For over twenty years, Suzanne Griffith and Loren Prehiem ran the Presbyterian Children’s Village in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Presbyterian Children’s Village is one of the oldest continuing mission agencies founded by church folks in Philadelphia. Responding to a growing number of homeless children in Philadelphia, Presbyterian women from several churches created The Presbyterian Orphanage in 1877 to care for orphans and “near orphans”.
From 1976 to 1997, the mission was directed by Suzanne and Loren. Loren was appointed Director of the mission the same year Suzanne was hired as Assistant Director. Loren worked with a Board of Directors made up of Elders representing 15 Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and Donegal Presbyteries. They approved budget and expenditures and provided oversight for the work being done by the agency.
As Assistant Director, Suzanne was Program Director and served as Church Liaison.
The Board of Church Representatives was an active group of around 130 women representing some 65 churches in the Philadelphia and Donegal Presbyteries.
They met on a regular basis with Suzanne on hand to tell stories and share information about the work they were enabling. The Church Reps and their local churches did much to ensure that the 64 residents of the Village knew they were not alone, that folks were caring for them. The Church Reps made sure each child was remembered at Christmas and birthdays, had decent clothing and bedding, received appropriate health care and supportive guidance.
Because her work spanned 20 years and there were so many churches involved, Suzanne interacted with thousands of active church members.
During the years the work of Presbyterian Children’s Village changed somewhat from providing a place for orphans to providing therapeutic care for troubled teenagers.
The Village was on the front line as Federal and State Agencies moved to professionalize work with troubled teens. Suzanne led and enabled the change at the Village.
She recruited and supervised a staff of professional workers to meet the needs of an increasing population of troubled children.
All of the children had experienced severe trauma of some sort – sexual abuse, observing the killing of a parent, and/or parental neglect.
Suzanne assembled a professional staff of social workers, nurses, psychologists, child care workers, housekeepers, certified special needs teachers, therapists, food service providers, and chaplain. She was very good at interviewing potential staff. She knew what she valued and was able to ascertain whether the applicant was a “fit” or not. (She was very good at concluding an interview that was going nowhere.)
For 20 years Suzanne Griffith was the face of the Presbyterian Children’s Village to professional child welfare workers of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties of Pennsylvania – and out of state workers as well. The Presbyterian Children’s Village gained a reputation as a preferred placement for troubled children that would receive A-1 professional evaluation and treatment and be treated with dignity and professionalism. Suzanne was the door-keeper (or bed-keeper) and a referral always started with her questioning the welfare worker about the child’s needs and background information. Firstly, they were not set up to be a lock-down community, those who were adjudicated delinquent had to go to a more appropriate facility.
Often, Suzanne’s questions enabled the child case worker to seek a more appropriate placement.
Suzanne interviewed every child that was placed at Presbyterian Children’s Village.
The interviewee was the child – in the presence of the child welfare representative, and sometimes a parent if appropriate. As she talked with the child, issues were often revealed that the child welfare person had not known about, and as often as not everyone agreed that a more appropriate placement was needed.
Every single child had to agree to be there. No one was placed that did not want to be.
Suzanne would write a preliminary treatment plan and make initial staffing and programmatic assignments for every child.
At any given time there were 64 children in residence on the Rosemont campus.
All treatment plans had a beginning and an end. So there were frequent vacancies. New resident interviews were constant. Through the years Suzanne interviewed thousands of youngsters. Many of whom they were able to help. Many of whom went on to a more appropriate facility.
Children residing at Presbyterian Children’s Village attended local public schools. As the Face of the Village, Suzanne was the one to call when a child ran into difficulty at school. She spent a lot of time talking and meeting with the Assistant Principals of the Radnor Middle and High Schools. To more efficiently meet the educational needs of the residents, Suzanne worked with the local school board to charter an accredited school on the campus where residents could be taught by qualified teachers at their own pace. And, not co-incidently, where the same behavioral rules applied. Of course, that meant more work: interviewing and selecting more staff, more oversight of a different kind of program. By all accounts, the Village School was a shining success enabling many children to graduate high school – either at the local high school, or at the Village School.
For more than 20 years, Suzanne Griffith spent her heart and soul to bring healing to broken and troubled children. She was accomplished and good at it. And so it was – until a painful and debilitating disease took over her body and she was forced to stop.
She moved from the Rosemont campus of the Presbyterian Children’s Village in 1997.
Suzanne Grant Griffith resided with her spouse, the Reverend Clyde E. Griffith, in Broomall, Pennsylvania, until her death, November 24, 2018.
Suzanne Grant Griffith
BA, 1965, University of Oklahoma; MSW 1969, University of California, Berkeley
May 21, 1944 – November 24, 2018
Presbyterian Children’s Village, 1976 – 1997