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Entries in Volunteers (5)

Tuesday
Nov062012

Volunteers Use Wedding Registries to Help Sandy Victims

Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When Ashley Diamond envisioned herself helping out a fellow runner last Sunday she thought it would be along the course of the New York Marathon, the race for which she and nearly 40,000 other runners had spent months training.

Instead Diamond, an influential blogger in the tight-knit New York running world, found herself in front of a computer, still helping a fellow would-be marathoner but in a very different way.

Diamond, 28, logged on to Target.com to help Jen Correa of Staten Island, New York, who was also planning to run the marathon but instead found herself homeless and left with nothing after superstorm Sandy decimated her neighborhood last week.

The "wedding registry" Diamond created for Correa had nothing to do with weddings, however, and everything to do with what more and more people are doing in the aftermath of Sandy: trying to help those devastated by the storm.

"I was expecting Target to have a housewarming or new home registry and when I only saw 'wedding' or 'baby,' I thought I would just go into the wedding because I knew the items they'd suggest would be similar items," Diamond said.

Diamond renamed the registry "Jen and Pedro's Rebuilding Registry," after Jen and her husband, Pedro, an Iraq war veteran who stayed behind and narrowly survived the storm while Jen evacuated with the couple's two young children, ages 2 and 7.

"Registries are everywhere and have everything on there and allow people to choose things of all prices," Diamond said. "I listed their wedding date as Christmas Day and went to the top sellers, within a reasonable price point, and figured if it was a top seller and the ratings were good I would add it to the registry."

The idea to create a gift registry for the Correas came to Diamond, appropriately enough, while she was out on a run with her husband, Bo, who was also planning to run the marathon last Sunday. They saw it as a more tangible alternative to the fundraising site the family's friends had already created.

"This is finally a way that when someone buys it online they'll [the Correas] start getting things in the mail the next day," she said. "And, for the Correas, can you imagine a child who has nothing being able to open a box and have a princess or, for her son, to have a Mario wall decal, because that's something from his room that doesn't exist now?"

A wedding registry's direct impact also appealed to a trio of volunteers with Occupy Sandy, an Occupy Wall Street-offshoot created to help Sandy's victims. The three 25-year-old Brooklyn residents built their own "wedding registry" for Sandy's victims after spending a day volunteering in the field.

"We realized that they [Occupy Sandy organizers] knew exactly what they needed and just weren't getting it quickly enough so we thought a wedding registry would give them exactly what they needed," said Katherine Dolan, one of the organizers.

Instead of wedding items like china and monogrammed towels, the Occupy Sandy registry lists items like cleaning supplies, blankets, flashlights and shovels. Forgoing the wedding fluff, the registry lists the couple's style as "warm and non-perishable" and says that the couple has requested that the gifts not be gift-wrapped. Buyers can ship the items directly to a local church in Brooklyn now serving as a hub for Occupy Sandy volunteers.

"The first delivery came this morning and there was over $3,000 worth of products," Dolan said. "It's going to be weeks of recovery so we're going to keep up with it."

Diamond says the outpouring she has received from her single blog post Monday announcing the registry is also unlike anything she has ever seen before. From the time that Diamond told Correa of her efforts, to the moment when Correa got to her sister's home and was able to view the registry, everything listed had been purchased.

"Monday was the highest traffic day I've ever had on my blog," Diamond said. "I think when they [donors] can really put their donation and their money with a face and a family it just gives them that extra incentive. They love that they know exactly where their donations are going."

The Minneapolis-based Target, which announced last week it had donated $500,000 in money and products to assist with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on its own, did not reply to a request for comment placed by ABC News as of this writing. Amazon.com also did not reply to a request.

The Correas, who at first had the registry gift items sent to Jen's sister's home, now also have a place to house the generosity of others, in their new, temporary rental home.

"I got a text last night at 9:30 from Jen saying, 'I'm so excited to have four walls. There may be no gas and no heat but there are four walls. And it's really easy to move when all you have is two air mattresses,'" Diamond said.

For more information on the "Jen and Pedro Rebuilding Registry," click here. For more information on the "Occupy Sandy Wedding Registry," click here.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

It's Unanimous: Congress Passes Law to Protect Peace Corps Volunteers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After an ABC News report about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Congress has passed a bill designed to protect whistleblowers and improve the treatment of victims of violence and sexual assault.

"We're so gratified, and actually amazed, that it's come to fruition, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely," said Lois Puzey, mother of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was killed in 2009. "And if God forbid something happens, that they will have the support they need, which is what our family...did not get."

The House passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 by unanimous consent Tuesday evening, following unanimous passage by the Senate on Sept. 26. The bill now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

The bill is named for 24-year-old Kate Puzey of Georgia, who was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. In an investigation that aired on 20/20, ABC News told the story of Kate's murder and examined what critics say has been a "blame-the-victim" culture within the Peace Corps when volunteers are assaulted or attempt to report problems.

Lois Puzey thanked ABC News' 20/20 for bringing attention to the case, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R.-Georgia, for shepherding the bill through to passage. "Just having this bill passed, this law, is going to give us a lot of healing."

Sen. Isakson and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the bill with a Capitol Hill press conference this summer. "The time has come to stand up and protect America's angels abroad," said Poe at the press conference. On the House floor Tuesday night, Rep. Poe said he hoped the bill would make volunteers feel safe "so that more and more go join the Peace Corps," and also credited ABC News with highlighting the issue of crime against Peace Corps volunteers.

"One reason it came to light was because of an ABC 20/20 special that was on January the 14th outlining the plight of individual Peace Corps volunteers and how they were treated," said Rep. Poe. "In some cases our volunteers were treated like the criminals and they weren't treated like victims.... And those days need to end." Sen. Isakson told ABC News Tuesday that he was "overjoyed" at the bill's passage, and grateful to all who worked on the legislation.

"Kate was a remarkable young woman who unselfishly went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and was tragically murdered while helping others," said Sen. Isakson. "Kate's life will be memorialized by this new law to provide added protections, victims' rights and whistleblower status for Peace Corps volunteers. It is my sincere hope that this day might bring a small bit of comfort to the Puzey family."

The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the agency serves.

Kate Puzey was serving in a village in the West African nation of Benin in March 2009 when she began to suspect that a Peace Corps employee named Constant Bio, a citizen of Benin, was sexually harassing and sleeping with female students at the school where she taught. She sent an email to country headquarters reporting her suspicions and recommending he be fired.

"Please believe me, I'm not someone who likes to create problems, but this has been weighing heavily on me," reads the email she sent, obtained by ABC News.

Bio's brother worked as a manager in the Peace Corps office and Puzey asked her role be kept secret. She was found with her throat slit shortly after Bio received word from Peace Corps officials that he would be dismissed from his contractor position.

The suspect has been in custody since the murder while authorities in Benin investigate. Bio asserted his innocence in a letter to a newspaper in Benin, claiming he was being framed by America. Benin authorities have said they do not yet have enough evidence to try Bio.

The Puzey family believes that the Peace Corps failed to protect Kate, and then kept them in the dark about what had happened.

"It hurts us very deeply," said Kate's father, Harry Puzey, in an interview for 20/20.

"We wouldn't be sitting here, I think, if they had been more transparent with us, more honest with us," added Lois Puzey.

Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the Peace Corps deputy director, refused to say whether the agency bore any responsibility for Kate Puzey's death, citing the ongoing criminal investigation in Benin. "I cannot say because the investigation is not complete," she told ABC News.

Critics of the Peace Corps say the agency has a culture that tries to downplay violent incidents overseas and make victims feel responsible for their own misfortunes. Women who were sexually assaulted while serving as Peace Corps volunteers told ABC News that the treatment they received after they were attacked was sometimes worse than the assaults themselves, and that the agency seemed ill-equipped to deal with victims.

Casey Frazee, who was assaulted while serving in South Africa, formed a group called First Response Action to pressure the Peace Corps into reforming its treatment of victims and updating its sexual assault prevention program.

Frazee hailed the Kate Puzey bill as a breakthrough, and noted that the Peace Corps had worked with First Response Action and members of Congress on reform. "First Response Action is thrilled to see legislation come to fruition that supports Peace Corps Volunteers who report or experience a crime, whether as a victim or a whistleblower," said Frazee. "We are thankful to Congressman Poe and Senator Isakson for working closely with us and Peace Corps to generate this legislation." Cosponsors of the bill include Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), and Reps. Howard Berman and Sam Farr, both California Democrats.

In a statement, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams said the "safety and security of our volunteers is Peace Corps' top priority."

"The Peace Corps welcomes the work of Congress on this important issue," said Williams, "and looks forward to continuing our joint efforts to improve our response to sexual assault and other crimes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May122011

Peace Corps Vows to Aid Sexually Abused Volunteers

Getty Images/PeaceCorps [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Peace Corps told Capitol lawmakers Wednesday that major changes were underway in light of testimony by former female volunteers who alleged they were raped and then ignored during their time with the agency.

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Peace Corps director Aaron Williams said the women who came forward to claim that superiors told them they were somehow asking to be sexually assaulted have "opened our eyes to what we need to correct and we need to correct it now."

Among other things, the Peace Corps will no longer use a training tape in which rape victims describe what they might have done wrong to encourage their attackers.

Williams promised the House panel, "Rest assured, this type of thing, blaming the victim, will not continue in the Peace Corps of today."

Congress decided to hold hearings on the problem following an ABC News investigation which found that over 1,000 female Peace Corps workers have reportedly been raped or sexually abused overseas and were often blamed by agency officials for the attacks.

The lawmakers also heard from former Peace Corp workers including Jess Smochek, who said she was gang-raped while serving in Bangladesh in 2002.  Smochek claimed her cellphone was taken away by a Peace Corps medical officer so she couldn't alert other women, and that the officer refused to examine her.  She was also told to say she was returning to the U.S. to have wisdom teeth removed.

Smochek was later instructed by an official to recount anything she might have done to encourage her attackers.

To add further insult to injury, Smochek said she found out afterwards that the agency's director in Bangladesh told other female volunteers that she was to blame for her rape and that women are the ones responsible for bringing on sexual assaults.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May112011

Female Volunteers to Testify on Peace Corps' Safety Measures

Peace Corp [dot] gov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Some female volunteers who say the Peace Corps did little to protect their safety will testify before a House committee on Wednesday.

On its website, the Peace Corps says the safety and security of its volunteers is its highest priority.  But while many volunteers have treasured their experiences, an ABC News investigation found that over 1,000 young women in the Corps have been either raped or assaulted in the last decade.

In some cases, victims say, the Peace Corps has ignored safety concerns and later tried to blame the women who were raped for bringing on the attacks.

One woman who got pregnant from a rape says she was was told to get an abortion or leave the organization.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan112011

Millionth Soldier Greeted by Volunteers at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DALLAS) -- Bert Brady doesn't know who exactly was the millionth soldier to pass through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport returning from duty, but to him it doesn't matter. The Army veteran greets them all the same.

For the past four years, Brady has been there for the nation's heroes as they arrive in the terminal on leave from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. He offers a smile, word of thanks, maybe a cell phone to call family or often just a hug. In the first days of 2011, Brady and his fellow volunteers at the "Welcome Home a Hero" program reached that milestone, greeting their millionth soldier.

"We have to support them. We simply have to support them," said Brady, 73. "They're our heroes and more important even than that, their wives and families are our heroes. They suffer just as badly as anybody."

Every day in Dallas, as many as 275 soldiers pass through the airport coming home for two weeks of rest and recuperation. Bert Brady and his volunteers have never missed a single one, even if it means greeting them at three in the morning.

On Tuesday, the thousands of volunteer greeters were honored for their work. Folks ranging from Boy Scouts to military generals come out to give soldiers a warm reception, something that almost never happened for veterans of wars in Vietnam and Korea.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio