Real Life Heroes: CoVa Giving Back Awards 2015

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Coastal Virginia Magazine is proud to reveal the fourth annual Giving Back Awards winners. The awards aim to highlight the real superheroes of our region that tirelessly work to address the many needs of our community and the people in it. After a nomination period and a series of online voting rounds, the following 50 local charities received the highest accolades. Our staff was honored to spend time volunteering with our top three non-profits.


hope for life rescue virginia beach1. Hope for Life Rescue

610 Jack Rabbit Rd., #1, Virginia Beach. 757-491-4609.

Established: February 2002, after 7 years of prayer.

Mission: To rescue, rehabilitate and place abandoned, abused and neglected animals in forever loving homes.

Key people: Director Pauline Cushman and “our people—both volunteer and paid—who tirelessly give of themselves to benefit the needs of helpless animals,” Cushman says.

Programs: Hope Center is the free-roam facility where cats and dogs are placed after rescued and brought to full health until adopted. Next door is their Hope’s Garden Resort & Boutique, which is a vacation and day care facility for cats and dogs that also offers grooming services and bordatella vaccinations. All of the resort’s proceeds directly support Hope for Life Rescue. Their Heart to Heart program matches senior pets with seniors that are lonely and in need of a furry companion; no adoption donation is received. Helping Hands of Hope allows Hope for Life Rescue to provide food and medication for pets in need when families undergo financial difficulties. Partners in Hope allows individuals and businesses to partner with them to save lives by committing to a monthly payment. Samuel Fund exists to fund the bills of severely abused animals and their medical needs.

Volunteer Opportunities: Each day, Hope for Life Rescue’s volunteers walk dogs every two hours, scoop and clean litter boxes, sterilize the rooms, sweep and mop, wash and refill food and water bowls, answer phones, groom animals and keep up the general cleanliness of Hope Center.

What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “We need financial resources, but we also need a lot more space,” Pauline says. Hope for Life Rescue does not receive grants or city or state funding. By operating solely on donations, financial resources are always welcomed, but a larger space is needed to continue to rescue and accommodate more animals.

What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? “It’s all about saving lives and helping people.” More than 5,500 animals have been rescued and brought to full health in the 13 years that Hope for Life Rescue has existed.

Read about our volunteer experience with Hope for Life.


blankets for the homeless mariah smith2. Blankets for the Homeless

Century Drive, Virginia Beach. 757-434-4543.

Established: Started in October 2011 by Mariah Smith, 17 years old at the time, after helping her first homeless man at a Sonic restaurant. “It was freezing cold, and we just happened to have a blanket in the back of our van,” Mariah recalls. “When I gave him the blanket and some food, the look of desperation he gave me—but thankfulness at the same time—was something I’ll never be able to forget.”

Mission: To encourage and inspire as many people as possible to join them in helping the homeless and to change the way people view the homeless. “Homelessness doesn’t discriminate; it can happen to anyone,” Mariah expresses. “Their circumstances are unreal. We hear so many of these stories, so often, every day.”

Key people: Mariah Smith, founder; Moira Askew, Smith’s mother and partner. Also, Smith’s father, brother and everyone who gets involved.

Programs: Smith is a full-time student at Regent University but still carries out all the tasks pertinent to the organization, including: speaking engagements; collecting and sorting donations; lunch-making; and distributing blankets, coats, hats, gloves, clothes, shoes, backpacks, tents, toiletries and anything else the homeless need throughout Coastal Virginia—after school, between homework, seven days a week.

Volunteer Opportunities: Sorting through the donations and helping to organize everything, assisting at their storage units, making lunches and hosting donation drives for the items they distribute. Mariah encourages those interested in volunteering to visit their website and Facebook page to learn about current volunteer opportunities.

What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “Our biggest need is to acquire funding as soon as possible so that we can successfully continue what we’re doing and so that we can soon have a location—a commercial space, a warehouse space of some kind. We work out of our tiny duplex, so it’s become a little bit overwhelming. There would be so many more opportunities for people to get involved if we actually did have a building to work out of.”

What is the most rewarding part about what your non-profit does? “It is bittersweet helping the homeless because it’s hard to see the way that they’re living, but it’s also a blessing to know that we’re making some sort of a difference in their lives. It’s just the most remarkable thing for them, and that makes everything worthwhile for us.”

Read about our volunteer experience with Blankets for the Homeless, and learn how to make your own blessing bags to give to people in need.

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