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Sinatra Center Will Aid Abused Children : Singer's Wife Raised Funds for $2-Million Rancho Mirage Facility

November 02, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Those Old Blue Eyes have been focusing lately on his wife's pet project, which was dedicated Friday and will open Monday.

It's the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, and the theme for it could be one of Frank Sinatra's hits, "High Hopes," because as his wife tells it, it could be like yet another song: "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."

"The Eisenhower center has saved enough space for the same number of rooms to be built behind this building, so when we get endowed, we may build a place for families to stay overnight, and we may build something for battered wives too," she said in a telephone interview.

"It's my own timetable, but I'm thinking that five years from now, we might not have to worry about funding this building anymore, and we can start on our next project."

For the last 1 1/2 years, she worked to raise $2 million to get the children's outpatient facility built. Mainly it will provide psychological services.

She is interested in children, though she only has one grown son. "I don't have any grandchildren yet, darn it."

However, her interest in building a center for children was prompted by her friend Barbara Kaplan, who had raised a family, went back to school to get a doctorate and then worked for John Shields' Family Counseling Service in Coachella.

"My friend worked with 13-to-18-year-old, sexually abused girls," she remembered, "and I didn't realize until then how real the problem is.

"When the counseling service needed money to keep its doors open, I helped get some art done by celebrities for an auction." Among the celebrity artists was her husband.

"The more I got involved, the more I realized that children who needed help were being turned away (because of staff and facility shortages)," she said.

So she turned her efforts toward raising funds to build the children's center with a special unit for abused children and public education and training services in the prevention of physical and sexual abuse.

"We held more art auctions, and after hiring an architect, broke down room costs, then (in a sense) 'sold' each room to individual donors," she said.

Don Knutson, a builder from Minnesota who owns a home in Palm Springs, donated $100,000 for the lobby, she said, and when she came home and told her husband that, he donated $100,000 for a theater-type room.

"Then Walter Annenberg (a former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and an old friend of the Sinatras, whose estate was the setting of their wedding in 1976) gave $55,000 for an office." One by one, she counted, each of the remaining rooms garnered donations of $10,000 to $50,000.

"To get more donations, my husband did a concert at the Mariott (in Rancho Mirage), the Variety Club held a telethon, and we held fashion shows. We raised it all (to get the center built). Now, all we have to do is keep the doors open."

Shields and his wife, Bonnie, will head the center while maintaining their Family Counseling Service in Coachella, she said, and her friend Kaplan will also help when not working at another hospital.

Center Has Waiting List

"We'll start out Monday with 15 on the staff," she continued, "but that will grow." She expects the center to work with about 500 children and their families the first year. The center already has a waiting list of 35 children.

Nobody will be turned away for lack of funds, she stressed, "and if there aren't enough therapists to work with individuals, we'll hold group sessions."

The children's center has three group therapy rooms, eight counseling rooms, two play-therapy rooms, a conference hall, medical examination room, soundproof therapy room, two reception areas, administrative offices and a library. Hal Broderick of Elrod & Associates in Palm Springs designed the interiors.

Urrutia Architects of Palm Desert designed the 12,500-square-foot building, which was constructed by Baldi Bros. of Beaumont on the northeast portion of the medical center's 80-acre campus. The medical center opened in December, 1971.

Betty Ford Center

Since then, a number of famous names have been associated with the center's various facilities.

The Betty Ford Center, known as "a chemical dependency recovery hospital," has been in the headlines the most, but there is also the Hal B. Wallis Research Facility, the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences and Eisenhower Memorial Hospital and its Gene Autry Tower besides the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center.

What next? A $10-million, 87,377-square-foot outpatient care center bearing the name of Dolores Hope, Bob Hope's wife. It is under construction and due to open next fall.

"Every building here is paid for before it's built," a spokesman for the medical center said, "and because of that, the hospital--the little engine that runs the center-- can offer low rates.

"So we have big names but small charges."

Some big names were on Barbara Sinatra's guest list for the dedication: the Gregory Pecks, Roger Moores, Kirk Douglases--people who, like her, are concerned about breaking the cycle of child abuse that occurs in many families, she said.

Because of this interest, they could also be people who are like another of her husband's hits, "Young at Heart."

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