Volunteers revive Christ Child Society in Baltimore

EducationAndres Alonso

The Christ Child Society of Baltimore was formed just a few months ago, but this organization, a chapter of the National Christ Child Society, has hit the ground running. Already, the group has donated books and volunteer hours at many organizations, and established a partnership with Armistead Gardens Elementary and Middle School.

On March 21, Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley will visit the Baltimore public school for a program on bullying arranged by the organization.

The school already has programs to combat bullying, said Cathleen White, who revived the Baltimore branch of the Christ Child Society and planned O'Malley's visit. White said the first lady's talk will "increase awareness even more."

"We're very excited about it," said Mark Bongiovanni, principal of Armistead Gardens, which serves students in prekindergarten through grade 8.

"Obviously, this is getting a lot of attention, but they are doing a lot of other things," he said of the Christ Child Society. The group has donated books to the school, recruited volunteers to read to students, and is launching a wellness program with presentations on nutrition, manners, dental health and eye care. The visit by the governor's wife is part of the wellness program.

Bongiovanni has invited members of the community and dignitaries including city schools CEO Andrés Alonso to the event, which he believes will draw a large crowd. He said O'Malley will talk about the issue of bullying and why it's important to her, then talk with students, answering questions and discussing ways they can prevent bullying.

"When the opportunity for the first lady to visit presented itself, we felt it would be very good for our community." he said.

And helping the community is what the Christ Child Society of Baltimore is all about.

White said Baltimore's chapter of the national organization dates to 1905, but "kind of died out in the '70s or '80s for lack of momentum." She knew about the National Christ Child Society through a friend involved with the Washington, D.C., chapter. White said she simply contacted people she knew and re-formed the branch in September.

"Our group is made up of women of all faiths, whose mission is to serve children and parents in the Baltimore community," she said. About 20 women regularly attend the monthly hour-long meetings, White said, but many others provide support.

"They're a pretty amazing group of women," said Lisa Ghinger, executive director of the Hampden Family Center, which receives books and tutoring time from the group.

Ghinger said she attended a meeting in December to outline the center's needs, and "the next day, the emails were flying. They were completely organized for such a young group just starting out."

Now, nine volunteers give their time to the center two evenings a week to tutor children, she said.

"I was looking for people who were really willing to make a commitment," said Ghinger, noting the children in the program "need consistency because there aren't a lot of things that are consistent in their lives."

White estimates the group has collected and donated some 750 books, including least 300 to Armistead Gardens. She said the group is able to do so many things because of its strong partnerships.

For example, she said, Sue Prager of the Tried but True consignment shop in Hunt Valley has donated books and clothes, and Colleen Sabatino, a career expert, is developing a program for middle school students, exploring skills they will need in the workplace. Woolworks on Falls Road is a knitting store with a "little knitting community," she said, and "they are collecting yarn for us and they are going to knit baby clothes for us."

The group is also donating layettes to the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County, and its volunteers are serving meals and delivering toiletries, books and detergent to Our Daily Bread, Beans and Bread and My Sister's Place.

"I think they're just getting their feet wet," said Ghinger. "They are just a really nice, committed group of people."

The Christ Child Society of Baltimore is reachable at baltimore@nationalchristchild.org or through facebook.com/BaltimoreChristChildChapter.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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