Each year, thousands of Missouri Knights mark Christopher Columbus' birthday by taking to the streets to raise funds for children with special needs. The Drive for Persons with Developmental Disabilities directly benefits children served at the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and has been doing so since 1982. This years' drive is October 12-14. Please stop, thank the Knights and get your Tootsie Roll®!
Called to Serve the Most Vulnerable
"We are asking you to love these children as yourself!" proclaimed a Missouri Knights of Columbus newsletter in 1982 upon the announcement of a unique and long-lasting affiliation with SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center. With that, the Knights assumed sponsorship of what became known as the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center, dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of children and teens with mental and physical handicaps. "The Knights realized that the availability of developmental pediatric programs in the state was really narrow," says John S. Appelbaum, former state deputy of the 42,609 Knights in Missouri.
The organization had long supported SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and other children's causes before committing itself to the developmental center. "When the Knights were founded in 1882, one of its missions was helping the most vulnerable. I'm sure the focus on children was a natural outgrowth of that," Appelbaum says.
The center has expanded in recent years thanks largely to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, which has donated more than $5.5 million to it. The center cares for more than 2,000 patients each year, more than twice the number it saw five years ago.
The center evaluates and treats children and adolescents for diagnoses such as autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Recent additions to the center's staff have reduced waiting times for an initial three-hour examination to six weeks from the national average of 18 months. Increasing numbers of infants and children with a suspected diagnosis of autism are referred to the center. It has been declared one of three "Centers of Autism Excellence" by the state of Missouri, which provided funding for the increased staffing. In a typical week, the center's staff diagnoses six children with autism.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect one in 150 children. "The symptoms of autism are pervasive difficulties in social interactions, and verbal and nonverbal communications accompanied by repetitive behaviors and obsessive-compulsive traits. Most children with ASD have sensory integration difficulties, such as the dislike of certain noises or food textures or the feel of a certain fabric," says Rolanda Maxim, M.D., medical director of the autism center and an associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University Medical School.
The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest organization of lay members of the Catholic Church. It was named in honor of Christopher Columbus, who brought Christianity to the New World. Each year thousands of Knights in Missouri mark Columbus' birthday by taking to their communities' streets to sell Tootsie Roll candies to raise money for charitable causes. About half of the money raised across the state, approximately $300,000 annually, is earmarked for the developmental center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.
The Tootsie Roll Drive is just one of many community activities undertaken by the Knights. "Our faith teaches us that we are called to serve. The Knights of Columbus presents us opportunities to serve on a daily basis," says Appelbaum, an attorney who lives in Imperial, Mo. "For me personally, it is the best way I have experienced to live out my Catholic faith through the ideals that the order teaches us through the lessons of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism."
"We're very grateful to the Knights of Columbus because they are very supportive of children with disabilities," says Maxim. "They helped to create our center. They give us financial support, and they promote what we are doing in the community. Literally, we would not be in existence if it were not for them."