Award presented to Founder, Rebecca Navarro-McKelvey
ABOUT THE FOUNDER OF GARDEN OF INNOCENTS
Navarro-McKelvey heads Garden of Innocents, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing dignified funereal services for unclaimed children in the St. Louis metro area. She has worked diligently to organize people and funds to create the organization.
Navarro-McKelvey began by arranging to have a burial garden donated by Msgr. Robert McCarthy of the Catholic Cemetery Association. Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis County hosts the plot.
Other efforts include persuading her office to hold a dress down week where colleagues paid $5 per day to wear jeans rather than suits. A dart tournament was organized to raise funds, and a garage sale is planned for this fall.
Recently, a permanent memorial stone was donated to Garden of Innocents by Monumental Finishers. An unveiling and dedication ceremony is planned for July 29 at the burial garden. Names of all children buried in the garden will be engraved on the stone.
Since 2003, the organization has buried five infants at Calvary Cemetery and has provided funeral services for two others, including Destiny Daniels.
Navarro-McKelvey, 32, is a mother of two young children. She works as a white-collar crime prosecutor for the St. Louis circuit attorney's office.
Her husband, Shane McKelvey, also helps manage the organization. He works as a regional account manager for MetLife Retirement Plans. Navarro-McKelvey doesn't believe she is doing anything special, though, in managing all these things.
"Providing dignified burials is important to me, to my children, to the community," Navarro-McKelvey said. "When something is important to you, you just make time for it. I don't really think I'm unique in that."
Garden of Innocents takes as its motto a quote from Dr. Seuss, "A person's a person no matter how small."
Often, the infants the organization receives for burial are born extremely premature and require delicate handling. Yet each child is given respectful last rites.
Children referred to the organization are each given a graveside memorial service, with prayer and song. Each baby is buried in its own casket, with a teddy bear.
Volunteers knit special gowns, caps and booties for the tiny babies, or customized garments called "sack gowns" for those too delicate to dress.
Last month Garden of Innocents buried two babies, Gabriel and Michael. Each boy lived less than one day, one for only an hour.
In May there was Angelica. But each had their own funeral program and was attended by several volunteers. Local florists donated flowers and a funeral home transported the tiny caskets to the grave site.
Janie Burse, director of St. Louis child and welfare for Lutheran Family and Children's Services, says her organization "definitely would not have been able to provide the level of service we did without the Garden."
Two of the seven infants for whom Garden of Innocents provided services were referred through the Lutheran Family and Children's Services.
Burse said she was referred to Garden of Innocents by a social worker at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
"When I found out about the Garden, I was shocked but impressed that there was an organization filling such a niche in the community. I was impressed by the way she (Navarro-McKelvey) pulled everything together," Burse said.
Garden of Innocents is the only organization of its type in the area. The group relies solely on private donations and volunteers to carry out its mission. Volunteers attend funerals, make burial gowns and help send thank-you notes to donors.
Currently, Garden of Innocents serves only St. Louis City, but hopes to expand to St. Charles County this year. The board is in the process of extending services to St. Louis County, as well.
"There are so many issues regarding each county and city, and it's just going to take some time to get everything together," Navarro-McKelvey said
In St. Louis County, unclaimed children are buried or cremated at the county's expense. Sometimes the hospitals have their own program, called Babyland Burials, with local cemeteries, said Suzanne McCune. McCune is St. Louis County's forensic office administrator.
Garden of Innocents hopes to assist the hospitals, which would ultimately save the county money, said Navarro-McKelvey.
St. Charles County's medical examiner, chief investigator Kathleen Diebold, says her office has not had an unclaimed child in the 15 years she has worked there. But, she said, if the situation ever did arise, infants would be buried in a similar manner to adults. They would be buried in a plain coffin with no headstone.
Diebold's office also serves Jefferson and Franklin counties, and she said those counties have not experienced an unclaimed infant, either.
Lutheran Family and Children's Services, which has offices statewide, is planning to open an office in St. Charles County. This, said Burse, could aid Garden of Innocents in expanding their services.
Navarro-McKelvey said the organization has begun to explore the inclusion of the metro east area, but "crossing state lines is more difficult than county lines."
Other plans for Garden of Innocents' future include increased community contact.
"Everyone is invited to the funerals," said Navarro-McKelvey. "We want people to know about this so that we can help prevent it." Possibilities for awareness and prevention programs include using financial means, when available, to assist other agencies such as CASA or drug abuse prevention programs.
Navarro-McKelvey was recognized earlier this year for her work by the St. Louis chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (ESA), with the Distinguished International Academy of Noble Achievement (DIANA) award. ESA supports local charities founded by women for their humanitarian efforts. ESA also supports the St. Jude's Hospital mission. She was also nominated for the Women of Achievement Award.
"My ultimate goal is that our community won't have a need for the Garden," she said. "But until that happens, there's no reason anyone should be buried without a proper good-bye. If people are interested in starting a Garden in their community, in other states, we can help them do that."
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer or donating to Garden of Innocents may contact the charity at 636-447-2513 or in writing at PO Box 69191, St. Louis, MO, 63169. Their website is www.gardenofinnocents.org.
Little Angel Of Innocence
by Barbara Huber
Heavens gates were opened wide just for you, For only God's splendor would do.
Too special to be treasured below on this earth, For you had a lowly, yet heavenly birth.
You truly were sent from heaven above, Little angel of innocence, bundle of love.
Somehow for you, this world was not quite right, There was a heavenly plan, a heavenly plight.
Your life so quickly passed away, in a twinkle of an eye, A heavenly swept you into his arms, as he swiftly passed by.
Carrying you, an earthly treasure, into the heavenly sky. Placing you in the arms of Jesus, with not even a whimper or sign.
To know no sorrow, no tears a place where you will never cry, Only joy you'll know and never a tomorrow will pass you by.
Untainted by this sinful world below, In heaven now, the Father's unconditional love to know.
To be cuddled, nurtured and forever hugged, In his arms, where you will always be loved.
Yes for you, little angel of innocence, heaven's gates were opened wide, Where you will, forever be by your heavenly Father's side.
So rest little one, God's bundle of joy, snuggle in His tender care, Enjoy your life of perfect peace and happiness there.
Garden of Innocents in St. Louis, Missouri is separate from National, but they share our same dreams which is to see that no child goes by unnoticed. They have chosen to not join National but we still want to let you know that they are out there to do what is right.
If you would like to send a donation to Garden of Innocents through our National site, please mail it to: Garden of Innocence National P.O. BOX 722 Carlsbad, CA 92008. Be sure to specify that you want your donation to go to GOI St. Louis, MO
To donate flowers contact: Appleby's Florist Debbie Feltes 460 Rue St. Francois Florrissant, MO 63301 314-837-3853
Their Garden is located at: Calvary Cemetery 5239 W. florissant Raod, St. Louis, MO
Garden of Innocents, St. Louis contacted by founder of Garden of Innocence National
Elissa Davey, founder of Garden of Innocence National recently read about our Garden of Innocents-St. Louis organization. Garden of Innocence National, a California based charity, performs the same work as our organization does in St. Louis. She was moved to contact us and share her organization's work with us.
Ms. Davey was unaware of our Garden of Innocents-St. Louis until she read our story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Her organization was found in 1998 and since that time has helped many infants in California in addition to helping others establish Gardens in their respective states.
Garden of Innocents-St. Louis is a small local charity that is not affiliated with Garden of Innocence National; however, we support the same work that Ms. Davey and her great organization is doing. Currently, Garden Of Innocents-St. Louis only has funding necessary to operate in the St. Louis metropolitan area. However, we are aware there are other Missouri communities and states that may be in need of Gardens.
Ms. Davey and Garden of Innocence National is a wonderful resource for those that want to start a Garden, but are unsure how to start. Ms. Davey and Garden of Innocence National are making great strides in bringing the plight of abandoned children to the public consciousness. For more information, go to the www.gardenofinnocence.org.
To help other Gardens grow, please send you donation to Garden of Innocence National P.O. Box 722 Carlsbad, CA 92008 888-535-4772
For more information or to mail your donation please write us at :
P.O. Box 722 Carlsbad, CA 92008
or call (760) 805-9058 for National or (619) 548-4291 for Babs France GOI/Valley of the Sun