BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Local businessman Mel Pinkham is passionate about helping at-risk children get onto a path that leads to a meaningful, productive life. Last week, Pinkham, who is a member of the Knights of Pythias, spoke at the Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he urged everyone to get involved in helping the Pythian Youth Foundation send local youngsters to the Pythian Youth Camp in the Sequoia National Forest for eight days.
About 45 people attended the luncheon in the Signal Hill Community Center.
Pinkham began with a brief history of the Foundation’s parent organization, the Knights of Pythias, which was founded in 1864, a little more than a year before the American Civil War ended. He noted that from its earliest days the organization began establishing orphanages throughout the United States and was also involved in bringing about reconciliation between the opposing sides in the Civil War. “We are the only organization in America that is chartered by Congress,” he said. “In 1864, Congress decided to use the Pythian Order as a media to create friendship between men of the South and the North. We increase our membership after every war, when men need each other.”
Pinkham said that members of the Knights of Pythias come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, and many of them also belong to other service clubs like Kiwanis, Rotary and others. “Our organization is unique because we are a nonsectarian charity organization,” he said. “We have every race, religion and creed associated with our organization.” He added that the Pythian Youth Foundation members are men and women throughout the United States and Canada and all of them are volunteers.
The Pythians have been active in Signal Hill for seven years, but few people even know of its existence, according to Pinkham. He explained that the group’s Child Welfare Foundation helps pay the hospital costs of children of low-income families and supplies free bike and skateboard helmets to children as well.
“We have given out over 100,000 helmets throughout the state of California,” he said, adding that about four years ago, the Pythians began distributing the helmets to police departments, including the SHPD. Since then, the police department has kept three helmets in each patrol car.
He explained that now, instead of issuing a ticket, a police officer can give a child a helmet and explain why the child needs to wear it. “It’s an enriching program for children who are at risk, and it creates a friendly atmosphere between children, families and the police,” he stressed.
Pinkham noted that during his second term in office, President Harry Truman gave the Pythians 19 acres of land in the Sequoia National Forest. “When the president gave us the land in the Sequoias, we committed ourselves to building a camp for children that are at risk,” he said. “We go to every community throughout the state and we develop relationships that will help us help children.” He noted that every year for the past seven years, the Pythians have taken 40 Signal Hill children and 40 Long Beach children to the Sequoia Camp at no cost to the children’s families.
“We take them by bus to a train,” he said, explaining that it is the first train ride most of the youngsters have taken. Pinkham added that boys and girls aged 9 to 11 stay at the camp for eight days, and it has a very positive impact on their lives. The experience inspires many children to stay away from gangs, to avoid drugs, to study hard and to lead honest, successful lives, according to Pinkham.
He then asked members of the audience to spread the word that the Pythian Youth Foundation was seeking $300 donations to provide eight-day scholarships to the youth camp. The tax-deductible donations will pay all the costs associated with the child’s eight-day experience. “We have paid for these scholarships for seven years, and we are running into trouble buying them again,” he said. “Now we are asking you to buy them for the kids.” He stressed that 100 percent of the donation will go to the camp, food and transportation expenses for each child. “We don’t want to rob the children of the opportunity to go to camp,” he said, noting that children at risk are the potential enemies of any society. “It’s a long-term program, but if we get them young enough and we talk to them, and we take them off the street and give them an opportunity to see another life, it works,” he said.
Pinkham told the audience that the Pythians have partnered with the Signal Tribune to publicize the organization’s local programs. “We felt now was the time to tell you what we are doing in this city,” he said. Another Pythian organization, the Child Welfare Foundation, recently initiated a program to encourage children to read more books. That program will be described in an upcoming issue of the Signal Tribune.
To find out more about the Pythian Youth Camp, phone (562) 881-0165 or email firstname.lastname@example.org