WASHINGTON, May 23 -

Mr. Speaker, RAINN, Merced's Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force, Michele Steeb, Martha Herm, LaWanda Hawkins, and Suzanne Beaudoin are six selfless individuals and organizations that have changed the lives of innumerable victims around the country.

Recently, the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus honored these very special advocates and organizations during our annual VRC Awards Ceremony for going above and beyond for victims.

Congressman JIM COSTA and I serve as co-chairs of the Victims' Rights Caucus.

I nominated RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, for the Suzanne McDaniel Award for Public Awareness. Just like Suzanne, RAINN has pioneered efforts in the victims' rights community.

RAINN was founded by my friend Scott Berkowitz. It began with the creation of the National Sexual Assault Hotline and has grown to assist and advocate for victims in a variety of innovative ways. Although Scott is from New Jersey, he's a lot like a Texan, and that is why I respect him so much.

Scott and his organization RAINN do not stop until they reach their goal. And their goal is to prevent sexual assault and serve the victims of this awful crime. RAINN never gave up advocating for the SAFER Act (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act), a bill to end the rape kit backlog. This organization knows firsthand the importance of testing rape kits in order to bring justice to victims and put perpetrators behind bars. Because of RAINN's unceasing efforts, the SAFER Act was signed into law as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act earlier this year.

RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline has served more than 1.5 million victims, and the number of victims affected by RAINN's other services and advocacy are countless. Groups like RAINN turn victims into survivors.

Merced's Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force, nominated by VRC co-chair Congressman JIM COSTA for the Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation, is helping to prevent crime before it happens.

This organization is a collaboration of local leaders formed in 2006 in response to gang related violence in the Merced community.

The Task Force makes Merced a safer place by educating the community about violence, promoting character development, and providing information for families and youth.

From Gang Awareness Workshops to Merced County's first anonymous ``text a tip'' line, the Task Force has contributed greatly to the Merced community. Organizations like this Task Force are critical to stopping our citizens from becoming victims.

Congressman COSTA'S fellow member of the California Delegation, Congresswoman DORIS MATSUI, a particularly active member of the Caucus recognized a leader in her community, Michele Steeb. Ms. Steeb, the CEO of St. John's Shelter Program for Women and Children in Sacramento received the Allied Professional Award for her dedication. Under Ms. Steeb's guidance, St. John's Shelter Program has expanded into more than just a safe place for women and children but a program to help victims thrive. The unique assistance offered like parenting classes, financial management classes, and on-the-job training empower the victims under Ms. Steeb's care to take on the world. Leaders like Michele Steeb transform the lives of crime victims.

Like Michele Steeb, Martha Herm runs a domestic violence program with innovative, community-based components that have lead to the betterment of Peoria, IL for years. Ms. Herm is the Executive Director at the Center for the Prevention of Abuse, which she has lead for many years. The Center for the Prevention of Abuse is well known and highly regarded in Congressman Aaron Schock's district. To honor Ms. Herm's leadership, Congressman SCHOCK nominated this hero to victims with the Ed Stout Memorial Award for Outstanding Victim Advocacy. This award honors the memory of Ed Stout, the Director of Aid for Victims of Crime of St. Louis, MO--one of the nation's three oldest victim assistance organizations--who died in 2005 following a 30+ year career of inspiring crime victims and those who serve them.

Through Ms. Herm's efforts, the Center has grown from serving mainly women and children to serving all populations and working to stop violence before it starts. In the words of Mike McCoy, the Sheriff of Peoria County, ``Martha Herm is a constant voice for those in need.''

LaWanda Hawkins is another one who helps those in need. Congresswoman KAREN BASS nominated her for the Eva Murillo Unsung Hero Award. Ms. Hawkins is an inspiration to her community and mothers around the country.

I won't forget the story Ms. Hawkins shared with us during the award ceremony. One day she was in her car, listening to a story on the radio about a young man that was murdered. She prayed for the young man and his family the whole car ride, only to find out later that it was her own son, Reggie. He had been tragically murdered.

Ms. Hawkins never wanted another family to feel the pain she felt when she answered the phone that day notifying her that the young man she heard about on the radio was her son. She connected with other parents who experienced similar tragedies. They realized that their cases were not being solved, and they were left out of the criminal justice process. Ms. Hawkins knew that this was not right and in 1996, founded Justice for Murdered Children. Through her organization, she provides a variety of services to families of murdered children, including legal assistance, family support groups, counseling, and community outreach and education. Not only does she continue to help aid families, but she successfully advocates for legislation to protect victims' rights.

Ms. Hawkins is a force to be reckoned with and a true champion for crime victims.

Suzanne Beaudoin is another bold woman who dedicated her life to serving crime victims. She was nominated for the Ed Stout Memorial Award by one of our newest VRC Members, Congressman MARK POCAN from Wisconsin. Like Ed Stout, Ms. Beaudoin has seen her work directly benefit survivors of crime.

Suzanne Beaudoin currently serves on the Wisconsin Crime Victims Council and has been the Director of the Victim Witness Unit of the Dane County District Attorney's Office for 20 years.

Throughout her years working in the Victim Witness Unit, she established ground-breaking programs in her community and advocated for critical victim legislation, including Wisconsin Victim's Rights Constitutional Amendment and the establishment of a local children's advocacy center. We are thankful for Ms. Beaudoin and those like her who guide victims through the criminal justice system and address the needs of survivors.

The work of these determined individuals never ceases to amaze me.

America is the greatest country in the world because of people like these. And that's just the way it is.