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THE GIRAFFE HEROES PROJECT was born in the head and heart of Ann Medlock, a freelance editor, publicist, and writer living in Manhattan. She started the project as a non-profit organization in 1984 as an antidote to what she saw as: "the mind-numbing violence and trivia that pervaded the media, eroding civic energy and hope." Founder Ann Medlock believed then as she still does three decades later: "People needed to know about the heroes of our times, and all that they are accomplishing as courageous, compassionate citizens." 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 around the world. We honor the risk-takers: people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the United States and around the world. Join us today, and #StickYourNeckOut for the common good!

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As academic advisor to student athletes at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Mary Willingham assumed that the purpose of the university to educate its students, such students including the athletes she was advising. Based on the university’s reaction to her findings on how they were doing that job, such an assumption was perhaps naïve. Willingham, a reading specialist, conducted research on 183 UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball players from 2004 to 2012. She found 60% of them reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and 10% reading at below a third-grade level. But there’s more. Willingham and others have found many “irregularities” in UNC’s curriculum when it comes to athletes: coursework requiring only a “research paper” and no other submission for a grade; tutors writing those papers for student-athletes; classes that never even met. And in over a decade working at UNC, Willingham herself has worked with athletes who could not read or write. One student even asked her to teach him to read well enough to follow news reports about his games. None of this was a secret, of course. The idea of pushing athletes—regardless of their skills and knowledge—into classes where they could get grades sufficient to remain eligible for sports was well-known, not only at UNC but at many “educational” institutions throughout the country. When she presented her findings to the administration, however, the response was less than positive. The administration denied everything, hired outside “experts” to challenge her findings, and, after Willingham went to the media, called her a liar. Not only that, but they also demoted her and gave her additional duties that would require “extensive training.” Henceforth, she would no longer be advising undergraduate students, and she’d have to move her office. Finally, Willingham sued. “It’s been a hostile work environment the entire year,” she said. “I've stuck it out because I want to make good on promises to my students, but it has not been fun.” In the meantime, her claims have been substantiated by others. CNN produced a survey showing that large numbers of varsity athletes can barely read or write. Others, including athletes themselves, have concurred. Subjected to an extremely hostile work environment, Willingham left UNC but is suing for damages, and to get her job back, without the hostile environment. “(I was) waiting for the university to do the right thing,” says Willingham, “and they still haven’t done the right thing.” Update: After a meeting with the chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Mary Willingham announced her resignation. “I have a grievance in play,” said Willingham. “I’ve been retaliated against. My work environment is not pleasant. I’m treated differently than other employees in my unit and in the unit around me. . . . It was time to end this hostility. This chancellor has totally sold out.” Keep track of Willingham’s efforts at http://paperclassinc.com/ Age when commended: adult (20-64) Year commended: 2014 Occupation: Educator

WBIR Channel 10

Thank you, Ellen. Co-founder of The Love Kitchen Ellen Turner passed away Wednesday night. Her family was with her. Per Ellen's request, The Love Kitchen will remain open. Here's a look back at the birth of Ellen and her sister Helen's life work; The Love Kitchen.

Longtime Giraffe Hero Ellen Turner died this week and was the subject of this lovely television memorial. A beautiful life that brought sustenance and love to thousands.

FROM REPORTING THE NEWS TO MAKING NEWS ~ HANNA HOPKO This is how you make a revolution. At least, this is how Hanna Hopko is helping make a revolution in Ukraine... You start by building your credibility: You get a Master’s Degree in International Journalism and a Doctorate in Social Communications. You become an ecological journalist, conducting trainings, speaking at conferences, and heading up governmental and non-governmental committees. You publish articles and appear throughout the media. You take over as the Communications Manager of the Ukraine Citizen Action Network. You act as the Advocacy Coordinator of Ukraine’s Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. You co-found and take the office of Deputy Director of the Regional Advocacy Center. You join the board of the Anticorruption Action Center. And you coordinate the “Reanimation Package of Reforms” (RPR), dedicated to ridding the country of corruption, and redrafting national laws to create free, fair, and honest government. You do all this by the time you’re 32. You also put your life on the line. You join with other Ukrainian citizens in a massive protest against the corrupt and unresponsive regime of President Victor Yanukovych and his efforts to pull the country back from a closer association with the countries and economies of Western Europe. Yanukovych flees the country, but not before his gunmen kill many of the protestors. Your car is destroyed, and you receive threats on your life. Nevertheless, you begin your next work, leading RPR in directing the energy and ideals of the protests into actual legislation. In RPR, you’ve amassed a group of highly qualified people from universities, the media, think tanks, and other civic groups who are less concerned with political parties than with fostering democracy. Within months, you’ve brought in over 200 experts and 50 civil society groups. Hopko’s enterprise looks promising, and she’s won over converts, including important politicians. As Hopko says, “We’re asking all the leading politicians and candidates to make a public commitment to support RPR’s reforms. We have to use them before it’s too late. The system is attacking us, so we fight back.” She and her RPR allies draft, prepare, and promote legislation, and they’ve been successful. They’ve pushed through one law preserving the independence of public broadcasting, another law granting more autonomy to universities, and still another law against corruption in the appointment of judges. In all, ten laws pushed by RPR have been adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament. Hopko knows that every little change helps: “Democracy is not the end; it is an ongoing path.” With each success, the RPR gains more and more public support and confidence for systemic change. Understanding that it must offer an inclusive dialogue for all parts of Ukrainian society, Hopko and other RPR leaders tour the country to encourage support for reforms. The revolution continues, and the danger, if anything, has escalated. Currently, there is warfare on the eastern border areas between the government of Ukraine and separatist militias supported by Russia. Hopko and her colleagues believe that the best defense against both Russian interference and internal rebellion is a strong, vibrant democracy that can earn the allegiance of all of Ukraine’s people. She knows that without substantial reductions in corruption, no Ukrainian government can win the confidence of the people—nor convince the nations of Western Europe to open their economic doors to Ukraine. And unless broader reforms can create a transparent, just, inclusive national government, those now rebelling in east Ukraine will not see why they should align with their fellow Ukrainians rather than aligning with Russia. “This crisis is not about ethnicity or geography,” Hopko says. “It’s about hope. One side says we can fix our problems ourselves; the other side yearns for the stability of the old Soviet Union, when all the rules were set for us. The first side must demonstrate to the second that the fixing is possible, that the people, together, can create a stable and just country." Age when commended: adult (20-64) Year commended: 2014 Occupation: Journalist

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD ~ BRAD KATSUYAMA When you blow the whistle on your own profession, bad things may happen. Canadian Brad Katsuyama blew the whistle on not only his fellow financial traders, but also on the entire system of buying and selling stocks. He's been pilloried by some of his former colleagues, but he persists—not to make money, not to gain fame, but to right what he perceived as a serious wrong. Katsuyama worked on Wall Street for the Royal Bank of Canada, trading stocks and eventually running the bank's equity-trading group. He was an up-and-comer, highly valued and commensurately paid by his employer. But he was seeing something that troubled him: When anyone on his team placed a large stock order, it wouldn’t be completely filled right away; when it was filled, he’d have to pay a higher price than he had been offered moments before. Katsuyama investigated and discovered the reason for the higher price: Traders operating on computers far faster than his bank’s would intercept the transaction, buy the shares he was trying to order, and then re-sell them to his team at higher prices. It was all done in milliseconds, but it was costing his clients a bundle. Katsuyama knew that this wasn’t fair to investors, but a great deal of money was being made by the traders who had rigged the system. They were powerful and crossing them could sink his rising career. The safest thing to do would be to just keep quiet about what he’d discovered. The profitable thing would be to get in on the system and join them in ripping off investors. Or he could stand up for what he knew was right. He told his wife: “It feels like I’m an expert in something that badly needs to be changed. I think there’s only a few people in the world who can do anything about this.” So Katsuyama blew the whistle, making sure people knew about the rigging of the current system. Then he set about devising a new one that would treat everyone fairly. “I had spent my career trading on behalf of clients,” said Katsuyama, “and it just seemed natural to take this information to them. . . . The system has let down the investor.” He gave up his high-paying job, pooled his savings with a colleague who had joined him, and started a new stock trading system, the IEX Exchange. IEX guarantees that all orders arrive at all the exchanges at the same time; the high-speed operators cannot get that millisecond advantage they’ve been using to make vast fortunes. The publicity was overwhelming. Katsuyama appeared on 60 Minutes and was the central figure of a best-selling book, Flash Boys, which details what Katsuyama discovered about high-frequency stock trading. Both the FBI and the Justice Department began investigating these trades. And threatened traders tossed a lot of mud at Katsuyama. The president of one exchange accused him on live television of scare-mongering in order to create publicity for IEX. Katsuyama looked at him and said, “I believe the markets are rigged, and I also think that you’re a part of the rigging.” Others have come to his defense. IEX is processing trades for companies and private investors who want a fair shake. And IEX has received hundreds of resumes from people who want to work in an ethical company. It’s also received whistleblower accounts from inside other trading companies. As for the guy who figured out what was going on, Katsuyama would like to downplay all the personal publicity and he doesn’t agree with critics who say computer trades should be stopped. “We’re not against computerized trading,” he says. But he does want transparency, and that level playing field for all investors. “Changing the way the market operates is better for everyone,” says Brad Katsuyama. Age when commended: adult (20-64) Year commended: 2014 Occupation: Business person

TreePeople

Today, Mayor Eric Garcetti hosted different environmental organizations and their volunteers to join him for an #EarthDay breakfast at the Getty House and we had the pleasure to join! Go, team! Pictured here with the Mayor and our Founder and President Andy Lipkis are some of our amazing volunteers: Merrill Koss, Vahagn Karapetyan, Abir Hossain and Stephanie Nelson!

Giraffe Hero Andy Lipkis (second from the right) and volunteers for his organization, TreePeople, get Earth Day honors from the mayor of Los Angeles. #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes

GETTING AN EARLY START ON GIRAFFENESS ~ AITAN GROSSMAN “I’m a 12-year-old boy who likes music and doesn’t like global warming.” This is how Aitan Grossman opens his website, KidEarth, where he is using his love of music to help solve the climate crisis—although he doesn’t put it that way. “I’m not old enough to solve the problem,” he says. He’s old enough to try, however, and try he does. While still a 6th grader and in preparation for the community service requirement for his bar mitzvah, Aitan composed and wrote a song he called “100 Generations,” which he sent out to schools around the world, asking students everywhere to join the chorus. Hawk, you fly into the wild. I am like a little child. You and I, we share the same elation. River run down from Heaven’s hill. Ever flow, I know you will, lasting for a hundred generations. Enlisting the aid of friends, their school’s music teacher, and his own father, Aidan recorded his song, posted it on YouTube, and formed the nonprofit organization KidEarth to funnel money from sales and donations into the environmental movement. The main thing that Aitan did, however, was to invite and encourage other children to sing and record the song themselves—or their own versions of the song. That was in 2008. From all over the world, children responded. Aitan’s song has been sung and recorded in Botswana, Ethiopia, France, Guatamala, Taiwan, and, of course, many places across the United States, where Aitan and his family live. His instructions are simple: “Sing our song with us, share it with your friends, and, if you can, buy a copy so we can give money to environmental groups that are working hard to stop climate change right now.” He has three goals: to raise awareness of this problem that is gripping the earth and endangering the lives of all the species on it, to get his song recorded by lots of children, and, as he says, “to inspire kids that if they want to do something, they can get it done. Aitan himself was first inspired by reading the book An Inconvenient Truth, which included a call to action for young environmental activists. He chose the theme of a hundred generations because he wanted to get across that while nature is eternal, humankind can cause its destruction. “We have to keep it good,” Aitan said. “We have to do that for our children, and for their children.” See kids all over the world singing Aitan's song at www.kidearth.us. Age when commended: teen (13-19) Year commended: 2009 Occupation: Student

YOUNG CHAMPION OF THE OLD ACCEPTED AT HARVARD MED SCHOOL A Giraffe since he was 13, Max Wallack has just been admitted to Harvard Medical School, where he will continue his lifelong interest in curing Alzheimer's. Here's his original Giraffe profile: “If you have the ability to help people,” Max Wallack says, “then you have the responsibility to help people.” Max is a teenager, and has been living his motto since he was six years old. Max is also an inventor, and everything he invents helps people. When he was just 6 he noticed his grandmother had a hard time getting into her minivan. Using a wooden box and a removable handle, like a crutch, Max created the “Great Training Booster Step” to make her life easier. “Oh, she loved it,” he said. He was 7 when he made the “Walk Away Cane”—“basically a cane with an unfoldable seat attached to it,” Max says. It allows the elderly to sit at times when they might otherwise be stuck standing—like in lines or when watching a parade. Max’s next invention was the “Carpal Cushion,” which straps to the hand and wrist and protects the often over-taxed carpal tunnel in the wrist with a cushion of air. These inventions brought Max a number of science awards. He went to Chicago to receive one of them and there he saw lots of “people living out bags and boxes,” says Max. He started wondering what he could do to help the homeless, and his next invention did just that. The “Home Dome” is a small, portable house made from Styrofoam packing peanuts, polyethylene wrap, and aluminum rods. The Home Dome brought Max the Trash to Treasure Award, and he used his prize money from that to start his next endeavor: the non-profit Puzzles to Remember, inspired by his great grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. The organization collects jigsaw puzzles and distributes them to facilities that care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Puzzles to Remember has distributed more than twelve thousand puzzles to over twelve hundred care-giving facilities in all fifty states. “It’s been great to help so many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Max said. Inventing is a quiet thing Max does alone, devoting hours to the work. He’s also stepped way out of his comfort zone to give public talks to students and to service groups, sometimes talking to as many as 600 people about ways they can help others. “I just try to identify a need and find a solution to that need,” says Max Wallack, inventor and humanitarian.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER ~ REEYOT ALEMU In January 2012, Reeyot Alemu was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The sentence was reduced to five years, of which she has served two. The reason that Alemu was imprisoned is that she’s a journalist in Ethiopia who speaks out against the government. In Ethiopia, the government routinely silences journalists by accusing them of terrorism, interrogating them without benefit of legal counsel, and holding a trial that inevitably convicts them. Only one other government in Africa, Eritrea, detains more journalists. Alemu had been arrested seven months before—in the high-school English class she taught; her house was then searched. She’d been teaching, writing columns for a local newspaper, and planning her wedding. Her students and colleagues were shocked, to say the least. Since her arrest and assignment to the notorious Kaliti prison in Addis Ababa, Alemu has at times been punished with solitary confinement, denied medical care, and allowed no visitors. She has gone on a hunger strike to protest not being able to see her fiancé and her sister. All these restrictions are forbidden in the Ethiopian Constitution, but that appears to be a mere technicality. Much of this started when the Ethiopian government began to raise funds to construct a giant hydroelectric dam and started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile, prompting angry protests from its neighbor, Egypt. Alemu had already criticized the government for a variety of policies, including its “growth and transformation plan,” but this time she raised questions about the particulars of the funding campaign as well as the project in general. In Ethiopia, that was described as the planning and promotion of terrorist acts. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) disagrees: “Writing critical columns about the government is not a criminal offense,” wrote CPJ’s East Africa Coordinator Tom Rhodes, “and is certainly not a terrorist act. Reeyot should be released immediately.” And from Mohamed Keita, another CPJ official: “The Ethiopian government has a longstanding practice of using umbrella charges of terrorism to silence critical voices. These acts are part of a pattern to punish the Ethiopian press for their journalistic work.” Alemu was offered clemency in exchange for providing information on other journalists. She refused. Alemu’s father was asked if he’d advise Reeyot to apologize to the government. Courage and principle clearly run in the family. His response, in part: “We try as much as humanly possible to keep (our children) from harm . . . Whether or not to beg for clemency is her right and her decision. I would honor and respect whatever decision she makes. . . . I would rather have her not plead for clemency, for she has not committed any crime.” Reeyot Alemu herself echoes that sentiment: “I knew that I would pay the price for my courage, and I was ready to accept that price.”

PROTECTING THE LAND ~ RANDY THOMPSON It’s a classic confrontation: the little guy versus the big corporation. In this case, the little guy is 6-foot Nebraskan farmer and rancher Randy Thompson, and the big corporation is Canada oil giant TransCanada. And on the giant TransCanada’s side: officials in the Nebraska statehouse and legislature who are choosing to advocate for the company, not for protecting the state’s ranch- and farmlands. What TransCanada wants is to run the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta down through the Plains States—including Nebraska—to refineries in Texas, to be sold to the highest world bidders. Never mind that another TransCanada pipeline has had 12 confirmed leaks in less than a year, one of which spewed 20,000 gallons of tar into the air. The pipeline will bring construction jobs to Nebraska, says the governor, and that’s what’s important. What’s important to Thompson is that his family conquered deep poverty—no indoor plumbing or electricity when he was growing up—to buy the 400 acres of land he now owns. When a TransCanada representative came by to ask if the company could run its pipeline through that land, Thompson gave him a noncommittal answer and then went on his computer to do some research. What he found stunned him. He told TransCanada “No.” Actually, he told them “Go to hell.” That’s when the threatening letters began, as well as the phone calls, and they continued for seven years: If Thompson didn’t give TransCanada what it wanted—and it eventually offered to pay him serious cash for the route through his land—they would seize the land under eminent domain. It didn’t matter that TransCanada is a private, Canadian corporation, not a US or Nebraska governmental agency. Thompson wrote to Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman about his concerns and in return got a form letter thanking him for his input. Thompson was infuriated: “Our families have invested too much blood, sweat, and tears to simply sit back and let a foreign corporation take a portion of our hard-earned land through eminent domain for their private use and gain. . . . I’ve never seen any asterisk in the Constitution that says this property is only yours until a big corporation wants it.” Randy Thompson decided it was more important to fight TransCanada than to continue his full-time ranching and farming. He stepped away often enough to become the face and the voice of the anti-pipeline movement in Nebraska, testifying before the state legislature, before the U.S. Congress, and before the State Department. With the help of the nonprofit organization, Bold Nebraska, he began appearing on local and national media. And he is the actual face on t-shirts that feature the slogan, “I stand with Randy.” TransCanada changed its proposed route to one that skirts Thompson’s land, but Thompson didn’t stop speaking out; a lot of other people’s land was still endangered. Finally, in 2014, a possibly temporary victory: Despite the TransCanada/State of Nebraska partnership, a district judge declared unconstitutional the law that gave the governor and state environmental regulators the authority to approve oil pipeline routes. At this writing, the Nebraska Attorney General is appealing the ruling. Thompson is an unlikely activist. Until that visit from TransCanada, he was a quiet conservative and tended to stay out of public matters, preferring to tend to his farm and ranch. But that all changed. “I guess I’m kind of an accidental activist,” he says. “I did it because it needed to be done. The people who were supposed to be looking out for us? They were looking out for them.”

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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