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AMERICA’S GREATEST UNSUNG HEROES REVEALED

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Finalists Named in 4th Annual Volvo for life Awards

 

Celebrity Judges to Name Winners April 12 in New York City at the Rainbow Room; One Hero Will Receive a Volvo Car for Life

 

 

NEW YORK CITY (March 1, 2006) - Who is America’s greatest hometown hero? A Maryland mother turned anti-child predator crusader, an Ethiopian immigrant in Detroit rallying volunteers to address a health crisis in his homeland or a Nebraska teenager educating others to prevent water-related ecological disasters? These heroes are among the nine finalists named today in the 4th annual Volvo for life Awards.

 

The Volvo for life Awards (www.volvoforlifeawards.com) is the largest-ever national search for and celebration of everyday heroes in the categories of safety, quality of life and environment, with Volvo Cars of North America providing $1 million in awards and contributions in honor of heroes.

 

Now, the Volvo for life Awards’ distinguished panel of judges - including Hank Aaron, Senator Bill Bradley, Caroline Kennedy, Sir Richard Branson, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Val Kilmer, Maya Lin, Paul Newman and Dr. Sally Ride — will review the finalists’ nominations to select the program’s three category winners. Volvo will then 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 in July 2005, called for individuals nationwide to visit www.volvoforlifeawards.com and nominate an unsung hometown hero they know doing the extraordinary. Volvo received 4,341 nominations representing all 50 states. Finalists were announced in three categories, including:

 

Safety:

  • Gary Slutkin, a 55-year-old Chicago epidemiologist who has created a violence forecaster and prevention program, “CeaseFire,” which has reduced gang shootings in some neighborhoods by 75 percent.
  • Billy Kemp, a 40-year-old Franklin, Tenn., high school teacher who after the deaths of three students in auto accidents –– with none wearing seatbelts - created “Be in the Click,” a highly effective, grassroots seatbelt awareness campaign that has reached 65,000 students.
  • Sophia West, a 44-year-old Beltsville, Md., mom who as a child was sexually abused and as an adult discovered her son had been as well - and has since become a national, bilingual anti-sexual predator spokesperson.

 

Quality of Life:

  • Ingida Asfaw, a 68-year-old Detroit heart surgeon and Ethiopian immigrant who kept a four-decade long promise to himself by mobilizing 550 medical professionals and volunteers stateside to address his homeland’s healthcare crises.
  • Jeannette Kendall, a 47-year-old, Ellicott City, Md., top fashion designer who now devotes her skills and passion to providing low-income, job-seeking women with professional business attire and interviewing skills for gaining entry in to the workplace.
  • Eva Payne, a 30-year-old Santa Clarita, Calif., idealist who has created from scratch a summer camp of hope and dreams for kids infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

 

Environment:

  • Oliver Barton, 42, of New Haven, Conn., who gave up a career in medicine to promote sustainability in his college alma mater’s needy neighborhoods by building a massive environmental charter school and urban farm.
  • Jane Williams, 47, of Rosamond, Calif., who as a second-generation environmentalist maintains the nation’s longest-running community environmental advocacy group by unifying and mobilizing a diverse group of communities to improve antiquated environmental regulations.
  • Jami Harper, 17 of Grand Island, Neb., whose town’s tainted water supply turned the teenager into an environmental educator for communities nationwide.

 

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

 

Volvo will fly the three category winners to New York to be honored at the Rainbow Room during the Volvo for life Awards ceremony on April 12, 2006. At the event, Volvo and program judges will present a short film documenting each winner and present him and/or her 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 will be named “America’s Greatest Hometown Hero.” The remaining 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 also inspire others to do good in their communities,” said Anne Bélec, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Cars of North America. “Selecting our nine finalists from more than 4,300 nominations 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 second-annual 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 4th annual Volvo for life Awards will be hosted by actor Benjamin Bratt and will feature musical performances by Avril Lavigne and others. Visit www.volvoforlifeawards.com for more information on the Volvo for life Awards and to view hundreds of hero stories, including this year’s finalists.

 

Fourth Annual Volvo for life Awards Finalists

 

Safety

 

Sophia West, 44, Beltsville, Md.

As a young child, Sophia West suffered through years of molestation by a family member. West now has children of her own, and after her son’s attempted suicide on Christmas Eve of his senior year in high school, West learned that he was molested by his soccer coach at age 11. West felt that she not only had to safeguard her children from any other predators, but also empower all children with the knowledge and awareness for self-protection. In conjunction with the Good Knight Deception Awareness Program, she has become a nationwide lecturer helping kids spot the typical signs that predatory individuals use to lure children into unsafe situations. The Good Knight program hosts groups from around the country at its medieval style “castle” sitting on two acres of property in Beltsville, Md., where students experience interactive adventure quest exhibits to learn basic predator abuse-prevention tactics. Volunteers like West aim to instill a “knight’s values,” such as nobility, strength and awareness, in the children they educate. She has also overseen the translation of massive amounts of predator awareness books, videos and other collateral into Spanish to help even more at-risk kids. Learn more at www.goodknight.org.

 

Dr. Gary Slutkin, 55, Chicago, Ill.

Preventing violent thoughts as a crime deterrent? Dr. Gary Slutkin thinks it’s possible, and he’s created a system that just may prove it is. He founded “CeaseFire,” an organization and philosophy that can predict where in neighborhoods gang-related violence will most likely occur, and who is most at-risk. He then dispatches a team of highly skilled, and paid, counselors (including many former gang members) to prevent violence often moments before it occurs. Their mission: identify people having violent thoughts, then counsel them out of their anger. And, when a shooting occurs, he has a team of local church members, prominent neighborhood individuals, neighborhood associations and others to work directly with all individuals in that neighborhood to respond to the violence. This door-to-door, street-by-street violence prevention program has helped create a 50 to 75 percent drop in shootings in some neighborhoods over five years, and it’s soon to be rolled out in other cities nationwide. Visit www.ceasefirechicago.org.

 

Billy Kemp, 40, Franklin, Tenn.

In 1997, Billy Kemp, now 40, began teaching English at the newly owned Centennial High School in Franklin. During its first three years, the school lost a student each year to a car crash. None wore seat belts. With only 61 percent of his school’s students wearing seatbelts, Billy knew that to prevent it from happening again, it would require a highly focused, attention-grabbing effort. More than just your basic “buckle up” campaign, Kemp’s “Be in the Click” focuses on getting whole communities - not just schools - involved in changing the way students view wearing seatbelts. Kemp taps area organizations and businesses to provide incentives and rewards for students who wear seatbelts. Assemblies are held; signage adorns the school campuses. Messages are infused in curriculum and students who pledge to wear seatbelts throughout the year have opportunities to win prizes. Within the first year of the program, seat belt usage at his school increased to 87 percent. Billy boxes up the elements of this low-cost, highly effective program (including guidelines, message points, collateral materials, etc.) and distributes them to other schools to incorporate. Today, “Be in the Click” has spread to 27 counties, 75 schools and 65,000 students across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kansas. Visit www.beintheclick.com.

 

Quality of Life

 

Eva Payne, 30, Santa Clarita, Calif.

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s when HIV/AIDS infection rates were growing at a rapid pace, Eva Payne witnessed how the disease affected children. Unsatisfied with only being a bystander, Payne envisioned a non-profit camp for children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. She had no prior experience in running a non-profit and no funding. Nonetheless, Eva established Camp Kindle in Nebraska in August 1998. The project, now expanded to the West Coast, is a weeklong summer camp for kids infected or affected by AIDS. She continues to provide hundreds of children a place where they neither feel shame about living with HIV/AIDS nor the need to keep it a secret. It offers the campers ages seven to 15 the chance to be accepted, find hope and friendship, and develop their knowledge of wellness and personal strengths. Payne offers opportunities for young people to strengthen their self-esteem through interactive participation in educational and recreational programming. Children are also provided with a supportive environment where they can safely explore opportunities for growth and acceptance. To learn more, go to www.campkindle.org.

 

Jeannette Kendall, 47, Ellicott City, Md.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Jeannette Kendall began working as a clothing designer for one of America’s top name brand clothing companies. Upon moving to Maryland, Kendall began thinking about the many disadvantaged women who lack fashion direction and social skills needed to gain entry into the business world. Kendall decided to apply her special skills to help these women regain their dignity and establish confidence in their abilities to succeed. In 2002, she founded Success In Style (SIS) to help underprivileged women seeking work. SIS operates its own “Fifth Avenue boutique style” showroom where clients can come for consultations and professional clothing “shopping.” SIS provides mostly donated apparel; however the organization occasionally purchases some of the pieces, particularly for plus-size clients. Kendall spends countless hours ensuring that each client feels and looks her best, in spite of her difficult life situation. Each year, SIS provides 200 clients their own individualized, one-hour professional fashion and interview etiquette consultation with a trained volunteer. The clients then receive four outfits, shoes, a handbag, hosiery, undergarments, jewelry, coat, makeup, a haircut and basic job-interview skills coaching - all at no charge. Kendall oversees the program while raising nine children. Learn more at www.successinstyle.org.

 

Dr. Ingida Asfaw, 68, Detroit, Mich.

In 1958, 16-year-old Ingida Asfaw left his native Ethiopia to study medicine in the United States. At the time, knowing his homeland possessed no formal medical schools and no semblance of a national health-care program, Dr. Asfaw promised himself he would become a doctor and return to Ethiopia with healing hands. Now, a half-century later, 68-year old Dr. Asfaw has kept true to his promise, becoming a world-renowned cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon based in Detroit and creating the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association (ENAHPA), an international network of more than 500 medical and non-medical professionals who donate their time and talents in Ethiopia, a country where the ratio of physicians to population is 1 per 100,000. Since 2001, Dr. Asfaw has led ENAHPA on annual medical missions in efforts to address his homeland’s “profound healthcare crisis.” To date they have distributed anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, performed Ethiopia’s first open-heart surgery and created a child-sponsorship program to support children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In addition, Dr. Asfaw and ENAHPA have delivered more than 10,000 textbooks and journals to professionals and students throughout Ethiopia in the fields of medicine, law, engineering, nursing, pharmacology and social work. To learn more about Dr. Asfaw and ENAHPA, visit www.ENAHPA.org.

 

Environment

 

Oliver Barton, 42, Branford, Conn.

When Oliver Barton came to New Haven as a Yale student two decades ago, he committed to a student-tutoring program for area disadvantaged children. Though a pre-med student, he found himself more inspired by a large population of “bright and motivated inner-city middle school students who were unsupported by academic challenges.” After graduation, Barton put his medical school plans on hold to form the New Haven Ecology Project (NHEP), a 20-acre urban farm in New Haven. Over the next 15 years he evolved the NHEP from a summer camp and after-school class to a community beacon featuring workshops, festivals and Common Ground, an environmentally focused magnet high school for 135 primarily inner-city New Haven students. Today, the NHEP runs programs for 2,000 participants and Common Ground students learn about tackling 21st century environmental issues while growing and harvesting 10 tons of produce for local soup kitchens, farmers’ markets, and a self-sustaining school lunch program. To learn more about Oliver Barton and NHEP, check out www.nhep.com.

 

Jane Williams, 47, Rosamond, Calif.

In the early 1990’s Jane Williams felt a calling. Concerned by antiquated environmental regulations, the former science teacher dedicated herself to mobilizing marginalized communities against unnecessary industrial pollution. Based on the philosophies of her mother, prominent environmentalist Norma “Stormy” Gail Williams, she formed the California Communities Against Toxins (CCAT), a collective of more than 70 localized groups working to curb pollution in their regions. By building the CCAT network on non-traditional alliances, Williams has been able to unite communities through a collaborative and cooperative social infrastructure, avoiding the competition and in-fighting that dooms many environmental collectives. As a result, today CCAT is the oldest community-based environmental network in existence, having aligned groups as diverse as Native American tribes, environmentalists, business owners, school boards and elected officials against pollution in their communities for more than 17 years. Led by Williams, members of CCAT have successfully stopped incinerators, landfills, industrial facilities and nuclear waste dumps from being built in communities where the health of children and community members would have been compromised. To learn more about Jane Williams and CCAT visit www.stoptoxics.org.

 

Jami Harper, 17, Grand Island, Neb.

Imagine your water supply rendered completely useless - unfit for drinking, unfit for cleaning, even dangerous for your backyard sprinkler. In 2003, toxic industrial solvents contaminated the water wells of many of Jami Harper’s neighbors. Jami wanted to prevent such ecological disasters from happening to other people, so she started an educational water protection program dedicated to teaching wise and environmentally sustainable water use practices. To enhance her program she created “Waterwood Squares,” an educational version of Hollywood Squares, built a life-size game structure, recruited volunteers from nine high schools, and to date has incorporated the presentation as part of her workshops to students and educators. In addition to making these workshop-presentations to more than 100 communities across Nebraska, Jami has designed and operated the Water Wizard Web site, featuring daily questions and answers about water protection. She has also distributed a self-designed, full-color, water protection brochure to youth and adults across the United States as well as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. To brush up on water protection awareness, visit Jami’s Water Wizard Web site at: www.hometown.aol.com/cro74chet/waterwizard.html.

 

 

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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:

http://www.volvocars-pr.com.

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