Amy Roloff discusses dwarfism with Chet Cooper
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Amy Roloff Dwarf Interview
As the big-hearted matriarch on The Learning Channel’s Little People, Big World, Amy Roloff navigates all of the responsibilites and challenges of raising a family while continuing to earn a slew of fans in the process. In addition to being a reality television star, Roloff is a soccer coach, a pre-school teacher and a philantrophist whose Amy Roloff Charity Foundation makes full use of her celebrity by benefitting people in need. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper caught up with Roloff to talk about her involvement with the Royal Carribbean celebrity cruise, her life in front of the camera, and her favorite job: being a mom.

Chet Cooper: Today we’re meeting onboard the Queen Mary, but I know you’re also going to be on another ship soon.
 
Amy Roloff: That’s right. It’s part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Sea. Royal Carribbean had given away an auction package for a major golf and dinner event that I put on last year, so I’m going on a celebrity cruise, and part of each reservation on the cruise will go to benefit my foundation, the Amy Roloff Charity Foundation. It supports kids, at-risk youth and disability groups.
 
Cooper: How long has your foundation been around?
 
Roloff: About a year now. Through the opportunities and advantages that I’ve had in the last five or six years, I figured it was time to give back to all of the things that are important to me. One of those things has been the Dwarf Athletic Association of America (DAAA), which I happen to be very familiar with. But I also help fund an organization for foster care parents and for the kids they adopt, as well as for people in low-income senior housing.  

We’ve also supported a family homeless shelter, which is one of only a few in the Portland area that brings in the whole family instead of dividing them up.

Cooper: You’ve got a lot going on in your life and yet you still have time to be on TV. Tell me about your show, Little People, Big World. How did that all come about?
 
Roloff: The Learning Channel (TLC) came to us about five or six years ago, and so we suddenly realized we were given a great opportunity to educate people about dwarfism. When it was offered that we do a show about our lives, my husband and I were like, “Wow, nothing like this has even been on the air.” Nothing had depicted dwarfism in an everyday way. Lo and behold, a few episodes turned into six seasons. And here we are.
 
Cooper: Has being on the show changed you at all?  Does it change how you see your disability? 

Roloff: I think I’ve gotten to know myself a little bit better, actually, and all the opportunities that I’m more than able to do. Exposing your life to millions of people, especially as a parent, is a daunting thing to begin with. But I think this very public experience has helped each member of my family grow. I think it’s strengthened us so that we recognize our flaws and the best parts about ourselves.

But in the end, I think the biggest change is in the general perception people have of dwarfism and how people approach me. They’ve gotten to hear my story on the show, and I in turn am able to hear their stories because they feel like they know me before they’ve even met me. In some ways that’s very humbling. We each have our challenges, but someone always has a challenge that is uniquely different from, and maybe even more challenging than, yours. So the show has been a great experience of getting outside of our boxes and looking at other people and the things they’re going through and how maybe we’ve helped them or inspired them.

Cooper: Are there any examples? Experiences where you’ve made those kinds of connections?

Roloff: Oh, sure. I mean, just as I was going through the airport, this security guard came up to me and said, “You know what? I am so thrilled to have met you. You helped my wife and I through something we didn’t even know was going to happen.” They had found out that they were going to have a dwarf child, a dwarf baby. So just the experience of having watched our show encouraged them and inspired them. It gave them hope, and it didn’t create this sense of the unknown for them. They were having a baby, it happened to have dwarfism, but through our show, they were also able to see adults who were dwarfs. So it gave some dimension to their expectations. It got them thinking, “You know what? My child’s going to be okay. He’ll be able to be whatever he wants.”

Cooper: It’s a boy?
 
Roloff: I believe it is, yes. A boy about 19 months old. And that kind of connection with this stranger was inspiring to me because often as a parent you’re in your own environment, you’re with your own family, and you forget that regardless of what you do, you can still be inspiring.

I remember another incident, this time at the beach, when a woman came up to me and told me that she had gone through some really heavy medical issues for about a month. She had gone in for a surgery and then doctors had found something else wrong with her and so she had to have a second surgery. But she watched our show, and by watching our show she felt inspired, and that got her through the surgery. It took her mind off of all of the stuff that she was going through medically. And in turn, I told her about my foundation and what I was hoping to do by utilizing the opportunities that I had been given in order to help other people. Right then and there this woman wrote a very significant check for the Foundation.

Cooper: Can you give me her email address? (laughs) 

Roloff: (laughs) Never would I have thought that I could be as inspiring or that my family could be as inspiring through the show as we apparently have been. In the emails people send us, some people think we’re great, some people think we’re not so great. But I think in the long run it’s been wonderful, because I’ve been able to start my own charity foundation, to look beyond myself, and to help out some kids.

Cooper: Have you thought of tying any of the non-profit work into the television show itself? 

Roloff: The show actually incorporated my first major non-profit event, which was the golf and dinner. So that’ll show up in season five, as well as all the dramatics that led up to that event and so forth. The sad thing is, I think too many people don’t think many people with challenges or disabilities are able to contribute to society in a truly significant way. I want to use whatever influence I have to help non-profits which don’t get the recognition they normally would but which are very significantly helping their local communities.  

I worked at a Habitat for Humanity site with my kids, and that was quite an experience. I’ve got average-sized kids and a younger son who is a dwarf like myself, but my own mindset going into this was, “What am I going to do? What am I capable of doing to help this process happen?” I mean, I knew what my average-sized son could do. He and another gentleman, who was probably one of the contractors there, set a goal to put the whole roof on in two days. He was bound and determined. And he’s built and physical.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Articles in the Regina Hall Issue; Humor — Time’s A-Wastin’; Harkin — The Benefits of Health Care; Ashley’s Column — From Italy, With Love; NBC Diversity Showcase — The Peacock’s True Colors; Chris Waddell — Pretty Tough Guy; Beyond the Chair — Hangin’ with Drew’s Crew; ABILITY House — New Place Like Home; Winter Paralympics — A Snowy Sports Report; Children’s Mental Health — The Doctor Is In; Amy Roloff — Cruising for a Cause; Sarah Reinertsen — Excerpt from In a Single Bound; Regina Hall — Acting, Altruism and a Death at a Funeral; ABILITY Awards — We Like You, We Really Like You; Andrea Friedman — Sarah Palin and the Family Guy Feud; EEOC Bad Boys — Schooling the Employers; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

April/May 2010

Excerpts from the Regina Hall Issue:

Regina Hall — Interview

Amy Roloff — Cruising for a Cause

Best Practices Award -- P&G and Microsoft

Andrea Friedman — Sarah Palin and the Family Guy Feud

Children’s Mental Health — The Doctor Is In

Harkin — The Benefits of Health Care

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