For more than 125 years, the Friends of Pediatrics has been changing the way children and infants are cared for at Bridgeport Hospital.
Founded in 1893 as the “Woman’s Staff for Children’s Ward at Bridgeport Hospital,” the organization began when a small group of local women came together with the mission to create a space where children would be treated separately from adults upon admittance to the hospital. They started with nine beds, three cradles and a few donated furnishings, which formed the basis for the “children’s ward.” From that humble beginning, the philanthropic efforts of the Friends of Pediatrics (as the group is now known) have expanded to include medical and behavioral support of children and adolescents throughout Bridgeport Hospital and out into the greater Bridgeport community.
In the past decade alone, the Fairfield-based fundraising group has granted more than $1 million to Bridgeport Hospital for equipment, facilities, programs and staffing, according to current president Heather Kreitler. Projects funded by the Friends have included warming beds, emergency carts, and specialty machines for the Allison Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; renovations to the Emergency Department; fitness equipment for the Ahlbin Centers’ Pediatric Wellness Program; and seed money for staff positions such as an asthma specialist, a pediatric hospitalist and a pediatric child life specialist.
Most recently the Friends presented a gift of $50,000 to support the care of adolescents and young adults in Bridgeport Hospital’s REACH Outpatient Psychiatry Program. The REACH adolescent program offers support groups and other interventions for teens experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, social isolation or mood swings who may be avoiding school or have thoughts of harming themselves. The support groups are run by a clinical social worker. They help the teens acquire skills, strategies and techniques to address their condition while offering an opportunity to make safe, healthy choices during their day-today activities and interactions. The Friends also provided funds to staff an outpatient psychiatrist for children and adolescents.
“When I first joined, a lot of what we were doing was on a smaller scale like decorating waiting rooms to make them more inviting,” said D’Elia. “Over the years we’ve been able to step up and make a greater impact and be a greater force for children. It makes me proud to continue the enduring tradition started by that little group of ladies in 1893.”
“Teens and young adults are at high risk for mental illness,” said Kreitler, who has been a member of the Friends for more than 20 years. “Programs like REACH provide a safe forum for teens to discuss their concerns and learn ways to address them. When the Friends were made aware of the need for mental health services in the Bridgeport community, we didn’t hesitate to help.”
For long-time Friends like Marjorie D’Elia, the evolution of the group since its founding has been gratifying to witness. D’Elia joined the group in 1984 at the encouragement of her mother, Ann Craft, who became a member in the 1960s. Both mother and daughter have served as president of the Friends.
“When I first joined, a lot of what we were doing was on a smaller scale,” said D’Elia. “Over the years we’ve been able to step up and make a greater impact and be a greater force for children. It makes me proud to continue the enduring tradition started by that little group of ladies in 1893.”