The Salem Children’s Charity weaves City Connects into its heartwarming history of helping kids

City Connects staff at the Salem Children’s Charity party: Brad Maloon, Mia Riccio, Ellen Wingard, Sari Rudolph, Marlene Lunt, and Erika Griffin.

One powerful feature of City Connects is that we help community partners reach the children they want to serve.

In the case of the Salem Children’s Charity, we also help community organizations manage changing times. Here’s the story of how that happened.

“The way it started,” Brendan Walsh says, telling the 25-year-old story of the children’s charity, “is that there were four guys, all of whom had some connection to the restaurant business in Salem, and it was coming up on Christmas.”

“They said, you know, we should do something for kids at Christmas.”

The four friends decided to throw a party where they passed the hat and collected more than $1,000.

Then they asked themselves: What do we do with the money?

One of the friends was a police officer. He talked to a juvenile officer, and the juvenile officer said go see Charlie Walsh. At that time, Charlie Walsh was the principal of the Carlton School, “one of the most economically needy schools in Salem,” Brendan Walsh recalls of the school run by his brother.

“So the way the story goes — I wasn’t there but I believe the story because I know my brother, of course – so they show up at the Carlton School the week before Christmas, and they encounter Charlie Walsh who’s got a bunch of bags and things all over his office, putting stuff in them and trying to do things for the families in his school. And they gave him this check, and Charlie being the stoic that he is, immediately burst into tears.”

This was the birth of the Salem Children’s Charity and of the partnership between the charity and the city’s school. The fundraising parties continued. Salem Children’s Charity raised more and more money. And Brendan Walsh became a member of the charity’s board as well as a member of Salem’s school committee.

“Someone who needed some help would call,” Brendan Walsh says of how the charity worked.

Trust was key. A teacher would go to the principal with a problem: a child who needed a coat, an unemployed parent facing eviction. That principal trusted that his teacher knew the situation. And when the principal called someone connected with the children’s charity, that person trusted the principal.

“We leaned on the principals.”

But over time, Salem saw turnover among its principals, and the new principals became busier.

“Principals do two things for a living,” Brendan Walsh jokes, “they fill out forms and go to meetings. So throwing this burden on them was kind of tough.”

Things changed when Salem welcomed City Connects into its elementary schools. City Connects Coordinators conduct whole class reviews, so they know the stories of students and families, and they know who needs help.

The partnership between City Connects and the Salem Children’s Charity is powerful, in part, because the charity can respond quickly to children’s needs, dispensing grants in a matter of days – or hours, as the charity did when a City Connects coordinator called a mother who needed a Charlie card so she could take the T to see her child who had had surgery.

Coordinators help speed this process up even more because of their extensive knowledge of families.

Sari Rudolph, the City Connects coordinator at Salem’s Bates Elementary School, reached out to the children’s charity when she was helping parents who had a critically ill child. To meet this child’s health needs, the family had to find a new home that was in better shape, but they were struggling to come up with first and last month’s rent. The children’s charity helped out quickly.

Now, most of the charity’s funding is distributed through City Connects, including $5,000 in gift cards that coordinators give to families during the holiday season.

Walsh, who earned his doctoral degree in educational administration from Boston College, where City Connects is based, says that while Salem and his organization have changed and grown, trust still thrives, and it’s essential for helping students and their families.

“Coordinators are professionals, and this is their field, so we trust them to make good decisions concerning who is really in need.”

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