Decades of Caring
A History of Hope & Healing
Fast-forward seven years, and two rising stars, a stunning brunette and beautiful blonde, were picked from a possible cast of hundreds as part of a government-sponsored goodwill tour. They were selected and flown to Japan to entertain American soldiers during the Korean War.
When they arrived, the entire city of Tokyo was shut down by a severe typhoon with violent winds. “Red flag” alerts warned locals to remain indoors, though a few desperate souls scavenged through the debris and wreckage looking for food and shelter. Among these unfortunate souls was a group of children huddled beneath a fallen awning, pressed together for warmth, but still shivering against the freezing wind. The children were barefoot, clothed in rain-soaked rags and weeping.
After days trapped in their hotel room, the willful and daring actresses grew restless and decided to sneak out for a midday walk. They did not want to miss all the sights and sounds of this fascinating new culture. Propelled by youthful curiosity, they explored the side streets of Tokyo and strode right into the cowering orphans. Turning onto the side street, giggling as their shoes sank into the mud, the young Hollywood actresses must have looked like angels emerged from the terrifying storm to the children.
They immediately ran to the children and cuddled as many as would fit under their billowing coats. Sara and Yvonne furiously flipped through the pages of their English to Japanese dictionaries to converse as best they could. They discovered the little survivors were stranded.
The children looked hopeless and had no homes and no parents to turn to.
Sara and Yvonne did what any naïve, emotional young women might do and smuggled all eleven children into their hotel room. They bathed, fed, and played with the children before tucking them in for the night. After the children were fast asleep, Yvonne looked at Sara with a worried expression, “Now what?” as they realized they needed to face the reality of the situation they stumbled into.
The next morning, Sara and Yvonne searched for orphanages to take in the rescued children, but none could oblige because of their own crowded conditions. There was also the fact that because the children were ½ American and ½ Japanese (many fathered by American servicemen), they would receive no government funding. At the time they were called “throwaway children,” unclaimed by the cultures of their origin.
International Orphans was founded by Sara (Buckner) O’Meara and Yvonne (Lime) Fedderson to support the 11 Japanese-American children. They began their lifelong careers in fundraising by passing around a hat in the audience and collecting donations after singing to the servicemen. When our men in uniform learned about the children, they were eager to help.
Sara and Yvonne decided there was nothing left to do but start their own orphanage.
Sara and Yvonne returned to California to fundraise. Rather than seeking out new acting roles, they implored friends, family and contacts in the film industry to help the children they had grown to love. They collected enough money to build four orphanages in Japan for the mixed-heritage “throwaway” children. Due to their great success, Congress requested them to do the same across the seas in Vietnam.
Eventually, Sara and Yvonne built and maintained five orphanages, a hospital and school.
Through building orphanages with the dedicated oversight of the Third Marine Amphibious Force, Sara and Yvonne became friends and dedicated partners with Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, who was in charge of the entire orphanage operation.
Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt appeared at one of their fundraisers and asked to speak with Sara and Yvonne privately. Over coffee he shared a history-changing secret.
"Ladies, I have something to tell you—something that very few people know,” he said in a hushed voice, “In a short time, I expect to receive orders from the president to pull our troops out of Vietnam."
Sara and Yvonne could not believe what they were hearing and immediately thought about their precious orphans. Lt. General Walt was tough, but was a “teddy bear” when it came to protecting the little ones. Still, he was committed to the safety of his men. He held up his hands before the ladies could speak, “I’m telling you right now: I don’t want to hear a word about the children. There’s absolutely nothing I can do. Do you understand? It’s going to be hard enough to evacuate our men, so I don’t want any problems concerning the children. I’ve got enough to deal with, OK?"
Sara pleaded, her eyes filling with tears, “You know these children will be the Vietcong’s first targets because the orphanages are funded by Americans!”
Yvonne began to cry as well and begged, “They won’t survive with their mixed blood. They will be lined up and shot just like we see on TV.”
“There’s nothing I can do,” Lt. General Walt replied, clearly upset, “I’m sorry but that’s the way it is.”
Sara and Yvonne wept most of the night, imagining the faces of the little children they had grown to care for as if they were part of their own families. In the morning, sadness was replaced by action. They called their ally, Congressman Corman and boldly requested planes to evacuate the boys and girls in peril.
Within 24 hours the call came in, “If you can organize the children, I’ll help get the planes.” Sara and Yvonne worked tirelessly for weeks, coordinated volunteers and made miracles happen. The operation was dubbed by the media as “Operation Baby Lift.” Sara and Yvonne cried tears of joy as children were flown out of war-torn Vietnam and placed into the arms of loving adoptive parents. Through their orphanages, community efforts and “Operation Baby Lift,” the Childhelp Founders began their philanthropic careers rescuing thousands of babies and young children.
Word quickly spread of the wonderful things Sara and Yvonne were doing with International Orphans, and they were invited by Nancy Reagan, the First Lady of California, to speak about their life-saving missions. Their heart-wrenching story would be the perfect way to address “America’s best kept secret”—child abuse to the nation.
Alerting the country of this horrible epidemic was the first step in helping the cause, and the ladies were eager to share their story.
Later in the year, the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Youth released a study that child abuse had become an epidemic in the United States and was the leading cause of death in young children. This horrific statistic showed the intensity of the issue in our own country and helped to urge many to join the cause. Unfortunately, this statistic is still true today.
With increasing awareness of the issue and the encouragement of childcare experts, the ladies launched a campaign against child abuse called the Children’s Village USA.
Sara and Yvonne worked endlessly to open the doors of the first pioneering residential treatment center. They opened the Children’s Village USA, in Beaumont, California.
This village treats severely abused children ages 2-12 from California counties, and gives them a safe place to call home with therapy and structure. The village was a great success that helped many children and was even the topic of the first television special on child abuse in America.
Through the encouragement and hard work of Sara and Yvonne, President Jimmy Carter designated April as
National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Shortly after the Children’s Village USA opened, it was the subject of a television special on child abuse and neglect called A Time for Love. The special aired coast-to-coast and highlighted the intensity of the issue and the key role that Childhelp plays in ending the epidemic.
Although child abuse had received some media and political attention already, Sara and Yvonne were determined to continue the fight against child abuse. Every time they were able to look into the eyes of a child the organization saved, it was only a reminder of all the other children that still needed their help. With this continual dedication, the Children’s Village USA launched its first national campaign for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
Later in the year, the first national toll-free hotline, 1-800-4-A-Child, was implemented by Children’s Village USA. The hotline still operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers a wide variety of support resources from professional crisis counselors.
The addition of the hotline was a huge step forward for the Children’s Village USA, as it gave the organization the ability to help children across the country.
The organization continued to find ways to reach children across the nation, including “Child Abuse and You,” a brochure on how to recognize and report child abuse. The brochure was published and distributed nationally along with five educational child abuse booklets targeted to teens and pre-teens were published and circulated to high schools and junior high schools coast-to-coast, including a comic book about child abuse.
To continue their international reach, Children’s Village USA also co-sponsored an International Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect with NATO in France.
Children’s Village USA’s name is changed to Childhelp to focus on the national programs, and Childhelp International is introduced for international activities. Membership of the International Union for Child Welfare (Childhelp Co-Founders were board members) enables the organization to share expertise with child abuse agencies around the world.
Childhelp establishes the International Alliance on Child Abuse and Neglect, a huge step in helping child abuse on an international level.
Due to their dedication and success thus far, Sara and Yvonne received the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Award.
They were awarded for leadership in the prevention, treatment and research of child abuse and neglect, nationally and internationally.
President Ronald Reagan changed National Child Abuse Prevention Month to be April, and to this day, April has continued to be the month in which we recognize it.
Childhelp produces and airs a national telethon on child abuse,
Will We Hear Their Cry?
Childhelp celebrates the opening of its western regional office. It housed the national toll-free hotline and a family evaluation program that provides a complete psycho-social assessment for abused children and their families.
Childhelp continues to grow with the addition of a village after-care program designed to serve children discharged from the village who still require additional support to complete the healing process.
Childhelp opened the first group homes in Orange County, California. Sara and Yvonne worked closely in conjunction with the Department of Children’s Services to create the correct environment to allow the children to heal.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Excellence for Individual Achievement Award from the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge.
The founders were given citations from Pope John Paul for “recognition of the dedication to the loving care and commitment to protection of abused children in the world.” The ladies were extremely honored to be recognized by the Pope, and were thrilled by the attention and recognition this would bring to the cause.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Crime Victims Week Department of Justice Award, presented by President Ronald Reagan.
Childhelp celebrates its 30th Anniversary for providing direct services to children!
Plans are formulated for an International Research Center to bridge the gap between research and practice. Sara O’Meara is presented with an award by the Queen of England for her work in international collaboration to prevent child abuse.
A specialized foster care program to train Childhelp foster parents is established to ensure that children have successful and bright futures after being placed in a foster home. The program continues to grow throughout the beginning of the 1990’s.
Due to the success of the hotline, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline expands, adding a computerized telephone system capable of handling up to 5 million calls a year!
Childhelp purchases 270-acres of land in Culpeper, Virginia as the site for the new East Coast Village. Childhelp celebrated the groundbreaking of this new residential treatment facility bearing the name of its major benefactor, Alice C. Tyler.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Kiwanis World Service Medal for their hard work and dedication to making the world a better place.
Childhelp continues to expand its reach by launching the Adult Survivor Program, an on-going therapy and support program for those who have survived abuse.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Women Who Make a Difference: Women of the Year Award from Family Circle Magazine.
Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East opens in Lignum, Virginia.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the National Caring Award from the National Caring Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Hubert Humphrey Memorial Award from the Touchdown Club of Washington, D.C.
Childhelp Southern Region Office of Knoxville, Tennessee opens its offices with the goal of breaking ground for a children’s advocacy center. This one-stop center for interviewing victims of sexual abuse was one of the first of its kind. The grand opening for the Childhelp Children’s Advocacy Center was held the following year.
Childhelp leads the Stand for Children march in Washington, D.C.
Children’s Advocacy Center of Manhattan opens in Manhattan, New York.
Childhelp continues its national growth with 110-acres of land in the Smoky Mountains becomes home to the foster care program in East Tennessee. The Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East also opens a new school and an additional cottage, housing 16 more children.
The grand opening and dedication of the Childhelp Children’s Center of Arizona is held in November. The advocacy center for children wins the Juvenile Justice Best Practice Award.
Group homes open in Orange County, California.
Grand openings are held for the children’s activity centers at the Village of Childhelp West in Beaumont, California and the Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East in Lignum, Virginia.
Merv Griffin announces the donation of the internationally-famous Merv Griffin’s Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch to Childhelp. The 192-acre property is located within a 4,700-acre private preserve 70 miles northwest of Phoenix. The facility was named, Childhelp Merv Griffin Village of Arizona.
The U.S. House of Representatives passes House Concurrent Resolution 76 with a unanimous vote, supporting the Childhelp National Day of Hope. The National Day of Hope is reserved for people across the nation to take time to say a prayer and observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the children who die every day from abuse and neglect.
The 6,000-square foot Batavia Learning Center opens for the residents of the Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East in Virginia.
Childhelp USA opens its first mobile children’s advocacy center in Tennessee. The advocacy center is the first of its kind in the United States.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Charity Awards Committee in Washington D.C. The founders were nominated due to their continuous contributions in child abuse prevention.
Childhelp celebrates the opening of two additional facilities, the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village of Arizona, as well as the Childhelp Children’s Center of Virginia, an advocacy center for children
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson continue to receive recognition for their hard work with the Champions of Children Award from the National Children’s Alliance.
Childhelp USA Children’s Mobile Advocacy Center begins services in northern Arizona. The center provides relief and refers treatment options to abused and neglected children.
Silence Broken, the story of Childhelp’s beginning written by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, is published.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Arizona Foundation of Women’s Sandra Day O’Connor Award. The founders were recognized for touching the lives of women and children.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhelp opens a therapeutic foster care program in Michigan for abused and neglected children.
Childhelp USA holds their inaugural Drive the Dream Gala in conjunction with the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, becoming the organization’s largest annual fundraiser.
Lifetime Television debuts the movie For the Love of a Child, the story of Sara and Yvonne and Childhelp’s early days in Japan and Vietnam. The film was ranked the number one show by Nielsen Media Research.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are nominated a second time for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhelp initiates legislation to authorize the establishment of a national registry following child abusers from state to state. The registry is enacted by President George W. Bush.
Childhelp expands its foster care programs in Tennessee and California.
Childhelp celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
Childhelp opens the Childhelp River Bridge Advocacy Center in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. , serving Colorado communities.
Childhelp launches a Childhelp Alert System which proactively notifies subscribers when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are nominated a third time for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Clarins 2008 Most Dynamic Woman Award by Clarins USA.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are nominated a fourth time for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhelp celebrates its 50th Anniversary with a celebration concert at the Warner Theatre.
The concert featured multiple Grammy award winning singer/songwriter David Foster and other special guests. This event was recorded by BET.
Childhelp Co-Founders win Health and Human Services award celebrating their lifetime commitment to child safety.
The Childhelp Celebrity Golf Invitational is launched and becomes an annual fundraising event hosted by actors Cheryl Ladd and John O’Hurley.
Childhelp Co-Founders Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Childhelp is awarded the Monique Burr Foundation Grant to completely revamp the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” prevention education program to address up-to-the-minute concerns such as Internet predators and bullying.
Florida becomes the first state to mandate prevention education in every school in the entire state (over 400 school districts). Out of many possible options, the well-researched Childhelp “Speak Up, Be Safe!” curriculum is chosen as the official prevention education program for Florida.
Childhelp receives a critical voice on Governor Jan Brewer’s Arizona Child Safety Task Force with the appointment of Childhelp’s Vice President of Prevention Programs. The task force brings together 19 experts in the field and is tasked with developing a plan for child safety reform in Arizona.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson win the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award in Washington D.C.
Childhelp partners with development teams at Arizona State University to create Childhelp “Speak Up Be Safe!” The new program offers a 21st century approach to the prevention of abuse by utilizing web-based tools, curriculum on Internet safety skills and cyber-bullying. Curriculum, materials and training capsules are launched to schools throughout the country, promoting a redirected focus on adult responsibility and skill building in keeping our children safe.
Childhelp Co-Founders are nominated a fifth time for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson receive the Global Women’s Summit Humanitarian Award.
Childhelp wins the North Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit of The Year Award.
Childhelp launches a new “Speak Up Be Safe!” prevention program for Athletes on Child Abuse as a response to abuse in youth athletics. This lifesaving educational curriculum was underwritten by Olympic consultants, The Foundation for Global Sports Development.
Sara and Yvonne are awarded the Torch 1975, Inc. Nonprofit Certificate of Recognition in honor of “Outstanding, dedicated, diligent and inspirational service to orphans and children of the Vietnam War.”
Sara and Yvonne are awarded honorary doctorates from Northcentral University.
Childhelp remains true to their vision. The internationally respected nonprofit is the largest organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect as well as at-risk children. Though it has grown beyond their wildest dreams, CEO and Chairman, Sara O’Meara, and President, Yvonne Fedderson, who still work every day for this critical cause, have never forgotten those eleven little orphans in a storm that inspired their mission of hope.