By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — John and Evelyn Dodds both work at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, in center city, running a key resource for out-of-work Philadelphians, helping them find jobs and volunteer opportunities.

But three months ago the couple took on a new role: temporary guardians to a newborn baby girl.

“The little girl’s mother was incarcerated,” says John Dodds, holding the baby in his arms. “She was due to have a baby and we didn’t want her to go into the system.”

Little Ceiyanni was only one day old at the time, and now she’s three months old, alert and cooing. And the entire PUP office has adopted her as their own.

“She’s definitely the ‘PUP baby,’ ” says Evelyn Dodds, chuckling.  “We have a little play pack for her at the office, and we have a little rocker where she rocks herself to sleep.  She puts a smile on everybody’s face.”

(Ceiyanni, in her playpen at the PUP office.  Photo by John Dodds)

(Ceiyanni, in her playpen at the PUP office. Photo by John Dodds)

The Doddses know Ceiyanni’s 22-year-old mother, Rita, very well, although she is not a blood relative.  The young woman was recently placed on house arrest after sitting behind bars for more than ten months awaiting trial for aggravated assault.  She claims it was self-defense.

John Dodds says the attacker pressed charges but Ceiyanni’s mother did not, so she sat in jail.

(Evelyn Dodds with Ceiyanni.  Photo by John Dodds)

(Evelyn Dodds with Ceiyanni. Photo by John Dodds)


“It was very discouraging the way this mother was treated in the criminal justice system,” says John Dodds.  “She had a court-appointed lawyer, she was pregnant, and she hadn’t been convicted of anything.  She was viewed as a throwaway child until we got involved and moved things along.”

Nowadays, the baby spends four days a week with her mom and the other three at PUP.  The Doddses say they will transition the care of Ceiyanni over to the baby’s  mother in the hope that she will now be home for good.

But regardless of her mother’s fate, the caring couple says baby Ceiyanni will always be a part of the PUP family.

“She will always be in our hearts and she will always be a part of our lives,” says Evelyn.

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