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The nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project was born in the head and heart of Ann Medlock, a freelance editor, publicist, speech writer and writer living in Manhattan. Ann started the Project in 1984 as an antidote to the mind-numbing violence and trivia that pervaded the media, eroding civic energy and hope. People needed to know about the heroes of our times and all that they were accomplishing as courageous, compassionate citizens. Ann's strategy for the Giraffe Heroes Project was simple— she would find unknown heroes, commend them as Giraffes for sticking their necks out, and get their stories told on radio and television and in print. Giraffe stories would show the public that there was headway being made on the problems of the world, that there were individuals who had solutions—and the courage to move into action. The stories would feed people’s souls, inform their attitudes—and get them moving on public problems that mattered to them.

The idea of telling heroes’ stories to inspire others to action has deep roots. People have been telling the stories of heroes for thousands of years as a way to communicate their culture's values. Ann Medlock invented the Giraffe Heroes Project to do the same thing for our times. She knew that stories go straight to the heart and stay there, bypassing the objections that the mind can throw up to keep out theories, rules and admonitions. Ann also knew that the giraffe metaphor and imagery were great ways to get people’s attention, to engage their interest and, once engaged, to get past both their fears and their anti-message radar.

In those days of getting the Project started, friends and family were asking Ann why she was putting so much into something that could well be a lost cause. Flying off to Paris to write a speech for the Aga Khan hadn’t been a bad way to make a living. Why was she going on and on with this Giraffe thing? She wasn’t sure herself.

She got the answer on a trip west, at a seminar Joseph Campbell was giving at Esalen. Ann had attended Campbell’s classes whenever he taught in New York City: she couldn’t pass up this chance to hear Campbell talk for a full weekend on the story of Parsifal.

Campbell showed Parsifal as a recurring theme in mythology, the story of the Holy Fool. This Fool is always considered a dummy by the smart, hip people who really know the score. In Parsifal’s case, there’s a mysterious blight on the land, nothing will grow and no one knows how to break the spell. Parsifal, the Holy Fool, sets out to find the cause, right the wrong, and save the people. He’s told he can’t do it, that he’s too dumb, too weak, too everything. But he goes ahead anyway, breaking the curse on the land and bringing life back to the people.

The Holy Fool is the most dangerous person on earth, Campbell explained, the most threatening to all hierarchical institutions, because he ignores their power. He has no concern for naysayers. He’s unfazed by risk. He’s not limited by his limitations, not listening to reason, not stoppable, not controllable. He knows what he has to do and he’s doing it, no matter what.

Driving up the California coast after the seminar, Ann had what later seemed to her an obvious revelation—the reason she had been so obsessed with finding Giraffes and telling their stories was that these individuals were our time’s Holy Fools; she had locked into an archetype that had her in thrall, one that was desperately needed in the spiritual blight of the 1980’s. No matter what it took, she would go on.

Back in New York, she had lunch with Campbell and told him what she was doing, what his seminar had made clear to her, how grateful she was that he’d shown her the reason for her obsession. She was amazed to see his eyes well up, and delighted to have his endorsement of her quest.

At its beginnings in 1984, the Giraffe Project had been just Ann, running around New York City interviewing the people whose stories she wanted to tell. The first Giraffes were people like Gene Gitelson, a Vietnam vet who’d left the security of his banking career to help down-and-out vets, and Elsa Hart, a gems expert who’d faced down crooked middlemen to get an Apache tribe in Arizona a fair deal for the gemstones from their mine.

After she recorded an interview, Ann would write a radio public service announcement around it, then convince an actor such as Candice Bergen, John Denver or Sam Waterston, to record it.

She sent these recordings to hundreds of radio stations–who began playing them. Just as Ann had hoped, the stories of Giraffes were so compelling they were soon picked up by print media and television, both local and national. In effect, she was a press agent for America’s heroes.

John Graham joined Ann on the quest—but it took him awhile. A US Foreign Service Officer for fifteen years, he’d been in the middle of wars, revolutions and arms sales. A three-year stint working at the US Mission to the UN gave him the chance to focus his skills and energy on ending apartheid and other human rights abuses, and on stopping wars instead of starting them. In September 1980, he decided he could do more for peace by quitting the Foreign Service and training the opponents of government policies—people who wanted America to cut nuclear arms, do more to end apartheid, or combat poverty at home and abroad.

John had met Ann just as she was developing the Giraffe idea. At first, he admits, he thought what she wanted to do was lightweight: he couldn’t see how just telling stories would change anything, especially if the symbol for it all was a giraffe.

Still, as friends, Ann and John understood that her Giraffe Heroes Project and his trainings were aimed at compatible goals by different paths. However, they’d fallen in love, and whatever skepticism John had felt about Ann’s path needed another look. He began to feel the archetypal power of the stories she was telling and to see her genius in using the giraffe metaphor to get them into people’s heads and hearts. He could see that people were listening to Giraffe stories, and that the Giraffe Project was already changing lives. It was anything but lightweight. The two paths merged; Ann’s media work and John’s trainings all came under the Giraffe banner, and the two of them were working on the Project seven days a week.

The Project was telling Giraffe stories, not just on radio, but on television and in magazines and newspapers. It began publishing Giraffe News and Giraffes were being featured in major media such as Time, Parade , USA Weekend, Readers’ Digest, People, The New York Times, Glamour, CBS, PBS, CNN, ABC and the Voice of America. The exposure attracted resources of many kinds to the Giraffes, and their stories inspired others to action, from setting up a soup kitchen in Tucson to saving a wetland on Long Island. Giraffe speeches were inspiring and coaching audiences all over the world on how to stick their necks out for the causes they believed in.

In 1989 Medlock and Graham were invited to Moscow by the Gorbachev Government to set up and launch Giraffe Heroes USSR, a national program that broadcast stories of Soviet heroes  in order to inspire more people to take advantage of the new freedoms being offered by Gorbachev, and to contribute to the formation of the new order. When the USSR crumbled and all was chaos, in 1991, Giraffes Russia broadcast messages across eleven time zones calling on Russians to "stick their necks out" to retain those new freedoms.  The Giraffe Heroes Project helped change history.

In 1991, the Giraffe Project moved into schools with the first editions of the Giraffe Heroes Program, a character education and service-learning curriculum that teaches courageous compassion and active citizenship to kids in grades K through 12. That same year, Ann Medlock launched her award-winning radio broadcasts on public radio. In 1995, the Project went on line with its web site, one of the first in the nonprofit world. In ’98, Ann created Stan Tall & Bea Tall, cartoon giraffes who tell heroes’ stories to the very young. John wrote It’s Up to Us in 2000, a mentoring book for teens and, in 2005, Stick Your Neck Out, a Street-smart Guide to Creating Change in Your Community and Beyond.

In 2009 the Project launched Giraffe Heroes International, a subsidiary designed to manage all of the Project's burgeoning international work.  By 2011, GHI was operating in the UK, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Egypt and Nepal.

 The Giraffe Heroes Project has now honored over a thousand Giraffes, and reached over a quarter of a million kids in schools all over America and untold more people through Giraffe speeches, books and the website. Three decades of experience have proved Ann Medlock right; the Giraffe message can and does move people into the kind of courageous and compassionate actions that are the mainstay of a free and healthy society.

 

Board of Directors

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (Co-Chair) has been in the field of Health and Prevention Education for over 30 years. He has done extensive work with high-risk and incarcerated youth. A traveling trainer for the education programs of Discovery Communications Inc. (Discovery Channel), he also provides consults and trainings for youth organizations around Washington State. Bob was raised in a family that had a high priority for community service. Because of these values, he was attracted to The Giraffe Heroes Project, and was instantly impressed with the values and the efficiency of the Project.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (Co-Chair) is the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit Reel Grrls, an after-school media & technology training program that empowers girls to critique media images and to gain media technology skills. A fifth-Dan aikidoist, she is a founder of the aikido dojo, Puget Sound Aikikai, where she is an instructor. Her video company, Small Planet Productions, produced Holding up Half the Sky: A video portrait of women aikido instructors. She has contributed her video skills to Giraffe, creating a film of kids doing Giraffe actions.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (Vice Chair) is Founder and Executive Director of the Giraffe Heroes Project. Her background includes editing Viet Nam Presse in Saigon; chairing the Children’s Cultural Foundation in New York; freelance writing for magazines and corporations, and media consulting for Western Union, AT&T and the US Maritime Administration. She has been editor-in-chief of Children’s Express, a curriculum developer at Macmillan and Science Research Associates, and speechwriter to the Aga Khan. Medlock is active on Facebook and blogs for the Huffington Post (she would be delighted if you signed on as a fan). She earned a magna cum laude in English from the University of Maryland, and has published one novel and one book of poetry.

Jayasri Ghosh (Secretary) is President of Offsite/Insights, a consulting service for teachers and school administrators in the US and abroad. The former Head of School at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma, Washington and at the Seattle Country Day School, Dr. Ghosh holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and Gifted Education.

Aaron Davis (Treasurer) is a Sales Manager for the Seattle Space Needle, where he is responsible for booking and coordinating social and corporate events. He graduated from Central Michigan University in 2003 with a BS in Industrial Technology and Management. While at Central Michigan, he became very involved in civic engagement and helped coordinate and participate in one of the nation’s largest Alternative Spring Break Volunteer Programs.

Staff

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is the Project's founder and its Executive Director. She writes most of the Project's website and all of the monthly Heads Up e-zines. She created the Project's Stan Tall & Bea Tall characters for the very young, and wrote the K-2 curriculum, the Giraffe Heroes Training Kit, and much of Voices of Hope. See Board above.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is the Project's Director of Operations and its principal speaker/workshop leader. He was a US diplomat for 15 years, where his assignments included revolutionary Libya, Viet Nam, NATO, the US Mission to the UN and a stint as foreign policy advisor to Senator John Glenn. Since leaving the Foreign Service in 1980, he has lectured and led seminars worldwide, helping individuals, organizations and communities successfully tackle the challenges of risk and change (more). He joined the Giraffe Heroes Project staff in 1983. His degrees are from Harvard and Stanford, and his mountain climbing credits include the first ascent of the north wall of Mt. McKinley, a climb that’s never been repeated. He is the author of Outdoor Leadership, It’s Up to Us, Stick Your Neck Out and Sit Down Young Stranger.

 

   

 

Giraffe FAQs

Who are you guys?
The Giraffe Project is a national nonprofit organization, registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), headquartered on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. The Giraffe Board & key Staff are here.

Why giraffes?
Because they work with the motto “Stick your neck out,” because they make people smile and look again, because they’re a great way to sneak up on you with a serious message.

What’s your mission?
To move people to stick their necks out for the common good, and to give them tools to succeed. We achieve that by finding and commending real heroes, by creating and delivering Giraffe workshops, books & speeches, curricula & trainings for schools, a database of heroes around the world, OpEds, blogs, & a monthly e-zine, Heads Up. (A delightful fallout of the honoring-heroes process is finding how inspired the Giraffes themselves often are, telling us that being acknowledged has given them the boost they need to keep going.)

How’s the work funded?
By private philanthropists, foundation grants, individual donations, and earned income from products and services, which include workshops, and a kindergarten-through-high-school curriculum called The Giraffe Heroes Program. We also pick up a few bucks from “Giraffenalia”—T-shirts, buttons—the usual array of stuff but cool, because there are these red giraffes on everything.

What’s the quick description of Giraffe Heroes?
People who stick their necks out for the common good.

Going a little longer—Giraffes tend to be involved in long-term efforts they’ve initiated, rather than in-the-moment physical heroism or in volunteering in efforts started by others. People who are fulfilling their job descriptions don’t make it through the Giraffe choosing process—the person has to be going above and beyond. People who are just famous, talented or gorgeous don’t make the cut either. Here’s the full Criteria of Giraffedom.

Who decides on all this and when?
A volunteer jury of friends of the Project, some of them Giraffes themselves. They meet three times a year.

How many Giraffes are chosen?
As many as there are among the nominees. If all the nominees qualify, all are commended; if none do, none are chosen. There are no quotas involved and each nominee is considered in relation to the criteria, not to each other. This is not a competition—there are no bigger or best Giraffes. You just are one or you aren’t.

What do they get?
If you mean money, nothing—we don’t have any. (And we’re not a grant-making entity). We send each new Giraffe a commendation and we tell their story in our materials and in the schools. Being written up in newspapers, magazines and books, featured on radio and television, or talked about in classrooms has brought many Giraffes support from the people who find out about them through our efforts. We’ve also nominated Giraffes for cash awards from groups that do have money. Giraffes have received almost a million bucks this way—not the Giraffe Project—the money went directly to individual Giraffes. We still don’t have any. Whether or not they achieve snippets of fame and fortune, Giraffes consistently tell us that the benefit to their spirits is enormous. Many of them have never been praised for what they do; some have even been vilified. It’s heartening to be told you’re a hero when you’ve been hearing you’re a fool, a villain or a crazy.

How do the nominations come in?
Supporters of the Giraffe Project are constantly encouraged to keep an eye peeled for potential Giraffes, and everyone who thinks they may have sighted one— including you—is welcome to make a nomination. The flow of nominations matches the amount of press the Project has gotten. When we get a page in Parade or a feature on Good Morning America, lots of people send in nominations.

How many Giraffes are there?
Over 1,000. Because commendations have gone to groups, naming each member a Giraffe, we can’t give you a precise head count. Some Giraffes have died since being commended and every once in a while we lose touch with one, so our active files are fewer than the number of commendations that have gone out. See our online database of heroes.

Where are they?
In every US state and in 27 countries.

How long has this been going on?
The Project was officially recognized by the IRS in 1984. The first Giraffes were named in 1983, while the Project was “sheltered” in another non-profit.

 


MISSION

To move people to stick their necks out for the common good, and to give them tools to succeed.

A general perusal of this website gives you
a great overview of all the work that goes on here,
the finding and commending of real heroes,
the workshops, books and speeches,
the materials and trainings for schools,
the database of real heroes the world over,
OpEds and blogs,
the monthly Heads Up e-zine...
   And here are links to information about the Project that others have found useful ~


FAQs

How money comes into Giraffe and how it's spent

Giraffe's most recent annual report

Giraffe's most recent 990 tax return

25 reasons to support Giraffe

Giraffe history

The current Giraffe board & staff

Privacy Policy

   

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Stay Informed & Inspired

From time to time, Ann Medlock, this Project's founder, does a brief but inspiring email called Heads Up. You can check out past copies here. They're so good (and so free) we bet you'll join the Heads Up circle and send them on to friends & family.

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