Sheila Duncan’s niece was doodling while watching television when she heard the word “cancer.”
The 12-year-old took notice, as she had lost her grandfather, grandmother, and a favorite dog to the disease.
“She said ‘I have to help these kids,’ ” recalled Duncan. “And she drew a dog and said ‘His name is going to be Trouble.’ It was a divinely inspired moment.”
By the next year, 2007, Trouble the Dog (troublethedog.net) was the subject of a children’s book written by Duncan and a soft plush toy, with big eyes and floppy ears.
Since then, Duncan, 63, of Marblehead, has donated thousands of toys to children and families going through difficult times. She took a truckload to Newtown, Conn., after the tragic school shootings. She donated them to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. They’ve been given to children’s hospitals, homeless shelters, nursing homes, and injured veterans.
The aim, Duncan said, is to spread comfort and hope. “He’s a magical being, not just a stuffed animal,” she said. “There is a spirit and energy in Trouble, and people can feel it.”
She said Trouble, made in the United States, has soothed people throughout the country and the world.
Now, she is expanding her reach to even more children and families through the KenneK Foundation, launched last week. The foundation is named in honor of her father, the late Kenny Duncan, who owned Maddie’s Sail Loft restaurant in Marblehead.
“My father was truly a generous spirit,” she said. “He was an old-school philanthropist who would give anyone the shirt off his back.
“I felt compelled to launch the KenneK Foundation because so many families have reached out to me, sharing their personal stories about the immediate comfort Trouble the Dog has given to their child,” Duncan said. “And, from families we have helped through difficult times.
“If I am making a positive difference in someone’s life, then I’ll continue doing what I do. It’s been a real journey, but it’s incredible how it has come together.”
Wendy Killeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.