Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your old cell phone can become an effective tool in the fight against domestic violence.

Instead of discarding it, take your old or broken phone to the nearest Verizon Wireless store. It will be put to good use against domestic abuse through Hopeline, a cell phone recycling program.

The importance of Hopeline becomes clear once you understand that nearly half of all the women murdered in the city are killed by their intimate partners.

A Health Department report released in September shows that 44% of the women killed between 2003 and 2005 died at the hands of their boyfriends or spouses.

That's why Commissioner Yolanda Jiménez, of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, is enthusiastic about the Hopeline program.

"It provides a simple and concrete way for people to help," Jiménez said. "Verizon has been our partner since 2002, when the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence was established."

The help Hopeline provides is substantial. Last year, the program donated $1.5 million to some 350 anti-domestic violence organizations across the country.

In New York, Verizon Wireless has donated $1 million in products, services and cash grants since 2001, including more than $150,000 to the New York City Family Justice Center Initiative.

How does Hopeline work? People are asked to take their old phones - regardless of service provider, make, model or technology - to any Verizon store nationwide. Those that can be refurbished are resold, and those without value are disposed of "in an environmentally sound way."

The proceeds from the donated phone sales are used to provide cell phones, free minutes and cash grants to local shelters and nonprofit groups that focus on domestic violence prevention and awareness.

The program, established first in New York in 1999 and later expanded to the rest of the nation, has been a great success. Last year Verizon collected 1.13 million old cell phones across the United States.

New Yorkers have been an important part of that effort: More than 250,000 phones have been collected in the city since 2001.

"Verizon Wireless is proud to have the best and most loyal customers in the business," said president and CEO Lowell McAdam.

Verizon "has virtually touched just about every domestic violence organization registered with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence working within our region," said a Verizon spokesman.

It is encouraging, Jiménez said, that in the last six years there has been a dramatic 32% decrease in homicides related to domestic violence in the city.

She believes the reduction is due to a combination of private sector involvement, better police enforcement and the social services her office provides.

Jiménez is especially proud of the Family Justice Centers her office created in Brooklyn and Queens. Another one will open in the Bronx in a few months.

"They are like one-stop shops where domestic violence victims can get information and services under one roof," she said.

"Immigration lawyers, help with housing or family problems - clients walk in and choose which services they want. They are free and available to all."

Yet the domestic violence epidemic is far from over, Jiménez said. The NYPD receives nearly 600 calls daily dealing with domestic abuse issues, and her office's hotline gets 400 more. Victims still need all the help they can get - and Hopeline is as important as ever.

For more information, call the NYC 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE, or 311.

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