day, the message these toys send will last forever.

“Thank you,” said Elementary student Dona in sign language.

The program is made possible through donations. If you would like to donate, you can donate through the Roanoke College Business Office.