Morissa (Mia) Pertik– CA – Upon joining the Peace Corps Ecuador, Mia was sent to one of Ecuador’s largest cities, Santo Domingo which is one of Ecuador’s poorest, most dangerous, and unorganized cities. It’s the prime location as a “halfway point” between the coast and the mountain regions, Santo Domingo is known for its bustling markets, transporting of goods, and diversity of people. Mia organized Dreaming for a Change in an effort to help the excess of street children living in Santo Domingo’s streets. Many are drug addicts, starting consumption at 8 years old. As a two-part project, her organization has firstly, opened a rehabilitation center for drug-addicted street children with efforts of reinserting children back into society. Secondly, she works in prevention- stopping the outflow of children to the streets, assisting families with workshops, and community banks, and providing care for at-risk youth. Mia created a small jewelry business with a group of 20 women. The women learned to make tagua (local Ecuadorian seed) jewelry, and sell it for a higher cost than the material cost to make a profit. Mia is in the process of starting a new project. It is the creation of a community bank, involucrate both women and men to raise funds to eventually provide loans to members in the community. Roughly 30 bank members contribute as little as $1 dollar a week, with hopes that after 3 or 4 months members can take out credits, repaying their loans with small interest rates.
Maria Vertkin – Medford, MA – Found in Translation – Maria overcame her own obstacles of homelessness. She now works with bilingual women (who speak English and another language well) who are low-income and homeless. She helps them transition from a life of homelessness and poverty to a potentially lucrative career.
Maria DiBari – Tri-County Crisis Center – NY – Maria overcame being a victim of domestic violence to putting all of her time and energy into helping other victims of domestic violence. She has opened a center that is serving three counties in New York. Her creative initiative is setting the bar for many other agencies.
Julie Rae – Women and Innocence Project, TN – The Women and Innocence Network, was formed by Julie to bring attention to wrongfully convicted women like herself. She has created a blog, began an annual conference, begun developing a legal system training book and initiated other projects to assist these women.
Valencia Pines – Ponchatala, LA – Hannah Leigh Foundation, Inc – Valencia began the Hannah Leigh Foundation as a final stage of healing, manifesting into a desire to aid someone out of her own circumstances as a victim of domestic violence. Her own children’s aspirations & desires to grow formulated the programs the foundation offers.
Joan Meacham – Georgetown, SC – Family Justice Center – Joan started the Family Justice Center in rural Georgetown County to house agencies that serve victims of criminal domestic violence and criminal sexual assault. This coordinated approach currently partners 15 organizations that are dedicated to assisting victims and fighting domestic violence.
Cathy Neeley – Soddy Daisy, TN – Cathy spends her days working at a Senior Center where her compassion, selflessness, and caring is evident. Cathy volunteers her “free” time ministering to women that are incarcerated. She strives to keep the bond strong between the women and their children. She also volunteers at a local domestic violence shelter.
Ashley Day – Lake Arrowhead, CA – For the past two years, Ashley has been working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in Northern Malawi teaching English and Life Skills. After conducting a survey of the students she found that the students were walking as far as 15 km to get to school. They would have to leave their homes as early as 4 am. While this was problematic for boys and girls alike, it was of huge concern for the girls. They cited unwanted sexual attention as a major problem. In addition, the culture mandates that girls take on almost all of the domestic work. The girls would have to wake up even earlier to cook and clean. They were expected to do similar chores when they returned home. Leaving them no time to study. Ashley held a community meeting including chiefs of 14 surrounding villages. Through her efforts, she has been able to receive approval and a commitment of providing building materials from the chiefs to build a dormitory for the girls. This will enable the girls to concentrate on their education and only have to walk home on weekends. Education will greatly impact problems such as early marriage, polygamy, widespread HIV/AIDS, prostitution. To date, the materials are still being collected and Ashley hopes for the construction to begin in the near future.
Stacey Nelson – Los Alamitos, CA – University of Florida Graduate Stacey Nelson participated in a study abroad program in Microfinance and Entrepreneurship. What she found was three decades of war had made it difficult for the child soldiers to integrate into society. The child mothers (raped and impregnated during the war) have children to feed and no occupation, while a generation has missed out on schooling due to being confined in temporary camps while the war raged. After witnessing these issues Stacey began working tirelessly to improve the job opportunities in the war-torn region of Northern Uganda.