Champions of Charity

These philanthropic women give time, love, and money to help children in need

Helene Galen, Barbara Sinatra, and Nelda Linsk

Photography by Michael Childers. Hair for Helene Galen by Gerard Alexandre, Exclusive Salon. Hair for Nelda Linsk and Barbara Sinatra by Andrea, KS Salon.

When Barbara Sinatra, Nelda Linsk, and Helene Galen launched the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center 25 years ago, they infused star power into a deep, dark issue: child abuse. They saw the children that others overlooked and vowed to comfort and heal their wounded spirits.

“I found a passion for helping children,” Sinatra says. “These children are lost. They have no voice. They are blessed little souls, and we have to take care of them.”

Linsk recalls when no one discussed child abuse. “When you see the good that you’re doing with these kids,” she says, “it makes you want to keep doing more.”

“To devote time to something or somebody other than yourself is tremendously rewarding,” Galen says. “Essentially, the spirit of giving is deep down inside everybody.”

Over the past quarter-century, these three women have helped change more than 17,000 young lives through the center’s programs for children of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center 25th anniversary gala on Nov. 14 will honor their achievements.

The center originated with Sinatra’s friend Barbara Kaplan, who became informed about child sexual abuse. “She raised funds to pay the salaries of therapists, and she used the basements of churches and schools and banks and any place she could find to hold therapy sessions,” Sinatra says. “And then she started art auctions. She raised some money, but not enough. That’s when she asked me to help her, because I had a lot of celebrity friends who played tennis and also painted.

“So I invited all my friends to the house — celebrities — and asked them to bring something along they had painted and to donate it to the art auction. It was very rewarding and successful. My husband helped, of course, being an artist himself, and then a lot of his friends.”

“People wanted a Tony Bennett painting or a Frank Sinatra painting or Dinah Shore painting,” Linsk says. “Frank was so funny, because he was sitting in the back bidding against other people in the room so that the prices would keep going up. It was great fun, and we had some of the top entertainers in the world. I can’t even remember all of them — Julio Iglesias, Tony Bennett, Ella, Sammy Davis, Frank, Dean — you name them, we had them.”

Former models, Sinatra and Linsk began helping abused children with self-esteem by teaching them modeling skills such as walking with confidence. But they always had to search for a place to hold sessions.

“I had a little party at my house for some of the therapists and children who had been abused,” Sinatra says. “This was the ‘aha’ moment when I knew I really needed to get in and help. They needed a facility to have their meetings.” Sinatra approached several venues without success. “So I called Walter Annenberg and asked him to help us,” she says.

The Sinatras went out to dinner with Walter and Leonore Annenberg; and before the night was over, Walter had pledged a donation to “buy a room” and provide land for the center. One by one, other donors, including Frank Sinatra, purchased rooms.

“We had the children’s center paid for before we ever put the shovel in the ground,” says Linsk, a board member. They broke ground on Frank’s 70th birthday — Dec. 12, 1985; doors opened a year later.

“I didn’t dream that Barbara would get that building up in like five minutes, but she did,” says Galen, who became involved after Sinatra sought out her fundraising and organizational talents for the first gala and who now serves as board president.

The architect gave them a good deal and decorators Linsk knew donated much of their work to create a child-friendly, welcoming environment.

“When [children] first come into the center, they do sad drawings, with tears coming down the faces. After they’ve been in there for a few weeks, they start painting happy faces. It’s amazing,” Linsk says.

“One day, there was a little boy sitting on the sofa with his head down,” she continues. “Barbara went over and tried to talk him; he never raised his head. A few weeks later, he ran over with a grin on his face and threw his arms around her, hugging her. When you we see that happen, you know you’re doing good.”

Every child is welcome, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. “Frank was adamant about that,” Linsk says. About 86 percent of children counseled at the center live below the national poverty line.

That the center has thrived for 25 years speaks to the Coachella Valley’s deep commitment to philanthropy and why the Sinatras chose to open the center here. “The desert was my husband’s favorite place in the world and soon became my favorite place in the world,” Sinatra says.

Getting the center up and running took teamwork. “Everybody was a part of it,” Galen says. Friends supported it by buying rooms before it was built and later through donation programs such as the Aunts and Uncles clubs. And the center succeeded, Sinatra says, because in the desert, “everybody had the same heart. We’re very proud of all our friends and all the people who really care about it. And there are many, many more than you know.”

All three ladies have a deeply ingrained commitment to giving back and have dedicated their lives to numerous causes in the region. Sinatra chairs the children’s center board and “doesn’t just lend her name,” Linsk says. “She’s at all of our meetings and goes around and talks to all of the children.”

“It goes back to, ‘Count your blessings,’” Sinatra says. “If you do that, then you’ll see a very good reason to give back.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Leisa and David Austin of Imago Galleries in Palm Desert have generously underwritten a special fold-out cover in support of Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Rancho Mirage.

Comments to this website are moderated by staff. While all comments are welcome, we encourage all to be polite and please do use this system for advertising or business promotions. Any complaint towards a business or service should be directed directly to that business and not posted here. If anyone has a complaint that a comment is defamatory, please contact me at and I will take appropriate action promptly. Thank You

Add your comment:
Palm Springs Life

Related Articles

Dann Foley: Desert Landscape Can Be Lush, Colorful

Palm Springs designer Dann Foley, who recently appeared on "American Dream Builders", shares tips and trends on what's hot in interior design in a monthly column.

Explore Palm Springs: Sportsman's Headquarters

In addition to owning Sportsman's Headquarters and its Palm Springs rifle range, Harry Mann and his wife Ruby were quite the hunters.

Explore Palm Springs: 139 Club

Opened in the early 1930s, the 139 Club was housed in what was a private residence in Cathedral City, and the name was derived from its numerical address.

Michael Caruso: 'DeVanity' Was Not All About Him

When he decided to both write and star in his own soap opera web-based series, DeVanity, Michael Caruso made sure to put his personal ambitions aside.

Explore Palm Springs: Nightclubs Spruce Up for 1950-51 Season

In August of 1950, many Palm Springs restaurateurs and business owners announced major improvements they had made to their restaurants and nightclubs during the summer.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.