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Who Is America’s Top Hometown Hero?

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

 

Finalists Named in 3rd Annual Volvo for life Awards

 

Celebrity Judges to Name Winners March 24 in Times Square; One Hero Will Receive a Volvo Car for Life

NEW YORK CITY (Feb. 10, 2005) – A Utah amputee changing laws that prohibit reusing prosthetic limbs, a junior high student lobbying New York politicians to require safety gates on fire escapes, and a California engineer helping the poor grow gardens in the inner city are among the finalists named today in the third annual Volvo for life Awards.

 

The Volvo for life Awards is the largest-ever national search for and celebration of everyday heroes, with Volvo Cars of North America providing $1 million in awards and contributions in honor of heroes.

 

Returning for the third year, the Volvo for life Awards’ distinguished panel of judges — including Hank Aaron, Bill Bradley, Caroline Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Maya Lin, Paul Newman, and Dr. Sally Ride — will now review the finalists’ nominations to select the program’s three winners and to select a grand winner who will receive a new Volvo every three years for life and the distinction of being named “America’s Greatest Hometown Hero.”

 

The program, launched for its third year in June 2004, called for individuals nationwide to visit www.volvoforlifeawards.com and nominate an unsung hometown hero they know in the categories of either safety, qualify of life or environment. Volvo received 4,272 nominations representing all 50 states. Finalists were announced in three categories:

 

Safety:

  • Monica Caison, a Wilmington, N.C., woman who embodies the spirit of TV’s “Cold Case” by helping search for missing loved ones when others have given up hope.
  • Abdul Hafiz, a Staten Island, N.Y., junior high student lobbying politicians to pass a new law requiring special safety gates for fire escapes.
  • Paula Lucas, a domestic abuse survivor in Portland, Ore., helping American women escape abusive relationships while living abroad.

 

Quality of Life:

  • Hope Bevilhymer, a West Jordan, Utah, amputee who is working to change U.S. laws that prohibit recycling of prosthetic limbs while at the same time donating limbs to amputees overseas.
  • Jose Morales, Elmhurst, N.Y., who is helping more than 3,100 Spanish-speaking people in Queens, New York recover from substance abuse.
  • Jack Orchard, a St. Louis, Mo., ALS patient who is inspiring students across the nation to help people living with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

 

Environment:

  • Lisa Busch, an Alaskan bringing environmentalists and timber proponents together to revitalize her community and the environment.
  • Bill Maynard, a Sacramento, Calif., engineer growing gardens to beautify his community and feed low-income residents.
  • Robina Suwol, a Van Nuys, Calif., mom advocating for policies to protect school children from harmful chemicals.

 

(More complete biographies are at the conclusion of this article.)

 

Volvo will fly the three winners and six remaining finalists to New York to be honored at Times Square Studios, Ltd., at the Volvo for life Awards ceremony on March 24, 2005. At the event, Volvo and program judges will present each winner with a $50,000 contribution to the charity of his or her choice. In addition, they will announce the program’s grand winner, who will receive a new Volvo car every three years for the rest of his or her life and be named “America’s Greatest Hometown Hero.” The six finalists will each receive a donation of $25,000 to the charities of their choice.

 

“Each year with the Volvo for life Awards, we seek to not only recognize everyday heroes, but to likewise inspire others to do good in their communities,” said Vic Doolan, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Cars of North America. “We’re thrilled to have received more than 4,200 nominations this year, and selecting our finalists was a daunting task. While their stories are unique, they share a passion for creating change within their communities that will have lasting impacts for generations to come.”

 

Top child heroes also are being judged for the Alexandra Scott Butterfly Award. The award is in honor of Alexandra Scott, a Volvo for life Awards winner from Wynnewood, Pa., who before passing away at age eight from cancer raised more than $1 million for pediatric cancer research through lemonade sales and other fundraising activities. Alexandra’s parents will select the winner, who will receive a $25,000 charitable contribution and special recognition at the awards ceremony.

 

The third annual Volvo for life Awards will be hosted by actor Jim Belushi and will feature musical performances and celebrity appearances. For more information on the Volvo for life Awards and to view stories of hundreds of nominees, including this year’s finalists, visit www.volvoforlifeawards.com.

 

Third Annual Volvo for life Awards Finalists

 

Safety

 

Monica Caison, 41, Wilmington, N.C.

Exposed to families suffering a missing person three times before the age of 25, Monica Caison decided to take action. In 1994, she founded the CUE Center for Missing Persons, which provides assistance for those who have lost a loved one, utilizing media contacts, conducting foot searches, and going to any length necessary to locate missing persons. CUE picks up where law enforcement leaves off. For example, in March 2004, Caison and CUE volunteers conducted “On the Road To Remember,” a 25-state tour highlighting 30 missing person cases in 10 states. Along the way, the group met more than 70 media resources and the families who are still looking for their loved one. The tour resulted in new leads and movement in at least six cases. As a fulltime volunteer, Caison is driven to help restore the faith in humanity that family members inevitably lose knowing that someone, somewhere, knows what happened to their missing loved one.

 

Abdul Hafiz, 13, Staten Island, N.Y.

On May 18, 2000, Abdul Hafiz’s 16-month baby brother, Ibrahim, accidentally crawled onto the fire escape of his family’s fourth-floor apartment and fell to his death. Today, 12-year-old Hafiz is determined to prevent similar tragedies, leading a campaign to prod politicians to pass a new law in New York that would require special safety gates on fire escape windows. The gates would open in an event of a fire, but would prevent a toddler falling through. To date, Hafiz and fellow classmates have met with the heads of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and obtained a grant for $500,000 to install these gates, as well as two computer labs and security cameras, in Hafiz’s housing complex. In addition, Hafiz and his classmates have pushed for legislation to mandate these gates for the entire city of New York, the state and nation. The group also has obtained thousands of petition signatures and regularly meets with legislators and commissioners. They were even able to pass resolutions with the New York State NAACP and Business and Professional Woman’s Clubs.

 

Paula Lucas, 46, Portland, Ore.

In 1999, Paula Lucas and her children fled to the United States from their home in the Middle East, where they had for 12 years endured horrible abuse by her husband. If her husband or his family had caught her, she would have been imprisoned and would have never seen her children again. After returning to the United States, Lucas had to fight to retain legal custody of her children, and learned that no programs existed to assist American citizens wishing to repatriate, particularly women leaving abusive marriages overseas. Determined to help women in similar situations, Lucas created the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line (866-USWOMEN), a non-profit organization that serves the estimated 410,000 to 574,000 American women and children abused per year overseas. A lifeline to hundreds of women and their families, in 2004 alone, Lucas’ hotline provided crises intervention for 150 families. And, the organization provided airline tickets for four families to return to the United States, emergency housing for 10 families, and legal retainers for four additional families.

 

Quality of Life

 

Hope Bevilhymer, 27, West Jordan, Utah

Born with bilateral clubfeet, Hope Bevilhymer by age 25 had undergone more than 29 unsuccessful surgeries and was taking 100 Tylenol a week to manage her pain. Faced with the decision to either amputate one leg from the knee down or to undergo additional surgeries, she chose to amputate. Soon after her surgery, Bevilhymer received used prosthetics from people who thought she could use them. However, product-liability laws in the United States prohibited the reuse of the limbs. About the same time, she saw a documentary on African and Laotian refugees who were land-mine amputees unable to afford prosthetic limbs. Realizing the connection, Bevilhymer created the Limbs of Hope Foundation, which fights to overturn product liability laws that prohibit the recycling of prosthetic limbs in the United States. In addition, the non-profit organization collects prosthetic limbs to share with people in developing countries. To date, Limbs of Hope has provided more than 55 prosthetic limbs to people in such countries as Cambodia, Mexico and Romania who otherwise would spend the rest of their lives missing limbs.

 

Jose Morales, 48, Elmhurst, N.Y.

After losing his home, his family and his job as a factory manager in Mexico due to alcoholism, Jose Morales entered Alcoholics Anonymous in 1982 and started on his courageous path to sobriety. In 1986, Jose came to the United States. Struck by the high concentration of alcoholics living in the streets of New York and the lack of low-cost treatment services conducted in Spanish, Jose joined forces with four Mexican friends from recovery and opened a shelter, J24, in 1991. Housed in a rented basement, J24 offered a 24-hour-a-day haven for substance abusers who could obtain food, shelter and a meeting place to begin recovery. By 1996, J24 moved to a house purchased by Jose through his personal credit, savings and help from other members. Today, J24, an official non-profit organization, continues to provide round-the-clock service. Staffed entirely by volunteers, including Jose, J24 has never turned away or charged anyone for entering the shelter for treatment. The organization has helped more than 3,100 members of the Spanish-speaking community in Queens, New York recover from alcohol and substance abuse. Besides dedicating more than 20 hours per week to J24, Jose has two jobs, one as a doorman, to support his wife and four children.

 

Jack Orchard, 37, St. Louis, Mo.

Living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) since he was 34, Jack Orchard cannot move his legs or arms, can move only one finger to work a computer mouse, can barely hold up his head, and must rely on other people to take care of him. Yet, with his mind intact, Orchard has fought back, helping ALS families who suffer with this disease through the program he co-founded, “Extra Hands for ALS.” Through the program, high school and college-student volunteers complete a training program with ALS clinicians and social workers. Once the students complete their training, they are placed on a team with another volunteer and an adult mentor, usually an experienced adult volunteer or ALS survivor. Under their guidance, the students provide “friendly visitor” services, such as helping with mail or e-mail, housecleaning, getting groceries, doing yard work, reading aloud, or simply providing company to the patient. Once per semester, students participate in a public awareness event, such as organizing an ALS Awareness Day at their schools, or running an information booth at community fairs. To date, hundreds of students have worked thousands of hours all over the country –– from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, to Boston –– for Orchard’s cause.

 

Environment

 

Lisa Busch, 38, Sitka, Alaska

In 1993, the Alaska Pulp Corp., Sitka, Alaska’s largest employer, shut down its pulp mill. Almost overnight, two thirds of the workforce lost their jobs, and 100 families in the 8,500-person community moved away. Political leaders blamed environmentalists for the mill failure. The town was bitterly divided, and the economic outlook was bleak. Inspired to help the community get back on its feet, Lisa Busch spearheaded the formation of Sitka Trail Works, an organization that provided retraining money for dozens of displaced timber workers to become trail crew workers. The program was designed to improved an existing trail system, provide jobs and new opportunities for unemployed residents, and increase tourism. But perhaps most importantly, it bridged a bitter rift that had formed between environmentalists and timber proponents. Today, Sitka Trail Works has more than 500 members and has built over $2 million worth of trails. As president of Sitka Trail Works, Busch continues to work enthusiastically with local, state and federal agencies to promote trails as a healthy lifestyle choice for people of all ages.

 

Bill Maynard, 49, Sacramento, Calif.

Civil engineer Bill Maynard volunteers to help Sacramento residents enjoy gardening as a way to beautify their urban landscape while supplementing their diet with the fresh produce. For example, in 2004, Maynard helped design, plan and plant a food-producing landscape initiative within an existing low-income housing project. The initiative introduced 80 citrus and fruit trees, as well as various herbs, into the existing project landscaping. In addition, Maynard volunteers for Sacramento City School District, giving high school students hands-on experiences in designing and creating school gardens. Students have researched native plants, designed native plant areas, installed drip irrigation, and even painted murals as backdrops for the gardens. Maynard also has helped the Hmong immigrant community relocate their gardens from toxic drainage sites to four specially designated community gardens. Hmong residents now have safe gardening areas on which elders can teach farming techniques to future generations. Finally, Maynard is working to rewrite Sacramento’s front yard landscaping code to allow for food-producing gardens of trees, shrubs and flowers to beautify and help nourish hard-pressed neighborhoods.

 

Robina Suwol, 49, Van Nuys, Calif.

In 1998, Robina watched her sons walk through a white cloud near the entrance of their school, where the school gardener, dressed in full protective gear, was spraying pesticide. Unfortunately, Suwol’s youngest son had a severe asthma attack, causing Suwol to take action. She quickly contacted medical experts, environmentalists, scientists and experts to learn more about safer, more effective methods of using of chemicals around school children. She presented her findings to the Los Angeles Unified School District, and with full support, she brought together parents, physicians, environmentalists and the county health department, among other stakeholders, to form California Safe Schools. Before long, the organization got the school district — the second largest in the country — to adopt the “most stringent pesticide policy in the nation for schools.” The policy was the first in the United States to embrace the “precautionary principle” and “Parents’ Right to Know” about chemicals being used in or around school campuses. The policy has benefited the nearly one million students, 60,000 teachers, and thousands of staff members in the district, as well as the health and well being of all Californians. In fact, the policy led to the California Healthy Schools Act of 2000, which recommends school districts develop Integrated Pest Management Policies. And today, the policy is being replicated nationally.

Contact:

Eric Davis,

Haberman & Associates,

612-372-6447,

eric@habermaninc.com

 

Sören Johansson,

Volvo Cars of North America,

949-341-6719,

sjohan44@volvocars.com

 

Media:

For photos and more information on the Volvo for Life Awards: www.volvocars-pr.com.

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