10 Public Service Groups That Are Making a Difference
Individuals who have found innovative ways to tackle seemingly intractable problems
Perhaps nowhere does the American character shine so distinctively as in the way individuals take on seemingly intractable problems. Some of the most innovative service programs, including the 10 we highlight below, are particularly noteworthy because their creators refused to be daunted by the breadth of the challenge, the absence of any model to guide them, or even a lack of expertise. As our sampling shows, the efforts of everyday Americans are having an impact and millions are benefiting in the process.
Engaged with human rights issues as a
It's a massive task. According to
Supported by donations and grants, IJM is chipping away at these grim statistics with its 335 caseworkers, investigators, and lawyers in 14 field offices in
IJM's goal is to make the justice system more responsive to the poor. The results are encouraging. Four years ago, an outside group surveyed the extent to which children were falling victim to the sex trade in an Asian city. After IJM worked with local authorities, a second survey was conducted in 2008 which showed a 70 percent drop. "The bad guys are not that brave," says Haugen. "If they start going to jail, they'll start to leave the kids alone.
Agoglia eventually sold his business and started First Response in 2007. Over the next 18 months, the team responded to 19 natural disasters, from fires in
3. Unite for Sight
She started by sending volunteers from
Internationally, the organization partners with local ophthalmologists in
From its beginnings in a student's dorm room, Unite for Sight has provided eye care for more than 1 million people, including more than 35,000 sight-restoring surgeries.
The nonprofit can transform a gutted house into a livable home in just eight to 12 weeks for an average cost of
5. Safe Water Network
Almost 1 billion people around the globe lack access to safe water, but now Rajitha Perumarla, a 30-year-old mother in the village of Nizampalli,
Safe Water Network was founded in 2007 by the late actor and philanthropist
To date, the organization has introduced safe water solutions into 63 villages in
The group has plans for projects in 40 to 50 additional villages by the end of 2011.
6. Have Justice Will Travel
So, after getting her law degree at age 48, Ward founded the nonprofit Have Justice Will Travel in 1998 to provide free legal and social services to rural, low-income Vermonters who have suffered domestic and sexual violence and have few support agencies to rely on.
HJWT now operates four offices throughout the state. Ward and three other attorneys visit women who can't get to an office or may be ashamed to leave the house; they assess what the women may need, from children's clothes to help with an electric bill. They also provide legal representation and drive clients to the courthouse to obtain restraining orders or to fight for child custody.
Over the past 12 years, HJWT has counseled over 10,000 women. It also offers a program called Women in Transition Life Skills and Mentoring to help clients become self-sufficient by learning parenting and job skills along with money management. "Once a woman leaves an abusive situation, it's a whole new world," Ward says. "We want them to know that there is help out there."
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates some 1.3 million women fall victim to domestic violence annually. Often, they feel trapped by fear or hopelessness. "We have a unique model, but it works," Ward says. "Since 1998, 90 percent of our clients have not returned to an abusive situation." She is currently writing a program guide that other communities can use.
7. Tree People
Lipkis founded Tree People, and 40 years and 2 million trees later (each one is given a name as it is planted), the organization has inspired communities and organizations throughout
As Tree People's president, Lipkis frequently speaks to groups around the world about how individuals can become citizen foresters by planting and caring for trees in their own neighborhoods. In
In heavily black-topped urban areas, where it might not be possible to plant whole stands of trees, the group is experimenting with ways to use technology to duplicate the roles that trees play. In a functioning "community forest," man-made cisterns and permeable paving would do the work of trees in absorbing and conserving water, and drought-resistant shrubs would filter pollution.
"Trees don't just stand there and look pretty," Lipkis says. "They are not only multi-tasking superheroes, they are the basis of our life support system."
8. Senior Sleuths
A recent study showed that about 1 in 5 people age 65 or older in
When seniors were being duped into buying expensive water filtration systems, Anne (whose last name is being withheld because she worked undercover), a 77-year-old who stands 5-foot-2, volunteered to catch the scammers. When a salesman showed her a glass filled with the supposedly dirty water coming from her tap (water he had tampered with first), she expressed shock. The huckster proceeded to pitch the unnecessary filtration system, unaware he was being videotaped by police. Instead of making a sale, he was hit with a civil complaint filed by the attorney general's office. In the last three years, the Sleuths have handled 8,880 cases, referred hundreds for prosecution, and recovered
9. Year Up
When the firm was sold in 2000, Chertavian decided to bridge the opportunity divide. With
10. Violence-Free Zone
When a 12-year-old boy was killed in gang crossfire at a
Woodson helped broker a truce between rival gangs, then introduced jobs, training, and education. The neighborhood was transformed by gang leaders who became "crew chiefs" and who, because of their "street cred," could influence younger kids, now in a positive way.
Woodson named the initiative the Violence-Free Zone, and it became one of the CNE's core programs. A community organizer asked Woodson to start a VFZ in a
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10 Public Service Groups That Are Making a Difference
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