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!