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Catholic Charities Merrimack Valley's 100 years of service

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In just a few days -- Wednesday, Oct. 23 -- friends, generous supporters and dedicated staff, new and old, will gather at the Tewksbury Country Club to celebrate Catholic Charities Merrimack Valley's 100 years of service to those in need in our communities.

Father James T. O'Reilly founded Merrimack Valley's first Catholic Charities office in 1919 in Lawrence -- eventually named the Lawrence Catholic Charities Centre. At that time, Father O'Reilly's primary focus was the placement of children in the area orphaned by the influenza epidemic of that period. He and his coworkers assiduously chronicled their efforts in a ledger, still in Catholic Charities' possession, recording their day-to-day interactions with those in need.

Catholic Charities' first office in Lowell -- named the Lowell Catholic Charitable Bureau --opened in 1923, followed by the 1943 opening of an office in Haverhill. Many may also remember the Catholic Charities' summer camp, St. Mary of the Pines, located in Pelham, New Hampshire. Opened in 1932, the camp remained open until 1986, providing children with recreational activities and an annual summer camp. The camp was one of Merrimack Valley Catholic Charities' most popular programs.

The efforts of Catholic Charities across the Merrimack Valley were focused from the beginning, as it is today, on reaching out to those most in need. From assistance to newcomers; for unmarried mothers -- including shelter and access to hospitals; temporary foster care for their children; and, sometimes, the final option of adoption services; to caring for those suffering from HIV/AIDS in the beginning of the epidemic by providing pastoral care, housing, meals, transportation, and recreation -- Catholic Charities has answered the call, diversifying its services to meet the ever-growing range of needs of a more diverse community throughout the Merrimack Valley.

Today, from our offices in Lowell and Haverhill, Catholic Charities Merrimack Valley continues to provide services across nearly 30 Merrimack Valley communities. In the last year:

-- More than 18,000 individuals and families suffering from food insecurity received basic needs services from our food pantry in Lowell and from our emergency food pantry in Lawrence as we worked to assist families in the aftermath of the gas explosions.

-- 11 young mothers and their babies were safely housed at Brigid's Crossing, our specialized residential program for young families.

-- Over 110 first-time young parents participated in our Haverhill-based Healthy Family home-visiting program -- with services focused on pre-natal care and childbirth to child development and active parenting.

-- Family-strengthening home-based counseling and support services were provided to 71 families across the region as we work to prevent child abuse and neglect.

These life-saving, life-changing programs are possible only through the generosity of our supporters. Each and every day, vulnerable individuals and families turn to us in crisis for the assistance they need to help stabilize their lives. From there, we work to provide the support necessary for families to move towards financial sustainability and self-sufficiency.

We ask all of the faithful to stand in solidarity with Catholic Charities Merrimack Valley in support of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our shared mission is unchanged: "to build a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people."

We are ever grateful to the generations of talented and committed staff who work day in and day out to help those we are so privileged to serve.

We would also like to extend special thanks to our Centennial Event Committee members who were so instrumental to our celebration: Elizabeth Broderick, Kristyn Snyer McKenna, Gayle Manganello Ellis, Tim Blunt, Todd Borchers, Wil Carpenter, Father Phillip Earley, Albert Manzi III, Deacon Michael Mott, Robert Murphy, Jr., Dan O'Connor, Edward Scollin, Cynthia Smith, Christine Soundara, Paul Muzhuthett, and Laurie Lee.

Go to ccab.org to learn more about our work.

- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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