THE Giraffe Project finds people nationwide who "stick their necks out for the common good." The nonprofit organization was created in 1982 by Ann Medlock, a New York free-lance journalist who, at that time, was tired of always reporting bad news. So far, the group has found 700 "giraffes," several of whose stories have appeared in local and national media.
Nellie Yarborough was chosen because "we decided she was taking a risk and indeed making a difference for the common good," says Eileen Gombosi of the Langley, Wash.-based organization. The group receives nominations for possible giraffes from different parts of United States, as well as several countries. A special committee then decides which individuals should be so honored.
In California, for example, Catherine Sneed was recognized for her gardening program and a follow-up job-training program for inmates at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno. Another honoree is Cynthia Kelly of New Haven, Conn., who voluntarily distributes 50,000 pounds of potatoes each month to the city's poor. Twelve-year-old Laura-Beth Moore of Houston is also a giraffe: She started up her own neighborhood recycling program and was asked by the mayor to help other neighborhoods duplicate her pro gram.
"Our mission is to publicize these stories so that these people are spark plugs for the community, for the nation," Ms. Gombosi says. "They are the catalysts so that others look at their stories and act on their examples."
Besides its many volunteers, the Giraffe Project has a paid staff of seven. It is funded by 37 foundations, private donors, and membership dues. Members learn about the latest giraffes through the group's two publications. The organization also sponsors lectures, workshops, and has a chapter based in Moscow. The project's "Standing Tall Teaching Guide" is an education curriculum for students in kindergarten through high school. The program teaches students to become involved in their communities.
"It gives kids in the classroom real examples of heroes, and it teaches them to be caring, active citizens," Gombosi says.