On February 12, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a signature event, the second annual Women In Leadership luncheon at Silverleaf Club. The sell-out crowd was treated to the remarkable and inspiring story of two of Scottsdale’s brightest stars, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, the founders of Childhelp USA, one of America’s premier nonprofits dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of children.
As these two dedicated leaders told their story and offered their advice about making a difference, there was not a dry eye in the room. The following is the history of Childhelp USA from its official website, and of these remarkable women who have dedicated their lives and their resources to saving the lives of children.
Our community and our nation are lucky to have Sarah and Yvonne!
The Beginning of a Lifetime Commitment to Children…
Eleven half-American, half-Japanese orphans wandering homeless in Tokyo following a typhoon sparked a mission that has spanned internationally for nearly 55 years and impacted the lives of millions of children.
Hollywood actresses Sara Buckner (O’Meara) and Yvonne Lime (Fedderson) first met on the set of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, when they played the girlfriends of Ricky and David Nelson. Their mission for children began in 1959 when they were sent on a government-sponsored goodwill tour to visit troops in Japan.
On the streets of Tokyo after a typhoon, the actresses came upon a group of cold and frightened children huddled together for warmth. Learning they had no parents and were born from American troops during the Korean War, the young women took the children to their hotel room for the night with the idea of placing them into an orphanage the next day.
What they didn’t know then was that this was the beginning of a lifetime commitment to children.
They learned the youngsters had been turned away from orphanages because of their mixed heritage. They were told of a woman, Kin Horuchi, living in a one-room hut who kept several Japanese-American children.
She agreed to care for the 11 additional children and the ladies promised to send money to help the children. They thought the problem was settled, but word of what they were doing spread rapidly through the city. They suddenly became surrogate mothers to a brood of 100 Japanese-American children who were left on the doorstep of the hut, which now needed to become an orphanage.
Returning to California, the actresses began to raise funds among friends and their families, as well as the film community, to care for the children. From that beginning grew International Orphans Incorporated, an organization that eventually built four orphanages, caring for thousands of abandoned Japanese-American children.
America’s Best Kept Secret
In 1966, the actresses were invited to Washington to discuss the building of orphanages for Vietnamese-American children. With the help of the Third Marine Amphibious Force, they established five orphanages, a hospital and a school for abandoned children in Vietnam. International Orphans Incorporated maintained the facilities until the American troops pulled out. In 1975, the two young women helped arrange Operation Baby Lift, flying thousands of children to waiting adoptive homes in America.
It was after a speech they made on International Orphans Incorporated that Nancy Reagan, then First Lady of California, asked that they turn their attention to “America’s best kept secret” — child abuse.
The Senate Subcommittee on Children and Youth had just released a study that child abuse had become epidemic in the United States and was the leading cause of death in young children. With encouragement of childcare experts in private and public sectors, International Orphans Incorporated began a campaign about child abuse, producing and airing the first television special on child abuse in America, and, in 1976, changed its name to Children’s Village USA. They began a program in the United States for abused and neglected children and called it a “village.” This was only the beginning of a life-long mission to help children in need.
Childhelp achievements include:
1959 – 1978
- In 1959, International Orphans is founded by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson to support a nucleus of 11 Japanese-American children found wandering the streets of Tokyo, Japan. Within three weeks, the number of children they supported increased to more than 100.
- From 1960-1964, I.O.I. is incorporated and is instrumental in the establishment of nine orphanages, a school, and a hospital in Japan and Vietnam.
- In 1974, through collaboration with “Operation Baby Lift,” thousands of orphans are rescued from Vietnam and brought to the United States for adoption. Nancy Reagan suggests to Sara and Yvonne that I.O.I. address the problem of child abuse and neglect in the United States. Planning begins for a residential treatment center for abused children and their troubled families.
- In 1976, International Orphans, Inc. changes its name to Children’s Village USA.
- In 1978, Childhelp developed a residential treatment facility exclusively for severely abused children: the Village of Childhelp West in Beaumont, Calif. (near Palm Springs). Along with its excellent therapeutic programs, the village incorporated innovative programs such as art and animal therapy, which continue today.
1980 – 2000
- Co-Founders Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson were instrumental in designating April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In 1980, they joined President Carter in signing the federal proclamation in the Oval Office.
- In the same year, the organization raised national awareness of child abuse and neglect through the first television special addressing the topic. Childhelp’s program “A Time for Love” was syndicated coast to coast.
- In 1982, Childhelp began operation of the Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD®, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has received as many as 300,000 calls annually from throughout the United States, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
- Since 1980, Childhelp has continued to open new facilities and expand its programs, which directly serve severely abused and neglected children. These include group homes and specialized foster care programs in California and Virginia; a second residential treatment facility (Village) in Virginia, near Washington, D.C.; and child abuse advocacy centers in Tennessee, Virginia and Arizona. Childhelp plans to continue growing its facilities nationwide.
- In 2000, Childhelp’s National Day of Hope® was initiated and is observed on the first Wednesday of April as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The goal is to mobilize everyone across America to stop child abuse and neglect.
2001 – Present
- In 2001, Childhelp dedicated the first mobile children’s advocacy center in the United States, serving children in rural areas.
- In June of 2002, the Childhelp Children’s Center of Virginia opened in Fairfax, serving Northern Virginia. The child-friendly facility provides a continuum of integrated programs, ranging from prevention programs to an advocacy center which provides assessment, investigation and treatment services to child abuse victims.
- In 2003, Sara and Yvonne authored Silence Broken: Moving from a Loss of Innocence to a World of Healing and Love.
- In 2004, the Childhelp Therapeutic Foster Care Program of Michigan officially opened.
- In 2005, the book, Silence Broken, was made into a Lifetime Network movie, For the Love of a Child, starring Peri Gilpin and Teri Polo. It aired throughout 2006 and 2007 and is one of the Network’s more highly rated movies to date.
- In 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009: Sara and Yvonne were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, five years in a row.
- In 2005, Childhelp acquired the national Good-Touch/Bad-Touch® program, a school-based child abuse prevention and education program that reaches thousands of children across the nation. This program is now in more than 42 states nationwide.
- In 2006, Sara and Yvonne saw their efforts to create a National Child Abuse Registry come to fruition when it passed into law as a key provision within the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act on July 27th. The registry set up a national database of abusers to aid authorities in identifying and tracking perpetrators across state lines.
- In 2007, Childhelp launched Childhelp Alert™ System, which alerts subscribers when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood.
- On average, 90 cents of every dollar donated goes to programs helping children. In nearly 55 years of operation, Childhelp Programs have helped more than 4 million children.
Today, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson continue to actively lead the organization as Chairman/CEO and President, respectively. The organization’s hotline, residential treatment centers and advocacy centers are studied by professionals from around the world as examples of “best practices” related to child abuse investigation and treatment methods.