By Megan Burrow NorthJersey.com
Shortly after Todd Oudia was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, his father, River Edge resident Herbert Ouida, founded the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation to celebrate his son’s memory and help children suffering from mental illness.
Next week, in collaboration with Montclair State University, the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health (CAECMH), Children’s Aid and Family Services and West Bergen Mental Healthcare, the foundation will hold the inaugural Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation Annual Conference.
The conference will be held at the university on May 16, and will be dedicated to those working in the field of children’s mental health. Ouida said he hopes the conference is the first of many.
“Every year, close to Todd’s birthday, we hold a fundraiser in his name and spirit,” he said. “This year, instead of holding a fundraiser we decided to have a service with the goal of educating parents, social workers and teachers working with children who suffer from depression, anxiety, as well as autism.”
Among the goals of the foundation are to financially support psychological services and other mental health initiatives for children of families in need, raise awareness and reduce the stigma of anxiety and depression disorders in children, recognize the need for early intervention and provide contact information for those seeking help.
Since it was founded, the organization has distributed close to $100,000 a year, totaling nearly $1 million to groups working to help children with mental illnesses.
Ouida said his goal is to help others who face the same struggles Todd once did. As a child suffering from anxiety and depression, Todd was unable to attend school from the fourth through sixth grades.
With the help of a child psychiatrist, Todd recovered, becoming an honors student at River Dell High School, where he wrestled and played football. He attended the University of Michigan, earning a degree in psychology. Upon graduation, he got a job with Cantor Fitzgerald, working on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower before tragedy struck.
Ouida said that he hopes his family’s experience will inspire others dealing with childhood mental illness to get the help their children need.
“I get calls from parents all the time. They ask about our story, and use our story to give them hope,” he said. “We really want to raise the visibility of children’s mental health. Children who suffer like Todd did, they are often denied. People think ‘Oh he’s a child, he’ll grow out of it,’ but early intervention is critical.”
The conference will feature Bob McGrath of Sesame Street, with additional presentations by Ouida, who will speak on “Transforming Tragedy into Hope”; Gerard Costa, PhD, Director, CAECMH on “Why Infant Mental Health Must Matter to Us All”; the Rev. Darrell L. Armstrong, Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church of Trenton on “How to ‘Bless’ Your Baby – An Examination of How Houses of Worship Can Engage in Home Visiting and Family Engagement”; Pat Stanislaski, Partnering for Prevention on “Resilience – A Gift We Give Ourselves and Others”; Kaitlin Mulcahy, MA, LPC, Associate Director, CAECMH on “Strategies for Self-Care – Helping Those who Help Others”; and Sunday Gustin, RN, MPH, Administrator, Office of Early Childhood Services of DPCP-DCF on “Home Visiting – Making a Difference by Partnering with Families during Pregnancy, Infancy and Early Childhood.”