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COMMUNITYNEWSPAPERS.COM - September 18 - 24, 2007

Pictured (l-r) at their new office are Dany Garcia Johnson, Carol Fenster, Miranda and her mom, Hilda Argilagos-Jimenez.
Pictured (l-r) at their new office are Dany Garcia Johnson, Carol Fenster, Miranda and her mom, Hilda Argilagos-Jimenez.
Moms' Business Gets Backing, Goes National
by Gary Alan Ruse

What began as a sudden inspiration discussed during a field trip bus ride in 2004 has propelled two Palmetto Baymothers into a nationwide business venture with important new financial backing and a new headquarters just opened in South Miami in time for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hilda Argilagos-Jimenez, talented and popular longtime dance teacher in the magnet program at Southwood Middle School, and Carol Fenster, a successful psychotherapist, had been friends since Jimenez taught Fenster's daughter, Maddy, in school. Together they created the Baby Abuelita Productions doll series, launched in 2005, when they realized that they and others were in danger of losing an important aspect of their Hispanic heritage - childhood lullabies.

"Our intention was not to do business," Argilagos-Jimenez said during the company's new office housewarming event on Sept. 6. "We just wanted to preserve our culture. It started when Itried to sing a traditional Hispanic lullaby to my daughter and I realized I was starting to forget the words.

"Their solution to that was the creation of the first Baby Abuelita dolls, Abuelita Rosa, a grandmother doll, and Abuelito Pancho, a grandfather doll named for Argilagos-Jimenez's late father. The soft and cuddly 17-inch dolls each sing a different group of Spanish lullabies in a voice reflective ofthe doll's character at the press of its hand. The dolls come in packaging designed to look like a rocking chair.

"We launched the dolls in Miami at a Hispanic fair, and realized we had something," Argilagos-Jimenez said. "Within a week, I did five TV interviews."

Joining the two original dolls next were Baby Andrea and Baby Tita, both named after nieces in the family. The Sing Along with Abuelita Rosa Book, an interactive sing-a-long book now sold on the Baby Abuelita website, was next. Argilagos-Jimenez's daughter, Miranda, is featured in print stories, packaging designs and advertising, and other family members are involved in the project as well.

Eva Leiva-Andino, the voice of Abuelita Rosa, is a grandmother herself and is "a real person - not someone from Hollywood." Many auditioned for it, but the doll creators always cameback to her.

The growing product line is distributed nationally through major retailers such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, Target and Amazon.com, or at www.babyabuelita.com. The hardcover songbook has five buttons that play music for the song featured in the book, which appear in both Spanish and English. California television station KTLA reported that the dolls were "jumping off the shelf" out there and that the concept had really tapped into the Hispanic market.

Next on the drawing boards is a cartoon show on DVD and maybe the Disney Channel. Joel Someillan and George Noriega of Jollipop Entertainment, who do all the music for the Nickelodeon TV shows Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go, are already at work on the new project and previewed their efforts at the office launch.

Fenster has put her psychotherapy practice on hold for the time being and is enjoying the new enterprise designed to help preserve their culture.

"It's very different and rewarding in another way," Fenster said.

Perhaps the biggest boost was the news that Dany Garcia Johnson, founder and CEO of JDM Partners LLC, a Miami-based investment advisory firm, has joined Baby Abuelita Productions, making her the first major outside investor of Miami's hottest doll maker. Through Garcia Johnson's financial and networking support, along with business partner, actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's involvement, it is hoped that Baby Abuelita will be able to fast track opportunities such as the direct-to-home video series and discussions with major networks to create an animated television series.

"This is such a wonderful project," said Dany Garcia Johnson. "I enjoy working with it so much and have such a good feeling about it. I'm first generation in Miami, of Cuban heritage, and I felt I had lost some of my childhood cultural traditions. So this is a good fit for me."

Visit www.babyabuelita.com for more information.