Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Encore: CNN Heroes

Aired December 25, 2008 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: What a crowd.

Good evening and welcome to our second annual tribute to CNN Heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whooo!

COOPER: Yes, you, too.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: We are here to honor a remarkable and remarkably diverse group of individuals. Now, if you think about it, these are people who weren't looking for fame. They never sought out the limelight. They are ordinary people, often toiling in obscurity, but they're doing extraordinary things and they deserve our recognition and our help. And tonight they're going to get it.

In this time of economic turmoil, in which every day we're seeing the results of greed and excess, it is such a relief to know that there are still heroes -- people who care more for others than they do for themselves.

When CNN put out the poll this year for heroes, we received almost 4,000 nominees from viewers around the world. Our blue ribbon panel, which included luminaries like Desmond Tutu, Magic Johnson, Jane Goodall and others, was entrusted with choosing the final 10. And we're going to meet these 10 heroes tonight and their message, their example just might change your life.

Each honoree tonight is going to be granted $25,000 to assist them in their work. It's a small way to ensure that more kids get clothed and fed, more men and women crippled by tragedy get back on their feet, or families devastated by natural disasters get a home.

At the end of the program tonight, one of our 10 will be named hero of the year and awarded an additional $100,000.

Now, more than a million votes were cast online to select the hero of the year and we thank everyone who took the time to vote. We've also got a group of heroes selected by "People" magazine. Since 1974, "People" has called attention to the courageous deeds of everyday Americans. And tonight, we'll pay tribute to six of "People's" 2008 Heroes Among Us.

And, of course, a great array of celebrities jumped at the opportunity to come here tonight and introduce our heroes. And we've got some amazing musical performances by Alicia Keys, John Legend and Christina Aguilera.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: I should also point out that if there's time, Larry King is going to be beamed in via hologram to sing "Where Is the Love?" by the Black Eyed Peas. So...

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Wait -- I'm being told there's no time for that. So, our loss.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's start things off with a hero who, for thousands of children, is the difference between a bright future and no future at all.

Here to introduce her is a proud supporter of Cedar Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute and the star of the new movie, "Nothing But the Truth, Kate Beckinsale.

(APPLAUSE)

KATE BECKINSALE: "Will you teach me?"

That is the question that transformed our first hero's life. A young friend of her granddaughter's asked, "Will you teach me?" And Viola Vaughn said yes.

Since that day, that one girl has turned into the school for 10,000 girls in Senegal. Viola didn't plan to become a teacher when she moved from Detroit. She hoped to retire, raise her grandchildren and watch the coconut trees grow.

When her husband died, her focus on her grandchildren's education helped turn her grief into the cause of her life. The girls in Senegal needed her to teach them.

For too long, parents, schools, towns and the country called them failures and gave up on them. But not Viola Vaughn. She knew they were success stories just waiting to happen. And so she stepped in to give them a chance so they could become brilliant, strong and self- sufficient women.

This great transformation started with a simple question -- "Will you teach me?" -- and our hero's amazing answer, "Yes." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIOLA VAUGHN: When we had 53 girls and I said all right, I'll go to 100 and the girls said no, we're going to do 10,000.

Come on in.

We can take almost any girl and with our peer education programs and psychological social support, we can make her a viable citizen in this community.

This is our philosophy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult for girls in Senegal going to school. A lot of girls drop out because they have to do a lot of the day to day taking care of younger brothers and sisters.

VAUGHN: We moved from Detroit to Senegal because I decided to be semi-retired, take care of the grandkids. This is when Mumgada (ph) showed up. She was nine years old. She asked me to help her get out of third grade. She had failed.

And I said I'm going to see your mother. And the mother said oh, it doesn't make any difference, because she's not very intelligent. And I told Mumgada to come the next day. And Mumgada came with three other girls. In two weeks, I had 20 girls.

And you see the ones who are not writing. They don't have the school supplies.

And if she can't afford the school books, she will begin to fail. So this is what they did. They started making cakes and pies and things to sell. And we got enough money for them to buy the school supplies. And the more we did, the more girls came.

The older girls teach the younger girls so they don't fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Viola Vaughn's program has virtually doubled the percentage of girls graduating from the national average.

(CROSSTALK)

VAUGHN: I'm his grandmother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how many grandkids do you have?

VAUGHN: About 1,500.

(LAUGHTER)

VAUGHN: Our goal is to have 10,000 girls and we're doing it with our sewing programs, with our agricultural programs and the girls running all this. I mean, it's going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen a woman like her.

I'm telling you, God is my witness.

VAUGHN: Me, I'm just a catalyst trying to help them know better, so they can do better.

OK, let's stand up and say it -- I'm the most beautiful person I know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm beautiful and I think that I'm the most beautiful -- beautiful in the galaxy.

VAUGHN: OK.

I didn't come to Africa to do this. I thought I would sit on the beach for the rest of my life. I had no idea that I would be in the middle of this almost desert with these girls working 10, 12 hours a day. But I like it.

(LAUGHTER)

VAUGHN: I love it. I do. I really do.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

BECKINSALE: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN Hero, Viola Vaughn.

(APPLAUSE)

VAUGHN: In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful, I thank first, Amy Meyers of Boston, Massachusetts for allowing me to be her hero and for her nomination to CNN. I didn't know anything about it.

(LAUGHTER)

VAUGHN: I thank Katia Tuania (ph), who is here with me tonight -- the little girl you saw sharing this honor, to not let me tell her no, I won't teach her.

I thank the participating girls in our program for allowing me to assist in directing their futures.

I thank them for learning that each girl counts.

I want to thank my grandchildren and I want to thank all my sister friends for being who they are and their support.

And, finally, I want to thank CNN for allowing us to know that we each can be a hero.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Salma Hayek and Hugh Jackson. Plus, a live performance by Christina Aguilera. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I met our next honoree in the streets of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana long after many people had forgotten about Hurricane Katrina. She left her home and comfortable life to help complete strangers rebuild their lives in the wake of the storm.

Here to tell her story is that global ambassador for the Mentors' Program, Terrence Howard.

(APPLAUSE)

TERRENCE HOWARD: Good evening.

"Let's go home" -- these three simple words became improbable words for the families of those who lost their homes and everything in Katrina. The whole world watched as the wind ripped their houses apart as if they were made of paper. A storm surge so powerful that it flipped cars on top of rooftops, as if they were a child's toy. And family after family watched as their cherished possessions floated away like leaves on a river.

Let's go home.

How can you when there's nothing left but a shell of the place that once housed your lives?

And that's where our next hero comes in -- Liz McCartney.

You see, she knows that some people just want to go back to the place that gave them so much. She knows that they don't want to start over in the next town or in another city or in another state. They just want to go home because their heart is still home.

And so Liz packed everything up, including her boyfriend, quit her lucrative job in Washington, D.C. and found a way to bring the families in St. Bernard Parish home with skilled volunteers and skilled technicians, she was able to rebuild their homes. And today she's helped 154 families go home.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIZ MCCARTNEY, COFOUNDER, ST. BERNARD PROJECT: Katrina roared through here about three years ago. It looks like it could have happened six months ago, three months ago -- block after block and mile after mile of devastated homes.

It's rough. It can't be possible. That can't happen in the U.S. You know, it just can't happen in the U.S.

My name is Liz McCartney. Six months after Katrina, I came down to St. Bernard Parish to volunteer with my boyfriend Zach. And what we realized the people needed most was help getting back into their houses. It looks like the family that used to live here -- they left quickly. So their photo album and some of their really personal things are still here. Look in the back, you can see a trophy from someone that was on the swim team and pictures of someone going to prom. It looks like a high school diploma, a picture of a mom who was expecting her first sonogram.

You know, they had no idea what was coming. If they did, they would have taken all this stuff with them.

This is a solvable problem. You can get a family back in here in a couple of months for not that much money. In fact, it would cost between $12,000 and $15,000 to get a family back in here, which is permanent, long-term housing.

We started the St. Bernard Project in 2006. The mission of the St. Bernard Project is to rebuild this community.

I didn't know anything about construction or building homes. It needed to get done and it was the right thing to do. The St. Bernard Project has had about 8,000 volunteers in the last two years. Without volunteers, this work would not be getting done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great.

JOYCELYN HEINTZ, 1512 CENTER STREET: When we decided to move back to St. Bernard Parish after Katrina hit, a lot of people was trying to discourage us. But this is our home and we would have never been able to have that chance had not St. Bernard Project came in and helped to fix our house. It's just wonderful. And I couldn't have done it without Zach and Liz.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sun is shining...

MCCARTNEY: So far, the St. Bernard Project has helped 150 families get back in their homes and we're working on another 35 families' homes.

Sometimes I'm afraid that people are going to forget and move on. And in a way, I sometimes think that some people have. But our goal is really to educate people so that they know what's happening down here and that they can be a part of the solution.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

HOWARD: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring CNN Hero, Liz McCartney.

MCCARTNEY: Thanks to CNN for this recognition and the opportunity to tell the truth about the rebuilding work that still needs to be done in the New Orleans area.

The truth is that more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, there's still tens of thousands of taxpaying American families who are struggling to rebuild. They live in FEMA trailers in double and triple depth. More than anything, they want to rebuild their homes and their communities.

Thankfully, there's a solution. With help from over 9,000 volunteers we've rebuilt 154 families' homes. If you join us, we'll be unstoppable.

I want to thank Zach Rosenberg, the other co-founder and director of the St. Bernard Project. He's the most inspiring visionary I've ever known and a great partner.

I want to thank...

(APPLAUSE)

MCCARTNEY: I want to thank the 9,000 volunteers from across the world who have pitched in and helped out. This award is a tribute to all of your heroic efforts.

To the country and the world, I ask you, please join us. Together we can continue to rebuild families homes and lives.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Economic hardship is on everyone's mind right now. We all know that. But for those who didn't have anything to begin with, these hard times can literally be a matter of life or death.

Our next hero brings food and care to desperate children and their families and has vowed not to stop until the question of hunger is resolved permanently. To introduce us to this self-less hero, please welcome the spokesperson for UNICEF and star of "Wizards of Waverly Place," Selena Gomez.

(APPLAUSE)

SELENA GOMEZ: Thank you.

For our next hero, Maria Ruiz, it is a tale of two cities. In her hometown of El Paso, Texas, there are all the comforts of this world -- clean water, electricity, food, shelter and the promise that we all have a chance to rise as far as our talents will take us.

In the City of Juarez, Mexico, just over the border, there are all the sorrows of another world -- hunger, dirty water, homes made from mud and the despair that comes from this extreme poverty.

The stark contrast between the two cities is what made Maria go to work. She started her mission with her husband's paycheck. She cooked for more than a thousand children every single week for years. Then she received donations from her church and filled up her car with more food and supplies and clothing.

Here is one woman who saw children in need and decided to feed them, one woman working hard to bring hope to this world, one woman connecting these two very different cities with her compassion. It is kind, it is hard work and it is why Maria Ruiz is a hero.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA JUAREZ, JESUS CHAPEL: Life in Ciudad Juarez is a life of struggle, of pain and suffering. It's like a forgotten village. There's no food for the children, much less for the pets.

When I see the lights in Juarez, I can't help but to think we're so close by, yet so far away.

My name is Maria Ruiz. I cross the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and I take food for underprivileged children and their families.

I was born in the United States and I live in El Paso. My family is not rich. We're just ordinary people. Twelve years ago, I went to a funeral in Ciudad Juarez.

When I saw the poverty, my heart went out to those kids. I had to do something.

The first thing that came to my mind to help these children was to bring food across the border, because it's a basic need.

When we first started in '96, we fed approximately 1,200 children a day every day for three-and-a-half years. And then after that, our donations started dropping and dropping and dropping. So now I make food here, I collect donations from the U.S. and take it across the border.

I go to Juarez almost every day. I have been across the border thousands of times. Crossing the border could take anywhere between an hour-and-a-half to two two-and-a-half hours. Once I cross the border, I get excited. I know I'm going to see those happy faces.

We will probably feed about 300 to 400 people today. When they see me coming, they see hope. It makes them feel like somebody cares and they're not forgotten.

When I bring them food, their face just lights up. That is my reward.

My dream for the village is to build a community kitchen, to build an orphanage and to build a training center.

I'm just trying to help people that are not able to help themselves.

If everybody would help a little, then the whole world would be different.

(END VIDEO TAPE) (APPLAUSE)

GOMEZ: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome CNN Hero, Maria Ruiz.

(APPLAUSE)

RUIZ: I'm not worthy of all this, but God, our creator, is. For without him, none of this would have been possible.

We give out food, but he gives us life. And I know that tonight God is calling many of you to do something -- something you might not want to do. But I challenge you to listen.

He wants to use you in a mighty way, to make a difference in people's lives.

It is a privilege to be honored as a top CNN Hero, though I don't consider myself a hero.

CNN, thank you for dedicating the time to put all of our stories together. It is a day I will never forget.

And I would also like to recognize my family. They have been with me through the good times, through the bad times, through struggles and through triumphs.

Thank you, Jesus.

Thank you, Elizabeth.

Thank you, Jesus, Jr. for being part of my life.

"We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us." Philippians 4:13.

Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Cameron Diaz and more amazing stories, when CNN HEROES returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: When loved ones pass before their time, their surviving friends and family often find themselves driven by a new purpose -- carrying on missions that they never dreamed of.

Our next hero has surmounted losses that none of us can imagine and yet she has brought so much new life to those in desperate need in her homeland in Africa.

To tell us her triumphant story, here's a member of the One Campaign and the Make Poverty History movement Cameron Diaz.

(APPLAUSE)

CAMERON DIAZ: Underneath the jacaranda trees in Africa, there's so much sorrow. It comes in waves when the orphans of Malawi pass on their way to school. There are more than one million AIDS orphans in this country and most will never know the guidance that comes from a father or the love of a mother.

They are alone in this world and alone on their walk until they reach the schoolhouse gate. The school is their sanctuary because of our next hero, Marie Da Silva.

She is from Malawi and moved to Los Angeles to work as a nanny. She cares for two children here and uses most of her hard-earned money to pay the teachers, feed the students and support the school.

And it is not just any school. It's Marie's childhood home. It is a place where orphans receive the guidance, the love from their friend and our hero, Marie Da Silva.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA DA SILVA, FOUNDER, JACARANDA FOUNDATION: Every time I come to Malawi, I go to visit the graveyard. Fourteen members of my family have died of AIDS. AIDS is a crisis here in Malawi. There are over a million children in Malawi who are orphaned by AIDS. With no father, with no mother, children are raising other children.

I thought that I could change the children's lives.

My name is Marie Da Silva. I'm a nanny in Los Angeles. I take care of two boys and I have been their nanny for the past ten years. In 2002, there was a local school that was housed in a Baptist church. And they were losing their premises. So my mother and I decided that we would take this house that I was raised in, open it up, and let the children come into the school so that they could continue their education.

We opened up our home. Children are studying in the room that my brothers slept in. Children are studying in my dining room. My parent's room, children are studying. This is my bedroom. Am I allowed in my bedroom?

I keep the school going and pay for everything in the school with the wages that I earn as a nanny. We have 230 children in the school. 90 percent of them are orphaned by AIDS. And they are coming from very underprivileged homes. They will walk a long way. These kids that will walk like a mile to a day to come to school. It's such a great feeling when I see those children walking in through that gate. It's like they're walking into a future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Dream that you dream of once in a lullaby

DA SILVA: What you need to know is that you don't have to be Bill Gates in order to be able to give. You can just go out there, and have faith, have the strength, and believe in it, because that's what I do. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMERON DIAZ, ACTRESS: Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to present the CNN Hero to Marie Da Silva.

DA SILVA: Thank you to my mother, who taught me the gift of sharing. The love and joy I get from what I do is so fulfilling, I cannot express. Thank you to all my friends and family, who have helped and been part of this mission.

Ricky Lake, this is my tenth year as your nanny. You are kind. You are kind, loving, and giving. Thank you. My nanny friends, for giving me $10 a month. And this has fed the children for the past three years. Go, nannies! You rock!

(APPLAUSE)

Every child is beautiful, and every child is special. Happy Thanksgiving.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still to come, live performances by Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and John Legend. CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE, sponsored by the Children's Safe Drinking Water program, providing clean drinking water to children around the world. Learn more at csdw.org and by Subaru for the safety of road tripping, symmetrical all wheel drive standard on all vehicles.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES. So many artists wanted to lend their voices tonight. And we're very thankful for that. It's my pleasure to introduce a performer with unparalleled range and passion. Her song is a reminder that out of our greatest trials and tribulations, we can all create something beautiful. Please welcome Christina Aguilera.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA (SINGING): Every day is so wonderful. And suddenly, it's so hard to breathe. Now and then I get so insecure from all the pain. I'm so ashamed.

But I am beautiful no matter what they say, 'cause words can't bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way, 'cause words can't bring me down. So don't you bring me down today.

Not today, oh, no, no, no, no, no. No matter what they do, no matter what we say, (INAUDIBLE), for every beautiful mistake, and everywhere we go, the crowd will always sigh, but tomorrow we've got a way to grow.

We are beautiful no matter what they say. Words can't bring us down. No, no, no, no. We are beautiful no matter what they say. No. No. So don't you bring me down today. Today, oh, oh, no, no, no, not today. Oh, oh, don't you bring me down whoa, now, today.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up, John Krasinski and Lucy Liu salute more incredible men and women. And we'll announce the CNN HERO of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. The first few hours after a hurricane or flood are often the most critical for bringing in relief and aid to victims, but government agencies can take time to mobilize as we've all seen. In the immediate aftermath, help often comes down to ordinary citizens reaching out to one another.

Our next hero has reached out again and again to those in need. Here to tell his story is star of "The Office," John Krasinski.

JOHN KRASINSKI, ACTOR: The San Diego wildfires, Hurricane Gustav, the Kansas tornado, these are the natural disasters that send us to the shelter, and send our next hero, Tad Agoglia, right into the storm.

When tragedy strikes, Tad and his team are some of the first people on the scene, to clear the roads, move trees that have crushed houses, and power up buildings. Tad gave up his home so that he could respond quickly. And so he travels the country in one of the best convoys ever created. Two 75-foot mack trucks, the high-speed crane, a generator powerful enough to run a hospital, dirt bikes, satellite phones, hovercraft, and the water pump. And that's a hero who travels in style.

He donates everything, his services, his time, and his equipment, to those in need. He does this because, as he says, America deserves this type of response. He is the calm before, during, and after the storm. Tad is our hero.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAD AGOGLIA: When a disaster strikes a community, no matter how prepared you think you might be, there's chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Power outage. They've got a full evacuation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A tidal surge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get out of harm's way.

AGOGLIA: I was a contractor for hurricane cleanup, coming in, one to two months after the storm would hit. When a huge tornado destroyed a whole community in Kansas, I decided to leave with some of my equipment and find out for myself what was needed on day one after a storm hit.

There were buildings that need to be powered up. There were flooded parts of communities that needed to be pumped out. They didn't have the equipment they needed. That's why I made a decision to put my own personal finances and my business on the line to create the first response team.

We're four guys with about $1 million worth of equipment, responding to disasters all over the country for free. We watch weather patterns on the computer. We track a storm. We look at the size of it. We look at where it's going to hit. And it's a very simple decision.

I got my eyes on Indianapolis right now.

Our goal is to respond within the first few hours of the occurrence. All right, let's roll. This truck can disassemble homes in 15 minutes. This is what we use to open up roads. This is a hovercraft. It's one of the best tools for water rescues in debris- filled water. This is a specialized piece of equipment that can snake through 30-feet of a home to see if someone's underneath the rubble. When you come one all those resources, you really can make a huge impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came from nowhere, you know, to help. He travels to places where nobody wants to be. If he's got the resources available, he's on it.

AGOGLIA: We're following disasters to hopefully save lives, and to make a difference in communities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thank each and every one of them. And there's -- we will never, ever be able to repay them. Sorry.

AGOGLIA: America deserves this type of response.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KRASINSKI: Please join me in honoring CNN hero, Tad Agoglia.

AGOGLIA: The CNN HEROES initiative reminds us in a time when hope seems difficult to come by, that if we just look around us, we can find reasons to be hopeful.

Thank you to all those who have recognized the overwhelming needs of our neighbors that I've been working to address. I hope it brings others to champion the cause and that the first response team becomes a part of the long-term fabric of American resources.

While spending time in disasters all over this country, I have been inspired by people who have experienced great loss. I have found that many of us long to live lives that exist beyond the material, leaving a legacy of hope in our wakes. May we all find the hero inside us by reaching out to others, and in turn find that we are the ones being helped. Congratulations to all of the heroes in this room tonight and thank you to all of the heroes of this world who have inspired each of us. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) COOPER: Some of those fortunate enough to lift themselves out of poverty never look back, but a hero is a person who returns to those still struggling and offers them a helping hand. Our next honoree has gone to a place so horrible, you have to see it to believe it and has brought with her the gift of hope. Here to tell you her story is UNICEF ambassador Lucy Liu.

LUCY LIU, ACTRESS: Good evening, everyone. Somewhere in Cambodia, packed garbage trucks pull into a municipal trash dump. In many countries, what we often see next are swarms of birds surrounding those trucks.

In Cambodia, we see children. This place is a hell on earth, where the smoke rises from the papers, rotting vegetables, and plastics. The terrible smell blows north, south, east and west. And in the middle of all that horror, little children wander and work. They work for hours sifting through the trash to earn enough money to buy a bag of rice. This terrible job is all they know.

The way they live made our hero Phymean Noun. She wept after meeting these children for the first time when they fought over the chicken bones she threw out in the trash. She listened to how they lived and understood their struggles. She understood because of what she'd been through. Many in her family were killed in the Pol Pot genocide and she was left alone at 15, when her mother died of cancer.

But she knew that if she could get an education, her life would turn toward grace. And it did many times over. That is why she decided to build the children who work at the dump a school of their own. So now at the base of that massive amount of trash and smoke is a place where children can learn and dream of something better.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHYMEAN NOUN (through translator): So Mun Jae (ph) is the largest trash site in Pon Peng (ph). There are about a couple thousand families living in the area. They solely depend on the trash dump site for a living. Most people work a 10 to 12-hour shift and only make $1 a day. Some of the kids that I've met are only four or five years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I got the scars on my legs because I was not careful and I stepped on broken glass.

NOUN: I go to the dump site every day and pick up kids or talk to their parents and convince them to let their kids come to school.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I don't know.

My name is Phymean Noun, and I created a school for the children that pick up trash in So Mun Jae.

CHILDREN: You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

NOUN: Currently, we have about 600 students we help out every day. We feed them and supply all their books and pencils. Everything is free. I want to change the kids' lives so they can have a future. I tell them when I was young, I had my own hopes, and they can have theirs too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When I grow up I want to be an artist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be a teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before I came to school, I was a girl who picked up trash. Now I am learning English, and when I finish, I'm going to get my degree.

NOUN: I do this because these kids are what we call, they are the root of the agandu (ph). They are our future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is the hero who helps the kids, and gives them an education.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOOPER: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm honored to present CNN hero Phymean Noun.

(APPLAUSE)

NOUN: I'm so glad. I'm very happy to be here, but first I would like to thank to CNN for organizing such a trip even. This means the world to me. On behalf of the children of Cambodia, who would have loved to have come with me to L.A., I thank you all from the top of my heart. I would like also to dedicate this award to my mom, who passed away when I was 15. I know she is watching me now.

In the time I spent life with her, she was able to teach me the world view that made me who I am today. She is my hero. I would like to give a special thanks to my family, to (INAUDIBLE), to Auntie, my daughter, and to Steve, my beloved husband, who is intelligent, supportive (INAUDIBLE), and always stand beside me every step of the way. I love you.

Thank you all. Thank you so much. Please help me to support my work and the children who need help in the world. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Still to come, Meg Ryan and Forest Whitaker pay tribute to more extraordinary honorees. CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE sponsored by Johnson and Johnson for Nursing's Future. Nurses, you make a difference every day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: You may not know this, but America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 1 in every 100 people locked up behind bars. While the convicted face jail time, their children face a life without their mothers or their fathers often for years.

Our next hero works to keep loved ones connected, families literally united.

Here to introduce us to her as the member of the ONE campaign and an ambassador for CARE, Meg Ryan.

(APPLAUSE)

MEG RYAN, ACTRESS: Hi, everybody.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "There are no second acts in American lives." I think Mr. Fitzgerald may have gotten that one wrong. Second acts and second chances surround us and it takes tremendous courage to reach out and take one.

Our next hero, Carolyn LeCroy, spent 14 months in jail and through the love and the visits she received from her two sons, Carolyn saw her second act. On those visiting days, she noticed that some of the mothers were unable to see their children and she wondered if the mothers were so upset, then what are those kids going through.

And so when she was released Carolyn found a way to connect these families by videotaping messages from the parents and sending them to the children.

Carolyn understands that if these families are to be rebuilt, then a child needs to see that their parents are safe, a child needs to hear their parents' declaration of love, and a child needs to understand, even in a small way, that redemption is part of being human.

There are 1.5 million children in the United States who have parents in prison. They are the silent victims of their parents' crimes, and Carolyn is their hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did four years on a robbery charge, was out for 15 months and picked up on a new charge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am here for a drug distribution charges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Second-degree homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in for a robbery.

CAROLYN LECROY, FOUNDER, THE MESSAGE PROJECT: I was sentenced for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and a conspiracy charge.

I lost it all.

DAVID LECROY, SON OF CAROLYN LECROY: We thought we'd never see our mother again. And how -- I mean how can you explain that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My children think prison is a place like they see on TV, so my oldest daughter had nightmares thinking mommy is in danger. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raise your hand if you have somebody in your family who lives in a jail right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't seen my children and my I'm afraid (INAUDIBLE) --

LECROY: I was really interested in what I could do to help. And that's where it all started.

When I got out, I decided to take my background as a film and video producer and do something with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, baby, it's mommy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lately I've been reading my bible back and it tells me about faith.

LECROY: I started the Messages Project so that inmates could talk to their children. For a lot of them, men and women, it's the first time they've apologized to their families. It's the first they've accepted the responsibility for their actions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wasn't a perfect mom, but know that none of this, none of this, was because of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of this video I have had a visit with my child. I wouldn't have had it otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-oh, you must have a video coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, granddaddy!

FRAN BOLIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASSISTING FAMILIES OF INMATES: What is often misunderstood is that these folks are good parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That three to five seconds that one day is not who I've lived my life to be and who I will be once I leave here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just makes me want to have more for my life than sitting behind these bars. And I appreciate you so much for all that you do for us and our kids. Thank you.

LECROY: You're welcome. All right. That's enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

RYAN: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring CNN Hero Carolyn LeCroy.

(APPLAUSE)

LECROY: Thank you. It's because my children, Mike and David, never, ever let me forget just how much they loved me while I was incarcerated. They were, and they are, the inspiration for the Messages Project.

The Messages Project is to help children of incarcerated parents know they're loved. We all need to know that we're loved. It is because of wonderful people who have helped support the project we have been able to touch so many children's lives. It is by reaching out to each other that we can become closer.

As all of the CNN Heroes around the world have done, because of the way this project has been acknowledged to the world community, perhaps my efforts will inspire another.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Jessica Biel, Hugh Jackman and a live performance by Alicia Keys.

This is CNN Heroes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG ALLGOOD, DIRECTOR, CHILDREN'S SAFE DRINKING WATER: Hi. I'm Dr. Greg Allgood, director of Procter & Gamble's Children's Safe Drinking Water program, a sponsor of CNN Heroes.

I'm proud to announce a donation of one million liters of safe drinking water for each of tonight's CNN Heroes honorees.

Congratulations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: It's my pleasure to introduce a woman who's not just a musical performer, she's a humanitarian and an activist. As a global ambassador for Keep A Child Alive, she has directly provided medicine for kids and families with HIV/AIDS in Africa and beyond.

But, tonight, she's here to honor the accomplishments of the phenomenal women we call heroes. They face injustice, persecution and personal tragedy, but they refused to give up.

The song is entitled "Superwoman" and the singer is the super Alicia Keys.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(MUSIC)

ALICIA KEYS, SINGER: That's dedicated to you.

(APPLAUSE) ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Salma Hayek lifts a man who's helping entire communities stand up.

And we're moments away from announcing the CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: It's estimated that 18 percent of the world's population, more than 1 billion people on our planet, cannot read or write. In underdeveloped countries the rate is even more staggering.

Our next hero is turning the page on literacy for kids in this homeland of Ethiopia. To tell us his story is a supporter of Artists for a New South Africa, Academy Award winner, Forest Whitaker.

FOREST WHITAKER, ACTOR: What would you do if you grew up without a "Dr. Seuss" or "The Adventures of (INAUDIBLE) the Spider"? What if you never knew that there was a "Curious George"?

Imagine a child live without these stories. Our hero refuses to do that.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis grew up in Ethiopia. He never owned a book of his own. He only read from textbooks in school. But when he was 19 a friend who happened to be reading a romance novel accidentally left it behind. That simple paperback inspired Yohannes love for reading and changed his destiny.

Soon after Yohannes came to the United States. He got a job working as a children's librarian in San Francisco. For years he read story after story to the kids. But he knew in his heart that back in Ethiopia the children could not share in his joy. So he went home.

He packed up 15,000 books, turned his house into a library and even bought a donkey cart to bring books to the children in remote villages, ushering in new roads with their imaginations.

And now for the first time, they get to hear the story of "The Little Engine That Could," and turning the page is our hero, Yohannes Gebregeorgis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YOHANNES GEBREGEORGIS, FOUNDER, ETHIOPIA READS: I came to Ethiopia and established the first children's library in the first floor of our house. Since then, I have established over 16 school libraries.

When I was thinking of what other things I could do to deliver books to children, I thought about doing donkey mobile library.

It's really crazy. It's wonderfully crazy.

MASRESHA KIBRET, MANAGER, RURAL LIBRARIES: Yohannes is my hero. Yohannes is a hero for all these children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyday we come to this library we are reading. The library saved me. The library is my life. They will give me books. We are happy.

Yohannes is our father.

GEBREGEORGIS: My name is Yohannes Gebregeorgis. I was born to a farmer in the southern part of Ethiopia. I was alone most of the time. I did not have brothers or sisters. So my books became my friends. And they taught me about love, about what life is, about being human.

In Ethiopia most people are not even really functionally literate. I immigrated to the United States and I became a children's librarian.

We had books in 75 different languages for children, but there were no books in Ethiopia languages. "Silly Mammo" is very popular in Ethiopia. I wrote "Silly Mammo" both in Amharic and English so that children could read Amharic and English at the same time.

My dream is to transform this society. This society has to be changed and the only way we can change it is through books and reading. If these children are readers, they will be the thinkers, the philosophers, the scientists, the doctors, the engineers that would be transform this society, this country.

"He was a good little donkey. The man with the big yellow hat live in Africa."

Through books they can be anything they want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be a farmer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engineer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:

GEBREGEORGIS: What we have done is a drop in the ocean. There are millions of children who have to be reached, millions of books that we have to provide, thousands of libraries that we have to provide, so this is just a beginning. That's really the reason why I'm here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ethiopia reads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN Hero Yohannes Gebregeorgis.

GEBREGEORGIS: Well, I'm quite delighted and humbled by this honor bestowed on me by CNN. There are thousands of people who have joined hands to support the work we have done in Ethiopia with Ethiopia Reads and I share the honor with them.

I want to thank my two brave sons, Kaleb and Alola(ph), who went to Ethiopia with me and lived four years in their very tender age. They came, they gave me support and companionship.

I want to thank the thousands of children who come to our libraries every day eager to read, learn, draw and hope. They have given us the courage to keep on and the hope for Ethiopia's future, for they are Ethiopia's future, a future that would be renewed only by them.

I congratulate all of the CNN Heroes, keep up the good works. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: For those living in extreme poverty. Medical care is not even an option. Band-aids, vaccines, antibiotics, these basic supplies are often beyond their grasp. So when a caregiver comes to town with supplies and a personal touch, it is more than just powerful, it is literally life-changing.

To tell us about one such hero is an actor and producer of her own foundation that provides AIDS and disadvantaged children in Mexico, Salma Hayek.

SALMA HAYEK, ACTRESS/PRODUCER: When we are healthy, there are so many things that we take for granted, being able to walk with our children, holding a loved one's hand and standing on our own two feet.

We don't think anything of it until we meet another who can't. Just watch in a moment how the people of southeastern Mexico greet our next hero.

One man sits alone on a bench unable to stand. Another sits in his wheelchair with both limbs missing. And uncertainty covers his face. And an older woman sits on a hammock stoically as she waits for her new leg.

It is humbling to say the least. But then watch David Puckett go to work. He can help the man rise form wheelchair, marvel as he embraces the man on the bench as he stands on his own two feet, and watch as he puts a smile on the older woman's face.

This is what David does to help the people of southeastern Mexico. He works with artificial limbs and braces in Savannah, Georgia and has traveled back and forth 41 times to do this amazing work for the people he has grown to know and love.

The men, women and children often call him the gringo who helped the miracle girl walk.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYEK: We call him our hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PUCKETT, FOUNDER, PIPO MISSIONS, INC.: Mr. Cruz is a 52- year-old Mexican man --

If we're here in this life to just accumulate and to just -- to keep to ourselves and to spend and to enjoy, we really have lost focus of why God has put us on this earth. And I know for a fact that God has put me on this earth to be able too help people overcome their obstacles and their physical needs.

My name is David Puckett. I make artificial limbs and orthopedic braces. And I bring them to Mexico free of charge.

How do you manage with this thing? It falls off.

In some of the Mayan communities, there's just a misunderstanding of handicap conditions that people are often pushed aside or forgotten about because the people don't understand their condition. When they get a prosthesis, it's like they have a new lease on life.

We're giving them a second chance.

It's more complex than just that of trying to get somebody walking again. We want to get them walking again, we want to get them living again, and we want to get them hopeful.

(INAUDIBLE) seen today for fitting (INAUDIBLE) for a prosthesis. This would be her fourth leg in six years because she just simple wears them out. She walks so well.

I feel compelled to be able to come here and help them. I can't depend on someone else to do it. I thank God for the opportunity, for the responsibility, and for the blessing of being able to help people in their need.

Vergel Castillo(ph) was seen today for fitting and delivery of his prosthesis. He's 74 years old and has never had prosthesis. He went to the Social Security office asking for prosthesis for the last three years and they've denied him due to his age.

We stood him up and we walked him. The fitting went very well. Period. End of dictation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

HAYEK: Please join me in honoring CNN Hero David Puckett.

(APPLAUSE)

PUCKETT: It's enough to make you forget your speech.

(LAUGHTER)

PUCKETT: Thank you very much, Salma Hayek. I'd also like to thank CNN for the sponsorship of this wonderful, very much -- for the sponsorship of this wonderful program.

The missing partners, my entire staff in Savannah, Georgia, and my family for supporting me for these last ten years. There are no words that can describe the joy in my heart and the reward that I receive, being able to help someone walk for the first time, to stand up for the first time, to raise their two arms to the sky and to thank God for the opportunity to walk or to hold a cup in their hand for the first time.

To help somebody regain lost mobility, restore their health and self-image, is at times blessing enough. I'm so blessed, and God's been so good to me. The Mayan people in Southeastern Mexico say it best when they thank me for this medical care. (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). That means, "God will repay you," with the joke being because they don't have any money.

But they're so right: God does repay me. He blesses me every day with life, health, opportunity to give back in his name. Thank you very much.

ANNOUNCER: Still to come, a live performance by John Legend, plus Jessica Biel honors a champion. CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," sponsored by Subaru, with the safety of road-gripping, symmetrical, all-wheel drive standard on all vehicles. And by the Children's Safe Drinking Water program, providing clean drinking water for children around the world. Learn more at CSDW.org.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper. Welcome back to CNN Heroes.

Homelessness is an American crisis. Each year, millions of Americans will experience homelessness at some point. We see these struggling citizens. All too often we look the other way, often giving them small change. But what if we gave them was real change, the chance to get back on their feet and onto the right path.

To tell the story of the hero who does just that, here's the founder of the online community for Giving Make a Difference Network, Jessica Biel.

JESSICA BIEL, ACTRESS: A young woman from Philadelphia walks into a local homeless shelter and says, "I want to take some people running." Right there in the middle of a place where the forgotten and the downtrodden struggle to get through the day, where the outcasts and the addicts sit without their dreams, where the rejected and the ignored believe that the whole world has turned its back on them, in walks a woman filled with such a belief that running can be a healing force, that she says, "I want to take some homeless people running."

And that's just what Ann Mahlum did. So they laced up their shoes together and ran a mile together. Then the group got bigger, and they ran further. And some kept right on running. They kept running toward a new job. They kept running toward a new home. They kept running toward the life they had always imagined. That is why, on any given morning before the sun rises, you can see a group of runners: professionals, volunteers, and homeless men and women moving through the streets of Philadelphia, stride by stride. And right in the middle of this group is Anne Mahlum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A hero is somebody who does something good for no special gain, no pay, just because they believe in their heart that they can make a change.

ANNE MAHLUM, RUNS WITH HOMELESS PEOPLE: In this world I believe we're all looking for a place. We're all looking for something to belong to, someplace to fit in. We all want to be valued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anne had a goal and a dream. And it was about helping somebody.

MAHLUM: My name is Anne Mahlum, and I am the founder of Back on My Feet. Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that builds running clubs within homeless shelters. I'm a runner. I know the amazing power that it holds. It's really helped me through a lot of hard times in my life.

My dad is an addict. He went through recovery when I was young with drugs and alcohol. Running empowered me. That primitive motion of moving forward makes you realize you can get through anything.

I live in what most people would call an up and coming neighborhood. I began to run by a homeless shelter. I remember stopping and turning around and looking at them and I thought, "Why am I just running by these guys?" I felt so strongly I'm supposed to help these guys.

What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tyrone Moore (ph).

DARRIN MCNAIR, MEMBER, BACK ON MY FEET: I remember seeing a small, petite-sized Caucasian woman come into the heart of North Philadelphia and motivate so many of society's so-called throwaways.

MAHLUM: Darrin, unfortunately, comes from a past with not a whole lot of support and love.

MCNAIR: I had in my life nothing. Life as a drug addict basically was no life. I became homeless, helpless. All I was doing was getting high and finding more ways and means to get more drugs. Running means success.

MAHLUM: Running is the vehicle that we use to move people forward. It helped guide them toward a road that is full of opportunity and hope. They get Nike shoes, shorts, pants, two pairs of socks, and two Back on My Feet shirts. When we're out running in the morning, you're part of our family, our team. The status of whether you're homeless or not just evaporates. MCNAIR: When I'm running, I'm a part of something good. I can reach goals. I can make friends. I can get positive people in my life, and I can be a productive member of society. If I didn't join back on my feet, I'd probably be dead.

MAHLUM: Watching somebody discover what they're capable of, there's nothing better than that.

MCNAIR: What defines a hero? Anne defines a hero. So thank you, Anne. I love you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BIEL: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN hero Anne Mahlum.

MAHLUM: You know, I can run a marathon and my feet don't hurt, but these heels are killing me.

It feels really strange for me to be standing up here in front of all of you being referred to as a hero. I've been thinking a lot about what that word means, and a hero, as defined, means distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. And it makes me think where we went wrong at treating others, whether they are homeless, black, white, rich or poor, with anything less than respect and kindness is heroic.

In the past few months, since Back on My Feet started in July of 2007, a few people have called me naive thinking I can change the world through running, and I would have to agree with them it would be naive to think that.

However, what I do believe is that you can change the world through decent humanity, kindness and encouragement and giving people a second chance. In fact, I don't think you can change the world any other way.

I could stand up here and thank the hundreds of people for believing in me and the vision of Back on My Feet, but there's just not enough time. So I want to thank everyone who took this crazy idea of mine, including CNN, and made it real. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: After the break, Hugh Jackman pays tribute to "People" magazine's "Heroes Among Us." And we'll announce the CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: For close to 25 years "People" magazine has been paying tribute to heroes across America, telling their courageous stories and inspiring their readers. Tonight we want to honor six of these deserving individuals who remind us of how one person can affect people everywhere.

Here to tell us about these "Heroes Among Us" is a proud supporter of the Global Poverty Project, the star of the new movie, "Australia." And I'm sure he'll be thrilled for me to mention he's also just been crowned "People's" "Sexiest Man Alive," Hugh Jackman.

HUGH JACKMAN, ACTOR: Good evening. Thank you, Anderson.

Ladies and gentlemen, heroes walk among us. They sit next to us on planes like Dan Rooney, who was on a flight and watched a fallen soldier's flag-draped coffin being returned to a family. He decided to raise $3 million to provide scholarships for the children and spouses of fallen and severely disabled servicemen.

Heroes, they teach first grade and they attend first grade when they are 70 years old. Alferd Williams made a promise to his mother that he would learn how to read. And Alesia Hamilton is the teacher who helped him honor that promise.

Heroes are mothers in Orange County, California. When Jennifer Trubenbach traveled to Zimbabwe, she met a young boy named Balout (ph). But everyone called him "the monster." He was severely disfigured by a landmine, and Jennifer brought him back to the United States to repair his face and renew his spirit.

And heroes, they attend college in Utah. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in 2002, and her story was front-page news. What we honor tonight is her constant courage, to turn her personal tragedy into something that can benefit others.

These are the "Heroes Who Walk Among Us." "People" magazine has honored them and countless others throughout the year. We applaud their stories tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACKMAN (voice-over): For nearly 70 years Alferd Williams found the world around him indecipherable; he couldn't read. But when he befriended teacher Alesia Hamilton, he had his chance.

ALFERD WILLIAMS, LEARNED TO READ AT 70: I said, "Well, I want you to teach me how to read."

ALESIA HAMILTON, TEACHER: I had never taught an adult to read before. I wanted to help him.

JACKMAN: They met in the library for two hours a day. Soon Alesia's first-grade class had a new student.

HAMILTON: The kids love him. He's reading everywhere and everything.

WILLIAMS: Reading changed my world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not stop until Elizabeth is returned.

ED SMART, ELIZABETH SMART'S FATHER: Please let her go. Please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have found Elizabeth Smart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nine-month ordeal is finally over. JACKMAN: With help from her family, Elizabeth Smart has made peace with her past.

ELIZABETH SMART, FORMER KIDNAPPING VICTIM: My mom said, "Don't let them take any more of your life away from you." And so I've tried to live my life that way ever since.

JACKMAN: She's also determined to use her experiences to help others. She recently helped write a book with advice for other kidnap victims.

ELIZABETH SMART: I want people to read what I wrote and hopefully feel inspired to move on with their life. It's very hard to live through. A kidnapping is very hard. I'm just trying to do what I can, hopefully, to make a difference.

JACKMAN: As an F-16 pilot with the Air National Guard in Iraq, Major Dan Rooney knows what sacrifice is.

MAJ. DAN ROONEY, FOUNDED CHARITY: I'd be lying if I said it was easy, but my heroes are the fallen and disabled soldiers who have defended the freedoms that we enjoy each and every day.

JACKSON: Since 2005, Dan's honored these heroes through Falls of Honor, a foundation to give scholarships to their families.

ROONEY: We're helping to bring something positive out of an inherently negative situation.

JACKMAN: Dan gave his first scholarship to the son of a soldier killed in Iraq. Since then, he's helped more than 200 families.

ROONEY: I'm not going to stop. We're going to help thousands of families before we're all said and done.

JACKMAN: In 2006 a U.S. medical team on a mission to Zimbabwe met a boy named Balout (ph).

JENNIFER TRUBENBACH, HELPED ZIMBABWE BOY: The first time I ever saw him, he just literally took my breath away.

JACKMAN: A landmine accident had left Balout (ph) disfigured. When kids called him monster, he dropped out of school. Clinic organizer Jennifer Trubenbach knew she had to help.

TRUBENBACH: I committed in a heartbeat.

JACKMAN: She worked for over a year to bring Balout (ph) to the U.S., even mortgaging her home to pay for his surgery. While an operation transformed his face, he truly began to heal when he returned to school.

TRUBENBACH: These kids, they love him to death. And his eyes are smiling. And you see this little grin.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JACKSON: Ladies and gentlemen, "People" magazine's "Heroes Among Us."

ANNOUNCER; Coming up, a special performance by John Legend, and we announce the "CNN Hero of the Year."

"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," sponsored by Zurich, because change happenz [SIC]. And Zurich HelpPoint. It's here to help your world. And by the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future. Nurses: we make a difference every day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It's been a humbling experience to meet all ten CNN heroes tonight. Each has been awarded $25,000 to continue their work. But now is the time to present the final honor, "Hero of the Year."

Since CNN announced the top 10 heroes, we asked people from all over the world to go to CNN.com/heroes and vote for the person who inspired them the most. We received more than one million votes, and tonight the hero with the most votes will receive an additional 100,000 grant to continue with their extraordinary work.

This is our way to give thanks for their efforts and the lives that they change every single day, and to help them to continue to change lives. Ladies and gentlemen, it's my great privilege to announce the "CNN Hero of the Year."

The "CNN Hero of the Year" is Liz McCartney.

(MUSIC)

MCCARTNEY: Wow. They told me that I was supposed to prepare a speech in case I won, but I really didn't think that we would win, so I didn't prepare a speech.

So I guess what I'd like to do, first and foremost, is to say thank you to the nine other people that were nominated. You guys are incredible, incredible human beings.

And I'd like to put forth a challenge to everybody in this room and to everybody in this room who has friends who can come up with $100,000 for each of the nine other heroes, because their efforts are definitely worth it. So...

I'd like to thank Zach Rosenberg (ph), the other co-founder and director of the St. Bernard project. When I told you before that he was the most inspiring visionary I've ever known, I wasn't kidding. This guy is amazing. So Zach, thank you so much. You are incredible.

And what I'd like to do tonight is to dedicate this award to everybody in the New Orleans area that was affected by the storm. You teach us every day how important family and community is, and we hope that one day we can get yours back to how it was before the storm.

Thank you so much to CNN and everybody who has made this happen. We really appreciate your support. Thanks.

COOPER: As a child, this next performer learned how to play gospel piano from his grandmother. Today he continues to use music as an instrument of faith and a way to raise the spirit. He's partnered with nonprofit organizations to fight for an end to poverty and to develop the next generation of minority leaders who can carry the torch of philanthropy. Now that mission brings him to our stage tonight with a song that is a true call to action. Performing "If You're Out There," with the world famous Agape International Choir, please welcome John Legend.

(MUSIC)

JOHN LEGEND, MUSICIAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Let's bring all our incredible honorees up on the stage one last time. You all come up.

It was John F. Kennedy who said that one person can make a difference, and every person should try. All our heroes have made an incredible difference in so many people's lives. If you want to help them continue their work, go to CNN.com/heroes to find out how. You can join their efforts, build a better world, simply by following their lead. Tonight and every day, they show us truly (ph) what is possible.

I'm Anderson Cooper. Good night. Thank you. Thank all of you.