Mitzi McGovern of Sussex knows love at first sight. It happened to her 23 years ago when she first visited the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee. She was amazed at the loving attention given to parents and families with seriously ill children who were receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital.
“I fell in love with the kids and the families instantly, and I was hooked,” she said. “Over the years, I have met so many friends and I love going there.”
After joining the Milwaukee Chapter of the Christ Child Society, McGovern volunteered her time at the Ronald McDonald House, the Christ Child resale shop and tutoring at Blessed Savior School, formerly Our Lady of Sorrows. She downplays her commitment to others.
“It’s nothing special,” she said. “I just love to do it and there are plenty of others who do much more than me.”
Perhaps, but it might be tough to find someone who, at 74, is as active as she is in the 350-member Christ Child Society, as well as in her parish, St. James Catholic Church, Menomonee Falls. At a luncheon last April, McGovern received the organization’s Red Shoe Award for her faithful service and devotion to helping others.
According to Marianne Schulz, vice president and public relations officer, McGovern is the epitome of the selfless volunteer.
About the Christ Child Society
The Christ Child Society Milwaukee Chapter was founded in 1948 as part of a National Christ Child Society, founded in 1887 in Washington, D.C., by Mary Virginia Merrick.
It is a non-profit organization dedicated to child welfare. Its motive and spirit expresses itself in personal service for children and youth regardless of race or creed to honor the childhood of Christ.
The chapter welcomes members of all denominations whose interest focus primarily on following the child by clothing the newborn, providing parental support, tutorial and scholarship assistance and other pertinent involvements necessary in nurturing the youth of the Greater Milwaukee area. These commitments, which enhance human dignity, reflect the goals and principles of Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the Christ Child Society. The chapter shall provide members an opportunity for individual growth through interaction with the community and each other.
This mission is accomplished by “Follow the Child Programs”:
The Milwaukee Chapter is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization and has no paid staff. The chapter receives funds from a resale shop/boutique that members operate. In addition, annual social fund raising events, memorials, tributes and general contributions provide funds for chapter projects. All donations are used to conduct the chapter’s charitable works and activities.
For membership information, call the Christ Child Society at (414) 540-0489 and leave a message for the membership chairman or visit the Web site.
“She has been a member of CCS for 23 years and in that time has chaired the scholarship committee, membership committee, mailing committee and served as our vice president,” she said. “In addition to her work at the resale shop and Blessed Savior, she volunteers at St. James Parish and distributes Communion to the sick at St. Joseph Hospital, Milwaukee. No job is too menial for Mitzi. She is always there to lend a helping hand, from cutting out flannel for the layette program to seeing that the newsletter gets in the mail. She’s certainly going to occupy a higher spot in heaven than some of us.”
At the urging of a close friend, McGovern joined Christ Child Society. She did what she could to help, whether making layettes, chairing the annual spring banquet, or collecting and making items for the organization’s “My Stuff” program for children of abuse, neglect or natural disaster. She worked tirelessly, while at the same time maintaining her household and devoting time to her two boys and four grandchildren.
“My husband’s name was Earl, but everyone called him Mac; he served as president of Brown Deer for 30 years. He also worked at the Wisconsin Southern Gas Company until his retirement,” she said. “He passed away 9.5 years ago and belonging to the Christ Child Society has given me so many wonderful friends and helps me to keep busy during the day.”
While the majority of her volunteer hours are logged at the Ronald McDonald House staffing the information desk, giving tours, doing laundry, cleaning rooms and making dinners, McGovern has a soft spot for the hundreds of children she has tutored the past dozen years, some of whom have come back to thank her after graduating from high school.
Without her assistance, the teachers would have a tougher job teaching, and the students would not learn as quickly, according to Patricia Wilkum, principal of Blessed Savior.
“Oh, my gosh, Mitzi is a wonderful, caring tutor for our children. She is here on a regular basis and works with kindergarten and first grade students – sometimes one on one and sometimes in small groups,” she said. “Mitzi is kind and compassionate, and has really helped so many of our students succeed.”
McGovern helps with whatever need arises, whether reading, helping with workbook pages, reinforcing what was taught in the classroom or assisting with putting on bulky winter clothing.
“The children love her,” said Wilkum. “Without her – well, our children really need and appreciate the extra help we get from all the Christ Child volunteers and they would, no doubt, not be as successful as they are. It is because of Mitzi and the rest of the tutors who want to make a difference in their lives.”
Every Tuesday, McGovern works with K4, K5 and first grade students who anxiously await her arrival and often greet her with hugs.
“She is so faithful to these children and they need that,” said Wilkum. “It’s important for these children to have someone who they can rely on to come every Tuesday and spend the morning with us. They know she will be reading to them or doing whatever is necessary to help them learn. She instills such wonderful confidence in these children – I just can’t say enough about her and all the tutors.”
Although her car’s odometer shows it has 158,000 miles on it, it will probably wear out before McGovern tires of helping others and participating in another favorite activity – attending daily Mass.
“I definitely need a new car, but I love going to daily Mass when I can. It helps me and it helps build my faith and to have a soft spot for helping others that need me,” she said. “I have also met so many wonderful people by going to daily Mass. Afterward, a group of us go out for coffee and a hard roll – we call it ‘church and slurp’; it is a lot of fun, and it has really brought me closer to them.”
With the Red Shoe Award, McGovern was presented with a poem, which she has framed on her wall, and a small medal.
“I am really humbled by it all,” she admitted. “Everyone here does a lot – it is certainly not just me.”