Barb Sieminski
Freelance Writer
May 12, 2018 // Special

Twentieth anniversary of Christ Child Society of Fort Wayne

Barb Sieminski
Freelance Writer

The Fort Wayne chapter of the National Christ Child Society held its annual spring meeting and luncheon May 2 at the Mirro Center, this year with the special focus of celebrating its 20th anniversary. The women’s group, which includes more than 200 members, implements a hands-on mission: “Where love leads to action.”

Gathered at the Christ Child Society of Fort Wayne’s 20th anniversary luncheon at the Mirro Center, Fort Wayne, on May 2 are society officers and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. From left are communications and public relations director Sharon Simmons; vice-president Tina Bailey; Bishop Rhoades; president Dianne Bezdon and coats program chairperson Janet Didier. — Photos by Barb Sieminski

After a welcome by the group’s president, Dianne Bezdon, and words from emcee Nicholas Ferreri, WANE-TV chief meteorologist, the group’s spiritual advisor, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, gave words of support and an invocation before a buffet luncheon was served. Beth Barrett, National Christ Child Society board vice president, presented the keynote speech on “Challenging Poverty Intentionally.” The local organization’s vice president, Tina Bailey, presented the prestigious Red Wagon Award to Karen Schleinkofer, treasurer of the Fort Wayne chapter.

“We are celebrating the dedication and involvement of many women – currently 205 – of all faiths, who give of their time to provide much-needed items for children in need,” said Bezdon, who leads the all-volunteer 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization’s local chapter and who has been a member since 2011. “Several of our charter members are still with us and active in our organization, as are our partners.”

In each child served, the organization sees the Christ Child Himself.  The founder of the national organization was Mary Virginia Merrick, who in 1887 believed nothing was too little to do for a child, according to local communications and public relations director Sharon Simmons. Today there are more than 40 chapters nationwide carrying on Merrick’s legacy, helping to fight poverty and serve at-risk children by making layettes for new mothers, including such items as blankets, diapers, clothing and toiletry items, and providing coats, hats, gloves, a gift card for shoes or boots distributed to children in pre-K through eighth grade.

The Fort Wayne chapter of the Christ Child Society, like its partners across the country, exists to lend foundational support to babies whose mothers would benefit from the assistance. A celebration May 2 of the chapter’s 20th anniversary included, above, a display of layette items that the society donates to the babies and mothers.

The Christ Child Society of Fort Wayne fills “My Stuff” backpacks with toiletries, stuffed animal, educational and school supplies, reading and activity books and gives them to homeless children, foster care children and abused children. A literacy program coordinates volunteers to read to preschoolers once a month and make a craft with them. Each child is also provided a new book to take home for their personal library, along with a letter to the parents listing questions to ask as they read with their child.

A Crib Club exists at three locations of the Women’s Care Center, where new and expectant mothers attend parenting classes and counseling sessions promoting good health and self-dependency. The Crib Club is stocked with new baby clothes, diapers and baby-care items. The Women’s Care Center does the teaching and Christ Child Society supplies the items in the Crib Club, which are made available to the mothers using coupons they have earned by attending parenting classes and doctor visits and learning about good health practices.

The Sewing Committee partners with Vincent Village, which shelters homeless families and teaches basic sewing skills. Additionally, the Christ Child Society helps children and parents grow in self-esteem in a friendly environment.

Longtime member Donna Carteaux has contributed spiritually by helping plan retreats, the bishop’s Mass, luncheons and designing a memorial book of deceased members and keeping it up to date. The Crib Club, though, has been Simmons’ favorite part of the organization.

“My favorite ‘job’ with CCS is my time working at the Crib Club, where I work Friday mornings, when the Club is open for mothers to spend the coupons they earn attending parenting classes and keeping their doctors’ appointments. Our mornings are very busy as sometimes as many as 100 young mothers visit us to shop. I am always touched by the care the mothers take selecting the items for their babies. Most of them are Burmese and we have a language issue, but not a connection issue. The moms smile and show us what they have selected for our approval. They leave smiling and telling us one of the few English phrases they do know: ‘Thank you!’

“When our last mom has left, I have time to marvel at their strength and courage in coming to a new country with a new language and culture when they are so young themselves. Their smiles and happiness in earning items for their babies fills my heart with gratitude to be a part of CCSFW.”

Several other members said they were also humbled by people coming up to them in public and showing interest in the organization.

“A food server today spoke to our past president, Pat Spoltman, about our group and was so impressed with us that she asked to join,” said Bezdon. “We are gladly accepting her as a new member and will be inviting her to the upcoming ‘meet-and-greet’ session geared to the members who joined these past two years.”

To find out more about serving at-risk children and young mothers in poverty, or to donate money, resources or time, email [email protected].

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