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Since 2004 Sonia Kothari has donated more than 2,000 used cell phones to help victims of domestic violence in the midstate. Kothari’s long-standing devotion inspired Verizon Wireless on March 29 to donate $5,000 in Kothari’s name to YWCA of Greater Harrisburg.

The money will go toward the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Medical Advocate program, which trains people to advocate on behalf of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who are brought into the center.

Kothari, 17, said she wasn’t motivated by any personal connection with a victim. Donating old phones just seemed something easy she could do to make a difference. “At first I thought, this was really weird. I didn’t understand it, I was 11. Until I saw where the phones were going and who they were helping.”

She hasn’t done this alone. Kothari is helped by a woman who works at the medical center who puts boxes throughout the center where people can drop off phones. When the boxes are full Kothari collects the phones and donates them to the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program. Kothari declined to identify the woman.

HopeLine arranges for the phones to be refurbished and donated to shelters, where the phones are given to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Phones that cannot be reused still have value, as metal in the phones can be recycled and proceeds given to help support shelters, said Natalie Meyer, spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.

Tina Nixon, CEO of YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, said victims fleeing from violence often arrive at a shelter without a cell phone, with no money and with nothing more than the clothes on their back. The donated phones come with free minutes and are programmed to dial 911 at the touch of a button.
Nixon said victims can keep a phone as long as they wish. Victims who get back on their feet often re-donate their own phone to be used by another victim, she said.

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