Today is an especially heartening day for ABC7’s Rebecca Cooper, who is emceeing the Childhelp Day of Hope today at the Capitol. The event brings awareness to child abuse in America and dates back to the President Reagan administration. Cooper’s on the Greater Area Washington Advisory Board for Childhelp. We spoke by phone earlier today to inquire more. “Usually we like to embarrass members of Congress and journalists with Capitol Careaoke,” she said of an annual singing event associated with the cause. Cooper quickly turned serious, reeling off a chilling statistic: “It used to be that four children died every day,” she said. “Now it’s five children die everyday as the result of child abuse.” This year the organization is taking a breather from Capitol Careaoke to take VIP’s to The Village in Culpeper, Va., a bucolic setting where the most seriously abused children go to live and heal. “They have horses,” Cooper explained. “Every kid gets a bike when they arrive. There’s a sign that reads ‘All who enter here shall receive love.'”
1. How did you get involved in this? I was just back from maternity leave with my first child and Kathleen Matthews was going to emcee their annual luncheon. At the last minute she found out she was going to be jumping out of an airplane with the Blue Angels and asked me to fill in. My son was just a few months old. I was hormonal. I cry easily anyway and I came to this lunch and I was blown away by what they do.
2. How do you think the awareness campaign is faring on this issue? This is just a hidden epidemic people don’t see. We need to do a better job teaching teachers how to respond. Everyone was touched that an 8-year-old boy lost his life in the Boston Marathon incident and we should be. If you see that kind of support, you can only imagine what people could do if they could focus on the fact that that five children die every day. So we try to talk about it.
3. Thoughts on Chris Brown and Rihanna? People shouldn’t be surprised. They should be surprised if he hadn’t broken the cycle [of abuse]. We’ve got to do more. I think these people are hurt people. She sees someone she wants to rescue. God bless her. Don’t let it happen again, but I can see why [she wants to] because there are so many hurt people out there. There’s a better way to do it than dating them.
4. Tell me about the history of this. The founders are Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara, who will attend today’s event. “She dated Elvis,” Cooper says of Federson. “They were actresses who played the girlfriends of David and Ricky Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” They began going on USO tours for the military in Japan. After the tsunami, orphanages were wiped out. No one wanted the Amerasian children. [These women] were the ones who organized the Vietnam boat lift,” Cooper explains. When Nancy Reagan was first lady of California she called these women and asked them to take on child abuse. “That was 50 years ago,” Cooper said. “They gave up acting. They’ve been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Emotions to run high at this year’s event…
5. Will there be emotional stories today? Yeah, yeah. It’s a pretty tearful lunch. [Cooper shared some of the more heart wrenching stories she has heard over the years. Among them, a California woman whose mother told her she was being taken to prison for speaking up about the abuse. “So she gets here [The Village], and it changed her life. She now has four children of her own. Every day she wakes up and prays, ‘don’t let this be the day I hit my children.'” Actors often show up to the event, such as Ricky Schroeder, who once wept while reading aloud a letter from an abused child. Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), ever since he revealed that he’d been sexually abused, has been supportive. She lists others, such as Jane Seymore and Cheryl Ladd. Along with Cooper, FNC’s Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier are “celebrity ambassadors.” (She calls herself the D-list ambassador.) Always shocking are the famous people who come and reveal that they’ve been sexually abused. For instance, Dynasty‘s Catherine Oxenburg and her actor spouse, Casper Van Dien are also celebrity ambassadors. One year they admitted they’d been sexually abused despite a publicist imploring them not to talk about it. “It was very brave,” Cooper recalls.