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Interview

Princess Grace Foundation: 60 years of support for sick children and culture

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Caroline O’Conor, Administrative Director © Monaco Tribune

We met up with Caroline O’Conor for whom the Foundation has become “second nature”.

The Princess Grace Foundation is as solid as the Rock it stands on. A Foundation that took on the name of Princess Grace, still synonymous today with hope, solidarity and kindness.

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Founded in 1964 at the behest of Princess Grace, the famous institution is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Six decades dedicated to helping sick children and their parents, and to promoting Irish and Monegasque culture.

At first: support for local culture

From the outset, the Foundation was destined to become an essential pillar of Monegasque life. Its aim was to support local culture and the know-how that was specific to the Principality through two stores (La Boutique du Rocher), which would only sell locally-designed objects.

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La Boutique du Rocher in Monte-Carlo © La Boutique du Rocher/ Facebook

These shops still exist and are popular with both tourists and Monegasques. Candles, soaps, bags, pottery, linen, embroidery, everything comes from local craftspeople. As soon as they cross the threshold, a delicious aroma meets visitors and invites them to discover the fine details of the objects sold in the shop.

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The embroidered goods in the Monte-Carlo boutique are handmade © Monaco Tribune

The Princess Grace Foundation also supports an Irish Library, containing Princess Grace’s personal collection, as well as young dancers at the Princess Grace Dance Academy and young musicians at the Rainier III Academy.

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Princess Grace’s personal collection at the Irish library that bears her name © Monaco Tribune

The Foundation also grants the ‘Bourse de la Découverte’ (Discovery Scholarship) to writers under the age of 40, the ‘Coup de cœur des lycéens’ (High School student prize) and the ‘Coup de coeur des jeunes musiciens’ (Young Musicians’ prize) in collaboration with the Prince Pierre Foundation.

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Unfailing support for sick children

Today, when we think of the Foundation, it is not so much the cultural side that comes to mind as its outreach to hospitalised children and their parents.

The administrative director of the Foundation, Caroline O’Conor, has kept the Foundation running smoothly for some twenty years now. It is chaired by the Princess of Hanover, who took over after her mother’s accidental death in 1982.

Helping hospitalised children has been at the core of the Foundation’s activities since 1999. This aspect has been growing ever since and the Foundation now provides invaluable material and moral support to families who are trying to cope with their child’s illness. It creates a peaceful haven to try to relieve families of the concerns that go with their illness.

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The Parents’ House at Orléans University Hospital © Princess Grace Foundation

“We help parents directly, there are no intermediaries. We provide them with the money directly, or we pay for their hotel or accommodation,”  explains Caroline O’Conor, summing up the essence of the Foundation’s work. As proof of its effectiveness, the funds can be released overnight if the situation demands it. This responsiveness is one of the Foundation’s greatest sources of pride.

In concrete terms, their support takes care of medical expenses that are not covered by social security, accommodation of parents in parents’ homes and workshops and entertainment activities to brighten the children’s daily lives in hospital.

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An animal mediation session to entertain sick children at the Aix Hospital Centre © Princess Grace Foundation

“Some of them are in hospital for months, they do their schoolwork in hospital. We try to entertain them, take their minds off things,” says Caroline O’Conor.

A close partnership with the hospital sector

“We are in partnership with just over 60 children’s hospitals. We work closely with social, educational and hospital departments. They are the ones who come to us, and suggest projects. Then Mr Riey [the general secretary and treasurer] decides whether or not to respond favourably, along with the Princess of Hanover,” says the director, stressing the importance of teamwork and consultation between all those involved.

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The kitchen at the ‘Maison du Bonheur’ (Happy House) © Princess Grace Foundation
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A 30 m² room for families of sick children © Princess Grace Foundation

Today, parents’ homes are built more frequently near paediatric hospitals, Caroline O’Conor says, “20 years ago, there were very few parents’ homes. It was a real struggle for parents whose children were hospitalised. It is just not possible to leave a 5-year-old child in the hospital by themselves long term. They need to have at least one of their parents with them, or it becomes seriously problematic.”

A small, committed and enthusiastic team

Nearly 6 million euros have been donated to help some 25,000 children in 62 different French hospitals,€7.3 million were earmarked for medical research and €1.6 million to contribute to building hospital-specific parents’ homes.

A total of €30 million has already been paid out in just 22 years. Behind this success story are Henri Riey, one of the board members, who is the Foundation’s secretary general and treasurer, and Caroline O’Conor, its administrative director. A small but efficient team, as evidenced by the hundreds of photographs, drawings and letters of thanks that line the walls of the Foundation’s office.

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“I do everything I can to help the parents. It really makes me happy! Even when I’m on holiday, I check my emails. It’s a labour of love. I’m not just filling out forms or paperwork. There are parents who are in a great deal of distress with very sick children, and sometimes it’s heartbreaking,” says Caroline O’Conor, showing the compassion that drives her.

Outstanding support and loyal donors

The Bal de la Rose (Rose Ball), organised by the SBM in aid of the Foundation, attracts the Monegasque and international elite every year, helping to raise essential funds for its ongoing activities. This year’s Bal de la Rose, held in March, raised a remarkable €260,000, reflecting the exceptional generosity and support behind the Foundation.

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From left to right: Beatrice Borromeo, Pierre Casiraghi, Gloria Gaynor, Christian Louboutin, Princess Charlene, Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline, Charlotte Casiraghi, Alexandra of Hanover and Ben-Sylvester arrive at the Rose Ball. © Eric Mathon / Prince’s Palace

As well as the success of the Rose Ball, the Foundation can count on the unfailing support of loyal donors, including the SBM and some very regular resident donors.

All donations are welcome for the Foundation. Whether by cheque, bank transfer or cash, all the information you need is on their website.

The Princess Grace Foundation has made a difference to the lives of thousands of sick children and their families in its 60-year history. Today, the Princess of Hanover and her small team are carrying on the legacy of one of the Principality’s most emblematic Princesses: Princess Grace.

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