Members of the Providence General Children’s Association Teddy Bear Breakfast Committee in 2018. (Contributed photo)

Members of the Providence General Children’s Association Teddy Bear Breakfast Committee in 2018. (Contributed photo)

Providence General Children’s Association: 70 years helping

Hospital gift shop volunteers and other members support Camp Prov, autism center, scholarships, more.

EVERETT — For 70 years, the mission has been simple — to lend their hands in support of “anything to do with children.” In 1950, the Korean War started and the Peanuts comic strip made its debut. In Everett that year, what’s now the Providence General Children’s Association was launched to raise money to help infants and kids hospitalized in our community.

Were it not for the coronavirus, “in May we would have celebrated our 70th anniversary with a tea,” said Sharron White, the volunteer group’s president. “Next May it will be 71.”

Donations in those early years were used to buy cribs, neonatal incubators and Croupettes, the oxygen tents used to treat children with respiratory ailments.

Today, a major beneficiary of the group’s fundraising is Camp Prov — another event that didn’t happen in 2020 due to the pandemic. A program of Providence Children’s Center, part of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Camp Prov is a summer day camp that brings children with special needs to Everett’s Forest Park. With teen volunteers and support for the campers’ motor and communication development, hundreds of kids enjoy nature walks, music, swimming, crafts and other fun.

“We give to Camp Prov every year. It’s pretty special,” said Susie Black, a longtime member and past president of the association.

According to Black, the Providence General Children’s Association has pledged $600,000 over the next five years in support of programs that include Camp Prov, the hospital’s Pediatric Health Program, expansion of the Boyden Family Autism Center and the Providence Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Additionally, over the past few years, Providence General Children’s Association has allocated approximately $300,000 annually to a widespread variety of children’s needs,” Black said by email.

Financial help has gone to Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center, Cocoon House, Whidbey Island Nourishes, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, the Stanwood Camano Food Bank, Mari’s Place for the Arts, Arlington Kids Kloset, Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County, and scholarships for local students.

Anthony Vu, a teen volunteer at Camp Prov, looks on as a camper high-fives a unit leader at Forest Park in 2019. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Anthony Vu, a teen volunteer at Camp Prov, looks on as a camper high-fives a unit leader at Forest Park in 2019. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

The group has about 280 members and 18 guilds, and includes volunteers in its hospital gift shops, Black said.

The Twig Shop, on the first floor of the Providence Colby Campus, and the Pavilion Boutique in the Pavilion for Women and Children at the Pacific Campus are staffed entirely by volunteers, she said. Sales benefit programs supported by the association.

In normal times, 20 to 30 volunteers help run the Pacific boutique, while 60 to 70 people keep the Colby shop going.

“We’ve been closed since March,” White said. “You can still see Easter stuff in the windows.”

The Providence General Children’s Association is separate from the Providence General Foundation, which in normal times hosts the annual Festival of Trees. This year, renamed the Festival of Dreams, the gala and other public events won’t be held to view trees, but Black said sponsors such as Klein Honda and Rodland Toyota are purchasing trees to be donated to the Providence Children’s Center and nonprofits such as Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.

For White, a retired Providence employee, being involved with the association is personal. “My first two grandchildren were in the NICU at Providence. I saw those nurses, and saw those skills,” she said.

There’s a family connection, too, for Black. Her 97-year-old mother, Mary Jane Miller, is the association’s longest-serving volunteer. “She was a member when the organization was founded and helped launch Camp Prov,” Black said.

The group looks back on its history while keeping up with today’s needs — even as the coronavirus has changed how members can help.

A Providence newsletter recently featured the story of a woman known as “the mother” of the Providence General Children’s Association. It happened by accident.

More than seven decades ago, the article said, Ruth Peterson’s 4-year-old son, Paul, fell and punctured his hand on a rusty nail. When a blood infection landed him in General Hospital of Everett, he had to room with adult men — a gold miner from Alaska and a retired doctor.

Ruth Peterson has been called “the mother” of the Providence General Children’s Association. (Providence General Children’s Association photo)

Ruth Peterson has been called “the mother” of the Providence General Children’s Association. (Providence General Children’s Association photo)

“Although Ruth was pleased with her son’s care, she felt the hospital needed a pediatric ward and a nice gift shop,” the article said. “Ruth brought her idea and determination to some of her sewing friends … and the rest is history.”

The group’s motto? “For Their Care — We Care.”

In recent years, the group has donated money earned through “Fashion With Compassion” fundraisers, sales of poinsettias and Sees Candies, online Tupperware parties and its Teddy Bear Breakfast at the Festival of Trees.

With the pandemic limiting traditional fundraising and barring in-person events, “this year we have mobilized to sew, sanitize and distribute over 600 face coverings to children and families in our community,” White said.

“It’s anything to do with children,” she added. “We care about the kids, we really, really do. Sometimes just a little bit of help somewhere along the line makes such a difference.”

Julie Muhlstein:

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