Honoring those for sticking a neck out for common good

Despair. Disgust.

Those were just a couple of the feelings Ann Medlock felt while watching and listening to media in the early 1980s. She felt the media’s crosshairs were too focused on the negatives of the world rather than the positives. Medlock knew there were people out there doing enlightening and empowering things, yet no one was there to tell their stories.

“I kept thinking, ‘In all this wide torrent of disempowering news, I bet there’s somebody who’s got an idea on how to fix that,’” Medlock said.

It turned out that somebody was her.

Medlock, an 83-year-old Clinton resident, is the founder of Giraffe Heroes Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to telling the stories of those who “stick their neck out for the common good” across the globe. There have been over 1,300 “Giraffes” in the years since, and all their stories can be found on the organization’s website at giraffe.org

They include humanity workers, attorneys, educators, civil leaders and countless others who fight corruption, gang violence and environmental threats, just to name a few. The “Giraffes” are also from a host of different countries including Kenya, India, Egypt, Tibet, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

By telling their stories, Medlock hopes it will inspire others to become more active citizens. The criteria for a “Giraffe” nominee includes taking a significant risk for the common good, “alleviating suffering, rectifying injustice, or advancing goals such as peace or a healthy environment,” according to the organization’s website.

Medlock operates out of her office in Langley, while there are eight other affiliates with the organization overseas.

Her husband, John Graham, is the director of operations for the Giraffe Heroes Project and a former U.S. diplomat.

Graham said telling the stories of the heroes has an immense impact on changing people’s behavior, a fact that he said Medlock figured out early on.

The project has taken them to sometimes difficult and dangerous places in developing countries, that are in need of hope, guidance and shining a light on active citizens. In the early 1990s, the project was involved in the transition of the Soviet Union into Russia. It is also currently involved in Zimbabwe, where a dictator is running the country and where human rights issues, corruption and poor leadership is taking place, Graham said.

“We’ve become an important political force in Zimbabwe in a key point in its transition,” Graham said.

“Here from our little Langley office, we were having an impact on history,” he added.

In Medlock’s eyes, no “Giraffe” is superior to the other. There are no awards given out to the top “Giraffe” because to do so would defeat its purpose. Medlock said professional fundraisers have tried to give “Giraffe” awards to famous people in exchange for money.

“We have some respect for the choices we make, and if we started doing that, no one would respect our choices,” Medlock said. “It helps to not give a damn about money.”

Medlock really doesn’t. She once mortgaged her house to keep the organization afloat and declined to keep any money raised by the organization in order to pay her staff.

The organization’s philosophies also reached classrooms in 1991 and is known as the “Giraffe Program.”

“It’s about training them to be brave and compassionate citizens,” Graham said.

Lynn Willeford, board president of South Whidbey at Home, was a freelance writer for the project for around half a decade.

“It’s incredible,” Willeford said. “…To me, there is nothing that represents taking personal responsibility more than someone who sees a problem and says, ‘I can help fix that,’ and actually does it.”