Fifteen flappers walk into a pastor’s office.
Out of context, that statement sounds almost comedic, like the setup of an old joke. But after meeting the amazing women of The Blue Bird Circle, it at once becomes clear that only a spirited beginning like this one would do.
“To be a Blue Bird is a gift you give yourself,” said Pat Edwards, former president of The Blue Bird Circle. “When you join the Blue Birds, you become a member of a very loving and caring group of women of all ages.”
In early January 1923, 15 young women formed a local charity organization and named it The Blue Bird Circle. Early on, the group undertook small projects: a day nursery for working mothers, knitting and crocheting baby blankets and tea towels, and creating beautiful hand-made Easter baskets. More active community involvement followed shortly thereafter as Blue Birds hosted rummage sales, staged musicals and events for veterans, and aided disadvantaged families. But the Blue Birds realized their true calling in 1949.
“We focused our efforts on neurology because of the great need in the community,” said Maggie Austin, board member and former president of The Blue Bird Circle. “The Blue Birds responded favorably and decided that this was our mission.”
Over the nearly 50 years that followed, The Blue Bird Circle worked closely with several Houston-based medical institutions, providing valuable funding for the research and treatment of pediatric neurological disorders. After decades of devoted service to the children of Houston, the Blue Birds joined efforts with a leader in pediatric medicine — Texas Children’s Hospital. In 2001, the neurological clinic at Texas Children’s was renamed The Blue Bird Circle Clinic for Pediatric Neurology. Today, more than 25,000 children are seen in the clinic each year.
In 2010, the Blue Birds united again, voting to support the founding of The Blue Bird Circle Clinical Research Center, the largest pediatric neurology clinic in the United States.
“We were approached with the idea by two physicians in the Neurology department, Dr. Robert Zeller and Dr. Gary Clark,” Maggie said. “We eagerly rallied behind it, knowing that the most important thing for these families is research — having the answers that these families need.”
But more recently, the Blue Birds unveiled one of their most astonishing gifts: the sponsorship of an endowed chair in pediatric neurology for Dr. Gary Clark. He is chief of Neurology and Development Neuroscience at Texas Children’s Hospital, and his work has been instrumental in Texas Children’s efforts in the areas of pediatric neurological research and treatment.
“The gift was a little seed planted by Dr. Zeller,” said Pat. “He approached us and we just decided that this was a wonderful idea and we should present it to our Blue Birds. It finally came to fruition around the time that we were having our recruitment party.”
When the announcement of the $2 million endowment was made, the Blue Birds were overjoyed — and Dr. Clark was flabbergasted. “I wish we had a recording of Dr. Clark’s face, because he was surprised!” Pat said.
For Dr. Clark, the endowment means fewer constraints on vital research endeavors. “This gift is a chance for Dr. Clark to have the funding he needs and with additional flexibility,” Maggie said. “When you look at these children, many of whom are suffering from these severe disorders, you know that their treatment is often a race against time. And with gifts such as this, possible cures are now within our grasp.”
The Blue Bird Circle is still thriving, still vibrant and still working as hard as ever to support the community and its people, especially children with neurological disorders. Their successful resale shop at 615 West Alabama in Houston raises in excess of $2 million every year, which goes directly to Texas Children’s Hospital.
After 92 years, their course has remained constant. “Our mission is to provide all the support we can to our volunteers in The Blue Bird Circle, to our customers at the resale shop and also to Texas Children’s Hospital,” said Maggie.
Echoing that sentiment, Pat smiled radiantly when she added: “We want to help our community, to grow and preserve the humanity around us, and also to perhaps hang in there another 92 years.”
With the spirit of generosity and resilience that is so apparent in the members of The Blue Bird Circle, that shouldn’t be too difficult a feat.