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Center for Seriously Ill and Dying Children Opens Magnolia House

By Neva Shari T, August 13, 2012

Elizabeth, N.J. -  Circle of Life Children's Center, the state's only freestanding palliative care program for seriously ill and dying children, yesterday opened its new home, Magnolia House, to expand its mission to help children and their families.

The center, which has worked with 600 New Jersey children since 2006, will continue its presence at University Hospital in Newark, but the new facility will allow the center to provide bereavement counseling and support services in a spacious and welcoming place away from the hospital.

Dr. Laurence E. Flint, president of the organization's board of trustees, called the opening of Magnolia House an enormous step forward for Circle of Life.

“Now we have a place we can call home and a place for our children and families to come together," he said.

Magnolia House

The organization helps children throughout New Jersey anywhere they are - whether in hospitals, long-term care centers,  in adult hospice facilities or at home. Magnolia House is on the grounds of St. Walburga Monastery in Elizabeth. The Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth is providing the building to Circle of Life rent free for a two-year period. Sr. Sharon McHugh, prioress of St. Walburga Monestary in Elizabeth, said the sisters agreed to allow Circle of Life to use the property while the organization continues to raise additional funds to sustain its work.

“We heard from Circle of Life Children's Center and we had some discussions with them. The sisters and I all wanted to help them provide their services to families and children in a site away from the hospital," said Sr. McHugh. “We support their mission."

The building was once a home for novice nuns, and more recently housed Theo House, a Center for Hope Hospice facility for adults.

In an at times emotional gathering yesterday, proponents of Circle of Life talked about their work with seriously ill and dying children. The center provides pain and symptom management for children, and helps families understand and negotiate difficult end-of-life decisions. It also provides educational workshops for doctors and nurses. “We never make a decision for the family, but we provide support and make sure they understand their child's prognosis and options for care," said Norma Godin Millison, executive director of Circle of Life. “Our goal is to relieve pain and suffering and to help our infants and children maintain as high a quality of life as possible for as long as possible.

Mike Grippo, a trustee on the board, said the opening of Magnolia House has been a long-standing goal for Circle of Life.

“Our caregivers are always out in the field, at homes and in hospitals with our families," Grippo said. “Now we have a physical presence in the community and a place to gather and organize in a more meaningful way."

The Organization Plans

The organization plans to refurnish the home with a nursery, playrooms and comfortable meeting rooms for families. At the open house, visitors toured the building. Donations are being accepted toward furnishings; for instance, $500 is needed toward carpeting a room, and $150 for a coffee table. “This home will be a place for giving," said Nicole Alston, the bereavement coordinator for Circle of Life. “We can't prevent the inevitable, but we can provide support each and every day," she said.

Also at the open house were members of the board of trustees, nurses, local supporters and Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage. “We are so happy to welcome this wonderful organization to our community, and we support their work to provide compassionate care to seriously ill children throughout our state," the mayor said.

Founded in 2002 by Dr. James Oleske

The organization was founded in 2002 by Dr. James Oleske, the infectious disease specialist internationally known for his work with pediatric AIDS, Lynn Czarniecki, an advanced practiced nurse, Godin Millison and other committed individuals who recognized the need to ease the suffering of children with life-limiting medical conditions in a way that did not exist.

Circle of Life Children's Center, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to providing state-of-the-art palliative and end-of-life services for children and families in the Greater Newark and surrounding areas and throughout the State. Learn what you can do to help by calling 908-353-5061 or view our video and make a donation at www.circleoflifenj.org.