‘A LITTLE BIT OF LIGHT INTO THE LIVES OF LITTLE GIRLS WHO ARE SO BRAVE AS THEY BATTLE CANCER’
Dollhouses are providing what Jon Greenleaf calls “a perfect storm” in his retirement years.
“I love working with my hands, and I am bringing a little bit of light into the lives of little girls who are so brave as they battle cancer,” he said.
The longtime Santa Barbara resident, a former advertising and real estate executive, builds charming dollhouses that he donates to the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides financial, educational and emotional support to families living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties who have a child with cancer.
The wood houses, which are 3 feet high, 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep, are made from kits that he buys from Real Good Toys, a company in Barre, Vt.
“There are six or eight different models, and all the ones I make are two- or three-story, no one-story. I sand them, paint them and add interesting details like doorknobs, baseboards, crown mouldings, trim around windows, and sometimes I wallpaper the rooms,” said Mr. Greenleaf.
“But I don’t furnish them because it’s too expensive to buy the miniature pieces. If I did, I would go Ventura where Larrianne’s Small Wonders is a veritable treasure trove of miniature items.”
Although he would prefer to paint the dollhouses in vivid colors like bright red or darker hues like maroon, he has found over the years that the little girls prefer pastels like pink, yellow and light blue.
Aleeyah Payan has one of the houses. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia on July 10, 2017, when she was 4 years old and is being treated at Cottage Children’s Medical Center, according to Becca Solodon, TBCF program director.
“Her mother, Kenya Catalan, was working for the Santa Barbara school district at the time of diagnosis and needed to take a leave of absence to care for her daughter, while Aleeyah’s dad worked in construction. Aleeyah is now 6 years old and in the final stretch of her treatment, and her hair is beginning to come back,” said Ms. Solodon.
“Their family received financial assistance from the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation through our Financial Stability Program, attended Family Connection Events through our Emotional Support Programs, received holiday gifts through our Project Holiday Programs as well as Jon’s wonderful dollhouse through our Bear Necessity Program.
“It’s been such a joy seeing each child’s face light up when they get to bring home one of his dollhouses. We truly appreciate his ongoing effort to brighten the lives of our kids in treatment.”
Ms. Catalan said, “When we were going through a hard time, Mr. Greenleaf found a way to make us feel so thankful. He brought such a beautiful smile to our little girl with the amazing, thoughtful gift of one of his dollhouses. It meant so much to us. We can’t thank him enough.”
The father of two daughters and grandfather of four recalled that he made his first dollhouse for his granddaughter Megan when she was 2 years old.
“I got an unexpected reaction. She burst into tears, so I had to take it away. Why the tears? I have no idea,” he said with a laugh.
Undeterred, Mr. Greenleaf continued to make the houses in his home workshop.
“I got the itch to keep working with my hands. My father bought me a workbench when I was 6 years old, and I built two decks and bookcases for our homes on the East Coast,” said Mr. Greenleaf, who grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and his MBA from UC Berkeley.
For 10 years, he worked for J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency in New York City followed by stints in real estate for Merrill Lynch in Stamford, Conn., and Los Angeles, and Jon Douglas in Los Angeles. In 1998, he retired and the next year moved to Santa Barbara with his wife, Barbara Greenleaf.
Besides the dollhouses, Mr. Greenleaf’s other passion is photography, a hobby he began in high school.
“I studied with Bruce Burkhardt at Santa Barbara City College. I like taking pictures of everything – landscapes, portraits, close-ups. I have no specialty, and it’s frustrating,” he said.
“As much as I enjoy taking the pictures, however, it can’t compare to the joy I feel in making the dollhouses for the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation. There’s something special about working with my hands for such a meaningful cause.”
For more information about the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, call 805-962-7466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.