The Kappa Guild celebrates 65 years of fellowship and fundraising on behalf of hospitals, camps and organizations serving critically ill and special needs children

In the post-war era of the early 1950s, a group of 10 Jewish women living in Baltimore joined forces to do something positive about the state of the world. Sally Rifkin, the group’s first president, recalls she jokingly wanted to name it “The Chit-Chat Club.” But with all of the participants being members of the Kappa Sigma Tau high school sorority, the Kappa Guild was born.

“Better brains prevailed,” Rifkin says with a laugh.

This year, the guild is celebrating its 65th anniversary of bringing women together to improve the quality of care for critically ill children and children with special needs. From its inception, the guild’s purpose was “helping children in need,” a phrase that became its mission statement.

Each member pays annual dues, and events throughout the year raise funds for equipment at area hospital neonatal intensive care and pediatric units, and schools for children with emotional and physical disabilities. The guild also supports camperships for children with chronic conditions such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and colitis.

Physicians and administrators from hospitals and children’s programs send “wish lists” to the organization, and guild leaders determine which needs to fund. Hospitals purchase equipment that the group reimburses, says Sheila Mentz, the guild’s current president.

“They cannot blindly ask for the money,” she says of the more than 25 beneficiary organizations. “We go down to the hospital to see what we’ve purchased.”

Recent recipients include University of Maryland Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Sinai Hospital’s Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital, Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital and Mercy Medical Center. According to Mentz, Kappa Guild has also funded equipment for pediatric and/or NICUs at local hospitals such as St. Agnes, St. Joseph Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, as well as the Rose of Sharon Equestrian School.

In addition, funds send needy children to summer camps like the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s Camp Oasis and Lions Camp Merrick, which is primarily for children with diabetes.

The guild builds its coffers through fashion shows, gift-wrapping services at The Shops at Kenilworth each holiday season, mahjong card sales, fireball savings cards, contribution cards and the organization’s signature “Annual Donor,” a fundraising event at a local hall. Mentz says the guild’s “annual donor shows” are among the events for which the group is most well known.

“We have entertainment with skits and parodies from original scripts,” Mentz says. “They are directed by Florell Epstein, a past president, with scripts written by Jackie Klein and parodies written by Marge Surrell.”

So far this year, the group has donated $8,575 for equipment and camperships. The guild board estimates a total in excess of $1.6 million raised over its 65 years of operations.

Dr. Susan J. Dulkerian, chair of pediatrics at Mercy Medical Center, remembers meeting guild members at an Annual Donor event years ago and being highly impressed. She recalls seeing these “amazing” women who “committed their time and talents to raise money for the children of Baltimore and around our state.”

Dulkerian reels off a laundry list of guild donations that served inpatient and outpatient areas at Mercy over the last decade — infant blanket warmer, microwave for parents’ lounge, TV/VCR unit, a heat lamp, infant swings, mobile measuring mat, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and a portable pulse oximeter.

“These gifts ranged in cost from several hundred to several thousand [dollars] and definitely made an impact on the care and lives of the pediatric patients that we care for at Mercy Medical Center,” she says. “The gifts were items that made a real and direct impact on the kids we care for.”

Other hospital leaders echoed that sentiment.

“The guild has donated medical equipment on several occasions, but more importantly has donated items that add to the comfort and personal care for our patients and their families,” says Dr. Richard Katz, chief medical officer at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. “They have generously donated rocking chairs for the mothers of infants on our inpatient units and permanent wall toys and activities for our children who are waiting to see their doctor in our outpatient clinic.

“The guild’s generosity and kindness allow us to offer additional amenities to our patients and families that insurance payments and medical assistance do not provide.”

The Kappa Guild will be publicly honored for its efforts over the decades on Nov. 17, National Philanthropy Day, when Mentz accepts a 2017 Unsung Hero Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Maryland Chapter.

Mentz, who is serving her fourth term as president, recently added Sunday lunch meetings to the group’s itinerary as a means of providing a more social atmosphere for the guild. About 50 women remain active in the group, and the guild recently welcomed about 10 new members.

“When we were raising our children, we were isolated — cooking, doing laundry and driving carpools,” says Andi Lewis, a past president. “[The guild] brought us together as a community.”

Says Mentz: “We want to keep the social aspect of the guild to keep us more together as a family. “That family aspect remains strong among guild members, but with its longevity comes the need to occasionally mourn the loss of members.

“Whether you see somebody every day of the week or see them after a month, it’s like family,” says Sheila Saval, one of four sisters who are part of the group, three of whom are past presidents.

Quoting the Talmud, Rifkin, mother of Jmore Publisher Dr. Scott Rifkin, says the guild’s mission remains the same today as when the group was created: “If you save one person, you’ve saved the world.”

Top photo: Past presidents and members of the Kappa Guild: (Top row, from left) Michale Misler, Rusty Heyman, Sheila Saval, Andi Lewis, Jackie Klein and current Vice President Miriam Stern. (Bottom row, from left) Roslyn Caplan, first Kappa Guild President Sally Rifkin, current President Sheila Mentz and Gloria Cissell. (Photo by Linda L. Esterson)

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