• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Chamber gathers phones for domestic abuse program

DON VIZI, executive director of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, with 50 or so cell phones donated to Verizon's HopeLine program, which gives new phones to victims of domestic abuse. The old phones are scrubbed, recycled or sold, and Verizon uses the proceeds for grants to non-profit groups and agencies around the country. (Photo by John McGary)

If you walked into the conference room of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce last week, you might have thought Executive Director Don Vizi had opened up a sideline business selling cell phones. Fifty or so of the old-style flip phones, many of them still in boxes, sat on the massive table. Vizi hadn't seized upon a new way to raise money for the chamber. Instead, with the help of the Woodford County Sheriff's Department and others, he was collecting the phones for "HopeLine," a program sponsored by Verizon. (HopeLine boxes are at the chamber, the sheriff's department, Carroll Floor Covering, McWilliams Law Office, the Versailles Municipal Building and Kentucky Bank.) The company's website said, "HopeLine collects no-longer used wireless phones, batteries, chargers and accessories in any condition from any service provider to benefit victims and survivors of domestic violence. Wireless phones given to HopeLine are turned into valuable financial support for domestic violence awareness and prevention initiatives." Verizon sells or recycles the old phones and donates new phones, complete with 3,000 minutes and 9,000 text messages, to local domestic violence shelters, non-profit organizations and agencies for use by victims and survivors. Verizon spokeswoman Jessica Thorpe said the donated phones are "scrubbed" by Verizon so that no personal information remains. "Often times when people leave a violent relationship, they pretty much go with what's on them," said Thorpe. The Verizon phones allow them to contact family, friends, employers and support services (though they're not limited to those numbers), and they can keep the new phones for a year-and-a-half. Since the program began in 2001, HopeLine has donated hundreds of thousands of phones and awarded millions of dollars in cash grants to non-profit organizations and agencies across the country. "I've done this before at many different chambers, to collect these things, because I think the whole program is really very important. . Some of these people just can't afford a phone. So, to give them a free phone . and free air time - I just think that's tremendous," Vizi said. Vizi put a notice about the program in the March Chamber newsletter and in an ad in The Sun. "We were going to try and just run it for a month, but then we thought, 'Well, it doesn't hurt anything to have these boxes out there, so we'll just leave them, and when we're not getting any more phones, we'll stop it," Vizi said. Vizi said Verizon will collect the phones or pay for them to be shipped. The chamber's involvement, Vizi said, is not unrelated to its mission of making Woodford County a better place to live and work - yet it's more than that. "I don't know any abused women . but there's so many of them out there, and there are probably abused men, too ." Vizi said. "And sometimes they don't have anywhere to turn to, and they're still being abused, and . they may not be able to afford a phone. "I'm hoping there aren't a lot of abused women in Woodford County. However, you never know. It helps our community, but it (also) helps a lot of communities," Vizi said.

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