Help Arrives with Wings: Christine Callahan

Under the leadership of Christine Callahan, Julia's Butterfly Foundation has granted almost $600,000 to families of sick children who require financial aid and services.

Christine Callahan, president of Julia's Butterfly Foundation, continues her late friend's legacy by helping families in need.
Photo by John Emerson

A critically ill child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Thanks to the Julia’s Butterfly Foundation and volunteers like Christine Callahan, no parent has to walk this dark path alone.

The foundation provides financial assistance to families of chronically and terminally ill children. It was created in 2005 by Callahan’s close friends Maureen and Stephen Bommer in memory of their daughter Julia Marie, who died of a rare kidney disorder one week shy of her seventh birthday. The Bommers wanted to aid families like their own, who must deal with a health care system that often does not provide necessary services for an ailing child.

Compounding the agony, Maureen died of cancer only a few months after her daughter. Callahan and others channeled their grief into expanding the foundation into a sustainable nonprofit.

“It started as a way of mourning the loss of a friend,” Callahan says. “Slowly, we saw there was a huge need in the community.”

Since 2006, the foundation has granted nearly $600,000 to needy families in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The organization takes an inclusive approach, providing financial aid and services to families struggling with myriad diseases and physical conditions. Callahan, who became the volunteer president of the foundation in 2008, credits the efforts of her 13-member board, although board members are just as quick to sing Callahan’s praises.

“I nominated Christine for her foresight and vision, tenacity, compassion, passion to make a difference in society, courage to take a risk and her leadership to develop and run the organization,” says Butterfly volunteer Ceci Zak. “She’s a role model for others—not only as president, but as a mother, sister, daughter and friend.”

The foundation pays for treatments, equipment and more. Certain moments make the journey especially rewarding. The foundation inspired a local Girl Scout troop to raise money for an adapted bike for a special needs child. A young boy from Fort Lee who received aid from the foundation following complications from a heart transplant now raises money for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association.

“The people we help are the sickest of the sick and the poorest of the poor,” Callahan says. “In the beginning, it weighed emotionally. Now it’s really gratifying that, in these families’ times of desperate need, we’re able to help them.”

The foundation’s biggest annual fundraising event, the Butterfly Ball, will be held November 15 at the Tides in North Haledon. For information, visit the foundation’s website.

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