ACC celebrates 100 years of advocacy, caring for children

Seattle Council of Catholic Women (the predecessor to the ACC) founder Lilly Peabody and her sons circa 1920. Photo: Screenshot from ACC 100-year gala video Seattle Council of Catholic Women (the predecessor to the ACC) founder Lilly Peabody and her sons circa 1920. Photo: Screenshot from ACC 100-year gala video

SEATTLE – For 100 years, Catholic women in the Seattle Archdiocese have been helping and advocating for children and families in need.

As they begin their second century of service, members of the organization long-known as the Association for Catholic Childhood remain committed to their volunteer efforts under a new name — Advocacy and Caring for Children.

“It’s a name that now really reflects the mission of the organization,” said Mary Welch, a 30-year ACC member and former president, who was on the name change committee.

In its recent history, the association has granted more than $2.5 million — including more than $150,000 in 2017 — to a variety of organizations in Western Washington that provide care, funding and advocacy for children and families in need.

Long-term funding of ACC efforts is guaranteed by an endowment, established in 2002, that reached its $1 million goal during the 100-year celebration in March.

“That was just so exciting,” Welch said.

Mary WelchMary Welch. Screenshot from ACC 100-year gala video

Founded before women had the right to vote

It’s not the first name change for the organization, established in 1918 as the Seattle Council of Catholic Women. Founded by 10 women, most of them prominent in Seattle society, the council provided the beginnings of what today is Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

“The women … started it two years before the women had the right to vote,” Welch said.

The founders went to Bishop Edward O’Dea to point out the pressing need to take care of children, many of them orphaned or abandoned in the aftermath of World War I and an influenza epidemic. They formed a social welfare organization to help find homes for these children, as an alternative to crowded orphanages.

Catholic women early 1900s SeattleSome of the Catholic women who founded the predecessor charity to the ACC. Photo: Screenshot from ACC 100-year gala video

In the early years, these women took some of the children into their homes, Welch said. As the workload increased, they hired professional social workers to place and monitor the children, according to a history on the ACC website.

“It’s amazing that these women saw the need and did something,” said Sue Lynch, a member of ACC and Assumption Parish in Seattle. Lynch and JoAnne King, also an ACC/Assumption parishioner, co-authored “For the Least of These,” a book about the early history of the council. “Nobody set any rules of how you do this,” Lynch said. “They just did it and it just kind of came from their heart.”

The organization grew, with members holding teas, garden parties and other fundraisers to support Catholic children, with the help of parishes around the area. In 1936, Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy created Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Seattle to coordinate all charitable works in the diocese, and hired professional Catholic caseworkers.

The association’s focus turned to raising money to support the efforts to help children. The organization’s first “circles” were formed in the early 1930s. The circles, Welch explained, are groups of women who get together, support each other and form friendships as they advocate and raise money for the ACC mission.

Screenshot from the ACC 100 year gala videoScreenshot from ACC 100-year gala video

A variety of fund-raising efforts

Welch was a young mother when she was invited to join Magnolia’s Katherine Meloy Circle, established in 1960 and named for one of the founders. “This was an opportunity to really meet people who were not necessarily other young moms, but women in my parish and community,” Welch said. “We’ve been there for each other for decades.”

As ACC president for three years, Welch got to meet women throughout the organization, not just in her own circle. “They broadened my scope of the impact that Catholic women can have in the world,” she said.

Primarily located in the greater Seattle, Bellevue and Kirkland areas, the circles raise money in a variety of ways — “everything under the sun,” Welch said. There are poinsettia and Christmas wreath sales, bunco parties, luncheons and fashion shows. Her circle presented a holiday home tour in Magnolia for years (it raised $35,000 or more every other year) and now has turned it over to a “younger” circle in Magnolia that is keeping up the tradition.

Screenshot from ACC 100-year gala video

The money raised is given to organizations through a competitive grant process twice a year. Various programs of Catholic Community Services — including family shelters, youth tutoring, adoption services and pregnancy support — are among the main recipients. But, Welch said, “any organization can apply for funding as long as their request meshes with our mission, which is children and families in need. We fund agencies all the way from the Canadian border to the Oregon border,” she added.

ACC members may not provide direct services to children and families as the 10 founding women did, but “the mission of caring for children and their families is still the same, just lived out in a different way,” Welch said.

Watch the ACC 100-year gala video.

Old and new ACC logosOld and new ACC logos

ACC TIMELINE

1918 — With the blessing of Bishop Edward O’Dea, 10 Catholic women in Seattle organize the Seattle Council of Catholic Women.

Early 1930s — The first “circles” are formed, with members gathering in small neighborhood groups to work on special projects and fundraising, and sew layettes for infants.

1935 — Seattle Council of Catholic Women becomes Catholic Women’s Child Welfare League.

1936 — Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy begins the move toward a professional social-service program (known today as Catholic Community Services of Western Washington). CWCWL continues as a volunteer organization in support of CCS.

1942 — CWCWL becomes Association for Catholic Childhood (ACC) and expands its scope to the entire Archdiocese of Seattle.

1980 — After CCS expands to provide a broader array of social services, ACC members vote to continue their focus on children and families.

1997 — Through a recruiting effort, six new circles and 100 additional women become part of ACC’s work.

2002 — ACC creates an endowment to provide continued funding of programs and agencies it supports.

2008 — ACC adopts the tag line “For the Children … Caring and Advocacy Since 1918.”

2018 — Celebrating its 100th anniversary, ACC changes its name to Advocacy & Caring for Children, a Catholic association since 1918.

Source: Advocacy and Caring for Children

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.