A group of young girls from all over the North Fork is coming together this Christmas season to help an innovative program for infants at an orphanage in China.
The program, called Gracie’s Room, was started by Southold mother Cathy Reilly, who in 2002 adopted a one-year old girl named Gracie Mei from the Chongquing Fuling Social Welfare Institute. Gracie died of sudden onset acute leukemia in 2004.
Her story touched many people, including staff at the Fuling institute, and Ms. Reilly worked with them to start Gracie’s Room, an infant nurturing program, with specially trained nannies who work with three to four infants for eight hours a day. According to the orphanage’s website, in many orphanages the normal staff to child ratio is about 10 to one, and infants do not spend time interacting with adults and developing emotional attachments. Gracie’s Room attempts to change that model.
“We were meant to show Gracie what it meant to have a family, a home, and people who loved her until it was her time to go,” says Ms. Reilly in a statement on the website. “I will be eternally grateful for all she brought to my life.”
She could not be reached for comment before press time.
Southold resident Mary VonEiff’s Bible study group, Girls 4 God, is gathering blankets, pajamas, baby supplies and money for Gracie’s Room. Ms. Reilly will bring the supplies to the the orphanage when she visits China next spring.
Ms. VonEiff’s group began meeting this fall and has grown by word of mouth to the point where 13 girls from as far west as Riverhead now get together at her Southold home every other Wednesday night to discuss their relationship with God, their paths in life and good works they can do in the community and the world.
“They are from varied backgrounds and come from different Christian denominations,” said Ms. VonEiff. “Some even have little or no experience with God. Some have been raised in the faith for their whole life. One of the initial goals of Girls 4 God was to reach out to all young ladies, regardless of their knowledge about God.
“The response has been great, and I have had mothers ask me if I would start a group for them and have even had a tween boy ask if I would start a Boys 4 God group,” she added. “But us ladies need to talk.”
On Dec. 7, the girls were eating pizza and getting ready to discuss scripture in Ms. VonEiff’s dining room.
Alexandra Apadula, who lives next door to the VonEiffs, is excited to be part of the group, which she attends in addition to Catechism classes. Her family has donated pajamas and blankets to Gracie’s Room.
Her sister, Victoria, has also been attending.
“I’ve learned to be nicer to my family and sister,” she said.
Katie Durec of Aquebogue joined the group after her mother saw an open invitation on the wall in Mattituck pediatrician Thomas Mercier’s office.
“I learned to correct people when they’re using bad language,” she said. “God loves us all.”
Ms. VonEiff said the group has grown enough that she’s considering forming a second group for older teenagers, who want to talk more about boys and relationships. Many younger tweens in the group are still involved with navigating friendships, she noted.
The group next meets on Jan. 11, when they will be helping to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen in Riverhead.