ANAHEIM, California--Victoria Lê breathes deeply before telling the Viễn Đông about what she has experienced during the past year, from about ten rescue missions to charity work and award nominations.
Still, she feels the pain of loss, her sadness unchanging despite the passing time.
On 1 April 2011, Victoria ate dinner with her parents, waiting for her brother to return from a hike, but he never did. Instead, police officers showed up at their door, informing them that Joe Lê had fallen into the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest while attempting to cross a bridge.
After law enforcement called off its rescue, Victoria was supported by over 150 people during a two day recovery search for Joe’s body. On 3 April 2011, it was found, age 20 and lifeless.
On the one year anniversary weekend, Victoria tells the Viễn Đông that rather than eat at home, her family decided to go out for dinner. It is not that they wanted to forget Joe, it is just difficult to revisit the evening when they discovered he was missing.
“It still feels like it was yesterday no matter how long it has been,” Victoria says, adding that she lights candles in Joe’s room daily and has kept everything exactly in its place. “The only thing is he’s not here.”
G.I. Joe S&R
While Joe is not physically present, Victoria and others keep his memory alive through the G.I. Joe Search and Rescue: Joe Le Foundation, a nonprofit organization mainly known for assisting families and law enforcement on search and rescue missions. Responding only by request, these volunteers continue searching for lost loved ones after law enforcement lacks time and resources.
Recognized for its commitment and time, G.I. Joe S&R was honored in March 2012 for the 2012 OC One Spirit of Volunteerism Award in the Human and Community Category, labeled an “outstanding community volunteer team” on the OC One website.
Victoria tells the Viễn Đông that G.I. Joe S&R has revamped the organization over the past year, creating more specific departments and leadership positions while focusing more on training. All of these efforts are putting the foundation on the path to becoming nationally certified, she adds, giving it more credibility and access to a broader network of volunteers outside of California.
Yet, aside from its search and rescue efforts, the foundation has also volunteered its time and money to help people outside of the United States, consistently raising funds to provide food and hygiene products for poor and ill people, as well as orphaned children in Vietnam.
In February 2012, Victoria’s parents, Hoang Lê and Thu Ha Ngo personally packaged and delivered the supplies to shelters, hospitals, and foster homes in Ho Chi Minh City.
“We’re just there trying to help whenever we possibly can,” Victoria says, adding that her desire to help others is a reflection of what Joe would want. “This organization is all by heart.”
Despite the efforts G.I. Joe S&R is making to reach out to the community at home and abroad, there are various obstacles hindering higher levels of success. For example, while the foundation has received an abundance of support from local Asian communities, Victoria says it has had trouble gaining such support from the mainstream.
Other barriers involve a thought among some people that nonprofits are not to be trusted, while further barriers include the lack of governmental grants available for less popular organizations, Victoria says.
“It’s just hard to get our names out there,” she continues, though adds that G.I. Joe S&R persists, attempts to becoming more noticed by making visibility its priority.
On 7 April 2012, G.I. Joe S&R will hold a social fundraiser commemorating its one year anniversary at the The Pint House in downtown Fullerton at 4:30 p.m. Attendees can meet with volunteers, ask questions, and donate a fraction of their dinner bill to the foundation.
For more information on the fundraiser and G.I. Joe S&R in general, visit http://www.gij411.org/ online.