11/16/05 Students Arrange Over 1,500 Adoptions of Missing Persons
Omaha, NE, November 16, 2005--Sometimes, it seems as if there are few feel-good stories in the news about missing persons. Many of the stories covered would give the indication that there are only victims in the wake of this tragedy. These stories are viewed and often then discarded in the minds of the public. The viewers are detached from the situation, safe in their homes with their families beside them. Their involvement may end with those few seconds on the screen.
Rarely are we treated to a story that portrays hope for these left-behind families. How often do we witness someone becoming involved who has no personal tie to any missing persons or their families? This story, and the people who made it happen, accomplish both objectives: becoming involved and giving hope to the families of the missing.
In 2004, 20 year-old Danae Leali, a creative writing major at Ashland University in Ohio, heard about a unique awareness program for missing people called Adopt a Missing Person. The program is one in which photo buttons of missing persons from across the country are given to persons who wish to "adopt" that missing person, wear their button, and share their story. She, and a friend, Vanessa Wagner, were moved to take action. The two launched a campaign to get other students at the college involved. They succeeded in arranging for 432 adoptions of missing persons with students and staff at Ashland. The campaign culminated with an all day prayer vigil and remembrance for these missing persons.
Danae was not finished with the project, however. She wanted to see it expand to other schools and grow. She and Vanessa made plans to do a second campaign in 2005. They also worked behind the scenes to get other schools to participate, and in fact, just returned from a nationwide conference for residence hall associations. Vanessa stated: "These missing persons are real people, with hopes and dreams, family and friends, futures and pasts. Deep down I feel that most people want to change the world for the better and if they can start off with a simple project like this, it is one step in the right direction."
Danae's goal was to double last year's campaign number. The 2005 campaign ended with 4 participating schools and an astounding 1,511 adoptions of missing persons secured. Danae and Vanessa's campaign at Ashland University netted 1,380 adoptions. 25 adoptions were made at the University of Akron, and 106 at Loudonville High School. The Westlake High School Key Club is also participating, but with a later campaign date.
Danae had more than tripled last year's numbers, and has no intention of this being the last campaign: "That's what I want. It's beginning. Nobody really knows how far this could go...It's an important topic. It's something that's getting the media's attention, and it needs to be bigger."
On Wednesday, November 16th, Danae and Vanessa will proudly don their buttons, along with the other 1,511 persons who opened their hearts to help families they've never met, many of whom are thousands of miles away. They will hold an all day vigil at the Ashland University campus chapel, starting at 9am and culminating with a brief ceremony at 8:30pm. Giant greeting cards will be posted, one for each family of the missing, so that attendees can express their thoughts of hope. These will be sent to the families after the vigil. The press and public are invited and encouraged to attend.
The Adopt a Missing Person program was created by nonprofit organization, Project Jason, which assists families of missing persons and provides education for the public. Families of the missing provide photo buttons of their missing loved one and a personal biography, so that people all over the country can help by "adopting" their missing loved one. Adopters pledge to wear the button and share the story with others to increase the odds of location, and give hope to the families.
Kelly Jolkowski, mother of missing Jason Jolkowski, and founder of Project Jason, explains the impact of the program: "After the police have sifted through the clues in a missing person's case, and have no more leads, what the family has left is hope and awareness. The Adopt a Missing Person program enables people to be able to give these priceless gifts to the families. It helps them get through another day without their loved ones, knowing that a stranger cares. You just never know. The next person to see their face, may hold the key to unlock the mystery of their disappearance and be the catalyst that reunites a family."
To find out additional information about the Adopt a Missing Person program, please see http://www.projectjason.org/, and click on the Adopt a Missing Person link. All of the featured missing persons on the campaign can be found on this site, along with links to additional information about these cases.
Thank you to Danae and Vanessa, who never gave up on this idea. Thank you also to the participants, who opened their hearts to help someone whom they've never met. Thank you also to the people behind the scenes who made this campaign a success.
I will post media links here as they become available.
Video from the above posted news link:
http://www.ohionewsnetwork.com/ Go to "Featured Videos" and click on "Students Remember Missing Persons".