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The California Girl Gang Working to Promote Positive Living

Made up mostly of women in recovery from addiction, the Doll Face Club takes part in activities aimed at bettering the San Diego community.
Photo courtesy of Klea Ndoci

To the average tourist, San Diego, California, is a land of lush green landscapes, theme parks and beaches. Its streets are flanked by colorful buildings and filled with people in board shorts and sandals; taking in the city's highlights, it's hard to imagine anyone having a rough life there.

However, the San Diego people see in passing is not the San Diego Klea Ndoci grew up in.

Born in Albania, her family moved to San Diego when she was around six years old. As a child, Ndoci never felt her home was a safe space, and was more comfortable out in the streets from an early age. "I loved running away every night and being escorted home by the police," she said. By the age of 11, she had tried cocaine for the first time. "At first I thought it was helping me," she said. "It's always fucking beautiful in the beginning."


Ndoci chalks her first instances of drug use up to sheer cluelessness—she didn't know what drug addiction was or think she was doing anything bad. "I was doing it for fun," she said.

Not long after, her drug use escalated. "When I was 13, I tried meth, and I was just a tweaker from that point on," she said. From there, she took part in any criminal activity she felt she had to do to stay high: robbery, prostitution, dealing drugs. "Once you know you're walking a dark path, it gets to the point where you just keep going down it," as she put it.

She finally got clean at the age of 22, after checking herself into a rehabilitation facility; unlike times when she'd gone to rehab against her will as a teenager, she stuck with it. After rehab, she spent a few years in sober living homes. "I got so fucking bored. I was bored as shit," she said. "I was so used to the stimulation of illegal activity. I stopped doing everything that gave me my adrenaline rush." This, she said, was the real hurdle—powering through the boredom and loneliness, knowing she couldn't go back to her old group of friends, the people who would suck her back into old habits.

It was during this time that she met a group of women in the same rehab program as her. These are the women she now calls her sisters. Ndoci credits them, and the bond they formed, for saving her. "When I got bored and wanted to isolate myself, my girls wouldn't let me," she said.


That's where the Doll Face Club comes in.

Klea Ndoci. Photo by Kim Newmoney

They wear a matching uniform, to try and give off the appearance of a gang. In Old English font, you can read the words "Doll Face Club" across their chests or on the back of their jackets. They don't smile in photos. If you saw this large group of girls walking down the street, you probably wouldn't think they were on their way to feed the homeless or speak to a group of women at a domestic violence support group, but that's exactly the kinds of things they do.

The group gets together monthly and participates in activities aimed at bettering the San Diego community. Most current members are women in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, and in that sense, the Doll Face Club doubles as a support group of sorts. That said, being in recovery is not a requirement to join—the only prerequisite to becoming a member is obtaining a Doll Face Club uniform and committing to volunteering at their monthly events.

The idea for the club came to Ndoci during a bout of depression. She'd originally hoped to start her own fashion label, called Doll Face Club, but felt like she wanted to do something to celebrate the bond she shared with her girlfriends. "I didn't go through all that shit to be just a fashion designer," she explained. She had an epiphany: The Doll Face Club was going to be just that—a club.

After writing out her vision for a group of women who would work to change the community, Ndoci recounts realizing that what she was forming was essentially a girl gang. "I wanted that same family dynamic, but without doing any harm," she said. "It's a sisterhood to promote positive living."


According to Ndoci, what started a year ago with a handful of close friends has now grown to include over 150 women from all over San Diego. As a group, they try to impact people in a positive way. Ndoci bills herself as the founder, but is loathe to call herself the "leader"."I don't like to label myself as anything," she said. "I just created a way for women to come together and do something to empower each other all while helping the neighborhood. So everybody fucking wins."

Photo by Kim Newmoney

Ashley Moreno, a 27-year-old mother of three boys, joined the Doll Face Club while in the throes of alcoholism. She said that she was initially reluctant to join the group because she wasn't in recovery, unlike most of its members. But they assured her that that was okay, and that together they could help. Today, Moreno is seven months sober, and she said the Doll Face Club has been a big part of her sobriety. She attributes her success both to the support of other members and the events they take part in; she was particularly affected by one experience, when the group gave makeovers to patients of a mental health facility. Moreno recalled seeing how happy they were to have visitors. "It hit home because my mother suffers from a mental disability due to drug abuse," she said. "The next week I went to go see her."

29-year-old Krsytal Ruiz first met Ndoci back when they were both living on the streets and, as she put it, "messing up". They went their separate ways, but after Ruiz went through rehab in Mexico and returned to San Diego, Ndoci reached out. "I was still in that position of feeling down. I didn't talk to anybody anymore," said Ruiz. "[Klea] reached out and said, 'I want you to be a part of the Doll Face Club.'"

Ruiz told me that she, like Ndoci, felt a sense of boredom once she entered recovery. "When you're on the street, you're not really doing anything, but your mind is on something else. Your brain thinks that you're doing something exciting," she said. The Doll Face Club has allowed her to escape that boredom, and without it, she said her social circle would be incredibly small: "It would have been just me and my kids, which is okay, but you need that circle," she said.

Ndoci says she's gained an entirely new reputation in the same city where she was once a criminal; today, she says, local women know they can come to her for help. Her dream is for the Doll Face Club to spread all over the country. She wants women everywhere to come together and be hands-on with their communities. But more than that, the spirit of her club is one of unity. "No matter where you come from or how fucked up your life has been, rich or poor, whatever. When we come together and meet up, we don't give a fuck," she said. "I know that I have solid women in my life who'll be there for me. That's the Doll Face Club."

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