December 11, 2012

Among all the doom and gloom in the media, CNN’s Heroes of the Year reminds us that there are ordinary people in the world making extraordinary differences.  Not only was it inspiring to meet this year’s heroes and their causes, but these were only the top 10 picked out of an even wider number of nominated heroes out there doing good.

Whether motivated by their own tragic life-events, or the desire to make life better for others, these heroes didn’t just whine and complain.  They did something to right wrongs, support  forgotten and unseen sufferers, and turn despair into hope.  Each had to face building something meaningful from nothing.  Finding funding to put their good intentions into practice was a daunting task, to say the least, but each hero faced that task and persevered.

It impressed me that most of the 10 heroes were women, and two Young Wonders were young indeed.  Will Larsey was only 7 years old when he started FROGS to supply food to the needy.   He’s only 9 years old now and, with a staff of his young friends, raised $20,000 for a Food Bank.  Because of young Cassandra Lin, 210 homes in Rhode Island have been heated by 100,000 gallons of used cooking oil.  What might the future hold for these two Young Wonders?

The heroes came from the U.S. to far away Afghanistan, South Africa, Nepal, and Haiti.  Each had a burning desire to right a wrong.  Each improved other people’s lives in some way.  Mary Cortani wanted to stop the suicides of veterans through service dogs whose wet noses and wagging tails helped them see life as something worth living.  Pushpa Basnet wanted to get children out of the prisons in Nepal where their parents were incarcerated to give them laughter, joy, and beauty.  Malia Villard-Apollon brought comfort and sisterhood to rape and domestic violence victims in Haiti.  Thulani Modano, Catalina Escobar, and Razia Jan have also found ways to make life better for others in their countries.

Grief was a powerful motivator for Wanda Butts who set up The Josh Project that has taught 1200 mostly Afro-American children to swim after her son drowned because he couldn’t swim.  Scott Strode wanted to share his own success out of drug addiction through sports with others in Phoenix.  Leo McCarthy turned the loss of his dear 14 year old daughter because of a drunk teen driver into 8,000 signatures of teenagers so far who pledge not to use alcohol and drugs when underage.

What differentiates these  Heroes, and those of previous years, from the rest of us?  They are a tribute to passion and resilience and I look forward to seeing  many more years of CNN’s Heroes of the Year awards.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at

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.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at

%d bloggers like this: