BY CINDY SCHROEDER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT MITCHELL -- When a political dispute prompted the cancellation of last month's Diocesan Catholic Children's Home fund-raising dinner, backers worried how they would raise enough money for a program for troubled boys.
"The people who were going to be attending this dinner were people who I thought could dip into their pockets and help us," said Sister Jean Marie Hoffman, executive director of the children's home. "So, yes, I was disappointed. But when you're given lemons, you make lemonade."
This weekend offers another chance for those who want to help the home of last resort for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children.
| IF YOU GO|
What: Diocesan Catholic Children's Home Summer Festival
Where: Children's home grounds, 75 Orphanage Road, Fort Mitchell
When: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. today, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Special features include a vintage car show at 1 p.m. Saturday, and a picnic for former residents and staff from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Cost: Free admission and parking
A festival marking the home's 150 years of service to Northern Kentucky children opens at 7 p.m. today and runs through Sunday on the grounds. Features include a car show, a children's arcade, rides, bingo and a silent auction featuring everything from Beanie Babies to autographed sports memorabilia.
A special reunion picnic is Saturday for former residents, staff and volunteers.
"This is a big fund-raiser for us," Sister Hoffman said. "The monies raised this weekend will go toward our operating costs throughout the year." Proceeds from the festival also will help cover part of the $225,000 cost of starting an Assessment Crisis Stabilization Unit for boys ages 6 to 12. The short-term residential program -- the first of its kind in Northern Kentucky -- will offer psychiatric assessments and psychological testing for troubled boys, as well as address their social and medical needs.
The crisis unit was to be the beneficiary of a May 15 fund-raising dinner for the children's home. However, Bishop Robert Muench canceled the dinner when Right to Life members complained about Gov. Paul Patton being the keynote speaker. Mr. Patton had vetoed a bill that would have required a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. When the bishop informed the children's home board of his decision on April 21, about 350 people were registered to attend the $100-a-plate dinner.
"The board was disappointed (with the cancellation)," Sister Hoffman said. "But many blessings have come forth as a result of that."
As a result of the publicity, many who did not know that the home provided long-term treatment for children ages 6 to 12, learned of its programs and financial needs, Sister Hoffman said.
Many of the home's residents have suffered from physical abuse, neglect or sexual abuse by siblings or trusted adults, she said. Most have never experienced unconditional love.
"I guess the positive upshot of all the recent events is that people realize we're here and what we're all about," said David Maher, president of the home's volunteer board of directors. As someone with two foster sisters and an adopted brother, Mr. Maher grew up in a family that emphasized the needs of children in tough situations.
"If you go and meet some of the kids (at the children's home), you would realize what the needs are, and what the dedication of the workers and the administration is," Mr. Maher said. "It's just a fantastic place."
With the publicity surrounding the cancellation of last month's fund-raiser, a matching grant from the David E. Meyer Charitable Trust has been raised from $50,000 to $100,000. The Diocese of Covington and the 1998 class of Leadership Northern Kentucky each also each pledged $25,000, and the children's home has received dozens of smaller donations ranging from $5 to $3,000.
The home now has reached 65 percent of its fund-raising goal, and it hopes to raise the full $225,000 by Dec. 31, Sister Hoffmann said. "I always say when I go out and speak, "When you help a child today, you're writing the history for tomorrow,' " Sister Hoffman said. "I am strongly, strongly committed to this work, and I feel, hopefully, somewhere out there, someone will come out of the woodwork and help us. I've seen it thus far."
Tax-deductible donations for the Assessment Crisis Stabilization Unit can be made out to the Meyer Challenge Grant, in care of the children's home, P.O. Box 17007, Fort Mitchell, Ky. 41017.