Category: Unsung Heros

Animals Share The Gift of Literacy With Children

animals share the gift of literacy with children - article - Positive Impact Magazine

Dogs are going to school in an increasing number of communities across the United States thanks to an innovative literacy mentoring program through the Intermountain Therapy Animals’ Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) program. But it’s not the dogs that are learning, it’s the school children.

R.E.A.D is a comprehensive literacy mentoring program established in 1999 to assist struggling readers with literacy skills. Merilee Kelley, a contact for the Florida chapter, READing Paws describes it as the best experience she’s ever had!

Photo courtesy of Reading PAWS

Merilee started Project READ in 2004, and in 2006 the program became known as READing Paws. The program visits schools, libraries, and bookstores and offers students that struggle to read a non-biased, non-judgmental reading partner. Each therapy dog that participates in the READing Paws program is thoroughly and rigorously trained as a nationally certified therapy dog. The owner/handler/facilitator can then choose to be a READing Paws mentor.

Photo courtesy of Reading Paws

The program, intended to target students who struggle with reading, has even been credited with improvement in student attendance. Merilee relates that students eagerly anticipate the days that their reading partner will be visiting.

While the program is intended to increase reading abilities, and indeed it does, Merilee has also seen improvements in self-esteem, confidence, and even hygiene. Merilee explains that since the dogs are certified therapy dogs, they go through an intense grooming process prior to their school arrival. The facilitators will often discuss the required grooming with students to illustrate how the dogs get ready for school. Often very surprised to learn that even dogs need to have their teeth brushed, these students begin to appreciate the importance of proper hygiene.

With the opportunity for the students to interact with the dog for a short time once per week, the children soon develop a passion for reading and the skills to improve. Merilee tells the story of one young girl that struggled so intensely that her teachers were desperately worried about her success in school. When the teacher exhausted all traditional curricular strategies, the READing Paws group began to work with the young girl. After participating in the program for only several weeks, the student came to her next READing Paws session and exclaimed that she “just figured it out.” That student went on to graduate from the READing Paws program and help to mentor another student.

Photo courtesy of Reading Paws

Merilee is especially proud of how the program has benefited students with special needs. In particular, she fondly remembers a young boy with autism, which is a neurological disorder often affecting speech, language, and social skills (eye contact, interaction, emotion). This young boy began working with a READing Paws dog, and over several months began verbalizing his needs, connecting to the family members, and caring about the dog’s needs.

Merilee describes “…the beautiful connection between human and animal” as one of the best rewards of being a part of the program. R.E.A.D. has anecdotal outcomes from schools across the U.S. and Canada that show increased reading fluency, increased reading comprehension and improved social/emotional development. Teachers express that students read with more expression, have greater self-esteem, and show improved peer interactions and classroom behavior. There is nothing better in the world than seeing a child develop a love for literacy, and it is even better if they are able to learn to respect and appreciate animals too!

Do you have a love for children, a compassion for animals? Do you already have a certified therapy dog or cat and want to make a difference in the life of a child? R.E.A.D. is a wonderful way to share the gift of literacy with a child.


Out of the Shadows: The Peace Women

out of the shadows article positive impact magazine


By: Marci Wise
Photos by: Glenna Gordon

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.
~Honoré de Balzac

Women have long made their contributions to the sanctity of the family, abiding over their homes with a quiet, moral authority.  Mothers are characterized by putting others’ needs before their own and instilling the values of civility, charity and compassion in their children – but perhaps those same qualities hold the promise for humanity in these troubled times.  Nowhere is that point illustrated more beautifully than in troubled Liberia where the women are stepping out of the shadows to bring hope and peace to their people.

Wearing white

The Second Civil War in Liberia brought with it the horrors and mayhem of all war.  The violence was so prevalent that there were no guarantees that loved ones who had left home in the morning would return that night.  With no end in sight to the torment, the women of Liberia took action.  They banned together, Christian and Muslim alike, and took a stand for peace by issuing this statement of intent:

“In the past we were silent, but after being dehumanized and infected with diseases, and watching our children and families destroyed, war has taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace!  We will not relent until peace prevails.”

Embarking on what could have been a death sentence, the determined women donned bright white T-shirts and head-scarves and marched into the warzone.  But instead of becoming further casualties of an already bloody situation, something remarkable happened. The fighting temporarily stopped, their message was heard, and the first seeds of rationality were planted in a tense and destructive political climate.  The country’s leaders found that the women’s calm demeanors were an asset in difficult negotiations and enabled more civilized communication.

As a result, the Peace Women were instrumental in bringing an end to the civil war and the exile of alleged warlord Charles Taylor in 2003.

The fabric of society

Since that time, the Peace Women’s political efforts have begun to blossom into something more substantial and long-lasting by catapulting Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the role of Liberia’s first African female head of state.  However, there’s still much work to be done.  With unemployment and poverty rates both around 80%, the citizens of Liberia are in need of a means by which to flourish.

Threads of hope

Enter an American organization named Liberty and Justice, founded by Chid Liberty and Adam Butlein.  Born in Liberia, Liberty and his family were forced to flee to the United States as refugees during the war, making him intimately familiar with the plight of Liberia’s people. Together, Liberty and Butlein, two resourceful men, created a program designed to educate, employ and empower Liberian workers.  This is quite a task considering that many Liberians have never had any semblance of a traditional job nor the understanding of what goes along with that.  Yet Butlein says the citizens of Liberia are eager for opportunities. “There’s a strong quality of accomplishing the unimaginable in each and every one.”

To meet their needs, Butlein and Liberty created the first ever Fair-Trade certified garment factory in Africa.  They not only train and employ workers, but ultimately give each a piece of the company as well. Their first endeavor? Making white T-shirts as homage to the brave women who wore them to symbolize peace while protesting the civil war.

“The Right-to-Work” program not only provides these women with much needed income, but also returns their dignity and hopes for a better life.

Training consists of six courses that cover all aspects of the worker mindset.

Alignment – Creates a sense of personal responsibility in the worker and provides inspiration to commit to an outstanding future.

Working Assets – Teaches basic money management and an approach to building family assets.  Participants open individual bank accounts and their contributions are matched dollar for dollar the first year by the Liberian Women’s Community Development Fund.

Basic Apparel Production – Trains them on how to sew and operate commercial sewing machines.

Advanced Apparel Production – Attendees become skilled at operating advanced apparel manufacturing equipment. Also teaches skills such as marking, plotting, pattern-making, screen-printing and distressing.

Management and Leadership – (optional) Designed for workers committed to leading a team of colleagues – teaches strategies for effective communication.

Strategy and Entrepreneurship – (optional) Designed for workers committed to managing their own businesses upon completing their service with the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project.

The program boasts an impressive 100% employment rate for participants and adheres to strict labor laws.  Workers earn $100 a month, receive health benefits and are given incentive programs such as large bags of rice with which to feed their families.

Although the training is extensive, the women’s goals are strikingly simple. One worker revealed she was feeding 17 people a day with the earnings and rice rations that her job provided.  “Another worker told us that because of the money we have paid her so far, she’s able to bring her child home from a displaced persons camp in a neighboring country.  I can’t imagine knowing that I had a child that was stuck in a displaced persons camp and I simply did not have the money to bring them home.  It is remarkable,” Butlein said in a PIM interview.

Liberty and justice

From ending the violence to rebuilding their broken society, the inner fortitude of Liberia’s women is providing a lifeline for this war-torn nation.  Their story confirms what most of us have suspected in our hearts all along – that the strength and purity of a mother’s love has the power to change the world.

How to get involved

To buy a T-shirt, find out more about this amazing organization or donate to the cause, please visit

Marci Wise is Positive Impact Magazine’s columnist for “A Moment of Clarity.” She is journalist, producer and societal visionary who has spent more than 20 years bringing people information to help them lead happier lives.


A Second Look at Pakistan’s Third Gender


By Bram Steenhuisen

Sindh, Pakistan – The April 25th decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to officially recognize transgender people as the third gender marked a groundbreaking development that has gone relatively unnoticed by the outside world. It was the most significant judgment in a series of decisions the Court has taken over the last year and a half aimed at protecting the rights of the Khawaja Sara – a term encompassing transvestites, transsexuals and transgender people. There are signs that these decisions are already starting to bear fruit in this conservative nation of 187 million people. “It really is unbelievable” says Sanam Faqueer, an activist from the southern city of Sukkur and focal person on Khawaja Sara issues for the provincial government of Sindh. “Finally there is a real chance our problems are starting to be addressed.”

That the estimated 100.000 Khawaja Sara in Pakistan are being stigmatized becomes clear when the waiter rudely interrupts our interview in a dilapidated restaurant in the heart of Sukkur. While the dark space is near empty apart from a few mustached men who are enjoying their afternoon tea, the waiter tells Sanam to leave the restaurant at once because it soon will become busy. Sanam quietly picks up her handbag and tells me to follow her. “I have been dealing with this rejection all my life,” explains the 35-year old Khawaja Sara once we relocated to a friend’s room nearby. “As a kid I was beaten up at school and when my dad got paralyzed when I was twelve my family blamed it on me. My life became unbearable, so I ran away.”

Sanam assists survivors of the 2010 floods in Pakistan. She hopes acts like this change the public image of Khawaja Sara. ©Sanam Faqueer

The position of Khawaja Sara in Pakistan is complex. The group is heavily stigmatized but is simultaneously being attributed special powers, explains Sanam. “If I’m walking into a room and there’s a power cut I hear people say that this is happening because of my presence. At the same time these people want me to sing songs to their newborn child because they think that this provides additional protection.” The confusion doesn’t end there. “Our greatest pain is that we do not know who we are ourselves. From the day we are born we have a female spirit in us and we want to do what a woman normally does, but physically we are a man. We are constantly asking ourselves who we are, but we never find an answer.”

The Supreme Court’s legal conclusion on their identity means both personal and official recognition for Sanam. “The Supreme Court has given us a legal identity. We no longer have to choose between genders but can be who we are. Secondly, we are now being recognized by the authorities at all levels. People in the local government have great respect for the Supreme Court. Previously we had great fear of the police and influential people. They ignored us when we reported an incident or wanted to access government services. But thanks to the recent decisions we now can easily access and discuss our problems with them, because they dare go against the Supreme Court.”

Khawaja Sara campaign in Sukkur on International Human Rights Day 2010 for equal treatment. ©Sanam Faqueer

While she didn’t finish high school herself, Sanam is trying to break that cycle in an effort to change the way Khawaja Sara  are perceived by society. Last year she handed out aid to the flood victims in her district and in 2009 she participated in a  cricket match between men and Khawaja Sara. “We beat those guys easily,” she says, clearly still enjoying the achievement. Sanam is urging young Khawaja Sara to also behave in a way that demands respect from the society, thereby changing the public’s perception of them. “Above all you should try to go to school. As difficult as it might be, stay at home until you’ve finished your school so you can work amongst the general population and make a contribution to society. Now is the time, because the Supreme Court has given instructions to the government to help us gain better access to education.” For those who are kicked out of their house Sanam envisions care homes for young Khawaja Sara so that they can keep studying. “And if a young Khawaja Sara is being denied access by the school itself they can come to me. As focal person for the provincial government we will try to solve the issue.  If necessary, we’ll go back to the Supreme Court.”


Bram Steenhuisen is a freelance journalist, photographer, and videographer based in Thailand. He focuses on social and political developments in (South/Southeast) Asia. Bram has a background in television production for various Endemol infotainment programs and MTV News. He holds a diploma in Journalism (SvJ, Utrecht), a BA in politics and development (SOAS, University of London), and an MA in Human Rights (University of Essex). He has worked for different NGOs in Thailand and Pakistan from early 2008 until mid-2011. Bram has spent almost four years living and working in South/Southeast Asia.





One Man’s Decision to Make a Difference


Colorado Dentist Considers Serving a Privilege

When a friend asked him to go to Vietnam with Children of Peace International (COPI), Colorado dentist Dale Feichtinger decided to make a trip that would change his life and also the lives of others. COPI was founded in 1993 by Binh Nguyen Rybacki, who fled Saigon in 1975. Her goal for the organization was to improve the lives of Vietnamese children living in an impoverished and war-torn country. In his six visits to Vietnam, Feichtinger has helped to make this goal a reality, providing healthcare and hope to children who often have neither.

“The biggest step in getting involved is making a decision to make a difference,” says Feichtinger about what he had to do to make his service in Vietnam a reality. After his first mission with COPI, Feichtinger knew that he would continue his outreach in Vietnam. With so many children who still needed care and with a limited amount of time and equipment, Feichtinger returned home from his first trip feeling as though the job was incomplete. Through his subsequent visits, he has been able to continue what he started.

Each trip with COPI focuses on medical and dental care for needy children of Vietnam. Feichtinger and the other care providers are able to have one-on-one interactions with the children they serve—children whose lives are markedly different than the lives of most American children.  In addition to the typical dental procedures such as fillings and extractions , Feichtinger  provides dental hygiene education in orphanages, schools and rural medical clinics.

“Team members benefit as much as those they serve,” Feichtinger says of the missions. “The served receive healthcare, an open ear and the feeling of not being forgotten, while the server leaves with the satisfaction of having just given 200 people something otherwise unattainable.”

It is this feeling of contribution that fuels Feichtinger’s desire to help. Now when he returns to Vietnam with COPI, Feichtinger feels as though he is visiting friends. On his second trip to Vietnam, Feichtinger encountered a 20-year-old street vendor who remembered him from the previous year. She walked with the team all day. During another mission, a Vietnamese woman came to the hotel where Feichtinger and his team were staying.  Hoping to see a team member from the year before, she rode a moped 40 miles just to say hello.

Feichtinger’s passion for Vietnam only deepens over time. He and his family are currently trying to adopt a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl who they met at an orphanage in 2005, and Feichtinger became a part of the COPI board of directors in 2010. “There is a need that I am able to help fill,” Feichtinger says of his reason for staying involved in Vietnam. As long as he is able, he will continue to serve.

Despite the fact that there are lots of people in the U.S. that need help, Feichtinger can’t ignore the need that he has seen in Vietnam. He explains, “Unlike in the U.S., the needy of other countries (not just Vietnam) simply do not have any way of receiving an education, health care, a place to sleep… If there is only one dentist per 100,000 people in the country, and that dentist is 250 miles away, you are not going to get an infected tooth extracted.”  So Feichtinger clings to his passion and to the message on the COPI website: “To serve is a privilege.”

If you are interested in donating to the cause of COPI, or if you would like to participate in a medical mission, visit

Information about the organization’s recent documentary, A Necessary Journey, is also available at


Jim Kelly Former NFL Quarterback & Hunter’s Hope

By: JP Peterson with Jenna Sampson
Photos Courtesy of Jill & Jim Kelly

On the day before the 2010 Super Bowl at The Delano Hotel on South Beach, NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was surrounded by celebrities of all types— including Queen Latifah, Chris Daughtry and Keyshawn Johnson. Hotel guests were being served champagne and Lobster Bisque, enjoying the sweet Florida breeze as it wafted through the lobby, caught up in the excitement that only a Super Bowl week can bring.

Kelly, an All-Pro quarterback for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996, led the team to four consecutive Super Bowls. It was here, on the eve of the biggest game he was never able to win, that he shared the greatest loss of his life. This great man, who has earned a place as one of the top quarterbacks of all time, recounted the devastating loss of his only son, Hunter.

Hunter was born with a rare genetic disorder known as Krabbe Disease, which affects the central and peripheral nervous systems. “The first couple months, he was in a lot of pain and was suffering,” says Kelly. “He was misdiagnosed twice. If they would have [done the Krabbe test] when Hunter was born, there is so much we could have done, but by the time we found out, it was too late.”

After the loss of their son, the Kelly family established a foundation, Hunter’s Hope, and have fought hard for legislation that will allow for every newborn to be tested for 54 diseases including cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and HIV, plus any diseases the American College of Medical Genetics deems necessary in the future. If doctors know immediately what they’re dealing with, they can often save the child’s life or significantly reduce the suffering. That’s what should have happened with Hunter Kelly. Every state tests differently so the Kellys have been traveling state to state to plead with politicians to help their cause.

“When Hunter died, I was devastated,” Kelly says. “I didn’t want to talk with anyone, and my wife Jill said, ‘Jim, if ever there was a time to use your name, this is it. Let’s not hide behind this. Let’s help other kids.”

The efforts of Hunter’s Hope Foundation are working and the federal law mandating universal screening has been passed. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been funded so nothing has been implemented on a national scale.

“I’m not real good at asking for money, but it takes money,” Kelly admits. “We are just a small grassroots organization. We send so much money to other countries, but we have so many major issues right here in this country we need to take care of. This is one where we can make a difference.”

In October 2010, Jill Kelly’s book, Without a Word…How a Boy’s Unspoken Love Changed Everything, was released. It quickly earned a spot on the New York Times Best Seller List, with a portion of the proceeds going to Hunter’s Hope.

“There are so many people out there that need to be encouraged,” says Jill. “I just hoped that this story would be a beacon of hope for these people—that God is real and that you can triumph in the midst of tragedy and that real joy can still be found in the midst of suffering.”

Together, Jim and Jill Kelly and Hunter’s Hope are saving lives and truly making a positive impact. And because of a boy named Hunter, thousands of children across the country are having a second chance at life.  For information about how you can help, visit


NFL: During Jim Kelly’s golden years with the Buffalo Bills, he became notorious for frustrating opposing teams by perfecting the no-huddle offense. Known as a blue collar quarterback with a strong work ethic, he led the Bills to six AFC East Championships and four consecutive Super Bowls.  Kelly was also known for his ability to make late drives, producing game-winning touchdowns (13 times) with less than two minutes on the clock. Kelly holds the all-time NFL record for most yards gained per completion (44) in a single game (September 10, 1995 vs. Carolina Panthers). At the time of his Hall of Fame induction in 2002, he was only the 8th quarterback in history to be selected on the first ballot. His touching Hall of Fame speech was dedicated to his son Hunter.

USFL: Kelly was drafted by the Bills in 1983, but chose to take a chance on a new league and sign with the USFL’s Houston Gamblers. When the league folded, Kelly signed with the Bills for the 1986 season.

College: As a quarterback for the University of Miami, Kelly was selected as a 1982 Heisman Trophy finalist along with fellow play callers Dan Marino and John Elway.

Positive Impact Magazine Creators Jen Hellmann & Charity Beck with Jim Kelly in Miami for the Superbowl 2010

For information about how you can help, visit


Entrepreneur Promotes Healthy Bladder Management


Entrepreneur Promotes Healthy
Bladder Management
“I have been blessed in my life to have the chance to make difference in people’s lives all over the world. The great thing about investing is that I can support worthy causes and give people an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had.”
We sat down with BioDerm CEO, Gary Damkoehler to find out why he’s getting into the incontinence management business.
PIM: You’ve been involved in a number of healthcare organizations, including running JSA Healthcare for over 20 years. In fact, you retired in 2006, what made you come out of retirement and get involved with the incontinence management field?
DAMKOEHLER: I first became aware of the incontinence and wound care industry in 2005 when I first came across BioDerm and their new product, Men’s Liberty. I’ve worked in healthcare for over 40 years, inspired by a feeling like there was something more I could be giving back to the world. I am blessed to have had so many opportunities to improve the lives of people all over the world.

I came back to work because I believe in this product. I know that the prevention of illness can improve people’s lives and save money. I am appalled at the poor urinary management options available to men and women who have served their country honorably and who will forever live with the consequences of explosions, vehicle collisions and gunshots. Our service men and women deserve the absolute best.
When I first encountered Men’s Liberty, I knew this could be a game changer for men with spinal cord injuries, prostate cancer and literally dozens of other illnesses. Incontinence is embarrassing; it’s hard to talk about. But dealing with it is so important to people’s quality of life. I come to work each morning enthusiastic about the possibilities for the day ahead. We’re re-writing the rules in healthcare for managing incontinence. It’s a whole new world out there and we’re leading the charge. That’s pretty darn exciting if you ask me.
PIM: What makes this product so different, so much better for men?
DAMKOEHLER: There is literally nothing else out there like Men’s Liberty. It’s truly a product that changes people’s lives. Nearly 1.5 million Men’s Liberty units have been used without a single reportable adverse event caused by the device including UTI and skin injury. Compare that to other outdated managements devices like indwelling catheters, condom catheters or diapers which have astronomical infection rates that result in additional medications, hospitalizations and even death. There is, quite simply, no comparison. We are head and shoulders above the rest.

The most important features of Men’s Liberty are:
a) It’s completely external – There is nothing in Men’s Liberty which goes inside the body. This eliminates one of the primary infection paths you find with indwelling catheters. As a completely non-invasive product, Men’s Liberty is more comfortable, easier to apply, reduces the need for skilled nurses to manage incontinence and improves health outcomes.
b) It’s made from skin friendly hydrocolloid – hydrocolloid has been used in wound care for decades. It is safe, skin friendly, latex free and hypoallergenic. Quite simply, it’s better for people’s skin. It reduces or eliminates skin tears, injuries all the while maintaining a secure seal for 24-48 hours.
c) It’s covered by Medicare, most state Medicaids, VA/TriCare, Workers Compensation and most private insurances. Most of our customers can get a healthier product for little to nothing out of pocket which helps their bottom line.

PIM: You have mentioned prevention frequently as an overlooked component of healthcare – why is prevention so important you?
DAMKOEHLER: Too often, in my opinion, healthcare professionals focus on treating an illness. It’s almost as though the disease is the important bit, not the person. I have a fundamentally different view. When I led JSA Healthcare, I made health improvement a priority and we made it profitable too. We focused on preventative care and we saw patients the same day if they were sick. That meant that people got the treatment they needed and dramatically reduced the number of patients who needed emergency treatment later on. Reducing hospitalizations made people healthier and in the end, it saved us money too! They say prevention is better than cure, and they’re right.
That’s one of the reasons I am such a believer in Men’s Liberty. We have to break the cycle of recurring illnesses and focus on helping people lead a healthier, more active, more fulfilling life. It’s about dignity, independence and the chance for people to reach out for something better. Men’s Liberty is there to help the man with prostate cancer play with his grandkids without wearing a diaper, to help young veterans complete in adaptive sports competitions without having an accident and help the caregivers and loved ones do a little bit less heavy lifting.
PIM: In addition to your business investments, you are also a local philanthropist. Can you tell me a little bit about your other philanthropic projects?
DAMKOEHLER: I’ve been involved quite a few over the years but the one that has had the greatest impact on me has been Maiti Nepal. I worked in Nepal as part of USAID in the 1960s and fell completely in love with the country and the culture. In 2004, I became one of the primary donors supporting the charity, Maiti Nepal (, which rescues women and children sold into the sex trade. The charity rescues women and children and helps them to recover from their traumatic ordeal and gain independence. The charity provides a safe haven including counseling, education and training so that women can gain their independence. They also provide housing to these women until they can get back on their feet.
Around the same time I also started collecting Tibetan antiquities. There are so many amazing pieces of history that are being lost everyday and I am passionate about preserving them so that generations to come can learn from them. Many of these treasures are currently being housed in the Damkoehler Gallery at the Museum of Fine Art in downtown St Petersburg. I am also an active member of the board of the Museum of Fine Arts and Admiral Farragut Academy where I also support a scholarship program for underprivileged young people who can benefit from advanced educational opportunities.
PIM: What motivates you to give back?
DAMKOEHLER: For me, it all comes back to a central belief in the fundamental resilience of the human spirit. We can triumph over adversity, but sometimes we need a little help. Whether that’s a trafficked children’s shelter in Nepal, a scholarship to attend a better school or a device that can make our veterans lives just a bit easier, it can all be a game changer in its own way.

Inset: Meet Men’s Liberty User Mike McLaughlin
Mike is one of thousands of American heroes who are living with a spinal cord injury and his story is an inspiration for all of us. Mike was a specialist in the Army from 1988-92 and served in the Kentucky National Guard from 1992-95. He was stationed at Ft. Knox, Ft. Hood, Ray Barracks Germany and then deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield and then Desert Storm. He was in Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Then one night, an accident changed his life forever. He woke up with a T1/T2 spinal cord injury and faced the daunting prospect of life in a wheelchair. For him, one of biggest challenges was coping with urinary incontinence. Mike started dealing with his incontinence using condom catheters which gave him irritation and continuously popped off. He then went to the Foley catheter which gave him continuous UTI’s. While reading Paraplegia News he came across Men’s Liberty. He got the samples, tried them, and has been a Liberty user now since 2003. He’s healthier, happier and now an active competitor in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. He has increased his activities by 50%, doesn’t have to go to the doctors all the time, and is not in and out of the hospital with UTI’s anymore.
Now, Mike enjoys hunting, fishing and competitive shooting, and is also the Sports Director/Team Coordinator for the Kentucky-Indiana chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. He will be competing at next year’s National Veteran’s Wheelchair games here in Tampa. He competes in archery, trap shooting, air rifle, and field events. This will be his 6th time going and competing at the wheelchair games. He prides himself in helping others during the Games.
“For those who are looking for something new, start with the best instead of dealing with the misery from the rest. The freedom Liberty has given me is priceless.”


Everyday Heroes Honoree Gloria West-Lawson

At a very young age, an encounter with a foster child left a lasting impression on Gloria West Lawson.
After graduating from Eckerd College with a BA in Human Development Services, she began her career working with troubled youth. Time and time again she encountered children in foster care that were suffering: children who were separated from there siblings, children who had changed schools numerous times throughout their education, children who feared they’d never be a part of a family again, children who had been in more placements than they could remember, and children whose behavior was so out-of-control that they were no longer growing up in a home; but a facility. These children’s stories became Gloria’s driving force to work toward improving our community’s foster care system.
After raising three children, she wanted to help give other children what all children deserve – a loving, secure and stable home: the fundamentals of building strong, independent and capable adults.  She founded Fostering Hope Florida in 2004. In 2006 the first Hope House began accepting children.  Fostering Hope Florida now owns three homes and its mission is not only to provide loving support and a stable home for foster children, but to keep siblings together during a difficult and stressful time in their young lives. Additionally, Fostering Hope works toward bringing community support to all foster homes.
In recognition of her good work in our community, Gloria was nominated for the Energizer Bunny Award in 2009, she was awarded the Bright House Everyday Hero Award in 2010, and she received the Woman of Peace Award in 2011.  Gloria continues to act as Executive Director for Fostering Hope. In addition she served as a Guardian AdLitem for dependent children in the 6th Judicial Circuit for 8 years. And along with her husband Jerry, she fostered 12 teenagers in her own home and they adopted two teen brothers in 2012. She considers herself a friend and an advocate to all children in foster care and their foster families.
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