Childhelp Wings Chapter Begins in Malibu
BY SONJA MAGDEVSKI
Malibu City Councilmember and former Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich held a luncheon at her home last week, to launch the Malibu chapter of Childhelp, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. Specifically, the Malibu chapter will feature the Wings program of Childhelp, where mothers and daughters join together in support of community service and advocacy.
“Four children die each day from child abuse and neglect in this country, and as a mother my heart aches to hear this,” Conley Ulich stated amidst a roomful of more than 40 guests. “I was told that is the equivalent of two jumbo jets going down filled with children. So whatever we can do to help that is what we are here to do.”
Conley Ulich first became involved with Childhelp upon meeting her husband, David, who has been an attorney for the organization for 25 years. After her recent mayoral rotation, Conley Ulich found she had more time to dedicate to this cause. “This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “My daughter is getting older, and I want to show her the love of giving so she can experience how good that makes you feel.”
In attendance to address the group were Childhelp’s founders, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, who started the organization in 1959. At the time, the young actresses who played the girlfriends to Ricky and David Nelson on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” were sent on a goodwill government-sponsored tour to visit American troops in Japan.
Having arrived during typhoon season, they encountered 11 homeless children wandering the streets of Tokyo after a storm and, as O’Meara told the group, “It was a sight to behold and after all of these years we still can’t get it out of our minds.”
The children were of mixed heritage, she said, fathered by American servicemen during the Korean War, and were living on the streets, turned away from orphanages because of the stigma attached to them. The children were “freezing, without any shoes, their knuckles were cracked and bleeding from the cold and they tried to wrap themselves in the large camel-haired coats we were wearing to keep warm.”
O’Meara and Fedderson took the children back to their hotel room where they bathed them and fed them, and unbeknownst to them, began their journey in service that continues to this day. After realizing these children’s plight, they returned to the U.S. and raised enough money to eventually build four orphanages that soon housed more than 1000 Japanese- American children.
Word of their work spread and, in 1966, they were invited by the U.S. government to establish similar institutions in Vietnam to house abandoned Vietnamese-American children during the Vietnam War. They built five orphanages, a hospital and a school that continued to operate until all American troops were evacuated from Vietnam in 1975. At that point, O’Meara and Fedderson helped organized Operation Baby Lift that brought thousands of children to adoptive families in the U.S.
The following year, Nancy Reagan, then California’s First Lady, approached them to focus their attention on the problem of child abuse in the United States, which she called “America’s best kept secret,” which had recently been cited as the number one cause of death in young children.
From that point forward, the two women expanded their mission to save children from abuse and neglect. Their work has garnered them four Nobel Peace Prize nominations and currently, their organization helps children throughout the United States, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
Focusing on advocacy, prevention, treatment and outreach, Childhelp has prevention programs in 14 states, a national hotline serviced 24 hours a day that can assist people in 140 different languages, two residential treatment programs with one, the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village in Beaumont, California, that houses and treats 84 severely abused children, in addition to many other programs, such as the WINGS program promoted by Conley Ulich.
After fielding questions from guests, O’Meara and Fedderson explained that cases of child abuse unfortunately are rising, particularly in times of economic crises, such as the one we are currently facing. “We are loaded to the gills in all of our programs,” O’Meara said. “When you have stress in a community people tend to take out their frustrations on children and those most vulnerable.”
For more information on Childhelp, visit their website at www.childhelp.com.