The Circle of Life Children's Center - Vision and History

Circle of Life Children's Center, Inc. is the vision of Dr. James M. Oleske, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, who along with a colleague, Lynn Czarniecki, an advanced practice nurse, recognized the need to create a program for children with life-limiting medical conditions that would ease their suffering and increase their quality of life. Dr. Oleske and Lynn Czarniecki had worked together at UMDNJ in Newark caring for children with HIV and AIDS for 20 years, giving them great insight into the many and varied needs of this population of sick children and an understanding of the needs of their families who lived primarily in typically underserved urban areas.

In 2002, with the assistance of Norma Godin Millison who had both a nursing and a nonprofit background, and other professionals who provided legal, financial and business expertise, the Circle of Life Children's Center (COLCC) was born. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, COLCC is dedicated to providing state-of-the-art palliative and end-of-life care for children and families in New Jersey, primarily in the Greater Newark area and surrounding counties. More than 20 committed professionals joined the Circle of Life Steering Committee, many from the medical field, contributing their expertise to the overall design and development of the COLCC mission, ensuring that it fully met the existing needs caused in part by the fragmented healthcare system in New Jersey, inadequate professional knowledge about pediatric palliative care, and lack of adequate funding for such a program.

Start-up funding for phase I of the Circle of Life program, a Pediatric Palliative Care Consultation Service, was provided by The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, and following the hiring of Sheila Lenihan Walsh, APRN, BC, Circle of Life Children's Center began to serve its first clients in January, 2006 with a Pediatric Palliative Care Consultation Service.  In 2007 a Neonatal Palliative Care Program was implemented under the direction of Dr. Onajovwe Fofah, pediatric neonatologist, and in 2008 a Bereavement Program was initiated.

Since 2006, more than 600 seriously and terminally ill infants, children and families have been served and we are extending our reach into Union County with the opening of our Magnolia House facility in Elizabeth to provide services to families in a warm, supportive environment.