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STANDING AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut From Our Archives... Seventeen-year-old Catherine Herne risked ostracism in her Ithaca NY high school by speaking out about her fellow students’ subtle forms of homosexual discrimination. Herne founded YEAH, Youth Educators Against Homophobia, a discussion group that meets weekly. Her goal is to eliminate anti-homosexual attitudes through education, aiming at the entire student body of the school. YEAH sponsors educational programs, and does student surveys about homophobia. Some members of YEAH have been harassed for their association with the organization. But students at the school have reported that more of their peers are standing up for gays and lesbians since YEAH started. One of the posters YEAH put up in Ithaca High School halls and classrooms reads, “How many times have you seen the words, ‘lezzie,’ ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ on the bathroom wall? What does this have to do with sexism and racism? What does homophobia have to do with you?” She says, “On a big level, I want to see people looking around them and then changing themselves, changing their language, changing the way they act.” Herne has been contacted by students in nearby towns who want to start their own such groups. YEAH’s founding sponsor is Planned Parenthood of Thompkins County, whose director said of the YEAH group, “One of the first things they did was educate themselves about their own homophobia. That’s a more mature approach than most adults might take.” Update: Catherine Herne earned a PhD in Applied Physics and went on to teach at Ithaca College, NY. Please LIKE this whole Page so you can get more heroes' stories!

BECAUSE WOMEN NEED GOOD-PAYING JOBS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut When Leslie Lilly pondered the fact that peanuts grow underground, she realized that lots of things are not as they appear. That recognition of hidden possibilities and the mystery of how things grow inspired her to found the Southeast Women’s Employment Coalition—SWEC—in the late 1970s, with an aim to breaking through the gender blockades to the financial flourishing of working class southern women. At the time, the women’s movement was mostly fostered by middle-class women in urban areas, not blue collar women from Appalachia. Then Lilly stepped in. Born to a poor southern family herself, she had few job opportunities beyond waitress, maid, secretary, or textile worker, the traditional options for poor women. Lilly roamed Appalachia speaking to women in their communities, enlisting a strong group to help her start SWEC. Operations began out of Lilly’s own home, with an initial focus was placing women in traditionally male jobs. “We started giving a name—occupational segregation—to what was going on,” says Lilly. “That was the first step in ending it.” SWEC got women good-paying jobs as coal miners and truck drivers. Then they did a lot of publicity shots of women in hard hats operating big machinery and pressured the road construction industry—big business in the South—to hire more women. SWEC added African-American women to their board at a time when that was daring and dangerous in the South; they became a multi-racial support network for political activists, providing political and technical training for political organizers as well as educational materials to the public around issues such as sexual harassment and tenant rights. “We had a deep sense of appreciation of the risks that we took,” said Lilly. “Not only in how we did the work, but also in how we brought issues of diversity and equality in decision-making into our organization.” UPDATE: Leslie Lilly is a columnist for Florida Weekly, covering politics, public policy and philanthropy. Her championing of women workers continued through other outlets including several years as president and CEO of a foundation that supports families in crisis, and now as a board member of Communities by Choice in Berea, Kentucky and the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio. Thanks for Liking this story. Now please LIKE this whole Page so you can see more great stories.

BECAUSE PEOPLE NEED LIGHT AND WATER #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Edwin Keyt was a contented guy. After being parted by WWII and by marriages to other people, Keyt was happily married to his childhood sweetheart, Barbara, and both were working at jobs they liked a lot at Evergreen State College in western Washington. Life was good. But there was a war in Nicaragua they cared deeply about and when a young engineer who was building rural dams and hydroelectric plants there was murdered by the Contras, Keyt, an engineer in his 60s, decided to take the murdered man's place. The Keyts drove to Nicaragua in April 1988—it took three weeks. Barbara flew back and Keyt stayed to help build those dams and hydroelectric plants so rural Nicaraguans could have power for electricity and clean water. Keyt and the shop where he usually worked came under hostile fire repeatedly. But he believed that the work was important, and he stayed. It was supposed to be for a few months, but there kept being more to do. For five years he trained machinists, built structures, and he tried to adapt to living in a country where the government was in chaos, and he was repeatedly ill and constantly homesick—all at an age when most Americans have retired. When Keyt finally returned and resumed his quiet life, he made several more trips to Nicaragua because there was still so much more to be done. Speaking of Ed's struggles in Nicaragua, Barbara Keyt says, “It wasn't easy, but we knew he was doing something that was really necessary.” There are people across the Nicaraguan countryside who have light and clean water because Ed Keyt gave five years of his life to make it happen. Update: Keyt died in December of 2009. Like this Giraffe Hero? That's great–now please LIKE this whole Page so you can get more great stories. (Liking just this story isn't enough for Facebook's system to see you. We know. It's ridiculous.)

TURNING PAIN INTO PURPOSE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Shalisa Hayes knows too much about violent deaths; she was only five years old when her father was killed. She grew up wanting to help children like herself—children whose families had been shattered. Then her own teen-aged son, Billy Ray, was killed by random gunfire at a party. For many, such horrors drive them into devastated silence. But Hayes had a mission. Billy Ray had said their East Tacoma neighborhood should have a community center. A community center, he said, would be a place for young people like him to have fun, be safe, and not get in trouble. “I stood up at his funeral in front of five hundred people,” remembers Hayes, “and said, ‘He wanted a community center. We've got to make it happen.’” Since then, getting that center for the kids has been the overriding purpose of Shalisa Hayes’ life. Wanting a community center doesn’t mean getting a community center. Hayes set about learning how to put together the money it would take. First, a group of Billy Ray’s peers raised more than $700. Then Hayes formed the Billy Ray Shirley, III Foundation to bring in more donations and government grants. She gives talks in front of groups, advocating for the center, for giving East Tacoma’s kids a safe place to be. She goes after grants from government and foundations. After long, arduous efforts, she had enough to begin building a 60,000-square-foot community center that will include a gym, a social hall, a pool, a recording studio, and even test kitchens where people can learn to cook. The center is due to be completed in 2018. In our photograph, she stands on the land where the community center Billy Ray wanted is being built. But Hayes has done more than secure funds for a building. The Foundation provides “programs and resources necessary to engage youth in conversation and activities that will promote positive life choices.” It does outreach to young people like Billy Ray and helps them stay on a safe and secure path to adulthood. Everything she's doing to create the center reminds Hayes of her son’s death. Through the work, she's come into contact with other mothers who have experienced similar heartbreak. So Hayes helped start Mothers of Magnitude which offers peer support group meetings and grief coaching with a goal of “transforming pain into purpose.” The organization brings together mothers who have lost a child and helps them resolve their grief and contribute to their communities. “Transforming pain into purpose”: That’s exactly what Shalisa Hayes has done, transforming her son’s death into a legacy that will help many young people in the future. You can follow her work at and at Like this Giraffe Hero? Please LIKE this whole Page so you can get more great stories. And do Share!

STANDING UP FOR REFUGEES #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Jaz O’Hara, a 20-something fashion designer in England, saw a news report about the refugees gathering at Calais, hoping to make it across the channel to England. Who were they? Why were they there? Were they really the menace that the news media were reporting? O’Hara got in her car and drove to Calais to find out. “A man from Afghanistan told me how he had fled his country with over 100 other people with the aim of walking together to England. Many people—mainly women and children—died along the way. They were so hungry they ate grass, and one night, walking through Bulgarian woodland in the dark, he tripped and a stick pierced through his eye. He spent two weeks in hospital in Sofia, and the group left him behind. He carried on alone and had finally made it to Calais.” She listened to story after story, all of them full of courage and desperation. O’Hara was designing for a company that produced sustainable cotton fashion products in India; she'd spent a lot of time in India with cotton farmers and factory workers. She'd lived with 350 girls in the labor house of an Indian garment factory; taught yoga to natives in Costa Rican jungles; rescued orphans from a fire in Kuala Lumpur; and much more. She wasn’t a stranger to people in dire straits. But the horrors she heard about in Calais convinced her that she needed to quit her job and devote all her time to these people fleeing war and starvation. She put out an online call for supplies for the Calais camp and triggered a tsunami of goods, money, and volunteers; her driveway, garage, porch, and the interior of her house were all but buried in the contributions. She put out another call for volunteers to help sort it all out, and to help her truck it all to the camp—clothing, tents, campstoves, mobile phones... That was the start of “The Worldwide Tribe,” a group of mostly young people inspired by O'Hara to dive in and assist refugees. There are stories on their website of actions far and wide, on refugees restarting their lives, on ways others can get involved. “I initially started it,” she says, “to bring together stories from all over the world, with the view of demonstrating that deep down, under layers of culture and habits, language and routine, we are all the same.” O’Hara gets the refugees’ stories firsthand: three teenaged Eritrean brothers who were sent by their parents to escape slave labor; a 23-year-old from Sudan who was imprisoned and whose father had been killed; and from so many places, people who are sick, starving, terrified, and alone. “They can’t go back,” says O’Hara, “but they can’t go forward. They are stuck, trying to create some kind of normal life from a bit of tarpaulin and a blanket.” She's frustrated by all the naysayers who portray the refugees as draining European resources. She knows that the people she's met are eager to work, want to earn enough money to pay taxes. The Worldwide Tribe works to overturn negative preconceptions about refugees. O’Hara travels throughout Europe to raise support and to change those negative ideas. She’s made a documentary about the situation, and she speaks in front of groups to seek money and support. Tribe volunteers visit the camps, conduct interviews, and take photos (when possible—some people are ashamed of their living conditions, while others are afraid that their families “back home” might be punished if they are identified). They put everything they learn online. O'Hara has chosen a difficult life—though, obviously not as difficult as the refugees’ lives. She shares the harsh conditions in the camps and absorbs people's suffering, day after day, year after year. What keeps her going? “When I feel emotional or drained, or frustrated and upset, I think about the resilience and determination of my friends in the camps. They have taught me how strong the human spirit really is, even in the worst of circumstances, and this drives me to continue.” Jaz O’Hara says, “Turning our backs on this tragedy right on our doorsteps…is unforgivable.” You can follow her work at Like this Giraffe Hero? Thanks! Now please LIKE this whole Page so you can see more great stories.

IF PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY, HE FEEDS THEM #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Azhar Maqsusi runs a plaster of Paris business in Hyderabad, India. He usually drives to work, but one day a flat tire changed his life. He decided to catch a local train from a nearby station under a bridge. There he saw a woman with her feet amputated, crying and begging for food; she hadn’t eaten in days. Maqsusi immediately gave her the food he was carrying for his own lunch. “My father died when I was four years old,” he says, “and my mother struggled a lot to raise me and my siblings. I know what it is like to sleep hungry.” When he returned home, Maqsusi asked his wife to cook some extra food, which he distributed the next day to about 15 other people begging beneath the bridge. That was the start. Since that time, Maqsusi has been feeding the poor—every day. At first, he’d bring little packets of food. But soon he realized he didn’t have enough to satisfy the people who needed it, and he couldn’t bring that amount of food every day. So he hired a cook, got some friends to help him, and began serving rice, dal, and kadhi to people from 2:00 to 3:00 every afternoon. The homeless line up, holding plates and utensils Maqsusi has provided, and wait for him to personally fill each plate. Maqsusi was paying for all this himself. After a year and a half, an Indian citizen living in the United States heard about the meals and began donating sacks of rice. That, along with volunteers, helps. “A lot of friends have joined in and I have got a lot of support,” he says, “but I turn down all the offers that I get in cash.” Maqsusi has started the Sani Welfare Association to go beyond feeding people who are starving to providing them with free health care and education classes. Through donations acquired from the Sani Facebook page, Maqsusi has been able to set up evening classes for those without formal education. None of this has been easy for Maqsusi. He's far from wealthy, and even setting up the platform near the railway station to cook and serve the meals was a challenge: The ground wasn’t firm, and the platform had to be rebuilt several times. He's under constant pressure from bureaucratic procedures and from the stress of providing enough food. But Azhar Maqsusi is rich in many ways. He feeds over 100 people a day and plans to continue doing that. People need food, and he provides it; it’s as simple as that. You can follow his work here on Facebook: Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so you can get more great stories.

A YOUNGSTER STANDING UP FOR AILING ELDERS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Here's some advice about interacting with an Alzheimer’s patient, from Hailey Richman, an expert caregiver: “Go into their world. If the patient asks, 'Where’s my husband?' and the husband died many years ago, don’t say, 'Your husband died many years ago.' That will only make the patient very sad. Instead, say something like, 'He went to the supermarket.’ The patient won’t remember that, and you’ll have avoided a potential breakdown." The expert giving this advice is 9 years old. There are about 1.4 million kid caregivers, and Hailey is an adviser to many of them, through her website. There are almost 6 million people with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia in the United States alone. When Hailey was 4 years old she began caring for her grandmother, who has dementia and lives in a nursing home. In the years since then, Hailey has expanded to care for many others, and she's enlisted more people to get involved. Hailey collects puzzles and brings them to nursing facilities. There she and her friends “play” with patients—helping them put together the puzzle pieces. As Hailey points out, “When people with Alzheimer’s disease solve puzzles, their mood improves, and they have a sense of purpose.” She linked up with Giraffe Hero Max Wallack, a young inventor who’s developed products to help people with memory losses. Max was so impressed, he made Hailey assistant director at his nonprofit, Puzzles to Remember. Hailey writes blog entries and—despite being relatively shy—gives interviews explaining what the organization does to help people with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes the work isn’t as easy as it sounds. Wallack notes that “Dementia patients can be unpredictable, and sometimes quite violent.” He remembers seeing Hailey approach a man who was being very disruptive—yelling, crying, and upsetting other residents. She sat down next to him and started to work on a puzzle. A piece fell down, the man picked it up, and Hailey asked him to fit it into the puzzle. Soon, the man was engrossed in the puzzle. When he finished, he said to the staff, “Isn’t my granddaughter lovely?” Hailey later said that she’d been afraid of the man but had helped him anyway. Being a caregiver takes up a lot of time that might otherwise be spent with friends. Hailey’s solution is to recruit as many of her schoolmates and members of her Girl Scout troop as possible. There’s a lot of work to do: Hailey and her recruits set up collection boxes for puzzles in apartment buildings, in school, and in the local library. They visit residents in nursing homes and sometimes private homes. Hailey says proudly, “I do have lots of friends who got inspired by me.” For her ninth birthday party she requested new pajamas from her guests so that she could donate them to children in homeless shelters. She’s thinking about a summer camp for caregivers, saying “Sometimes caregivers need to give other caregivers some ‘care’. We are not alone! We all go through tough times, and it makes us feel good to support each other!” And oh, yes, she’s also helping to develop a device called a Memory Walker Alert; this device would include a microphone on a walking stick that alerts patients when they’re unsteady by playing a message such as “Grandma, sit down!” Hailey's description of what a caregiver should do for memory-loss patients is as profound as it is simple: “Make them feel nice inside and make them smile and really try hard to make them happy.” What does she want to do later in life? “I want to be a scientist or a doctor who develops a cure to Alzheimer’s disease.” You can follow her work at, where she offers advice to child caregivers around the world. Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so you can get more great stories.

STANDING UP TO BULLIES #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Jonah Maxwell’s family moved from Ireland to the U.S. when Jonah was in the second grade; he was teased mercilessly for his accent. Over the next five years, Jonah experienced more bullying—not only of himself but also of many of his classmates. He didn’t like it, and decided to do something about it. Jonah has a love that runs in his family–it’s making movies. Jonah’s father, Dave Maxwell, directs films himself. When Jonah was only six years old, he made a movie with a Crayola camera. When Jonah announced that he was creating a movie against bullying, his dad provided him with equipment and software. Speaking out could make Jonah the object of even more bullying, but he decided to take that risk. He started by interviewing his friends and classmates: Had they been bullied? What happened? How did they feel about it? He went on to suggest solutions: What should young people do if they’re bullied? Seven months of intense work later, Jonah had written, directed, and edited his movie—a 6½-minute video of students with voice-over narration from victims as well as people portraying bullies. The testimonies in the video are poignant: “We all knew what was going on,” the video begins. “We knew about the beatings, and we knew who was doing it . . . I think we all expected somebody else to do something about it.” All the “bullies” are masked in the video, but their taunts are clearly heard. And then come the messages of hope: “You have to believe that good people, who are willing to help you, are around—you just have to find them.” Jonah put the video on YouTube, and it was a smash; in the first week alone, it was seen by 360,000 viewers. It spread throughout the world: Teachers in Ireland, Australia, Brazil, and other countries are showing the video to their students. Bullying has changed over the years. Jonah’s father said that when he was a student, the bullying would stop at 3:30, when school let out. These days, however, bullying typically happens over social media: “They can get you 24/7,” says Jonah in the video. And, adds Jonah’s mother, Jenny, “If the bullying is happening to you on social media, it's faceless.” Jonah’s response to the success of the video? “I’m just blown away.” You can see Jonah's movie here: Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so you can see more great stories.

More Giraffe Heroes


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