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  • WELCOME

This nonprofit honors compassionate risk-takers, people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the US and around the world.

We offer you here a free database of those real heroes ~ A way to nominate a hero you've spotted ~ Materials for classrooms from kindergarten through high school ~ Speakers for events ~ Coaching tips to help you move into action yourself on problems that concern you ~ News of Giraffe Heroes around the world ~ Stories of courageous compassion that little kids can listen to ~ Annnd some cool "giraffenalia"—T shirts, mugs, and such.

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If you need to know more, check out Giraffe info.

Recent Facebook Highlights

PROVING THE YOUNG CAN SERVE~REALLY WELL #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Young Amy Cada has led more successful fund-raising campaigns and created more service organizations than most people attempt in a lifetime. Each step of the journey she’s had to battle road blocks put in her way by both adults and peers. Cada’s leap into service work began when she wanted to honor her best friend’s memory and give back to a community that had supported her through the grief she felt after her friend died. Cada, then 15, was dismissed by countless local and national organizations as “too young” to be of use or as a “liability.” Frustrated by the rejections, Cada set out to prove that young people were superb volunteers. She connected with the pop-top collection program of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which supports young cancer patients. Cada’s marshalling of young volunteers at school quickly resulted in a million pop-tops. She took that program nationwide, producing a 10-page starter kit and website to help students do their own pop-top projects. She conducted workshops and made national public appearances. A challenge she issued to students raised an estimated $15,000 and helped empower thousands of young volunteers. Cada went on to start KidzServ, an organization that provides community service opportunities to young people that are fun, easy, and accessible. She then helped found YouthLead, a campaign to build and support authentic youth-adult partnerships in communities and boardrooms nationwide. Cada took each and every step on her own. Teachers often failed to understand her absences. Peers called her “un-cool.” In an extreme instance, a graduation speaker at her high school commencement told an audience of 5,000 that Cada’s pop-top project was “dumb” and inconsequential. No one is calling her work dumb or inconsequential anymore. She has been a Pforzheimer Fellow of the National Civic League, has served as co-chair of the National Youth Summit and has produced numerous charity events, including a literacy day that sent volunteers into 15 inner-city elementary schools to read aloud to almost 6,000 students and give hundreds of books to needy classrooms. Her advocacy of youth-adult partnership has made some waves: at a CEO summit of America’s Promise, Cada asked Colin Powell why he had failed to create a decision-making partnership between young people and adults. He acknowledged the shortcoming, apologized, and pledged to create that partnership. Cada has more than proved her point that kids aren’t too young to make a positive difference in the world. “Service to and with others can be done by anyone, anywhere and at any time,” says Amy Cada. Update: Since her 2002 Giraffe commendation, Amy Cada earned an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland and went on to the University of Pennsylvania. From there she arranged to study at the University of Dar es Salaam.

ASSURING LGBT TEENS ~ IT GETS BETTER #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens in the U.S. have a sky-high rate of suicide attempts. Why? According to editor/columnist/author Dan Savage, “When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for after high school.” When they saw stories of gay teens committing suicide after being harassed at school, Savage and his life partner of sixteen years, Terry Miller, decided to give up the privacy of their personal life together and speak to teens about surviving high school. Savage and Miller both survived the gay teen’s nightmare of peer aggression and are living happy, successful, and fulfilling lives. That, in brief, is the message they shared in a YouTube video, in which they spoke frankly about the challenges they faced as gay teens, the ways their (previously) homophobic families came to accept their sexual orientation, how they met each other, and some of the happy moments they’ve had in their lives in the years since. “I was picked on mercilessly in school,” Miller says in the video. “People were really cruel to me. I was bullied a lot. I was thrown against walls and lockers and windows . . . My parents went in once to talk to the school administrators about the harassment I was getting, and they basically said, ‘If you look that way, talk that way, walk that way, act that way, then there’s nothing we can do to help you.’” He adds, “Honestly, things got better the day I left high school.” When they posted their video on YouTube, they hoped it might inspire perhaps a hundred gays and lesbians to put up similar messages. That happened within four days; in a week, there were a thousand videos. Now, It Gets Better has its own website with more than 50 thousand testimonials and messages of inspiration—and 50 million views. Savage and Miller have released a book compiled from these videos—It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. Savage had long been an outspoken gay rights advocate but for Miller the It Gets Better Project was a 180-degree shift. Miller had been an intensely private stay-at-home dad until the reports of gay teen suicides prompted him to give up his treasured privacy. He even went back to his old high school in Spokane, Washington, to give a public talk about overcoming his painful experiences as a gay teen there. Dan Savage says in the couple’s video, “If my adult self could talk to my 14-year-old self and tell him anything, I would tell him to believe the lyrics to ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. There really is a place for us; there’s a place for you. One day you will have friends who love and support you. You will find love, you will find a community. Life gets better. The bigots don’t win. The people who were picking on me then . . . are completely irrelevant to me now. I don’t know where they are. I don’t know what they’re doing. I assume that they’re miserable because miserable people like to make other people miserable. “Once I got out of high school, they couldn’t touch me anymore.”

Calling all K-2 teachers: The brand-new digitized K-2 curriculum went live online last night. It's free. When it was on paper and discs, it was almost $200. Thanks to a grant from the Kalliopeia Foundation and superb work by Marisa Vitiello, it's now yours-- with stories, lesson plans, mp3s, videos, handouts--all embedded in the file. The free file. Just click and it's yours. http://tinyurl.com/opvgrz4 You're welcome, say the K-2 hosts, Stan Tall & Bea Tall.

WHEN TEENS NEED A HOME #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Sarri Gilman will tell you, “we recycle cans better than these kids are treated.” To Gilman, a social worker in Everett, Washington, “these kids” are the nation’s homeless and abused kids with no safe place to go. She’ll tell you about the 14-year-old girl with the six-month-old baby, neither of whom had slept in three days. Or Marcus, whose mom is dead and whose father is in jail. Or Lena, 16, abandoned by her mom at age six and left with an alcoholic father who abused her. Some experts say that on any given night, there are half a million teenagers on the nation’s streets. Unlike many people who see homeless teens, Gilman didn’t look the other way. For years she had worked with “at risk” adolescents and knew how serious teen homelessness was in her community. She says, “I got tired of seeing the pain behind the eyes of these youngsters.” Some of the kids had been thrown out by their families. For Gilman, the “last straw” was the young girl who had been searching for her mom at local motels, and ended up kidnapped, drugged with heroin, and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Gilman says, “It kept me awake at night trying to figure out what I could do to make a difference.” That “difference” became a miracle known as Cocoon House, a safe haven in Everett for teenagers in crisis. It’s a beautiful home that shelters teens ages 13-18 for a night, a week, or even a few months while they get help locating a stable home. At Cocoon House, teens find safety, warmth, clean beds and clothes, toiletries, a living room, and a big yard. There’s also a dinner table where kids eat together as a family, a first-time experience for some of them. This “cocoon” was not spun overnight. When Gilman started, she had no track record, no money, and was unknown in the community. Friends warned her she’d go bankrupt. When she asked civic leaders for assistance, some of them denied there was a problem. She was criticized for being “too optimistic,” for having expectations of kids that were too high. But Gilman persisted. One city official said, “She went into this with a heart and a determination that most people don’t have. This isn’t a job for her, it’s a mission.” Gilman persuaded the local Lions Club to buy the building that would become Cocoon House. She enlisted innumerable volunteers to help fix it up. She spent countless hours reaching out to businesses and social service agencies. The harder Gilman worked, the more the community responded. But in spite of the increasing support, Gilman says that when the doors opened, Cocoon House had $15 in the bank. Gilman never backed down, and Cocoon House not only survived its modest beginning, it grew. Thanks to the Washington State Department of Community Development and other concerned supporters, financing became more stable. Soon after establishing Cocoon House, Gilman started planning Cocoon Complex, a converted motel that today houses two dozen young people who can stay for between 30 days and three years, many of them working in a nonprofit restaurant that the kids run themselves while they finish school, save money and, most important—heal. The Cocoon newsletter reports to the community that 81% of Cocoon kids moved to stable housing within 24 months, 50% of eligible ones are employed and 60% earn a diploma or a GED. Beyond the statistics are hundreds of stories of tired, scared, and abused teens who got a chance for a better life. Cocoon House heard from one such former resident who’s now 20, employed by a software company, and sharing a house with friends. He ends his letter with, “Sarri, thank you for believing in me, and for opening your heart to so many others whose lives would be wasted without the dream that you made happen.” Update: Cocoon House is rolling right along-- www.coccoonhouse.org; Gilman has gone on to direct Leadership Everett and to run a personal coaching practice. LIKE this Page so you can see more great people like this!

MAKING SURE YOU CAN BREATHE #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Robert Fox is a walking, talking breath of fresh air. Thanks to his unrelenting efforts, people in most public places in the state of Washington—schools, hospitals, shopping malls, restaurants, retail stores, and work places—are breathing smoke-free air. And you have Fox to thank for smoke-free airplane flights in the US. Fox began his anti-smoke crusade as a supervisor at Boeing in 1971. When he proposed changes in the company’s smoking policy, he faced a lot of angry co-workers, and a very reluctant company structure. Smoking was “normal” and it was every-where. Even doctors and health insurance executives scoffed at his efforts; practically no one believed that second-hand smoke was a health hazard. “We were called lunatics,” Fox recalls. Undeterred, Fox lobbied the State Legislature, year after year, for a ban on smoking in public places, facing down hostile tobacco lobbyists and worried legislators whose campaign chests depended on tobacco company contributions. In 1979, Fox founded Fresh Air for Non-Smokers (FANS). The organization publishes a newsletter and operates a statewide information phone line. Kids are a primary focus for FANS, so group members often speak at schools. “More really young kids recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse,” says Fox, “We’ve got to stop the tobacco industry from getting kids started smoking.” Fox puts in up to 60 hours a week, without pay, testifying at public hearings, briefing news media, and distributing facts and statistics that educate the public, employers, and legislators about the dangers of smoking. Air travel has become healthier in recent years, due in large part to Fox’s collection and distribution of data. He proved to airlines that they were buying an extra 50,000 gallons of fuel per plane each year to haul around the 200 pounds of tar put out by smoking passengers. Faced with the costs, the airlines opted for smoke-free flights. When awareness of the dangers of smoking increased worldwide, FANS went global. People in eight countries have requested materials to start similar operations. The movement’s success worries Fox. Many people think “we have it made,” he says, citing 20-somethings he’s met who say they just can’t imagine people smoking in public places. “People don’t realize that all of this didn’t take place on its own.” He points out that each year, the tobacco industry proposes new legislation to eradicate the progress that’s been made by pro-health advocates. “It’s been a painfully slow process. Many times, really frustrating,” admits Fox. “But you have to just go after it and keep on going.” Update: Fresh Air for Non-Smokers grew to 44 countries and 33 states. Fox found that when he focused on the health benefits of creating smoke-free zones, his cause moved slowly. "But when I focused on cost, we got results." Beginning with a staff of seven, FANS expanded to involve 4,000 people worldwide. Robert Fox is now 93. He told us he's "tired and retired" and that all the scars on his head from running into brick walls have healed. LIKE this page so you can get more stories like this! Giraffe Heroes should have 10,000 Likes, don't you think?

It's taken 10 years and a Supreme Court decision, but today Giraffe Robert MacLean went back to work at TSA HQ in DC. You can thank him that there's an Air Marshall on your next long flight, and that the Air Marshall is NOT wearing a suit and tie as ordered by the TSA so potential highjackers could be sure which passenger he is.

WATCH-DOGGING US TAX DOLLARS #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes For most of her adult life, Dina Rasor has been fighting waste and working for transparency and accountability in the US government. In 1981, Rasor founded the Project on Military Procurement (now called the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO) to serve as a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog over government spending. As head of POGO, Rasor researched and publicized military budget abuses and chronicled firsthand accounts of the devastating consequences of privatized war support for troops. Her research focused on the kind of gritty information about waste that can break through the government's public relations and awaken taxpayers. Through a network of sources inside the Pentagon, POGO exposed many of the defense scandals that made the news, including failures in such major weapon systems as the M-1 tank, the B-1 bomber, and the cruise missile. POGO also exposed overpricing and fraud in procurement systems, such as the infamous $7,600 coffee brewer and the $670 armrest in the C-5 cargo plane. While whistle blowers sometimes go public in Washington, Rasor advises them to remain covert. Her operation takes their tips anonymously and follows up, in the open, without revealing the sources. And it's not about risking national security. "The Project obtains more than enough raw information about mundane waste without having to deal in classified secrets," And if they did reveal actual secrets? "The Pentagon," Rasor said, "would try to use that to discredit us inside the building. They can't, and it's worked pretty well for us." Update: Rasor founded the Bauman & Rasor Group to help whistle blowers file lawsuits. The Group has been involved in cases that have returned over $100 million to the US Treasury. She later became chief investigator of the Follow the Money Project, which seeks to ensure that money allocated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is used properly, to assist U.S. troops rather than to line contractors' pockets. Like this profile? LIKE this page. Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes and Followers!

LEAVING THE DARK SIDE ~ FIGHTING AGAINST IT #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes T.J. Leyden was not a nice young man. As a teen in Redlands, California, he joined a group of skinheads and soon was leading his own group. At 21, he enlisted in the Marines and continued recruiting, organizing, and propagandizing for the white supremacist movement within the Corps. That was is life for 15 years, in and out of the Marines—preaching white supremacy, beating up and stabbing people, eluding the law, and involving susceptible teenagers in hate-fueled action. It all started to change while he was watching a television show featuring some Caribbean performers. His three-year-old son switched off the show and uttered a racial epithet. At first, he thought, Good for you! Then he began to worry: What was he modeling for his son? What kind of person would his son turn out to be? He began to rethink his attitudes as well as his behaviors. Not long after the TV incident, he was attending an Aryan Nations Congress and asked the guy sitting next to him, “If we wake up tomorrow and the race war is over and we’ve won, what are we going to do next?” The man jokingly replied, “We’re going to start on hair color.” Leyden realized that, joke or not, it wasn’t too far off the mark: “Next it’ll be you have black hair so you can’t be white, or you have brown eyes so somebody in your past must have been black, or you wear glasses so you have a genetic defect.” He realized he had to leave the movement. His first move was to tell his mother he was leaving the Aryans and to apologize to her for all he had put her through—she’d been horrified by what her son had been doing. She urged him to see, of all people, a rabbi at the Museum of Tolerance, and the rabbi asked Leyden if he’d consider talking to others about the hate spewed by the white supremacists and skinheads. That was clearly dangerous, but Leyden agreed—in a small way, at first. Here’s how Leyden remembers it: “I hit my very first junior high and I did my very first talk. Twenty-four hours later, the white supremacy movement had six websites about me. One website actually said, ‘Terminate on sight.’ There’s two cassettes that are literally 90 minutes of ‘We know where you live,’ ‘We’re going to come kill you,’ ‘We’ve got your number, man,’ ‘You better watch your back.’” But threats notwithstanding, Leyden stayed with his turnaround. He was used to living dangerously: “When I was in the movement, I could have been killed because of a rival gang, could have been killed by guys inside my own group. It’s no different now. Now I’m just doing something right.” Leyden started naming names and speaking out more forcefully against his former peers. In the '90s he began working with the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Task Force against Hate. He spoke at the Clinton White House Conference on Hate. He was a major contributor to California Governor Gray Davis’s advisory panel on hate groups. He’s trained employees of the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the FBI, the military, and law enforcement. He’s spoken to hundreds of educators and over a million students. And in 2001, he and his wife, Julie, founded StrHATE Talk Consulting which “combats hate, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination through education.” Leyden has helped a lot of people in his new life, especially teenagers considering joining gangs and adopting the white supremacy attitudes he himself once professed. As far as his past life goes, Leyden is clear and honest: “I look at myself as two people: who I am now and who I was then. I see the destruction I did to people by bringing them into the movement, the families I hurt. I ruined a lot of lives. That’s the biggest thing I have to pay back. I don’t forgive myself. Only my victims can forgive me.” Keep up with Leyden’s work at http://formerskinhead.blogspot.com/ Update: T.J. Leyden was stricken with brain cancer in 2013 and underwent major surgery, plus renewed attacks from white supremacists who called his opposition to them delusional, caused by damage to his brain. Leyden's sons are not in the skinhead movement. Like these stories? LIKE this page! Share with Friends who could use some inspiration in their day.

A WORTHWHILE LIFE #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Jemera Rone had a job that thousands of Americans probably aspire to: She was a partner in a Wall Street law firm specializing in corporate-takeover litigation. But after seven and a half years in that job, she decided to do something more worthwhile. So in 1984 she visited war-torn El Salvador with the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, and there she indeed found something to do that was more worthwhile. She moved to war-torn El Salvador as the on-site representative and director of the local office of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nonprofit organization. Her duties in El Salvador were quite different from the ones she'd performed in New York. She continually monitored the war, was a voice for its victims and--perhaps most importantly from a political perspective--speaks out against the perpetrators of the war and their allies, the latter including the US government of that time. Rone's standard operating procedure is to get to a killing scene as soon as possible. She interviews survivors and witnesses, attempting to figure out what took place, how, and why. On one occasion she hiked seven hours in stifling heat to interview witnesses to a massacre by a death squad. It was not a safe journey. Rone is no friend of the U.S. State Department, and of course the feeling is mutual. She is also no friend of the El Salvadoran government. She believes, and has an ever-accumulating stack of evidence, that the US administration covered up the real situation in El Salvador and as a result people there have suffered and died. "The number that matters," she says, "is the number of officers tried and convicted for human rights abuses against civilians." To date that number is zero. . . . The enforcers of the law remain above the law. Jemera Rone gave up a comfortable life style to risk her life for people who had no voice in the world. Update: Rone continued to work for Human Rights Watch, retiring in 2006. She’s written numerous books and reports on the 24 different countries she's monitored and investigated, including El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Her reports include Famine in Sudan, The Human Rights Causes, Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan, Children in Sudan: Slaves, Street Children, and Child Soldiers, and The Struggle for Land in Brazil: Rural Violence Continues.

Recent Giraffe Heroes

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This is Sister Megan Rice, a nun for most of her 80+ years and a peace activist since the 1980s. She had been arrested more than three dozen times and had done time twice when she and two other peace activists performed what was called the most serious security breach in the history of US...

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Andy Hall, a Brit, works for Finnwatch, a world-wide nonprofit that spots human abuses around the world and works to stop them. When Hall called out Thailand's National Fruit Company for the way it treats its workers, he asked to work...

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This is Catherine Hamlin MD, who left her home in Australia in 1959 to provide gynecological care to poor women in Ethiopia. At 90, she's still doing that, focusing on one of the most distressing medical/social issues imaginable: obstetric fistulas.

This is an injury that women can...

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This is Hanna Hopko. She braved snipers' bullets in Kiev during a citizens' uprising that brought down a corrupt government there. Now she's leading a rapidly growing citizens' movement that's doing more than rising up and demanding...

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Imagine you're 11 years old and your body is twisting from scoliosis, causing you constant physical pain and making you look very different from other kids. You're scheduled for surgery to straighten your spine and your mom takes a "before" picture so you'll have a history of how you once...

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Bob Bajek, a reporter on a small-town newspaper in Illinois, came up with a Big Story: the town's recreational lake, where residents fished, swam, and boated, was highly toxic--a now defunct military base had dumped Agent Orange in the water....

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There were no protections for whistle-blowers in South Africa when businesswoman Wendy Addison reported her own corporate bosses for breaking the law. She was fired, got death threats, and was blacklisted, even in England, where she took her...

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This is veteran environmental activist, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez. He's 12. And he's been working to save his beloved Colorado for half of his life. It started when he saw that the forest near his home was changing. Trees were dying, plants...

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Allan Adam is Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan nation, whose lands lie within Alberta, Canada. These First Nation people have formal treaty rights that protect their lands from being taken or used by outsiders, but that treaty has been...

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Sangduen Chailert, known as "Lek," puts in 18-hour days caring for sick and injured elephants in a protected reserve she co-founded, the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand.

The dwindling elephant population is a world-wide...

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