WASHINGTON - It has been over a year and a half since American journalist, James Foley was executed by ISIS.
Since then, James' mother, Diane Foley, has been working tirelessly on hostage-related issues. On Tuesday, Diane was in Washington, D.C. for the first annual James Foley Freedom Awards at the Newseum. She spoke exclusively with FOX 5 to tell us about her work, the advancements in the policy and why it means so much not just to her family, but for all of us.
A freelance war correspondent in Syria, James Foley was committed to uncovering the truth. He spent several months reporting on the Syrian civil war. Before that, his mother says he was an instructor with Teach for America.
"As he saw those struggling with access to education, with freedom to speak, he became more and more passionate about the human right aspect of freedom of speech," his mother explained.
In 2012, James was abducted and held for two years before becoming the first American beheaded by ISIS. Not knowing where to turn, those two years of his captivity were horrible for the Foley family.
"It's a very terrifying experience." Diane said, "We didn't know how to advocate for Jim. We wasted a lot of time trying to find legal help."
The Foley family isn't alone. An estimated 200 to 300 Americans are taken hostage each year. Diane Foley has been instrumental in helping bring the group Hostage US to America. The independent nonprofit organization helps families like the Foleys get help at the most desperate time.
"To think that there could be 300 families a year going through this terrible ordeal without the support they need," said Rachel Briggs, Executive Director of Hostage U.S. Briggs says they offer everything from free counseling to legal, financial help.
"Hostages are not always paid while they're being held, and we work routinely with families that go from a comfortable middle class existence to surviving on a part-time nursing salary," Briggs explained. "Through the kind of support we provide to families, they, I think, become better equipped to become the advocate for their loved one."
All of that work is done at the through government level, a battle Diane has also taken on. And as a result of her efforts, the Obama administration has made policy changes and advancements in issues related to hostage recovery efforts.
"I applaud our administration for launching the hostage review, for starting a new entity, the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell," Diane explained.
Diane is continuing to keep her son's legacy alive by fighting for the freedom of the press.
"He believed in it," she said. "He believed that it was foundational to our democracy."
"Jim's spirit challenges me, and just with the hope of being able to advocate for some of the things Jim cared deeply about is healing for me," Diane told FOX 5.
Diane and her husband John also run the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, an organization that seeks the safe release of American hostages abroad. They also provide support for freelance journalists, and promote educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.
More info: The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation