December 5, 2013

Yes, it’s true.  As a comedian on the CNN Heroes of 2013 awards presentation observed, there were  only 10 “good people” being honored for extraordinary dedication to a cause of their choosing.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t many more people out there doing good things, but the numbers are really very small if you take the whole world’s population into account.

I am sure to watch CNN’s Heroes of the Year program every year.  Each year, I cheer and cry at their moving stories of bravery and resilience.  And, unlike mega-rich philanthropists, these are “ordinary” people whose names and exact deeds you won’t remember.  But they are indeed heroes — perhaps even moreso because money neither helped nor hindered their determination.

Everyone has a chance to nominate a hero on-line.  The categories are Community Crusader, Defending the Planet, Medical Marvel, Protecting the Powerless, Young Wonder (under 25), or Other.  You need to answer some on-line questions — Why does your nominee deserve recognition?  How has s/he made a difference for the better?  What was a specific incident or turning point that motivated your nominee?  Is there anything else that makes your nominee exceptional or unique?  How will being recognized as a CNN Hero further your nominee’s cause?

The diversity of the ten heroes is always impressive.  Gender, age, race, part of the world they come from, where they pursue their good deeds, and what motivates them to do what they do set them apart.   Some are motivated by hardships they faced in their own lives.  Or, as one hero, Chad Pregracke, put it, “If no one else will do anything about it, I will.”  But these remarkable people all share an important common thread.   Whatever their cause,  they didn’t wait for others to make the changes they wanted.  And with the strength of will and a long term needle-sharp focus on their goal, they found a way.

Winners this year were Dale Beatty, Georges Bwelle, Robin Emmos, Danielle Gletow, Tawanda Jones, Richard Nares, Kakenya Ntaiya, Chad Pregracke, Estella Pyfrom, and Laura Stachel.   They each received $50,000 from CNN, plus other donations sent in through the CNN Heroes website.  Chad Pregracke was chosen as the Hero of the Year, also selected through the website.  For 15 years, the Mississippi River has been cleaner because he, and those he could encourage to do so with him, cleaned up 7 million pounds of trash, most of which is recycled.  He looked totally shocked to be chosen as Hero of the Year, and true to his inclusive, generous nature, promised another $10,000 to every other 2013 Hero from his prize of $250,000.

Hooray for these ten truly extraordinary individuals, and for the many other volunteers who give of themselves to thousands of other causes.

December 13, 2011

I love watching the annual CNN Heroes of the Year show that started five years ago.  It takes a whole year to get nominations of innovative do-gooders from people all over the world, have on-line voting to select just ten of them, then select one of the ten to be the top winner, and prepare a Hollywood extravaganza to honor them.  Modeled after the award ceremony for the Oscars,  it has all the drama, glitz, tension, and tears of the Oscars.

Yes, there are stars there too, but they are secondary to the wondrous assortment of inspirational people the stars introduce who saw a need and became passionate to fill it.  The range of the good deeds of the heroes is very impressive, not only geographically but in every other way.   They overwhelmingly come from the 99% who are not wealthy.  They are “ordinary” people in overdrive.

Some are motivated by personal tragedies, such as a father and son who help non-professional football players who suffer devastating lifelong injuries that confine them to wheelchairs.  One energetic Italian chef in the U.S. prepares spaghetti with gusto and lots of nutritional marinara sauce for children who would otherwise go hungry.  A young widow mourning for her soldier husband created a sisterhood of young widows to keep each other alive and vital.  One grandmother opens her arms and her doors to gang members and street kids who think guns are their friends.   By offering them alternatives, these street kids decide to follow paths out of gunshot range.

Some help at home, wherever in the world that may be.  Others make dreams come true in faraway places.  The Hero of the Year went to Bali, Indonesia, to set up midwives and clinics for childbirth so new mothers and their babies don’t have to die for lack of proper care.   One very poignant Young Wonder named Rachel has brought fresh, healthy drinking water to Ethiopian children.  Rachel was 9 when she went online with Rachel’s wish to do something helpful for her fellow humans.  Tragically, she died in a car crash and contributions soared until she had received hundreds of thousands of dollars to do good things.  How proud she would have been to know all the good her wish has been able to do.

One African man visiting the U.S. saw the waste of thousands of small bars of soap being thrown out by hotels and motels every day.   He developed ways to collect the unused bars of soap before they are discarded, re-makes them into new bars of soap and, with wide smiles and  boundless energy, distributes them to African villages and teaches the children that using soap helps them stay healthy.

There were many barriers and hurdles, including finances, that these heroes overcame with their high motivation to make the world a better place, and can-do optimism.   We can’t all do what they do on a large enough scale to be a CNN hero, but I felt particularly proud of all the volunteering I have done, and still do, in my own life.  One of the reporters said he had investigated how many volunteer jobs it was possible to do with organizations within a five mile radius in Los Angeles and he came up with over 700!

Thank you CNN Heroes for giving us an evening to celebrate pure goodness of the heart.

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