ANNAPOLIS – Maryland residents, businesses and non-profits can help victims of domestic violence by donating old cell phones to HopeLine, a Verizon Wireless program that refurbishes, recycles and sells used cellular phones for the benefit of domestic violence victims and advocacy groups nationwide.
The program recently received more than 600 phones from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, the Howard County Sheriff’s Department and Maryland Shock Trauma.
“Cell phones can be a critical connection to emergency services for someone who is frightened, threatened or endangered,” said Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
Verizon is not the only industry phone donor. The Wireless Foundation, the philanthropic foundation for the wireless industry, has a similar phone donation program, CALL TO PROTECT, which collects used phones and then provides new ones with airtime to domestic violence shelters.
“Cell phones can be a real lifeline for victims, and that’s the most important thing about these programs,” Cohen said.
More than 2 million used phones have been donated to HopeLine for recycling since 2001, and advocates agree access to a cell phone, with air time, can be lifesaving for victims.
“There are other groups that just recycle the phones and hand them back with no service attached,” said Cindy Southworth, technology director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “The problem is if there is no service attached, a battered woman is less likely to keep it charged.”
Southworth and other advocates agree programs that offer phones with air time rather than just 911-access allow victims to stay more connected to children, family and their own advocates.
Recent studies show people upgrade or change their wireless phones as frequently as every 18 months.
“There are a lot more phones these days available for donating,” said Sherri Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.
“By donating a used phone you are potentially donating to a program that could save someone’s life.”
HopeLine and CALL TO PROTECT also provide financial grants and sponsorships to domestic violence prevention programs and organizations.
Last month, four Maryland non-profits were awarded $2,500 in HopeLine wireless phone-recycling grants for the improvement of their domestic violence prevention programs.
The Family Violence Program at Sinai Hospital will use the grant to provide educational sessions on reducing dating violence and bullying, the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County will purchase and install a security system for a new safe house, the Johns Hopkins University Urban Health Institute will implement a study of abusers and the Shore Health System in Easton will train pediatric emergency room nurses treating children who are victims of abuse.
“The company was looking for a way that our product could really make a difference in people’s lives,” said Cunningham. “We recognize that domestic violence is a problem that affects everyone regardless of where you’re from or how much you make.”
Advocates also say these programs have brought a greater sense of awareness to the community and corporations by offering an alterative to throwing away obsolete cell phones.
“Verizon becoming involved in this is setting a cornerstone in involving the community in this issue,” said Jill Morris, public policy director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s a phenomenal program . . . it brings corporate attention to a very critical social issue, violence against women.”
Donations for HopeLine are accepted at all Verizon Wireless Communications stores around the country, and do not have to be Verizon phones.
Individuals can find local drop off sites for CALL TO PROTECT on the Web at www.calltoprotect.org.