Earlier this year, I finally did something that has been on my “to do” for some time – I became a member of Childhelp’s Orange County Chapter.
Childhelp was founded in 1959 by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, who have dedicated their lives to making a significant, positive impact on the “physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children.”
There are many life-long reasons why I’ve wanted to get involved with Childhelp, but that’s for another column. Recently, after I joined the OC chapter, I took a trip out to the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village in Beaumont to tour the facility and learn more about their Special Friend Program of which I am becoming involved.
The Village is home to nearly 90 children who have been mercifully plucked from abusive situations and taken there when there is nowhere else for them to go.
I was greeted by Chaplain Fortress, who has been working with the children at Childhelp for six years. Fortress fits his name. He is a calm, solid, educated and dedicated man, and as he guided me around the large campus in the sweltering heat via a worn but sturdy golf cart, I could imagine the challenges he faces day in and day out.
I kept wondering what it was like working with a revolving door of damaged children, who by no fault of their own end up at the “Village” looking to him and the makeshift “family” there, to make things make sense.
In part, Fortress is able to reach the children through the choir at the Village for which he is the music director.
“They don’t have to possess one ounce of singing talent,” Fortress told me. “If they are willing to participate, we have a place for them. It’s pretty amazing to see how a child will come out of their shell when they are given an opportunity to sing, to express themselves.”
Fortress took me to the small but lovely chapel on the Village grounds where he also teaches Sunday school. We chatted openly about life and those unexpected things people find they have in common when it comes to casting a small stone of hope in to a large pool of need.
What really stopped me in my tracks and solidified my commitment to become more involved was what I experienced just after I arrived to the Childhelp Village. As I waited in the Village’s main lobby, a young teen was brought in by a social worker. All his worldly possessions hung at his side in plastic trash bags. As we stood in silence in the hallway, not knowing what else to do, I introduced him to my dog Charlie which brought a small smile to his sweet, pained face. I’ll never forget the scared look in his eyes, the uncertainty in his face of what lay before him as he picked up his bags and was escorted towards the campus bungalows.
On, Saturday, October 18, the Orange County Chapter of Childhelp will hold its inaugural “Rat Pack Redux” fundraising gala at the Balboa Bay Resort. The evening will include a special VIP reception starting at 5 p.m. with an extraordinary dinner, casino and dancing to the famous Tijuana Dogs until 11 p.m.
Co-chairs of the event, longtime Childhelp OC chapter leaders Kristen James, Shan Vincent and Joy Whitlock-Estrada, have all worked tirelessly in putting together a fun and unique evening. Shan explained to me how important the “Redux” event is to raising the funds necessary to run the Village as well as three group homes locally in Costa Mesa throughout the year.
“Childhelp touched the lives of 800,000 children last year nationwide, and we are extremely proud that 91 cents of every dollar we raise goes directly to our programs,” Shan informed me. “‘The Rat Pack Redux’ has been planned and executed entirely by volunteers, not paid staff.”
For more information about Childhelp OC, and to purchase tickets to the Oct. 18 event, visit childhelpoc.com or call Shan directly at (949) 637-4091.
Lynn Selich can be reached at [email protected]