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“The answer to life is in service to others.”
These are not just words spoken by Sara O’Meara, Co-Founder of Childhelp, it’s the way she’s spent the past 60 years.
O’Meara and fellow Childhelp Co-Founder, Yvonne Fedderson, founded the organization in 1959.
At the time, they were young Hollywood starlets. By chance they both landed roles on a project that would take them overseas. That assignment would change the course of their lives.
Together they began rescuing so-called “throwaway children” in Japan and VIetnam. “We never dreamed it would be our whole life. We were actresses at the time,“ O’Meara says. . They went on to build 9 orphanages, a hospital and a school in Japan and Vietnam.
The young actresses were quickly recognized as child advocates in the United States and they were personally asked by Nancy Reagan to lead the fight against child abuse here at home.
So they did.
“The Ladies” as they are famously known went on to build the very first residential treatment center for child abuse in our nation and defied all of their naysayers along the way.
“Anytime you try to do anything good, you are going to have the other side that is not always as complimentary, and other people may find fault,” Sara O’Meara explains. “The main ingredient is perseverance. If you know something is the right thing to do you cannot let anyone discourage you.”
Fedderson adds that every step has been guided by faith. “We pray about everything. God is the CEO of our organization … that’s for sure.”
Led by Sara and Yvonne, Childhelp built advocacy centers and group homes for children already affected by child abuse, created prevention programs like Speak Up Be Safe, which they hope to see implemented in schools nationwide, and established a National Child Abuse Hotline where trained professionals answer the phones in over 150 languages. And recently they added text messaging. Children in crisis can text 1-800-4-A-CHILD and receive immediate help.
Now ages 85 and 84 (Yvonne points out she’s younger), The Ladies show no signs of slowing down.
On February 2, 2019, Childhelp officially kicks off its 60th Anniversary year with the “Drive The Dream Gala”, Chaired by international philanthropists Richard and Dr. Stacie Stephenson.
The Gala, which is held in Phoenix, Arizona, draws a celebrity crowd, including longtime Childhelp supporters John Stamos, Kathy Lee Gifford and Cheryl Ladd, among many others.
The Ladies left the world of Hollywood long ago. And while they still enjoy the glitz and glamour that comes with their fundraising Galas and events nationwide, what matters most is finishing the job they started in 1959.
“As long as there is one hurting child out there, we are going to keep going.”
On this 22 minute episode of Carey Pena Reports, The Ladies, in a rare sit down interview, talk about the power of positive change and what others can learn from their story of perseverance.
For more information about Childhelp visit https://www.childhelp.org
Carey: Hey everyone, this is a special edition of Carey Pena Reports. Today we are with two trailblazers who founded an organization that to date has saved and changed the lives of more than 10 million children. We sit down with them for a rare interview at their home in Paradise Valley, Arizona to talk about leadership and how you can’t let anyone deter you from your dreams. Here’s that interview.
Carey: We are on location today talking about the power of positive change, and I am here with two very well-known change makers, Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara, the founders of Child Help. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
Sara: Thank you for having us.
Yvonne: We love joining you.
Carey: Thank you for inviting us into your home and there is so much to talk about. You are celebrating 60 years of Child Help and we will talk about all of the incredible accomplishments, but first, I want to talk to you about the leadership lessons that you’ve learned over the years.
Yvonne: Oh my gosh.
Carey: Because you ladies were really change makers before it was en vogue to be so. Where did you find your courage in the late 1950s, early 1960s to stand up and say “we see a problem and we want to change”?
Sara: Well, I think it was because we felt so deeply about what was happening to these children. We began taking care of the half American child that were known as throwaway children in Japan and Vietnam and so when we saw their suffering and the fact that these were God’s precious children and they were not being taken care of, it was something we just had to do. That gave us the courage to speak out because remember those wars were not exactly popular wars, so to speak.
Carey: The opposite.
Sara: Very much the opposite.
Yvonne: Also, we were very young.
Yvonne: And we just did it, you know?
Carey: You saw something.
Yvonne: We saw a need and we said we’ve got to do it and that was it.
Sara: We’re going to kill it.
Carey: You jumped into action.
Sara: But we never dreamed it would be our whole life.
Sara: I mean, we were actresses at the time and so that’s what we thought we would be doing, but it ended up that this became our life’s mission, and then after we built the orphanages, we built nine orphanages, a hospital for orphans and a school …
Yvonne: In Japan and Vietnam.
Sara: In Japan and Vietnam. WE thought that that was it, and what happened is when we were speaking as keynote speakers about the Operation Baby Lift, because it was our organization that brought the babies over after the war ended, then Governor Reagan and Mrs. Reagan, Nancy and Ronnie, were there on the dais with us, and Nancy stopped Yvonne and me and said, “You’re just the two to do this. You need to do something about child abuse in our country.” Well, no one had ever heard about child abuse. It was never, ever mentioned. All the laws protected…
Yvonne: That was way back in ’75.
Sara: Yes, and the laws protected the perpetrator, not the child. So, we did jump in to do that and state by state we had to help change laws so that we had safety for these children, and then we built villages for abused children, advocacy centers, the national child abuse hotline …
Carey: It continued to grow and grow.
Sara: It continued to grow.
Carey: So Nancy Reagan encouraged you ladies.
Yvonne: Oh, they supported us.
Carey: She knew that you were the two to do it. So, you had a lot of famous friends, but that’s not enough to make an entire organization as big and powerful as yours. What was it, do you think, Yvonne, inside you that made you believe that you could do it, because you have helped change and save the lives of millions of children?
Yvonne: Well, we felt this was a calling for both of us because we were selected out of 500 actresses to go on this trip. So even at the time when were selected, we looked at each other and we said, “God must have a plan for this trip, for the two of us to be selected.” They didn’t even know we knew each other. So for us to be selected was really something, and then when we found these children, we thought, “That’s why we’re here. We’re supposed to help these children.” Well, one thing led to another. Then when we were asked to do this, we felt within our heart, and of course we pray about everything and we’ve always dedicated our organization to God. He’s really the CEO of our organization.
Sara: That’s for sure.
Yvonne: But we also were blessed to have many fabulous people to support us. Not only the stars, but we have volunteers who have been with us 30 and 40 and 50 years. Now, think about that. So it’s become their mission also.
Carey: A lifetime.
Sara: A lifetime.
Carey: A lifetime.
Yvonne: A lifetime.
Carey: Now, they have so many great star stories. Can’t even get into the whole Elvis Presley and all of this, because then I’d just become a fan girl, but I am interested in that passion, and just the concept that you saw when you started to make change that it was possible.
Carey: And when you start to see that, because I think a lot of people who are watching and listening to this show, and this show is about the power of positive change, and sometimes we don’t know our own power. You ladies were young.
Yvonne: Everyone has it.
Carey: Everyone has it. Talk to me about that.
Yvonne: But they have to use it.
Carey: And when you realized that you had it.
Sara: We realized we had it when frankly we depended on God, because we always asked to be guided. We don’t want our plan because that’s a meager plan compared to what God has planned for each one of us.
Yvonne: That’s right.
Sara: He has a plan for every single individual, and we can make changes. Everyone that is on this earth can make a change. They have to choose to want to make a change. That’s the difference. They have to know that the answers to life is in service to others, and once you get that, then your life lives outside of yourself. It’s not all about me, me, me. Instead you want to reach out. You want to make a difference in people’s lives, and you can. There isn’t anybody listening, anybody out there that cannot make a change, a difference in someone’s life, but in a lot of lives if you so choose.
Yvonne: We’ve been very blessed to attract people that have hearts like that, that want to serve. They have a servant’s heart and they’re very, very dedicated, and we really love and appreciate them, and all the people … Maybe they can’t be a volunteer but they support us in other ways. Whatever way they help, it’s wonderful and God will bless them for that.
Carey: Because I want to point out that, I mean, you ladies are obviously beautiful to this very day, but when you went on this mission, you were young, hot Hollywood starlets, and you didn’t have to put your sort of glamour aside to start rescuing children, but you felt that was your calling.
Yvonne: But you see, everything kind of comes together. As you get older, you look back and you realize that being an actress was part of our life and it opened up many, many doors for us to … Of course, I married a Hollywood producer too, which helped, but all those doors opened up different things that help the organization. For instance, the stars. They were a great asset to our organization, but like I say, the volunteers then were great, so it’s wonderful how God opens up doors when we open up our heart to serve him.
Carey: Were there people along the way who tried to discourage you as Child Help continued to grow?
Sara: Oh yes.
Yvonne: Oh my goodness, big time.
Sara: Every time you do anything good, you’re going to have the other side.
Yvonne: That’s right, of course.
Sara: That not always is very complimentary. Other people may find fault with anything that you do. The main ingredient is perseverance. If you know something is right to do, you cannot let anyone discourage you, and when we built the very first residential treatment center for child abuse in our nation, people were saying to us, particularly in social service, “Well, you can’t do that. Nobody’s been able to do that and you don’t have a degree in social service and it will never be a success.” Well, from the day we’ve opened, it’s been successful. That was 40 years ago and we’ve built other villages for abused children across the nation. So, you cannot let others define who you are and who you want to be.
Yvonne: You know what Sara said when she said “when you know something is right,” it’s so true because we knew the villages were right. We knew the centers were right. Every time we’ve opened a program or started a program, it’s been a challenge, but when we know something or anyone knows something within your heart that’s right to do, just like Sarah said, don’t let other people discourage you. Keep your eye on what you’re supposed to do. Keep your eye on the gold and you will make it through because it’s right for you to do.
Carey: Is there any sort of … and I know that you draw so much inspiration from your faith-
Carey: Which is so deep and guiding in your life, but where else … I mean, are there sort of affirmations or is it the friendship between the two of you where when one is down, the other one says, “We can continue”?
Sara: Well, we realize that it’s so much easier when you have a partner, when you have someone that thinks like you do, they’re mission driven, and yes, we help each other through our dark times. Everybody has problems. Everybody has obstacles in their families, in their personal life, in their business life.
Yvonne: And we’ve been through it all together. Everything.
Sara: Yeah, and so we do help each other through those times and that’s been very helpful, but also, you never get through life as a success unless others reach out and help you, and so we have had many wonderful mentors in our life, to whom we could look up and see what made their lives successful and how they react to things, and so we learn from each other.
Yvonne: And you also learn through everything that you go through. You think at the time, “Oh, this is terrible. We’re never gonna make it through this problem,” but you do, and when you get through it, you use it on something great. It’s a great lesson for us to grow.
Carey: Let’s talk a little bit more about Child Help for those listening and watching who aren’t familiar with the organization. Child Help is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. According to your website, over 10 million children have been impacted. I want to go through a few of the wins. You have built advocacy centers and group homes for children who have already unfortunately been affected by child abuse. You have created prevention programs like the Child Help Speak Up, Be Safe program which is spreading to more schools.
Sara: All across the nation.
Carey: In Arizona and across the country.
Yvonne: We’d like to be in every school, especially here in Arizona.
Carey: Yes, your goals are always lofty, and this one I think is … All of them are important but I love that you established this national child abuse hotline, which, by the way, I want to give out that number, is 1-800-4-A-CHILD, and this is done in multiple languages because I think in my mind about the moment when a child is scared and hiding and doesn’t know what to do, and where do you turn? So you ladies have tried to think through those problems.
Sara: Yes, and it’s the only hotline that has degreed professionals answering the phones, not volunteers, so it’s more than a hotline. They’re therapists that can talk the child through it, and not just give out a number, even though we do that as well. For the first time in history we’re having texting, and that’s something else that is new.
Carey: Thank you for reminding me about that because that’s huge.
Sara: It’s very huge.
Yvonne: It is huge because the children are kind of afraid naturally to talk about what’s going on, but they’re so used to texting that they go for like 45 minutes and tell you everything, so that’s wonderful.
Carey: How much does it matter to you that these children have the opportunity to see that life can be beautiful? Child abuse as a news anchor and reporter, I know that it is an uncomfortable conversation.
Sara: There’s no question about it.
Carey: And a lot of people don’t like to talk about it, but what is going on in a lot of homes is very, very tragic. How important is it for you ladies to give a resource to children who are suffering?
Sara: It means everything because it means the change of their life. It also means they don’t have to go through so much suffering. So many, many times we have had survivors come back and say, “Oh, if I’d only known about that 1-800, the number 4, A-CHILD, I could’ve gotten help, but they didn’t know where to go, and they didn’t even know they were being abused sometimes because it started so young, they thought everybody was abused like that. So, it means everything because what you’re doing is giving safety to a child. You’re giving them their life, because child abuse can rob you of your youth, of your young life, and it sticks with you a long time. It takes a lot to overcome that, and one of the first things we do when the children come into our villages is give them a sense of self-worth because they just feel that they’re nobody.
Sara: We had a child that came in with “bad kid” burned into his back with cigarette burns-
Carey: Bad kid.
Yvonne: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sara: When you would ask him what his name was, he’d say “bad kid” because he was called that, and that’s what he thought his name was. So, you have to really work with these children to let them know how precious they really are and that there’s only one set of fingerprints and that’s theirs, and they can make a big difference in their life. Once they know that and they understand how precious they truly are as a human being, the healing can start then, and so, yes, it means everything to see a life change.
Carey: So, I’m thinking about all the people out there who are inspired by you and what you’ve been able to accomplish, and we cannot all be a Sara and Yvonne. You guys have created something truly special, but each in our own way we have the ability.
Carey: Over the years as you’ve seen one child’s life change and another child’s life.
Yvonne: Many child’s …
Carey: And then thousands and millions, it truly is a story about all things are possible when we really care.
Yvonne: Absolutely, absolutely.
Sara: There’s no question about it. Caring is a beautiful thing. If you have a caring heart, it takes you down a pathway, a beautiful journey of life because when you truly care about people, you truly care about feelings, you truly care to make that child whole again, then what this does to you on the inside, it develops you as a person and it gives you the strength really from within. You may not know from which it cometh, but that’s what gives us the strength, is in order to give back to another.
Carey: Has there ever been, and I imagine I know the answer to this, but has there ever been a time where you think, “Okay, we’re ready to retire” and-
Carey: Because when I’ve been around you ladies, you have to-do lists that puts mine to shame, but you have already accomplished so much, but yet-
Yvonne: But there’s more to accomplish. There’s always more to accomplish.
Sara: There’s more left to do.
Sara: And we have great plans for developing other programs that have never been developed. We’re kind of known as the trailblazers to get out there and start programs that have never been done before. We opened the first advocacy center with everything under one roof … police, the social services, the hospital …
Carey: An integrative approach, right.
Sara: That’s correct.
Yvonne: And this new one’s going to be like that. Everyone involved.
Sara: And then the villages, we were the first ones to open that. We’re the first ones for the hotline. We’re the first ones to have prevention in our schools, and so we’re kind of the trailblazers in that respect. We’re not afraid to take risks, but you have to in life.
Carey: So let’s talk a little bit about that, because I think that’s a really important point. Sometimes it can be very scary to be the person-
Sara: Yes, of course.
Carey: Who says, “Well, we can do it a little differently.”
Sara: And there are a lot of naysayers along the way.
Carey: And there’s a lot of naysayers.
Yvonne: We might get scared within ourselves and talk to each other, but we don’t let anyone else know.
Carey: But how do you fight through that and see that, okay, I have this vision and I know that vision is something that we should try to test out?
Sara: Yes, we’re working on a vision right now that has never been done before that will integrate all of our programs. It will be literally a city, and so we’re working on that now and we hope to see that come to pass.
Carey: So you ladies, and I know it’s not appropriate to ask age, but you’re-
Sara: We don’t mind that you’re asking our age.
Carey: Do you care saying how …
Sara: No. I’ll be 85 in September.
Carey: And Yvonne?
Yvonne: I’ll be 84 in April.
Carey: So you’re the younger …
Yvonne: I’m the young one.
Sara: … Your elder.
Carey: I appreciate you saying that, because I think as a woman, I look at you ladies and truly you inspire me so much.
Yvonne: Well thank you.
Carey: To keep going and to keep building.
Yvonne: Well as long as we have our health, we’re going to continue right on, and we work every day.
Carey: And you still see how much you can contribute to your vision.
Sara: Yes, we hope so.
Yvonne: But there are a lot of people that help us.
Yvonne: We have a great staff, we have great volunteers as we mentioned. I mean, they’re wonderful. We haven’t done this alone.
Sara: And look, you’re helping us right now. You’re getting the word out.
Yvonne: That’s right.
Carey: It really is remarkable, though, to see that 60 years later, you are as enthusiastic, if not more, than when you were those young starlets who got sent on that movie assignment all those years ago. What does it mean to you to be celebrating the 60th year, to know that you’ve had this kind of impact?
Sara: It’s a wonderful feeling because we don’t think … You know when you start something, you don’t think, “Oh, well, in 60 years …” You have no idea. It’s just one step at a time, but when we look back over these six decades and the children that have been helped through our organization, we realize that anything is possible. You have to set your goals, as Yvonne said. You have to continue on that pathway.
Yvonne: Keep your eyes on the goal.
Sara: And not let anyone deter you if you know it’s the right way, regardless of what is said, what seems to be a lack at the time, whether it’s monetarily or whatever. You’ll have to know that it’s going to be provided because … We talk about God a lot but we have to because it’s the way that it’s done. If we didn’t depend on God, we wouldn’t be here to celebrate the 60th anniversary and have helped 10 and a half million children.
Yvonne: And we’re just grateful that both of us are here and both of us have our health and be able to celebrate our 60th.
Carey: What an incredible journey you’ve had together.
Carey: I mean, really, your friendship is something for the ages.
Yvonne: And our husbands were best friends. They had to be.
Carey: I mean, it just defies what sometimes people think about women not being able to truly be in lockstep with one another, because I see it a whole different way.
Sara: A lot of people said that. In fact, a lot of our celebrities that have been with us through the years, you know, Jane Seymour and Cheryl Ladd …
Yvonne: Kathie Lee.
Sara: Kathie Lee Gifford.
Yvonne: The list goes on and on. They’ve been fabulous.
Sara: They will say to us, “The greatest miracle is your friendship, because it’s lasted so long and you can work together so harmoniously.”
Carey: Yes, it’s such a partnership, and on the subject, just as we close things out here, on the subject of celebrities, you ladies have some of the biggest and most extravagant, beautiful galas including the Drive The Dream, which draws a lot of celebrities. It’s held in Phoenix, but you also do beautiful galas in California, but …
Sara: And back in East in Washington and Tennessee and…
Carey: All over, which are beautiful, extravagant affairs, but I do want to point out for the audience who may have heard about these galas, as I’ve been … and disclaimer here, I’m a volunteer on the Drive the Dream committee, but as I’ve gotten to know you, yes, the dressing up is fun and yes, the … That’s all fun, but what matters to you is what’s getting done with the money.
Yvonne: That’s right.
Sara: That’s right.
Yvonne: That’s right.
Carey: That’s what matters to you because you have big goals and dreams. Even at 84 and 85 years old, you still have a lot to accomplish.
Sara: We do, and as long as there’s one hurting child out there, we’re going to keep going.
Carey: Yvonne, what’s your final message?
Yvonne: We really hope that you young people will carry on when we cross over. We really pray that every night, because…
Carey: I only feel like I could be a small portion of filling your shoes but I am so privileged to be a part of it because learning from women like you is really a blessing for me. Thank you both.
Yvonne: That’s very kind of you to say.
Sara: Thank you, you’re a blessing to us too.
Yvonne: Thank you, and thank all those who are listening to this program today who support Child Help. We really appreciate it and we know the children certainly appreciate it. Their lives would be totally different without their help.
Carey: For more information on Child Help, we would love for you to go to the website, ChildHelp.org. Thank you so much for watching and for listening to Carey Pena Reports, and you can find out more information on our website, InspiredMedia360.com. Take care, everyone.