By Paula Fasano Negele, Public Relations, Providence Portland Medical Center
For the Hollywood Star, January, 2010
Before event-planning professionals and fund-raising agencies found their niche in the 1980s, charitable organizations depended on the generosity and commitment of community groups to raise awareness – and dollars – in support of the organization’s mission. The local Elks Club or Rotary group would use their enthusiasm and influence to draw people to pancake breakfasts or to sell raffle tickets for a good cause. At Providence Child Center, 830 N.E. 47th Ave., a group of women have been working behind the scenes for 65 years to support orphans, foster children, disabled and medically fragile children who at various times have called the Center home.
In its heyday, the Providence Child Center Foundation Guild membership numbered in the hundreds. Today, about 25 worker bees make up the volunteer group. And although Guild members have come and gone, there have been several constants over the years.
Eloise Savage serves as Guild president; and she’s earned it, with 53 years with the group. Lois Reed has been a member for 50-plus years, too. Those ladies, along with Lily Lee and Jo Piro, members for 38 and 23 years respectively, lend their experience to relative newcomers Joleen Colombo and Rose Plachta who joined the Guild in the past five years. Those neophytes don’t know the details of the center’s history but their time and efforts are just as appreciated.
Our Lady of Providence Nursery, as it was originally called, was constructed as an annex to Providence Hospital. Construction began in September 1941 but stopped in October the following year due to difficulty obtaining building materials during wartime. A grant from the Federal Works Agency was awarded in February 1944 to complete the building and construction resumed.
Women from Portland’s social circles got busy, recruiting friends and family members to sew diapers and receiving blankets so that every center baby had a complete layette. The Guild wasn’t formally incorporated until 1953 but the women – always ahead of their time – held their first fund-raising event on May 5, 1945: A silver tea. Six hundred members and friends attended the benefit. A month later was opening day at the nursery. Eighteen babies, nearly all under the age of one year and representing several ethnic groups, were carried from Providence hospital to their new home. Three others in foster homes soon joined them. In addition to diapers and blankets, Guild women doled out hugs and love, and pampered the children with birthday parties, Easter-egg hunts and shopping trips for school clothes.
“Everyone was called ‘Mama,’” Savage says. “It was, and continues to be, a marvelous and magical place for children.”
The Guild’s compassion and care were fueled by funds raised from the series of annual events that the silver tea spurred. Fashion shows, garden parties, doll-house auctions, spaghetti dinners and bazaars followed. Husbands and entire families were commandeered to help. All the money went to the center. There were card parties, wine tastings and outings to the Ice Follies.
“The Sisters (of Providence) would say what they needed – a bottle sterilizer, a washing machine – and we’d raise the money,” says Savage.
In 1964 the nursery became licensed as a skilled-nursing facility; and today, five different programs sit under the umbrella of Providence Child Center: Providence Center for Medically Fragile Children, Providence Neurodevelopmental Center for Children, Jean Baton Swindells Resource Center for Children and Families, Providence Montessori School and Providence Wee Care.
“We enjoyed crafts and companionship,” Savage says. “We socialized together and supported each other. A lot of long-term friendships developed. All the while, we were helping children and making great strides.”
The women still produce a holiday bazaar and sell raffle tickets for an oversized quilt, handmade by Barbara Royer of Brownsville, Oregon. The proceeds of those projects continue to support Providence Child Center Foundation.
According to Jennifer Mair, director of planned giving for the Foundation, the quilt raffle alone has contributed $10,000 to the Foundation coffers over the past several years. That adds to a running total of nearly $1 million in donations over the Guild’s 65-year history.
“They were quite a fund-raising force and contributed significantly to the Center’s budget,” says Mair. “But more than fund raisers, Guild members have played an integral role in the compassion and care of the children who have lived or been cared for here.”
With this in mind, the Providence Child Center Foundation board of trustees is working to honor the Guild’s long history. A legacy project that will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Guild in 2010 is in the works. The goal is to create a Guild legacy endowment fund and a permanent Guild display with photos and memorabilia, and room to list donors. To help facilitate the project, the Foundation is looking for family members or friends of current or former Guild members. Questions or donations can be directed to Jennifer Mair at (503) 216-6611.