Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson not only have a friendship that expands decades, but they also have a limitless passion for helping children and blending their talents with their heartfelt dedication to the community.
The women founded Childhelp in 1959, and today it is a thriving organization that focuses on the needs and care of abused children. Their journey to success is both surprising and inspiring.
“We met on the [Adventures of] Ozzie and Harriet show. We were actresses who were later chosen out of 500 applicants to go on a worldwide entertainment tour. It’s funny how that worked out, being together on that mission and then on our life’s mission as well,” Yvonne says.
The tour landed them in Japan, where they witnessed a sad situation.
“We saw children on the streets, and that’s how we started to think of ways to help these poor forgotten kids. We never dreamed we’d get to build orphanages for them. The Reagans were instrumental in encouraging us to get laws changed in order to protect and give a voice to these youths. It has become our lives’ work. We thought we were going into the world as actresses, but the plan changed and we are now changing lives,” Sara says.
Yvonne and Sara called upon their celebrity friends to further their cause. Well-known names such as Debbie and Burt Reynolds, Connie Stevens and Bing Crosby’s children assisted with the first Childhelp fundraiser.
The women faced many obstacles along the way. Changing the laws of child abuse was difficult as no one believed it was happening.
“We finally changed that. We even opened the first residential treatment center in the nation to help abused children. In Arizona, Childhelp started the first advocacy center with everything under one roof and won the Department of Justice’s Best Practice Award.”
Childhelp reaches more than 8,000 children a year nationwide. It has two national programs in every state, plus a National Child Abuse Hotline. The organization has a prevention program called "Childhelp Speak Up, Be Safe," as well as advocacy centers for severely abused children.
The special incentive to get involved at Childhelp? Ninety cents of every dollar received goes to children’s programs. Yvonne and Sara feel blessed to have volunteers who are proactive and loyal. Some have been with them for 50 years.
After the achievements and rewarding work, the women say they would change one thing: "To help more children. People think working in this environment must be depressing and heartbreaking. For us, it’s only sad to think of the kids who have not been a part of Childhelp. We hope if they need us, then they make their way to us,” Yvonne says.
Sara says it is no secret what keeps her going.
“We see our therapists tell these kids they have leadership qualities. One girl was acting out, and our therapist told her she has leadership skills and gave her special tasks to do. It turned her whole thought process around. They encouraged her to do more, and it was so important to her. She went onto Berkley, Northwestern and is now a lawyer thanks to someone believing in her.”
Sara and Yvonne do not regret giving up their careers as actresses and credit their former on-screen success for their current success with Childhelp.
“This job is how we found the children. When you get older, you look back and see how pieces of life came together. The industry helped us get involved, and they helped with the charity early on. The growth may not have been there without our background,” they say.