Christ Child Society blesses site of planned new home for child trauma victims

The Christ Child Society of Detroit on May 15 blessed the land upon which the nonprofit will build its new Christ Child House on Joy Road on Detroit's west side. The home is a temporary residence for boys ages 5-16 who are awaiting a more permanent residence in the foster care system. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

For 65 years, Detroit-based Christ Child House has helped boys ages 5-16 with temporary housing, loving support system

DETROIT More than 3,000 children have made their way through the Christ Child House on Joy Road on Detroit’s west side over the years.

Since 1948, the nonprofit residential treatment center for boys ages 5 through 16 has served as a home in a time of transition for children navigating trauma, abuse and neglect — a place where kids who have been failed by the adults in their lives can rebuild their lives and focus on being kids again.

Since Henry Ford and his family sold the land on which the current home stands for a $1 in 1957, Christ Child House has stood as a beacon of hope.

It will continue to stand — albeit in a newer location just down the road.

“The house we currently have has seen over 3,000 children go through it in the past 65 years,” Elaina Ryder, president of the Christ Child Society, told Detroit Catholic at a May 15 ground blessing ceremony for a new home on the corner of Joy and St. Mary’s in Detroit.

Msgr. John Zenz blesses the ground upon which the new Christ Child House will be built. The new location is one block down the street from the current location.
Msgr. John Zenz blesses the ground upon which the new Christ Child House will be built. The new location is one block down the street from the current location.

“The home has outlived its usefulness, as every house does,” Ryder added. “The home needs new windows, a new boiler, we have floods, electrical fires; it is not what we need to keep the boys safe, and we are excited to build a new home to have all the latest and greatest in technology in the facility.”

Christ Child House is a ministry sponsored by the Christ Child Society of Detroit, an organization of more than 400 women who volunteer their time and resources to support the home, its layette program for new mothers and babies, and a literacy program in partnership with Pontiac Public Schools.

The Christ Child House in Detroit is a residential treatment center helping boys ages 5-16 receive trauma treatment and stability before they can be placed into the foster care system or adopted. Boys stay with Christ Child House for as long as necessary, but a typical case sees them in the home from six months to two years.

“We’ve been in Detroit for 65 years — as the only Christ Child Society that sponsors a home — and Christ Child Society has been around for 110 years,” Ryder said. “Our first home was on Pallister in Detroit, and then we bought this property on Joy Road for a $1 from Henry Ford. If you go down that way, you see where Henry Ford and several other family members are buried, and we are just to the east of that, the property next door.”

Children at Christ Child House go to school, attend therapy sessions, recreate outdoors and learn life skills at the 24/7 residential facility sponsored by the Christ Child Society of Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Child Child Society of Detroit)
Children at Christ Child House go to school, attend therapy sessions, recreate outdoors and learn life skills at the 24/7 residential facility sponsored by the Christ Child Society of Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Child Child Society of Detroit)

The new Christ Child House location has been two and a half years in the making, with the organization commissioning an at-need study, enlisting the help of a pro-bono lawyer to navigate legal work, and soliciting contractors to design the new home on a lot that's twice as big as the current Christ Child property.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern, but No. 2, we wanted to enhance our services and add a sensory room for our children with autism, have a bigger art room and a bigger living room space," said Maria Lessnau, executive director of Christ Child House. "All of the rooms will be single rooms for the boys, and they’ll have more bathroom areas.”

Christ Child House is state licensed to house up to 31 boys, and currently houses 16. The boys wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast, and make their way to the 12 different school systems that currently work with Christ Child House. They return home for therapy, educational support programs, independent living skills programs and outside time and recreation.

Lessnau is particularly pleased that the new location will offer twice as much space for the boys to run around and play, as their lives are particularly regimented when they are in the organization’s care.

Msgr. John Zenz, chaplain of the Christ Child Society of Detroit, blesses a statue of Mary and the Child Jesus held by Mari MacKenzie of the Christ Child Society on May 15.
Msgr. John Zenz, chaplain of the Christ Child Society of Detroit, blesses a statue of Mary and the Child Jesus held by Mari MacKenzie of the Christ Child Society on May 15.

“They wake up really early for school, hop on a bus or get a ride to school, and they are in school for a majority of the day. They come back and have a little debrief and an afternoon snack, then they have tutoring, reading group, homework, go outside and play games in the house, have dinner and shower; it’s a scheduled routine for them,” Lessnau said.

The Christ Child Society is raising $14 million for the project: $11 million for construction, plus $3 million for an endowment.

The campaign began in November when David and Christine Provost donated $1 million, and the Pulte Family Foundation gave a $4 million donation May 12, with a $3 million grant coming from the Pulte Family Foundation and individual $500,000 gifts from Julie and Mark Pulte, and Carolyn Pulte. Reaching out to other supports of the Christ Child Society and the society’s 320 full-time members, the group says they are approximately 70 percent of the way toward their goal.

“For the past two years, we’ve done extensive research to make sure this is an endeavor that is functional and sustainable,” said Katie Parks, corresponding secretary of the Christ Child Society board of directors and chair of the capital campaign steering committee. “Our research has not only been into how much it will cost to build a house, but how much capital we need to raise among our membership to keep the lights one when the house is built.”

The Christ Child Society is in the midst of a $14 million campaign to build and fund a new Christ Child House on Joy Road to serve as a residential facility for the boys in the society's care. Donors can learn more about the capital campaign at www.christchildhouse.org/capital-campaign.
The Christ Child Society is in the midst of a $14 million campaign to build and fund a new Christ Child House on Joy Road to serve as a residential facility for the boys in the society's care. Donors can learn more about the capital campaign at www.christchildhouse.org/capital-campaign.

The Christ Child Society of Detroit is the only one of the 45 Christ Child Societies in the country that sponsors a residential home. The home used to host both boys and girls, but has exclusively served boys for at least 40 years, according to Ryder.

The society supports the house with a $150,000 grant every year, and the state and federal governments supply a supplement to support the boys' care. Christ Child Society members and donors make up any shortfalls.

On May 15, Msgr. John Zenz, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham and chaplain of the Detroit Chapter of the National Christ Child Society, blessed the ground, staff, donors and children who will one day call the new location home.

Ryder looks forward to the day ground can be broken and construction can be begin — the group hasn’t given an official start date for construction — but the ground blessing is a sign the group is committed to caring for children who are in need during difficult times.

“It’s a great feeling seeing this today,” Ryder said. “Our past president, Chris Schwartz, had a twinkle in her eye for a building for the boys where they could have a little bit more land, a better facility, a rec center. To see this all coming together today is a special, heart-warming, sentimental moment.”

Christ Child Society of Detroit

The Christ Child Society of Detroit is in the midst of a $15 million campaign to build and fund a new Christ Child House. To learn more and donate, visit the organization's website.



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