History is packed with powerful women who weren’t afraid to dream big and break down barriers. Their courage and accomplishments paved the way for today’s generation of women who hope to one day leave their own mark on society. We are blessed at Mercy Home to be able to surround our girls with strong women they can look up to. People like youth care workers, therapists and mentors lead our girls by example every day. These positive relationships are all made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors.

Yet sometimes, the gifts of our donors go beyond a check. They themselves become part of our girls’ lives and serve as role models. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we honor two of the women who not only support our girls financially, but through their actions as well.

Starting a tradition

Suzanne Zaccone is the President of the Zaccone Family Foundation, an organization that has supported Mercy Home since 2010. Each year, the Zaccone Family Foundation helps fund college educations for our kids by supporting our Legacy of Learning program.

“If any of our kids have a desire to go to college, and they have the grades, and they have the willingness to put in the work – that just offers them another opportunity to change the cycle,” Suzanne said.

Education is a top priority for Suzanne and the Zaccone Family Foundation in supporting our children, but there are a variety of ways she connects with our mission on a personal level as well.

One of the first things Suzanne did for our kids was to organize a clothes drive in her own neighborhood. She knew the kids needed outfits for job interviews and she wanted to help. The drive was so successful, it took Suzanne three trips to deliver all the clothing she had received.

Suzanne and a friend of hers, Marianne Duitsman, have also gotten to know our girls by organizing cooking classes and etiquette classes. But it is the tradition she started nearly a decade ago that our girls will remember for the rest of their lives.

“I spend this day with them every year and we go out shopping and we pick out dresses for all the girls, and shoes, and accessories,” Suzanne said. “And then we’ll go out to lunch and talk and just have a nice day.”

One day, when Suzanne was talking to a group of girls at our Couderc Home, she asked them if they were getting excited to go to prom. “They all looked at me like, ‘are you crazy? We can’t go to prom.’” Suzanne remembers.

A youth care worker was nearby and informed Suzanne that some of our girls could not afford to go to prom. Suzanne felt that everyone who wants to go to prom should have the opportunity to do so, and she took it upon herself to help them get dresses. It is something she now does every spring.

“I spend this day with them every year and we go out shopping and we pick out dresses for all the girls, and shoes, and accessories,” Suzanne said. “And then we’ll go out to lunch and talk and just have a nice day.”

Growing bonds and traditions

Debbie Frogameni is the Executive Director of the Dawn Brancheau Foundation, which provides annual scholarship money for our kids. Like Suzanne, Debbie’s commitment to our kids runs much deeper than this annual donation.

When the Brancheau Foundation first began supporting Mercy Home, one of their first gifts was building a garden at our girls’ campus. It is called “Dawn’s Garden”, named after Debbie’s younger sister, Dawn Brancheau – the namesake of the foundation. Each spring, our girls plant the garden and spend the summer months maintaining it. It is in the garden that Debbie began to grow her bond with our girls.

“While working in the garden, I get to be a mom again,” Debbie said. “You get to hear what they’re thinking about, and they ask for advice and I get to hear what’s going on in their world.”

But the garden is not the only place Debbie connects with our girls. Though she already makes the dream of college a reality for our children, this past year, she went a step further. As several of our girls prepared to make the transition to college and move into their dorms, Debbie took them out for breakfast and had a chance to hear about the girls’ plans for the future. She then took them shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond to get items for their dorm rooms.

Debbie hopes this experience will become a tradition, but there is already one ritual that Debbie has been able to help carry on for our girls.

After our young ladies have been in our Home for six months, it has become a rite of passage that they receive the gift of a special blanket. When the person who provided these blankets could no longer do so, Debbie jumped right in and kept the tradition going. Our girls even have a chance to pay it forward when they attend the Dawn Brancheau Foundation’s annual “Dream Big Walk”, where they help make blankets that the foundation sends to children in Kenya.

Providing new experiences

For many of our kids, opportunities have been scarce in their lives. At Mercy Home, we try to expose them to new things that will help them grow and discover their passions. Thanks to Debbie and Suzanne, our girls have had some truly unique experiences.

Every year, Debbie plans a special event for our girls. In the past, they have included a Valentines party and a roller-skating outing. But this past fall, Debbie organized for our entire girls’ campus to attend a performance of Hamilton.

Attending a performance like Hamilton was a once-in-a-lifetime experience some of our girls never thought possible. Better yet, thanks to the help of one of our board members, the girls had a chance to go backstage and meet the cast of the show as well.

Suzanne is providing a life-changing experience for a young lady she recently began mentoring in our AfterCare program. At dinner one night, Suzanne’s mentee told her that one of the jobs she might like to have some day would be as a neonatal nurse. Thinking it would be a good idea for her to see what the job is really like, Suzanne did some networking and set her mentee up with an opportunity to spend time shadowing a neonatal nurse.

“I love it. For me, I get really attached to these kids,” Suzanne explained. “I get to know them, they get to know me. And I absolutely love the idea of the AfterCare program.”

For Suzanne, connecting with our youth is an important aspect of her relationship with Mercy Home.

We are so grateful for the opportunities Debbie and Suzanne provide for our children. The dedication of their time, energy and resources has such a profound impact on the lives of our youth. They are shining examples of how successful women can give back to the community and help pave the way for future generations.