Since 1999, Childhood USA's work has been supported by children's rights advocates. Monika Heimbold is one of Childhood USA's staunchest supporters and has worked with Childhood USA since its founding. Most recently, Ms. Heimbold was the Honorary Gala Chair for Childhood USA's ThankYou Gala 2015.
In recognition of her loyal support of Childhood USA through the years, we have chosen to spotlight Monika Heimbold.
How long have you been a supporter of Childhood?
I became one of the 14 co-founders of the Childhood back in the fall of 1999. Both my husband and I were invited to meet Queen Silvia at a small gathering in New York and to hear about her plans for a foundation that would address the growing problems of children at risk around the world. We both thought it was a great idea and our Heimbold Family Foundation contributed $1 million toward that effort within a few days of that meeting. Since that time I have been an active Board Member.
Why did you choose Childhood?
There were several things that were compelling and touching about what Her Majesty outlined. First and foremost, I had spent the previous ten years working with poor young children and their families as a clinical social worker in Westchester County, just north of New York City. My work focused on young children, many of whom had been the victims of abuse and came from broken homes. So I understood fully the magnitude of the problem that she outlined and the need to address such problems – and others like sexual abuse of children, especially girls – in a powerful and productive way.
Second, I was also attracted to the idea that this was to be an effort that would focus on supporting individuals and smaller NGOs on a global basis. I had been helping individual children in a small part of the world. The idea of expanding that focus excited me. I realized that individuals could make a big difference – and that the idea of fire souls – who were willing to put everything on the line for others – despite great challenges and obstacles, needed our support and attention.
Third, too little had been said about sexual exploitation of young children at that time. It was a not topic that was mentioned in polite company. And yet the Queen had put it on the table and out in the open. I admired that kind of courage and I wanted to do whatever I could to help – not just with funding – but as an individual. I wanted to go to these places, meet the people, see the children and use my experience in the field to make a difference.
Finally, as a mother, my heart went out to the idea that there were too many children who had been abandoned, who were vulnerable and were forgotten, and who deserved the right to a childhood that was full of promise and hope, and not fear, deprivation and even worse. We were not just talking about helping children, but we were getting to the core of the idea of childhood and it is only with a secure, safe and happy childhood that children can grow up into responsible adults in our society. Childhood was going to do its best to give them the kind of childhood they deserve, in order for them to help create the kind of world we all want.
Do you have any favorite Childhood memories?
I have so many it is hard to choose. Since that evening in 1999 I have spent time with many hundreds of children who have been abandoned, abused and forgotten around the world. Probably the starkest memories I have revolve around visits with those children – and the brave individuals – the fire souls – who were trying to do what they could, on the ground to help.
I remember my first visit to St. Petersburg in Russia, where saw street children. Many had been deserted by alcoholic parents or had run away because of abuse – including sexual abuse – from their homes. The first ones I met were living in small groups in cold and dark basements. They had black faces, from sniffing shoe polish, and sores, from sniffing glue. I had come face to face, literally, with an overwhelming sense of despair. I remember one beautiful little boy, who looked at me for a long time and I looked at him. We found each other for a moment and it felt warm and good. But then I had to leave and he had to stay.
Fortunately, we found a man and a project called Mission Possible, who was trying to help. He drove a truck full of food to these neighborhoods at night and he would try to get these children during the day to come to small day care centers. He was a fire soul and Childhood was able to help him.
During that same trip, I visited a prison that held about 500 young boys, with shaved heads and who had been sent there for petty crimes. It was the worst place I had ever seen in my life. Most of these boys had simply been forgotten. We met other fire souls, a Swedish couple – a doctor and nurse -- who would drive a van filled with mattresses blanket and apples for these boys, taking a ferry in the middle of the winter from Sweden across the Baltic. They made this trip many times. Again, Childhood was there to help.
I also accompanied the Queen on trips to Brazil and in Sweden to visit young girls who had been sexually abused or were victims of sexual trafficking. In addition, I have visited many of our projects here in the New York area.
Do you have any wishes for Childhood in 2016?
My hope for 2016 is to continue to find those fire souls, spread the word about them, and inspire others to do the same. I want to be able to communicate the stories of the children who are helped, through their own words and through their own eyes, so that people become more aware of what we are doing and the great impact we can make with their support. We have come a great distance, but there is much more we can and should do to ensure a safe and happy childhood.
I want us to find the groups and individuals, and projects, that no one else or too few are supporting. I want us to find the small projects that are making a big difference. And I want us to be at the forefront of finding programs that are innovative and sustainable – examples that we can help nurture and then help grow in other places. We should continue become a group that fosters innovative thinking and that supports innovative actions.