Crime victims can benefit from donated cell phones

Meghan Gauriloff

What happens to old cell phones when they are replaced? Are they put on a dusty shelf, shoved in a desk drawer or tossed in the garbage?

Instead of neglecting old cell phones, some people decide to donate them.

Townhall II is a service organization that collects cell phones and distributes them among crime victims who come into contact with the organization.

The Victim Advocate Program, which is a part of Townhall II, gives donated cell phones to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and hate crimes, said Meghan Novisky, victim outreach specialist for the Victim Advocate Program.

“The reason we give them to crime victims is because after such a traumatizing experience, a cell phone makes them feel safer,” Novisky said. “It immediately provides a great sense of relief and safety.”

The only service available on the cell phones is the ability to dial 911.

“The program is really important because we live in a world that is so technically advanced that we forget some people can’t afford cell phones,” she said.

The program has been successfully running since it began three to four years ago, Novisky said. From March to September 2005, 119 cell phones were donated.

After Novisky receives donated cell phones, she checks to make sure each cell phone works and has a charger.

Sometimes people donate cell phones the program cannot use.

“We get the Zack Morris phones sometimes … the really huge ones,” Novisky said. “When we get phones we can’t use, we send them to Shelter Alliance.”

According to its Web site, Shelter Alliance is a program of GRC Wireless Recycling and provides fundraising opportunities to organizations that donate cell phones.

Novisky said Shelter Alliance sends the program $20 for every cell phone sent to them. The money received goes toward the Victim of Crime Act Fund, which is a grant that funds the program.

Crime victims can receive a phone by calling the helpline or by meeting with a victim advocate, a volunteer for the program.

All victim advocates keep cell phones and information in their cars to offer to victims they are meeting with.

“We try to do whatever’s easiest for the victim,” Novisky said. “We’re very flexible.”

The cell phones are for the victims to keep, and they are never asked to return them, she said.

“After giving a cell phone to a victim, the response we get is extraordinary,” Novisky said. “They are so grateful for it.”

Heather DeLong, junior health and human services major, first heard about the cell phone donation program when a representative from Townhall II came and spoke to her class.

“I think that it is a good idea because some people can’t afford to have cell phones,” DeLong said. “It’s especially good for women who have children.”

She said her old cell phones are on a shelf at home.

“If I had them here, I would donate them,” DeLong said.

Students who want to become a volunteer for the Victim Advocate Program can sign up for training beginning March 2 by calling Townhall II at (330) 678-3006.

The program lasts three weeks long and involves lectures, guest speakers and training on topics such as communication skills, Novisky said. After training is complete, victim advocates can sign up for call shifts and directly respond to victims.

“Advocates are there to help direct victims to resources,” Novisky said. “One of the resources is the cell phones.”

People who want to donate their old cell phones can either take them to Townhall II, 155 N. Water St., or an organization or residence hall can set up a box where people can donate their cell phones and someone from Townhall II can be notified to pick it up, Novisky said.

“By donating your phone, you’re highly impacting someone’s life in a positive way,” she said. “You can also prevent more crimes from occurring if victims are able to have access to phones to call the proper authorities.”

Contact social services reporter Meghan Gauriloff at [email protected].