Based in Richmond, Va, Catherine is a freelance writer specializing in stories about the arts, parenting, health and wellness, aging, and fascinating people.

From Here to Zambia, Gil Harrington Gives Back to Honor Her Daughter and Help Save the Next Girl

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In 2009, Gil and Dan Harrington experienced the crushing horror and devastation of having their 20-year-old daughter Morgan go missing after a concert in Charlottesville. 101 days later, her remains were found. In their determination to honor Morgan’s memory, the Harringtons devoted themselves to helping others. When talking about her commitment to charitable work, Gil Harrington asserts, “We can’t let evil win.”

Help Save the Next Girl: Gil and Dan’s Quest to Spread Lo

Their determination to persevere in the face of hate has led Gil and Dan to honor their daughter through several organizations that serve other people in need. One such organization, Help Save the Next Girl, grew organically out of a Charlottesville press conference that took place shortly after Morgan went missing. The Harringtons were fiercely determined to help save other girls from predatory violence and to prevent other families from having to experience the anguish they faced.

Gil, who serves as president of Help Save the Next Girl, works toward three goals:

  1. educating middle, high school and college students about violence and the ways they can protect one another;

  2. providing victim outreach by helping victims’ families spread the word about a missing person, sitting with them in court and helping pay for funerals; and

  3. lobbying for new laws that enhance safety.

As of now, Help Save the Next Girl has lobbied for the passage of many safety-related bills involving education on sexual violence, DNA collection and reporting of crime. When talking about her advocacy role, Gil says, “I’m surprised that’s another place Morgan has taken me.”

How Help Save the Next Girl is Waking Up Law Enforcement, Kids and the Media

Help Save the Next Girl partners with Roanoke and Radford Police Departments as well as the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and currently has 76 chapters in schools as far away as Oregon and California. Volunteers include people who knew Morgan, like her former professor and vice president of the organization, Jane Lillian Vance, and friends of other women who have gone missing. The organization presents safety summits that focus on promoting personal safety and preventing violence. “We’ve got to wake these kids up and keep them safe,” Gil says.

Help Save the Next Girl recently hosted an event for Missing Persons Day. This event enabled families with missing persons to talk to law enforcement officials, provide DNA samples and share their struggles with one another. Area church staff members were also available for family members who needed spiritual support.

The organization also works to improve relationships between victims and the media. In the past, Gil explains, there has been shame associated with rape and murder. People tend to assume the victim is somehow bad, in part because it helps them assuage fears that their loved ones could become victims. At times, that shame has kept victims’ families from talking openly to the media and sharing stories that could help cases to be solved. “We had to be the face of this kind of crime,” Gil says, “because we needed to collaborate with the media to find the serial killer who had killed our daughter.”

From Here to Zambia and Beyond: Morgan’s Legacy of Love

The Harringtons’ efforts to spread love in the face of tragedy have extended far beyond their Roanoke home. Both Gil, an oncology nurse, and Dan, a psychiatrist and Dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, are caregivers. They instilled the desire to give back in both Morgan and her brother, Alex, who has volunteered with children involved in domestic violence cases and with Camp Easterseals.

Thirteen years ago, Gil took her first trip to Zambia with OMNI, Orphan Medical Network International. This June will be the fifteenth time she will have traveled there to provide healthcare to the tribal regions near the OMNI School. The school serves 250 orphans in grades one through nine, and in 2012, the Harringtons honored Morgan by creating a three-classroom building named the Morgan Harrington Educational Wing. Most of the funding came from the Morgan Harrington Memorial Golf Tournament, organized by Morgan’s close friend Erin Cole. The two friends had been planning to travel to Zambia with the medical team after graduating from college.

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