2014-April-AnneKelley-053The National Christ Child Society and its 43 chapters serve children in 19 states across the USA.  Our nearly 6,000 members volunteer their time in a wide variety of ways to meet local needs, often partnering with other organizations and always supported by friends.  Our founder Mary Virginia Merrick’s mantra inspires us today:   “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.”  This blog is my attempt to connect both members and friends with who we are, the work we are doing, and what we strive to do in the future. And you might occasionally find a quote, a story, a recipe or a prayer here as well.  Please subscribe on the right side of this page to join the conversation!

Anne Kelley, President
National Christ Child Society

Deep Diaper Discounts: NCCS Pre-Qualifies Chapters for the New Jet Community Diaper Program

diapersWe all know diapers are a basic health necessity that no baby can do without. Yet federal assistance, which addresses nearly every other essential need, specifically excludes diapers. The sad truth is that 1 in 3 families lack sufficient access to diapers, with many paying as much as 70 cents per diaper at corner convenience stores or travelling multiple hours for multiple dollars to get diapers at slightly lower prices.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey’s Diary Survey, families in poverty may spend 13-14% of their household income on diapers–in vast contrast to higher income families who can easily access cheaper diapers at volume discounts.  As a result of this shortage, children are exposed to health risks and/or diapers crowd out food or other essential purchases for low income families.

To the rescue, the Community Diaper Program, operated by Jet.    Jet logoJet, an e-commerce shopping marketplace, has partnered with Cuties, a diaper manufacturer, to deliver high-quality diapers in the most cost-effective way possible.  Via this new program, the price per diaper will be reduced from as high as $.50 to an average of $.13 per diaper without sacrificing quality.  (Here’s a story on the announcement this March from the Washington Post).

As soon as she heard about the Jet program, NCCS Executive Director Carolyn Pumphrey alerted the board of this new opportunity to reduce the costs of our chapters’ many layette, crib club and other infant support programs.

NCCS Executive Director Carolyn Pumphrey

NCCS Executive Director Carolyn Pumphrey

She then immediately contacted Jet to explain our work across the country and to find out how we could help streamline the application process for our chapters.  Jet has agreed to provide NCCS with promo codes for all 43 chapters so that they can purchase Cuties diapers at the preferred pricing, starting later this month.  Once NCCS obtains the promo codes from Jet, each chapter will be able to work directly with Jet to place orders as needed–with free delivery to locations the chapters specify.

diaper boys

Lynda Rittenhouse engaged in her family diaper sourcing and delivery project for Christ Child of Fort Wayne


Rittenhouse boys in the diaper depot

A chapter already excited about this new opportunity is Fort Wayne, Indiana, which operates multiple crib clubs as well as its layette program.  According to Lynda Rittenhouse, who followed her mother Beverly McArdle as the chapter’s head of diaper purchasing, the Jet Community Diaper program “is a Godsend.”   Lynda has spent the last ten years working with her six sons as a sort of family community service team to source diapers for Christ Child at the lowest possible prices in the area.  Thanks to the new Jet program, Lynda estimates the Fort Wayne chapter will be able to save 3-5 cents per diaper on the 156,000 diapers a year they purchase today–and potentially allow them to purchase more diapers in the future.  For chapters who are currently purchasing diapers at an average price higher than Fort Wayne’s  $ .21 per diaper, the savings may be even more significant!

Hats off to Jet, Cuties and others behind the Community Diaper Program for truly “finding a need and filling it”, as our founder Mary Virginia Merrick would say.  12[1]And not just any need but a need that supports layette programs that are operated by all Christ Child chapters!  Keep an eye out for information coming to chapter presidents this week on how to get your promo code by working with the NCCS office.  And learn more about both the problem and the solution by going to Jet’s Facebook page and watching this video . . . .

Finally, pass this blogpost along to friends of Christ Child and within Christ Child and use the Comment fields to let us know what you think of this new program!


And the Greatest of These is Love . . .

Daddy and Anne early 80s

My Dad a couple of years before he died, loving me.

My father died early in the morning of Valentine’s Day more than 30 years ago.  His last words were, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Charlotte, I love you.  Let me hold you.”  My mother went to sleep in his arms and woke to him expiring.  So this day to me is so much sweeter than all the candy sold on this day, as true love is–whether the genuine love of a spouse, a child, a parent, a grandchild or a friend.  It’s about the license to love fully, like my Dad loved my Mom and like God loves each of us.

My favorite thing about this holiday is that society on this day encourages us to do something nice even for the bully in the grade school class or the prickly person at work.  And to literally wear your heart on your sleeve. . . .

A ginger I know giving his date her first corsage

A ginger I know giving his date her first corsage

Nancy Robbins valentine tree (2)

Cape May Past President Nancy Robbins repurposes the Christmas tree to celebrate love

Cape May Van

Van in New Jersey takes to the streets during the recent floods, an example of love leading to action

To just go a little over the top with gussies and frills . . .


To go out of your way to  turn someone’s day around . . .







Pope Francis enthralled by a child with Down’s syndrome during his visit to Washington in September


Today, I’ll be brief, remembering that, for us, our love of the Christ Child is that powerful and embracing emotion that calls us to empower and embrace the children around us through our care for them.  In this virtuous cycle, love truly makes the world go ’round.


Anne Mom Oct 8 15

6 months after her stroke my Mom made birthday dinner for me last fall–after cleaning up from a bridge luncheon for 12 the same day! Now that’s love . . .




So, may every chocolate covered strawberry or fragrant rosebud or warm hug or loving kiss we enjoy today remind us that love is the one thing in life that can be infinitely shared. . . .

Enjoy what’s left of your Valentine’s Day,




Holy New Years Resolutions!

January is in the rearview mirror and my own new year’s resolutions are variously  progressing or in deep jeopardy.  New Year’s resolutions are very important to me and something I negotiate annually with my best friend Susan. I’ve made a slow start this year, and so it was quite humbling to read Mary Virginia Merrick’s spiritual diary on my way to visit the Tucson and Phoenix chapters in mid-January.


Tucson Chapter January Meeting in a picturesque desert setting

I read Miss Mary’s diary hoping to find some inspiration for the remarks I had been asked to make to both chapters.  Both are focused on growing membership and a more robust leadership pipeline.  Both are advancing in age and have lost members or are poised to shrink in the future if they don’t recruit new members to help with their solid programs.  Clearly, whether of their own making or not, both are facing change.

The two biggest changes in Mary Virginia Merrick’s life were the injury that confined her to a recumbent wheelchair and the death of her parents, which left her with maternal responsibilities.   Handling both were the focus of her self-criticism and aspirations in her spiritual diary.  She had a bias for action–especially for Christ Child.  She fought hard to be able to revive her body to do more for children, with the help of her doctors, but it was not to be.  She was intent on creating a loving home for her younger siblings, but they did not always want or heed her guidance.  Her diary is full of how she both tried to overcome and accept these challenges.


Tucson President-Elect Angela Schneider and President Frances Smith at the lunch meeting

Each summer she made her own annual spiritual resolutions on retreat in the country.  She set personal spiritual goals, focusing on improving her relationship with God, serving the poor, and being more loving to others–and checked progress over the year.  Her writings remind us that we can do great things ourselves–with God’s help–and that sometimes we need to let God or others take the helm for us.   “Fiat, fiat”, she would write:  “Let it be.”  It occurred to me that in the face of change there are always the change agents and those whose role is to let change be.  And in life there are different times when we must play both roles. There I found inspiration for my remarks in Arizona.


Frances Smith, Treasurer Pat Lunsford, Angela Schneider and me, enjoying the January sunshine in downtown Tucson

What a joy it was to join virtually the entire Tucson chapter at their monthly luncheon meeting on a gloriously sunny Thursday.  I was so impressed with the commitment and cohesiveness of this small group of 20+ women so dedicated to layettes and reading.  I loved connecting with each member, strategizing how to grow  membership, and discussing a variety of topics with their board.  The future is theirs to capture, and it is clear Tucson is focused on recruiting new Christ Childers to take their mission forward!


Soon-to-be Saint Mother Teresa watching over the Phoenix Chapter’s 30th Anniversary Gathering

Phoenix pres and spirit advisor

Phoenix President Grace Cooper, Msgr. Thomas Hever and me at the tea.  Msgr provided a blessing.

In Phoenix, it was all about celebrating their 30 years as a chapter at a well-attended tea at the Mt. Claret Center.  I loved the juxtaposition of the frilly teacup centerpieces and portrait of our next-to-be-canonized saint, Mother Theresa.  It was wonderful to raise a teacup to the five past presidents of the Phoenix chapter in attendance.  And wonderful to speak with two 40-something daughters of a current member about what it would take to bring her or her friends into Christ Child: activities that would provide volunteer opportunities for her junior and high school age kids, maybe knitting or packing layettes . . .  ???

Phoenix Past Preses at 30th

Phoenix Past Presidents in attendance at the 30th anniversary: Bette Laatsch, Judy Lauinger, Barbara Gallagher, Elaine O’Toole and Diane Scalise (also past NCCS President)

New approaches and new ideas should always stand together with appreciation of proven efforts in the past.  Aren’t the key questions:  who’s got the ideas and energy, who’s got the know-how, and how you can meld them together?  That’s our leaders’ job right now and they(you) need our support.  If you want to discuss this important issue, please make a comment here–or, of course, contact me directly . . .



Christ Child, Come Be Born in Us! Merry Christmas!

My Christmas will be merrier and more meaningful because my Advent packed a lot of Christ Child.  Everywhere I went it was about the incarnation. . . .

Happy Birthday, Chicago Chapter!

Dorothy Pauly welcoming members and guest to the 20th anniversary celebration

Chicago President Dorothy Pauly welcoming members and guest to the 20th anniversary celebration

A gift "From the Christ Child" is tagged as Mary Virginia Merrick tagged the earliest Christ Child Christmas gifts

A gift “From the Christ Child” is tagged as Mary Virginia Merrick tagged the earliest Christ Child Christmas gifts

First stop was in Chicago, where the Chicago chapter celebrated its 20th anniversary of its “reactivation” with a wonderful Mass and celebration dinner.  President Dorothy Pauly welcomed all the guests to the festive gathering and thanked members and supporters for their efforts to serve local Chicago children.  We heard about how the Christ Child Society of Chicago, after closing in the 1970’s, was born again in 1996 through a small group of women with connections to members of the earlier group.  And how a providential gift around that time enabled the chapter to restart programs and sponsorships.  Every detail was perfect, from the video to the inspirational speeches to the handmade programs and party favors wrapped “from the Christ Child”.  I was honored to share in the celebration and share some information about our founder and how she was inspired by the birth of Christ—and it was great fun attending with Maureen Wesley, Immediate Past President. 

Illinois Christ Child Chapters Make the “Christmas Edition”

Immediate Past President Maureen Wesley in front of Central Illinois Chapter's headquarters, provided by the Diocese of Peoria

Immediate Past President Maureen Wesley in front of Central Illinois Chapter’s headquarters, provided by the Diocese of Peoria

The huge footprint of the Central Illinois chapter makes requires "circles" of members in local areas, some more than an hour from the Peoria headquarters

The huge footprint of the Central Illinois chapter requires “circles” of members in local areas, some more than an hour from the Peoria headquarters

After a Starbucks “flat white with holiday spice” and a foggy, foggy drive, our next stop was Peoria.  We had lunch in Peoria where we learned about the chapter’s huge geographic

footprint and saw their layette items and assembly space, which is provided by the Diocese of Peoria.  We were joined by a reporter from The Catholic Post, the diocesan newspaper, who asked about the chapter’s work, our founder, the Follett donation, and about the needs of both the Central Illinois chapter and the Quad Cities chapter.  Check out the article (and the picture of Central Illinois President Judy Hayes) and see the fantastic promo for new members and layette items for both chapters!  A great example of strong diocesan support and great initiative in getting their story told by both chapters . . . .

A  “Plan Is Born” to Meet Increasing Local Needs

Quad Cities Chapter planning session at the Dockery-Jackson home

Quad Cities Chapter planning session at the Dockery-Jackson home

Maureen and I then moved on to Quad Cities, where we got a tour of their layette assembly location and enjoyed a tasty lunch at the home of President Joe Dockery Jackson.  Then we rolled up our sleeves in a planning session, where we worked on addressing Quad Cities’ challenges around membership and fundraising in the face of local requests that the chapter double layette output.  Our focus was on being forward-looking and ambitious, but also very realistic and clear about what can and should be done when in 2016 to ensure success.  Maureen and I left charged up and excited about Quad Cities’ new year, and enriched by the time we spent with its leaders.

Seeds of a New Monterey Chapter, Including a First Donation . . .

A small group of potential members came out on a rainy night to my house in early December to learn about the Christ Child Society and consider whether there might be a motivated

Blankets knitted by Joann Scanlon, a former parishioner at my church who just loved babies. Thanks to her daughter and granddaughter for giving them to the people considering whether to form a Monterey, CA chapter

Blankets knitted by Joann Scanlon, a former parishioner at my church who just loved babies. Thanks to her daughter and granddaughter for giving them to the people considering whether to form a Monterey, CA chapter of the Christ Child Society

group of people to meet the needs of local children in my new hometown.  We were so lucky to have  Lou Tatar and Sandy Sifferman of the nearby San Jose chapter join us and talk about their programs and what it means to be a member of Christ Child.  And then a serendipitous donation came our way.  Joann Scanlon of Pacific Grove, CA, was a prolific knitter of baby blankets, many of which she left to her daughters when she passed.  I met Joann’s granddaughter and told her about Christ Child and she immediately thought of her grandmother’s legacy in blankets.  She then got several from her aunt and delivered them to my house for the nascent Monterey chapter.  So even before our second preliminary meeting, we have beautiful start to a layette program!  Please pray for our discernment!

All this rebirth, inspiration and new birth leave me ready to accept the gift of Christmas and take it forward in my heart.  As Mary Virginia Merrick, Servant of God, said:  “Welcome, welcome, dear Jesus, I open wide my heart to You, come rest within my heart.”  Merry Christmas to each of you and may the Christ Child be reborn in you and yours this Friday and stay with you throughout 2016. 

Gratitude is “Happiness Doubled by Wonder”: Thank you, Follett Higher Education!

As we prepare for our unique American celebration of Thanksgiving, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to count our blessings rather than the number in people in line ahead of us in the grocery store.  Not so this year, because for the National Christ Child Society there have been so many amazing, ground-breaking blessings this year, blessings we never could have dreamed of even a year ago.

David Werda Follett

David Werda, Director of Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore accepting the South Bend Chapter’s “Heart of a Child Award” at South Bend’s annual “Let Love Shine” fundraiser

Let’s start with the most recent blessing.  As G.K. Chesterton said, gratitude is “happiness doubled by wonder.”  Those words really describe the joy and awe we feel because of the generous gift of Follett Higher Education Group of 6,000 Good Night Moon board books to be distributed to 27 Christ Child chapters across the country before the end of December, for inclusion in these chapters’ layettes. Follett_Vertical_RGB Follett has for some time been incredibly generous to our South Bend chapter, since 2008 donating these books for inclusion in the chapter’s layettes and donating many other books as well.  In fact, Follett has been so generous over the years that South Bend this September awarded the   Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore (a Follett Higher Education Group bookstore) its 2015 “Heart of a Child” Award.

GNM and layette

Follett Higher Ed duo with Deb

Carol Winter, Sr. Vice President of Merchandising, and Don Germano, President of the Follett Higher Education Group with South Bend chapter member and NCCS Board member Deb Low

In learning from Deb Low, who chairs grant-writing for the South Bend Chapter and serves on the NCCS board as development chair, that there are many other chapters around the country distributing layettes, Follett offered to extend its generosity more broadly.  Now, two-thirds of all Christ Child chapters will soon be able to pick up from local Follett Higher Education Group bookstoresenough Good Night Moon books to meet their full year’s layettes needs.  (Chapters benefitting from the Follett gift will be contacted directly by NCCS with the particulars).  Truly wonderful for the mothers and babies who will bond together while reading this timeless classic.  Wonderful for each of the 27 chapters receiving this gift this year, ensuring our ability to support early childhood reading which is so fundamental to a child’s ability to learn and progress in life.  Wonderful for us as a national organization to share this gift and be able to exclaim our gratitude from coast to coast to Follett Higher Education bookstores near us!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Follett.

The Follett gift is pivotal in scope and size and because it is the first gift received to benefit such a large number of chapters at one time.  But this year NCCS also received several other unique and important donations:

  • The significant bequest to NCCS from the Estate of Patricia Bertrand. Patricia Bertrand died this past year after having been a member of the Cleveland and Palm Beach chapters and a founding member of the Boca Raton chapter. Having experienced Christ Child in three different communities, Patricia appreciated NCCS’ role to support existing and forming chapters. Her bequest has allowed NCCS to make a one-time investment in improved communications and public relations with the aim of helping chapters attract more members and funding, as well as a substantial donation to the Cause for Canonization as it prepares to move to the Roman phase. God bless and keep Patricia.
  • The Green Foundation’s lead donation to the Cause for Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick. Based in Los Angeles, California, the Green Foundation made this donation to encourage other foundations and individuals to help make it possible to send the Cause to Rome. Their gift has encouraged significant giving, as have the major pledges and gifts of a number of chapters, including $25,000 by the Washington, D.C. chapter and, most recently, $5,000 by the South Bend chapter. What seemed an impossible task now seems more achievable as a result of these major gifts and the gifts large and small of other chapters and individual Christ Child members from across the country. Blessings and gratitude to you all.

Thanks as well to every Christ Child member and supporter, for each person’s gifts of time in leadership, in fundraising or in volunteering with children, and each person’s financial support to their local chapter, NCCS and/or the Cause. I ask Mary Virginia Merrick to pray for each of you and yours, and send warmest wishes to each of you for a Happy Thanksgiving full of gratitude and wonder.

“Saints are the ones who let the light shine through them” Happy Birthday, Miss Mary!


Stained glass window depicting the Christ Child with Our Lady by Harvey Salvin at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., donated by the National Christ Child Society in honor of Mary Virginia Merrick’s 100th birthday in 1966

Mary Virginia Merrick, Servant of God, was born 149 years ago today.  Most people aren’t remembered 150 years after their death, but Miss Mary is, because of her holy inspiration to all of us, especially to those of us who are connected to Christ Child.

This Sunday, at  my church, Fr. Marc Rougeau, Salesian of Don Bosco, gave a beautiful sermon on the beatitudes and communion of the saints. He basically said that the poor and persecuted and hungry being “blessed” is counterintuitive until you understand that Jesus calls us to be close to them—and that the saints, and our current Pope, are our best examples on how to do this.

He then told a story, sort of a fable, about a father who took his child on a tour of a church with beautiful stained glass windows depicting the saints.  When the father and child returned home, the mother inquired what the child had learned from the tour of the church, and the child said: “The saints are the ones who let the light shine through them.”

Mary Virginia Merrick understood this. According to her autobiography, she first learned about St. Francis when she was 25 by reading a French biography:

“I have always loved the animal world [God] created and from them have gotten real pleasure, and I love and have always loved to be near them. I find a kinship with them in our common Father. When I first read of St. Francis . . . . I was so happy for I understood him and his love of the lower creation in which he found God. This life made a great impression on me and I thank St. Francis for emancipating my soul. St. Francis in Monmonier’s beautiful life came as a justification of the way God was calling me to love, and it was a keen delight to me to find that ‘I was a partaker with those who loved God,’ even through His saints.”

Our founder was inspired by many saints, but she also found inspiration from the holy men and women around her, including her parents and many religious.  She found particular inspiration for her life’s work in Fr. John Drumgoole whose orphanage she toured in New York with her father as a young woman. About that visit she said:

“Goethe says somewhere that the eye would not see the light if it were not lightsome. I believe the seed that God had planted in my heart found a like Heavenly blossom growing in those bare walls and like it struggle into light and life. This blossom was destined to become a great tree under whose shade many orphans found shelter. After that Father Drumgoole figured in all my dreams of helping children for the love of Christ. I would picture myself working with him. I never saw him again, nor did he know the good influence he had cast on my way as a beneficent ray of light.”


Monsignor John Enzler, depicted at Mary Virginia Merrick’s home parish Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., where he served as pastor prior to becoming Catholic Charities CEO and where NCCS celebrated Mass after our recent Conference.

Just as Miss Mary was inspired by the lives and examples of others, we are inspired by her today. At Mass following the recent NCCS Conference, Monsignor John Enzler, CEO of Catholic Charities and member of the Advisory Board of the Cause for Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick, in his homily called us to strive to live our lives in ways that we can ourselves some day join the communion of saints and be with Miss Mary in heaven. He emphasized the importance Pope Francis places being with and serving the poor as Monsignor learned first-hand during the Papal visit Fr. John also encouraged us to celebrate Miss Mary as an example to others by supporting the Cause.  Here’s how he sent us forth, suggesting we let Christ’s light and Mary Virginia Merrick’s example shine forth just like the stained glass windows in Fr. Rougeau’s story:

“Let’s make it happen to be with Mary Virginia Merrick some day when God calls us home. And celebrate the wonder of the one who brings us here today and sends us forth in mission and evangelization to take care of the little ones, provide the gifts they need and let the Christ Child shine forth strong in our hearts–strong because she inspires us to do just that.”

So today, let’s celebrate and remember Miss Mary12[1] on her birthday, maybe even in some new ways:

  • Wish Miss Mary a happy birthday by “liking” her on  Facebook
  • Learn more about Mary Virginia Merrick and her life on the Canonization website or Wikipedia page
  • Pray for the Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick
  • Read a quote a day from Mary Virginia Merrick, as Monsignor Enzler told us he does every day, either online or by ordering her desk calendar from the NCCS office
  • Donate to the Cause for Canonization
  • Do your Christ Child work today in her honor
  • Shine your light by recruiting a friend or acquaintance to become a Christ Child member

And think about how we can honor her next year on the 150th anniversary of her birth!

Postcards from Conference 2015

Beth Barrett and Kathy Warren

NCCS Board Member Beth Barrett from South Bend discusses the new Challenging Poverty Manual with Washington, D.C. President Kathy Norton Warren just before Kathy’s speech about the Washington D.C. chapter’s programs

I can’t believe it has been a month now since the National Christ Child Society Conference in Bethesda–and since Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  Both events left me with a profound sense of purpose to serve our chapters in ways that help them reach more children.  And a deep sense of gratitude to be associated with people in 43 communities across this nation who are living the Gospel through serving today’s children.

There were so many wonderful moments during our short, but packed time together.  Attendance was great at every session and the topics about leadership, communications,

Thanks to the five chapters who provided scholarship funding for our 2015 Conference scholars!

Thanks to the five chapters who provided scholarship funding for our 2015 Conference scholars!

programs and membership got high marks.  We built in more time for networking as was requested in survey responses after last year’s Convention, and people really took advantage of that.  Duly noted for Convention 2016!

The theme for Conference this year was “Empowering Our Leaders:  Telling Our Story”.  As pictures are often worth a thousand words, I’m attaching a set of photos that I hope will give you a flavor of our time together.

An attentive group during the Friday mini-seminar on Onboarding Chapter Leaders

An attentive group during the Friday mini-seminar on Onboarding Chapter Leaders

Susan Ferraro Smith

Cleveland President Susan Ferraro Smith, who according to one survey respondent “lit us on fire” with her fantastic presentation on how to create a positive and respectful dynamic with chapter leadership









But if you want to hear Julie Francavilla’s keynote, or download some of the useful educational materials created for chapter leaders and presented at the Conference, you will find numerous useful links at the 2015 Conference page on the NCCS Website.

NCCS Membership Co-Chair Cheryle Mackie from Stuart Chapter brings to life her chapter's reading program

NCCS Membership Co-Chair Cheryle Mackie from Stuart Chapter brings to life her chapter’s reading program

South Bend Chapter president Peg Riggs speaking about their literacy programs was one of four chapter leaders to share program information

South Bend Chapter president Peg Riggs speaking about their literacy programs was one of four chapter leaders to share program information

Ange and new baltimore president

Ange Anglade, professional social worker and director of D.C.’s Girls on the Rise was one of our Friday night speakers. Here she’s sharing with Maureen Flynn from Baltimore

Breakout discussion about the 3 Rs of Membership: Recruit, Retain and Remember following one of three Chapter presentations of best practices

Breakout discussion about the 3 Rs of Membership: Recruit, Retain and Remember

Keynote speaker Julie Francavilla with President-Elect Marybeth Baucco, who is explaining NCCS' branding work and in particular the "Brand Values Matrix" which all attendees received to help them tell the Christ Child story more effectively at home

Keynote speaker Julie Francavilla with President-Elect Marybeth Baucco, who is explaining NCCS’ branding work and in particular the “Brand Values Matrix” which all attendees received to help them tell the Christ Child story more effectively at home

Julie Francavilla with CCCCCC of Cape May who spoke from the heart to tell a great story about obtaining donations for diapers

Julie Francavilla with Marie Austin of Cape May who spoke from the heart to tell a great story about obtaining donations of diapers.  Marie was one of three great volunteer storytellers who had us in tears!

Our newest Christ Child Chapter, Duluth, gets its charter at the Annual Business Meeting

Our newest Christ Child Chapter, Duluth, gets its charter at the Annual Business Meeting

Reception following Mass at Hamilton House, the home of our founder's younger sister and where Miss Mary once lived for a short time

Reception and dinner after Mass were at Hamilton House, the home of our founder’s younger sister and where Miss Mary once lived for a short time (now the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart).

We crack ourselves up, don't we? A very fun table at dinner at Stone Ridge

We crack ourselves up, don’t we?  A very fun table at dinner at Stone Ridge, demonstrating that Christ Child members bring joy to our lives!



Walking with Francis, the Christ Child Edition

Pope Francis entering the Basilica with Cardinal Wuerl, photographed by Kathleen Asdorian, Postulator for the Cause for Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick

Pope Francis entering the Basilica with Cardinal Wuerl, photographed by Kathleen Asdorian, Postulator for the Cause for Canonization of Mary Virginia Merrick

What an amazing day this is here in Washington, D.C. where we are preparing for the National Christ Child Society Conference this weekend, when Christ Child members from all over the country are making their way here to learn from and be inspired by each other!  Just a few thoughts are surfacing through a lot of joy and emotion.

First, this town was ready for Pope Francis.

Christ Child Opportunity Shop Window, Wisconsin Ave.

Christ Child Opportunity Shop Window, Wisconsin Ave.

Just take a look at the Christ Child Opportunity Shop–which sells antiques and thrift items–and its window prepared by the Washington, D.C. chapter to welcome Pope Francis. Buy an antique, help a child, get a blessing!

And in another way, each of us, and our local Catholic institutions, have prepared for an ongoing experience with this Pope.  Styled  Walk with Francis, all over the United States people are answering the call to pray, act and serve in response to the Pope’s call to help the most vulnerable among us.

Of course this has been our focus since 1887, thanks to the vision of our founder, Mary Virginia Merrick, Servant of God.  And it’s so exciting that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s, through the Washington Archdiocese have chosen to honor “Miss Mary” as a “Saint Among Us”.  Read more about her on the new Canonization web page, and learn more about her and “like” her on the new MVM Facebook page.   And pass them on to friends and family!


Map of California mission system established by St. Junipero Serra in museum at Carmel Mission, where St. Junipero is buried

For me, it’s been unique to be here at the time of the Pope’s visit because the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra,

Statue of St. Junipero Serra from NCCS Keynote Presenter Julie Francavilla's Uncle Bruce from Monterey

Statue of St. Junipero Serra from NCCS Keynote Presenter Julie Francavilla’s Uncle Bruce from Monterey

who established the California mission system, has brought so many Catholics from my new home area of Monterey, California to celebrate.  In fact I toured the Carmel Mission with Deb Low of the NCCS board just this August and I took this shot in the museum of St. Junipero’s work.

Two of my new friends are Rose Diaz, formerly of the Washington, D.C. Chapter, and her daughter Solange Hansen.  They introduced me to Fr. Mike Russo, Francis Factor blogger and media correspondent for the papal visit here this week with the press corps.  I know that our early meetings about forming a new Monterey area Christ Child chapter are inspired by this Pope’s focus on the most vulnerable among us.

But back to today.  The town was joyful, the traffic was light,

Squint to see the Pope at the White House

Squint to see the Pope at the White House


families were gathering to watch the Pope make his way across town.

Former Colleague's Photo of Pope Francis entering St. Matthews for Mass with Bishops

Former Colleague’s Photo of Pope Francis entering St. Matthews for Mass with Bishops

From the President’s office, he went to celebrate Mass with bishops and cardinals at St. Matthew’s, right across the street from a former colleague of mine from Microsoft. Thanks to Pamela for making a point of sending me her photo of the Pope entering the church from her office window.

Former NCCS President Patty Myler catches photo of Pope arriving at the Basilica

Former NCCS President Patty Myler catches photo of Pope arriving at the Basilica



Pope Francis with Megan Pumphrey's friend's little sister

Pope Francis with Megan Pumphrey’s friend’s little sister

Carolyn Pumphrey, NCCS Executive Director, was thrilled to receive these photos from her daughter Megan of Megan’s friend’s sister being embraced by the Pope today.  Blessings all around!

Which makes me feel that while “watching Francis” is pretty amazing, the real earthly and celestial payday is in “walking with Francis” as the Christ Child Society does every day in 43 cities across the United States.

Welcome to Washington, all Conference attendees, and may the spirit be with us and shine back out through our friendships and our work.  Our “walk” is 128 years in progress.  Let’s take it into the future with gusto!

A Great Start to Giving Baltimore Children a Better Start

Balt Summer Reading Poster

Poster distributed broadly in the community about the Christ Child of Baltimore summer reading program

DSC_0177aHenry Ford said: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Our newest chapter, the Baltimore Chapter, is living proof of that! Chartered at the National Christ Child Society Convention last September, the group has been working since 2012 to serve children and families in the Baltimore area in a myriad of ways.  Focused on three main objectives, (1) education and literacy, (2) infant care and parenting, and (3) basic needs support, the chapter has forged key partnerships with a variety of schools, in-kind donors, and community organizations that are making a real impact.

Education and literacy is the core of Baltimore’s programs and one great measure of that is that since they’ve formed they have obtained donations for and distributed 14,020 books to local children. The chapter’s “Hooked on Books” program is focused on getting books to children and encouraging reading over the summer months.  Chapter “Book Buddies” read with 150 children at the Armistead Gardens School and Heritage Early Learning Center monthly over the school year, with each child receiving 8 books over the year to start their own personal libraries. Other volunteers serve as “Homework Helpers”, first at the Hampden Family Center and now at the DeWees After School Program. Beyond literacy, the chapter has provided wellness classes, including yoga and pilates as well as an anti-bullying program called “It’s Cool to Be Kind”. They delivered a “Manners Matters”  program to 150 pre-K children at two schools.

Baltimore Photo 1

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake telling Armistead Gardens School children about her career path in the library decorated with quotes and photos of role models.

Baltimore trip to US Capitol

Christ Child Society of Baltimore tour of U.S. Capitol, with some students in front of a statue of civil rights leader Rosa Parks

But what excites me the most is the way the chapter has, from its inception, worked to bring kids into connection with role models who can inspire their career and life aspirations. For example, a friend of the chapter gave books about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to middle-schoolers, who were then walked through her life path in their career awareness program. Two recent events are the best examples. First, this April, CCS of Baltimore brought Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to the Armistead Gardens School to speak to the kids about her career path and how to secure their own; check out the short video! And just last month, the chapter brought 41 middle school students from two different schools to Washington, D.C. to learn about public service roles.  They toured the capitol, learned about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and visited Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski‘s office.  There they met with one of the Senator’s aides, a 23-year old first generation American, who told the kids about her own career path.

Another thing that’s great about what Baltimore is doing is the way they not only live but tell their story—all with the purpose of gaining more support and members so they can serve more children. They’ve got a fantastic, current and interesting Facebook page where they engage their volunteers and highlight their supporters. And beyond those they partner with, others have noticed Christ Child’s work, with local county councilman David Marks honoring Christ Child Society of Baltimore’s founder Cathleen White as volunteer of the year this past fall for getting the group up and running and providing positive impact in the community.

DSC_0522lo DSC_0177aFinally, I just loved joining Baltimore President Anne-Stuart Darrell and the chapter this past December at the tuition-free Sisters Academy for girls, where the chapter created an elaborate tea for the students and teachers to celebrate the school’s ten year anniversary, featuring an enrichment speaker on manners. I had the fun of serving tea to one of the tables of girls and they loved the tea and treats and festive atmosphere—and meeting many of the chapter members who were doing the same.


Tea in Honor of Ten Years at Sisters Academy in Baltimore, courtesy of Christ Child

Kudos to Baltimore on a great first full year as a chapter and here’s to supporting Duluth and Denver in becoming chartered as new chapters and having impacts in these additional communities.                        And, more at Conference on how we can empower all our leaders to tell our story more effectively. Come join us and see!


Hope for the Hopeless: Christ Child House of Detroit



Nippy morning outside of Christ Child House of Detroit, with the snow covering up the pretty grounds in front and the playground in back.

Hopeless children are featured in national news stories every day, with younger children becoming more despairing and violent. But there are many more hopeless children quietly being tossed about foster systems all across the country who have nothing but struggles ahead to becoming confident and productive. And then there are the kids whom abuse and neglect have scarred to the point that they’ve been ejected from foster homes so many times that they will no longer take them. Where is their hope? In Detroit, it’s at the Christ Child House, which has been sheltering, healing and nurturing local children for 67 years—with the significant support of the Detroit Chapter.


Christ Child House staff Myron Dawson (Recreation/Education Coordinator), Nicole McAdoo (Associate Director Administrative Services) Tonia Hayes (Director of Residential Services) Landon Hill (Director of Clinical Services) and Detroit Chapter leaders Laura Keziah (President Elect) Elaine Szot (Immediate Past President), Maureen Wesley (Past President NCCS and CCS of Detroit), and Betsy Heid (House Chairman)

When I visited the Christ Child House on a cold snowy morning in March, I had the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of the House’s staff leadership and to tour the house, including the boys’ living quarters and shared spaces. I could see without speaking to them except to say hello that many bear heavy pain, anger and frustration-due to the neglect and abuse they’ve endured. The vast majority are on medication for mental health issues; all are receiving counseling and medical support by the highly trained staff. The staff has a heavy challenge in their daily interactions with these 18 boys, some of whom are teens, and the dignity, professionalism and concern with which they interact with them was calming and constant.


 Residential Services Director Tonia Hayes and  former Detroit and NCCS president Maureen Wesley discuss how rooms are assigned in front of boy’s room with personal quilt on bed.

The volunteering efforts by Detroit Christ Child members reflect dignity, compassion and care as well. The House Committee focuses on the support and maintenance of the physical plant, including the furniture (with measuring for new dressers taking place during the tour). It touched me that each boy coming to the house received a handmade quilt which is theirs to keep—and I am sure it is a warm and welcome bit of dignity for them. Christ Child “Heartwarmers” make monthly visits to the House and play games, cook, celebrate the end of school, volunteer at a nursing center across the street or engage in other activities. The Chapter’s Child Enrichment Program is all about bringing new experiences and opportunities to the boys through extra-curricular activities, from gymnastics to golf to whirlyball to inner-tubing. The House’s recreational director Myron Dawson told me a story about how one of the music enrichment programs actually caused one boy to seriously take up guitar!

But what was most exciting to me is the House’s end game. The individual treatment programs are designed with each child in mind and are designed to prepare each child to function effectively in a family home in the community. Through the Christ Child House Adoption program, the House not only prepares but places children in adoptive homes but prepares the family to deal with the child’s issues, makes monthly visits, and provide 24-7 access by the boy and family to Christ Child staff during the first year. And, if a previously adopted child begins to act out in his adoptive homes, the House will take the boy back in for 90 days to work through the challenges with the boy and family and seek to reunite them for the long term.

It is the combination of 47 full and part time staff from a wide variety of disciplines, the Detroit Chapter and its many member volunteers, community supporters and the Michigan Department of Human Services that literally helps one child at a time away from hopelessness and towards hope. High risk, high investment and high reward!

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 28:15). Hats off to the Detroit Chapter for being an instrument of hope and for exemplifying that “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.” (Mary Virginia Merrick).

If you want to know more about Christ Child House of Detroit, listen to these radio interviews  (opens in new window) of Executive Director John Yablonky.