Deirdre’s House - Helping Child Victims

By: Maria Vinci Savettiere, Esq., Executive Director of Deirdre’s House

Deirdre’s House, the Center for Morris County’s child victims of abuse and/or neglect, would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the National Philoptochos Society for providing funding through their Children’s Medical Fund that will allow us to not only reestablish the Deirdre’s House on site medical program but will also give us the ability to address a national critical shortage of physicians who are trained as pediatric abuse specialists. Currently, less than twenty doctors per year are trained in this specialty, leaving thousands of child victims without the specialized care they need and prosecutors without the experts they need to convict those who harm our children. 

Deirdre’s House plays a critical role in Morris County’s ability to address the needs of childhood victims of physical and sexual abuse. DH is the only site in Morris County where a child victim can be forensically interviewed and digitally recorded by law enforcement, medically examined and treated, and clinically counseled in English and in Spanish, all under one roof, all free of charge. Since 1996, Deirdre’s House has opened the door to hope and healing for child victims 28,000 times.  The core mission of Deirdre’s House is to provide justice in all its forms to child victims and their non-offending care-givers.
Certainly, an important part of justice is the prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators. Those who harm children must be held accountable for their crimes. But just as certainly, justice is about insuring that victims are treated with care and dignity. Justice is making sure that lives that are wrongly interrupted can still be happy and successful by ensuring that the trauma of the present is not carried into the future. On site non-traumatizing medical examinations and treatment are a critical part of achieving justice for child victims. Compassionate medical care is an important part of the healing process. Child victims that are carefully diagnosed and treated by pediatric abuse specialists have a much greater chance of overcoming their abuse and going on to lead successful and happy lives. 

Why are medical examinations for child victims by a pediatric abuse specialist so critical? A doctor who is specifically trained as a pediatric abuse specialist is a vital part of the investigative and prosecutorial team. First and foremost, because the burden of proof in any criminal case is so very high-a prosecutor must overcome reasonable doubt in all members of a jury in order to convict a dangerous pedophile and insure that they will never hurt another child. By gathering and documenting physical evidence this specially trained pediatrician becomes the expert witness of choice in any prosecution and is able to corroborate statements that a child has made in their forensic interview about the assault. This physician can be the critical difference in the conviction of someone that has victimized a child.

Another reason that a pediatric abuse specialist is so important when treating a child victim is that because a child is accustomed to sharing information about their bodies with a doctor, oftentimes children will disclose information to a pediatric abuse physician that they would not disclose to anyone else. In addition, many times children look to our doctor to tell them that they will be OK and that no one will be able to tell just by looking at them that they have been abused or assaulted.  In addition, a pediatric abuse specialist can rule out abuse so parents are not wrongfully accused and children get the medical attention they need.

Again, we are so grateful to the National Philoptochos Society for partnering with Deirdre’s House to provide critical on site, non-traumatizing medical treatment for child victims. The impact of this funding will affect the lives of thousands of children and their families for many years to come.

If you would like more information about Deirdre’s House or ways you can help, please refer to our website
I ask all who read this blog to remember to report suspected incidences of child abuse to the DCPP at 1-877-NJ Abuse or your local law enforcement or prosecutors office. We, as a community, are the first line of defense for children who may be suffering silently among us.  Please do not allow child victims to suffer in silence. By reporting suspected abuse and neglect you could save a child’s life. 

*The Deidre O’Brien Child Advocacy Center, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey received a grant of $35,000 from the National Philoptochos Society’s Children’s Medical Fund for an on-site Medical Program for Child Victims of Physical and Sexual Abuse and/or Neglect.

*The above pictures are of (from top to bottom): a clinical counseling room, a forensic room and a medical room.

Philoptochos Possible!

April 2017
Marilynn Jemas, St. Louis, Missouri
Years ago, Audrey Hepburn stated “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says “I’m possible!”
That one word ignites our ability to think outside the box, to tap into hidden potential and then churn out the expectancy of great things to come.
Audrey’s comment perfectly personifies Philoptochos!  Our members possess a resolute CAN DO attitude that really defines who we are. We have built a strong reputation for solving problems. Accepting difficult challenges and accomplishing the mission of helping those in need.
What if each Philoptochos member would adopt this “I’m possible” strategy? Can we shift our gears up several notches to capture “I’m Possible” thinking? What more could Philoptochos achieve if we rev up our engines way past the familiar and move on into to the realm of “anything is possible”?
Every National Philoptochos Biennial Convention highlights the many challenges that Philoptochos tackles and achieves. The 2016 Biennial Convention in Nashville was a great example of the spirit of Philoptochos.  Each daily session and agenda radiated the good works of our beloved organization!
As convention delegates celebrated our 85th anniversary, they were presented with a tremendous array of societal problems and how different chapters had addressed working with these issues. Delegates were filled with pride for these kinds of inspiring tales and eager to return to their own chapters to tackle new initiatives of their own. All were transformed by the information received. A crescendo of cheering was so loud that those outside the meeting room could not help but note the exuberance!
In our own chapters, each of us can be a cheerleader for Philoptochos, spreading our positive message with pride. We can build upon the legacy of all the hardworking, determined members before us, knowing that it is now our turn to leapfrog Philoptochos into a full future, never fearing to explore new possibilities or challenges.
Now in our 86th year, let’s continue to be confident that more positive achievements are possible. Dare to expect that more interest and enthusiasm is possible, that increased membership is possible and that greater service to those is need is possible. Remember, “I’m Possible!”    

Blessing Bags and Blankets for the Homeless

Offering Dignity and Warmth to Chicago’s Tent Residents

March 2017
Arlene Siavelis Kehl and Katherine Siavelis
St. Andrew’s, Chicago, Illinois
It has always been a part of Philoptochos’ mission “to help the poor, the destitute, the hungry…the unemployed…”, but there are times in all of our lives when we encounter those in need who tug especially at our hearts.  One of those times was in the fall when our St. Andrew’s Women’s Philoptochos Society (SAWPS) and our local Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) students at Loyola University of Chicago learned of a group of homeless people living in tents under four viaducts along Lake Shore Drive in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
Problems Identified:  How will the residents in the tent cities survive the winter months?  What will happen to those residents if the city takes away their tents and forces them to relocate?  What happens to the viaduct dwellers if there are not enough homeless shelters for them to relocate?
Although we, the SAWPS and the OCF from Loyola, want to be compassionate and solve completely the problems of our fellow men, sometimes we can only offer partial, short-term solutions to help those in need as they face life’s challenges.  This was the case with the residents of the tent cities.
In talking with the residents, we learned that they needed blankets, essential clothing, toiletries and non-perishable foodstuffs, and wanted fast food gift cards to help them get by and survive during the winter and early spring.  These conversations led us to developing our two-gallon size Blessing Bags.  Each Blessing Bag contained a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush holder, comb, granola bars, fruit snacks and a McDonald’s gift card.  We sourced competitively Blessing Bag supplies along with the Blankets, assembled them, distributed them to the residents, and fundraised for sponsorships to offset the cost of the supplies and blankets.
Short-Term Solution Implemented:  Team of SAWPS members, OCF students and clergy visited the residents of the tent cities to minister to them in their time of need and to provide them with Blessing Bags and Blankets offering these individuals dignity and warmth during the cold months in Chicago.  May God bless the residents, keep them safe, and show how much we at St. Andrew’s care for our fellow men.  

Philoptochos Role Models Are Shining Stars

January 2017
Lekita Essa, Raleigh, North Carolina

My first experiences at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, NC still warm my heart. The outpouring of love and friendship made me want to become a part of the community and get involved.

My nouna, Pota Vallas, one of the founding members of our Philoptochos chapter, brought me to my first Philoptochos meeting. I did not fully understand the meaning of philanthropia or the value of this connection for me. I was moved by its mission statement: to aid the poor, to promote charitable works, to preserve and perpetuate our faith traditions and promote community participation. I found myself wanting to participate and dedicate myself to the work of our Philoptochos chapter.   

Each Philoptochos sister I have come to know has influenced my life and helped form my thoughts and actions. On any given subject, we have as many passionate thoughts and opinions as we have members, but by the end of each meeting, there is consensus.   

In particular, there are four Philoptochos women who have been mentors and role models to me.   

Pota Vallas, my nouna, now 108 years young, inspires me through her life as an immigrant, a business woman and a community leader. She has shown that being a “friend to the poor” is of utmost importance. She has taught me that not everyone has the talent or ability to work an event, but if we can’t be working, we need to be a major consumer or supporter! The key is to be involved and give back.    

Artie Sarayotis and Mitsa Capetanos, two of our “50 plus years” members continue to teach me the true meaning of service.  Mitsa arrived from Greece in 1959. Four days later, she attended her first Philoptochos meeting at Holy Trinity!   Artie moved to Raleigh from New York almost 40 years ago and brought many new ideas. Artie and Mitsa make a great team, having served as chapter officers and event chairpersons, always inspiring others with their leadership and positive approach.   

Each leads by example, selflessly giving their time and talent, teaching that everyone should utilize their unique gifts to help others. Artie, walking spry with a walker and Mitsa, active with her cane, are the first to show up for meetings. Observing their lives and all they give, nudges me to inventory my own life and how I might serve.   

Like many of you, I have the pleasure of having friendships with Philoptochos women from other cities. The enthusiasm of Evan Scurtis for Philoptochos is contagious. Evan lives in Miami and is a long-time Philoptochos member of the St. Sophia parish. A natural leader, she deftly reaches out and serves Philoptochos on the chapter, Metropolis and National levels. She generously shares her knowledge and time with others and inspires those around her to give more of themselves.    

Through the example of her own life, Evan has given me a deeper understanding of the true mission of Philoptochos. Her simple, yet powerful, description of our mission is engraved in my mind and heart, “The core mission of Philoptochos is social service – Philanthropy”. She practices this every day. She seeks to have a positive impact on every life she touches and her dedication to Philoptochos continues to inspire me to do the same.

Philoptochos sisters have taught me that we are responsible to give and volunteer with an open heart. We are here to serve, to inspire to work side by side, to be respectful, to teach and be taught.  As we continue our journey of philanthropia, may we always enjoy each other every step of the way!  

Volunteers Make a Difference at St. Michael’s Home

May 2016
Aspasia Melis, Tenafly, New Jersey
As Philoptochos members, we share the desire to be of service and to give, in some way, our time, talents or compassion to those in need.  One tie that bonds us together was often instilled in our own homes, from our mothers and yiayias, who taught the importance of caregiving and nurturing.  As Greek Orthodox faithful, we place great value on the importance of family.  Our parents and grandparents-- many who journeyed to America for opportunity-- always stressed the importance of the Church and tradition.
During my term as President of the Metropolis of New Jersey Philoptochos, I quickly realized the value and beauty of St. Michael’s Home for the Aged, located in Yonkers, New York.  St. Michael’s Home is an adult care facility for the elderly members of our community.   From my first visit to St. Michael’s Home, where I met with the Director, His Grace Bishop Andonios and the beloved residents, I realized that the Philoptochos needed to help this sacred mission of our Church.
It was important for me to inform all the Philoptochos chapters in our Metropolis, about
the benefits of St. Michael's Home for the Aged and to ask that they share information about this institution with others in their  communities.  The chapters enthusiastically adopted St. Michael's Home as one of our Metropolis projects. They wanted to work with, and help serve these elderly residents, who were once able to give so much to us.
Chapters were encouraged to provide interested members with the opportunity to join an organized group of St. Michael’s Home volunteers. Thirty years later, this group still exists. This is where our caregiving and nurturing is able to shine! We visit the Home to help bring enjoyment and comfort to those whose lives can be sad and lonely. Together we host monthly birthday parties with gifts, cake and singing. We celebrate special holidays such as Greek Independence Day, the Fourth of July and October 28th.
In addition, the committee organizes various theme parties for Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Other enjoyable activities include bowling games, exercise classes, dancing, singing, jokes and storytelling. The residents are treated to activities away from St. Michael’s Home. Various Philoptochos chapters host luncheons in their honor and there are dinners at local Greek tavernas. Many groups are invited to perform. These include carolers during the Christmas season, Goyans performing plays during “Sights and Sounds” and bouzouki players who come and fill the air with the favorite music of the residents.
Over the years, the volunteers have found their niches and their own ways to help. Some arrange and prepare these events, some decorate, others coordinate songs and dances. There are those who tell jokes that never fail to bring tons of laughter! The rewards for our volunteer work have been so wonderful. To see the residents of St. Michael’s Home enjoying themselves, to hear their laughter, to form special bonds with these individuals, never fails to encourage us to do more for this very special place.
Their happiness is our happiness.

Membership Growth Takes a Personal Touch

April 2016
Alexis Limberakis, Ambler, PA
Philoptochos is Philanthropy-Fellowship-Faith in Action!
Membership growth and retention is a key component to the success of any organization and Philoptochos is no exception.

Although the annual Membership Drive begins in January, membership growth should be on the agenda of every Philoptochos chapter all year. As members ourselves, we should always realize that this entails the responsibility to let all women in our parish know about the extraordinary work that each Philoptochos chapter does.

Members are the face of Philoptochos and its best recruiting tool! In my experience I have learned that the best way to reach women is the “one on one” approach. I have surprisingly learned that many women had not joined because no one had ever asked them to do so!

I have also been surprised to learn that many women do not know the purpose  of Philoptochos.  This revelation has led me to realize that many of us automatically assume that everyone knows about our philanthropic mission. Or maybe chapters are waiting to  be approached by potential members. Either one of these scenarios will not help increase the membership level of any chapter!
What simple issues to resolve! There are many opportunities to introduce others to our dynamic organization. So often there are new members in a parish or long time parishioners who have never joined. Take a few moments to explain and enlighten these individuals about the scope of our philanthropy!  A friendly smile and an invitation to come to a Philoptochos meeting can go a long way!

Sometimes we are faced with the challenge of changing certain perceptions about Philoptochos. Perceptions that we are simply “the ladies that bake”. While baking is still part of most chapters, it truly is a small part. As members, we need to present the bigger picture of Philoptochos philanthropy, which is certainly not funded only by bake sales.
In the February/March 2016 issue of the Orthodox Observer, it was reported that National Philoptochos disbursed $1.74 million for philanthropy. This impressive figure does not include what the different Metropolis boards disburse nor does it include what the more than 400 local chapters disburse. What a stellar example of philanthropy we have in our parishes! Use this information as a way to educate others on the ability of Philoptochos to help those in need.

I believe that many people, including  younger women and millennials, want to do hands-on outreach and just need an outlet to do so. Philoptochos  offers that avenue. It cannot be overemphasized that the more members we have, the greater effect we will have in changing lives for the better.
It is my hope that all members make that extra effort to bring all Greek Orthodox women into our Sisterhood. Use the personal approach and also be approachable! Women do join because someone reached out to acknowledge and welcome them to experience philanthropy, faith and fellowship in action!

Life Lessons Learned in Philoptochos

December 2015
Thea Martin, Pittsburgh, PA

In Philoptochos, as in life, it is important to cultivate and teach the young. We continually work to come up with ways to engage our young Orthodox women because it is important to keep our organization alive.
When I joined Philoptochos over ten years ago, I was among the youngest members. I was new to my church, newly married, and looking for a way to create a foundation for my future life. Why not Philoptochos?  I was told that Philoptochos was an organization for yiayias who cooked and I probably wouldn’t like it. Perhaps, but my yiayias were no longer on this earth. I had never learned to cook, so at the very least, why not give it a shot?

It was actually very cool. Long standing members would call me after each meeting to gage my thoughts and ask my opinion, but mainly they called to make sure that I would be attending the next monthly meeting. To be honest, the extra attention was what kept me coming back. After all, the snacks were good and I enjoyed the interaction between the women.​ I especially loved the raised voices speaking Greek. I didn’t always understand, but somehow I knew what they were saying. 
We ended each meeting with a prayer and kissed each other good night. Ah…this was a family. My parents divorced when I was very young and my mother was not Greek. I was never part of GOYA, and I never experienced fun, loud, family holidays. But now, sitting around a table with fifteen or so women who openly expressed their thoughts and showed agape to all, it all felt natural to me. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew that Philoptochos was going to be a game changer in my life.

It is said that a wise person learns from their mistakes. A wiser person learns from the mistakes of others. But the wisest person learns from the success of others. I am always learning from the successes of more experienced leaders. I have experienced my share of mistakes, but I know that I have learned from them.
First lesson learned:

​It was probably not wise to send an invitation for a Philoptochos event that stated, “Yiayias stay home…you can babysit”. After being elected chapter president, my vice p​resident and secretary (who were also close to my age) ​thought it was time to shake things up a little.  We decided to hold a membership social that would take place in the evening and we put much effort into the planning. 

We designed a postcard that was mailed to over five hundred parish families.
We were excited to let everyone know they would enjoy an evening of creative hors d’oeuvres as well as Philopo-tini’s- our version of a cosmopolitan martini. While focusing on trying to attract young new members, we excitedly expressed an idea to them: “Yiayias stay home….you can babysit”.

Oops. What we thought was lighthearted and funny, ended up upsetting quite a few people. There were many phone calls that week. But in the end, we apologized to those we upset and when the dust settled, we had seventeen new members!
Second lesson learned:

My chapter’s largest fundraiser each year was our Mini Food Fair, a popular community event that raised money for our philanthropy. We younger members had learned a lot from watching our “seasoned” members negotiate with vendors, choose the best products, organize, and plan this huge endeavor. And we learned how to show respect to all.
Sometimes change is difficult, especially if things are working well. Over the years my vice president and I had many ideas that we thought would help our food fair achieve even greater success.

“What if we sold beer and wine at our food fair?” we asked during a meeting. We put numbers together to show the additional amount of money that we could raise. We were pleasantly surprised when there was little objection. We thought was official. That year our food fair would include beer and wine. Then the phone calls began. Some members did not believe that alcohol belonged at a Philoptochos event. Some said they would boycott. Oops again.
We didn’t know what to expect. This was our first attempt at change as leaders of Philoptochos. Here we were again, causing turmoil. My executive board met one evening to talk about leadership and what we hoped to achieve. That was a very special night.  We decided that our term was going to be all or nothing, beginning with the food fair.  With the fair just a few weeks away, any changes that we made needed happen quickly.

After the meeting, we headed to lock the community center doors. We heard chanting upstairs. We headed upstairs to inform whoever was there to lock the doors when they left. In addition, we went outside to see if we knew any cars in the parking lot. We realized that there was no one upstairs and no recognizable cars.
We all looked at each other and left.

That year, the revenue and profit of our fair doubled. The church bulletin’s headline read, “Mini Food Fair, Not So Mini Anymore”.
Looking back, we know the chanting we heard that night was a sign. Everything was going to be okay. And it has been. This year, our renamed Autumn Food Fair made over $60,000. As always, the money raised will go to our Holy Cross Philoptochos mission.

While we honor the traditions and customs we have been handed down, it is important to remember that young members can lend new ideas to our organization. Encouraging them and giving them an opportunity to have a voice helps them feel engaged. We can also learn new lessons from them. Working together, we can make Philoptochos a stronger organization and shepherd it into a bright future.