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Change the World, You Vote, CNN Heroes

Aired October 1, 2009 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper. And the clock starts right now for you to help us choose the CNN Hero of the Year for 2009. Throughout this hour we're going to be introducing you to ten remarkable people, this year's contenders. They were selected from more than 9,000 nominees around the world. And now we need your help in deciding which one will get the top honor.

We're going to announce the winner on Thanksgiving night. And from that night forward, that person's life and the lives that he or she touches every day will be changed forever.

But first, we need your votes. will take you to our Heroes Web site where you can really change the world with a click of your mouse. It's that easy, voting is now under way.

And we're calling you to action which is really what CNN Heroes is all about. At our Heroes Tribute last year, Grammy winner John Legend set the tone.


JOHN LEGEND, SINGER: If you hear this message

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May we all find a hero inside us by reaching out to others and in turn find that we are the ones being helped.

LEGEND: We've been looking for a song to sing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see the smile come across their face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My aim is to get kids off the streets.

LEGEND: For the world to change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all need to know that we are loved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is by reaching out to each other that we can become closer.

LEGEND: Sing along with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It gives them the confidence to transform from victims to leaders.

LEGEND: Stand up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to make a difference in their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I provide kids with limbs that they deserve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the change that you dream.

LEGEND: Tomorrow is starting now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can change the world through decent humanity, kindness and encouragement and giving people a second chance.

LEGEND: Search for the leader the leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I help anyone who needs to eat, just line up.

LEGEND: We can be heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can be just a regular anybody and you really, really can change the world. I'm walking truth of that.

LEGEND: Together we can save the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help others and do it from your heart.

LEGEND: If you're out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The love and joy I get from what I do is so fulfilling. I cannot express.

LEGEND: Say it loud, scream it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it. I do. I really do.

LEGEND: If you're out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I do, I love. I love it.

LEGEND: If you hear this message, wherever you stand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you join us, we'll be unstoppable.

LEGEND: Lead a generation we can't afford to wait the future started yesterday and we're already late.


COOPER: You may be thinking this is just another awards show, but it's not. Sure, every honoree does get an award that they can take home and each one is actually custom designed. This is Marie Desilva's one of last of last year's honorees.

But each hero also receives $25,000 towards their cause and on top of that, the "Hero of the Year" receives an additional $100,000.

Those checks help expand each hero's work. There's also the recognition that all their hard work matters, recognition that often leads to more support and more donations. Just ask Marie Desilva, the hero I mentioned. She lost 14 family members to AIDS.

But instead of giving into despair, she found a way to create hope for AIDS orphans. She funded her project out of her salary as a nanny, but not anymore.


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

COOPER: Since becoming a CNN Hero last year life for Marie Desilva and her Jacaranda Foundation has changed completely.

MARIE DESILVA, CNN HERO 2008: I wake up in the morning and pinch myself. It was like wow.

COOPER: Thanks to nearly $100,000 in donations from CNN's viewers, De Silva was able to leave her job as a nanny and devote herself full time to her foundation which educates AIDS orphans in Malawi a small country in southeast Africa where 14 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive.

How is life at the school changed?

DESILVA: A lot. The school has been built.

COOPER: You built a school?

DESILVA: Built a school. Actually we built the school within six months after CNN nominated me as a hero.

COOPER: Before it was just in your house.

DESILVA: Yes, in my house.

CHILDREN: Join together.

COOPER: Today the Jacaranda school has 320 students, nearly 100 more than last year. Desilva has been able to hire certified teachers, purchase textbooks, desks, black boards, even toilets for her school.

DESILVA: Everything that's happened in the school within this year is through people seeing me on TV coming in and saying what can we do? And the examples, we had 11 books in our library.

COOPER: Eleven books?

DESILVA: Eleven books before CNN. Today we have over 3,000 books.

COOPER: Three thousand, wow.

Huge changes that Desilva says had made all the difference in helping her kids succeed.

I understand you had the first class actually graduate from your school.

DESILVA: Exactly.

COOPER: That must have been incredible.

DESILVA: I can't even express how I feel right now because for six years when I was funding the school by myself, we didn't have the materials and the means. And, Anderson, 16 children took the exams and seven passed.

COOPER: Another first to the Jacaranda school, all seven graduates are continuing on to college with their tuitions donated by CNN viewers.

When you started this, I mean, with this dream, with this idea, did you ever imagine it would get to this point?

DESILVA: I did have hope that -- and faith that one day I would want to see these children graduate and get a better future. But I did not realize that I could do it this fast. Because until, you know, CNN happened, I was still paying for everything with the money that I earned as a nanny and you know, just scrounging for anything I could do to keep the school alive.

COOPER: Now it's not only alive but thriving. With more than half a million AIDS orphans in Malawi, Desilva welcomes the opportunity to continue making a difference. One donated book, one high school graduate and one paid for college tuition at a time.

DESILVA: Thank you.


COOPER: That was Marie Desilva, one of last year's heroes.

Now, let's meet one of this year's honorees. Remember, we're not introducing them you to in any particular order and in no way should your voting be influenced by how you meet our top ten heroes tonight.

With that in mind, meet Roy Foster, an army veteran, Roy once struggled with addiction and homelessness. His experience inspired him to create the Stand Down house, a program that's helped close to 900 veterans turn their lives around.

According to the Veterans Administration, one in three homeless adults has served in the military. Roy knows where to find them and how to help. Take a look.


ROY FOSTER, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: How I can turn my back and walk away and leave you right here?


FOSTER: I can't. Because I know you wouldn't turn your back and leave me.

Nationwide veterans are neglected on this -- unacceptable.

What branch of service?


FOSTER: So was I. We are still brothers in arms. So no man left behind.

If you're going to work for sobriety, you've got to change. Stand Down House provides service for veterans only; a safe, clean place to live, all the meals. And to us servicers, the camaraderie it is that internal glue. They are the best. And they deserve the best.

What I do, I love. I love it.


COOPER: Each hero you'll meet tonight saw a need or a problem and rather than wait for someone else to step in and solve it, they took charge. Many were inspired by their own struggles. Roy Foster was.

So was Efren Penaflorida, another top ten CNN hero. He grew up in the Philippines near a slum in high school. He was bullied by gang members. Today with gang membership surging, he gives young Filipinos living on the streets an alternative.

His program uses a push cart classroom to reach at risk kids wherever they are including garbage dumps. Take a look.


EFREN PENAFLORIDA, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: Gang members are groomed in the slums as early as 9 years old. They're all victims of poverty. So that's why we are bringing the classroom to the kids.

We operate the push cart every Saturday. We teach them language, mathematics. And we also have our hygiene clinic.

And I always tell my volunteers that you are the change that you dream and collectively, we are the change that this world needs to be.


COOPER: You'll meet the rest of the top ten honorees throughout the hour. You'll also meet last year's hero of the year Liz McCartney who in the wake of Hurricane Katrina quit her job and moved to New Orleans to help rebuild the city one house at a time.

It's been a memorable year for Liz and it all started a year ago at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. A star-studded affair attended and supported by performers like Christina Aguilera. Listen.





JESSICA BEAL, ACTRESS: The real people in real life doing the good, having missions and having goals and doing it, helping people and changing lives. And these are the heroes. These are the people that we should be giving more award shows to.


COOPER: That was Jessica Beal from last year's Heroes event. On Thanksgiving night we're going to be back in Los Angeles to announce the 2009 Hero of the Year. The hero chosen by you for your voting at

Now, last year, more than a million votes were cast in the weeks leading up to this moment at the packed Kodak Theater.


COOPER: The CNN Hero of the Year is Liz McCartney of the St. Bernard Parish.


COOPER: Our 2008 hero of the year, Liz McCartney nominated for all she has done to help rebuild New Orleans' devastated St. Bernard Parish.

After hurricane Katrina no one told McCartney to take action, she just did it. And she quit her job, moved to New Orleans and taught herself construction and started building houses. What she has accomplished and how being named the 2008 Hero of the Year has helped is truly remarkable.


LIZ MCCARTNEY: The Heroes award is like a shot in the arm for the region. It reinvigorated people. It made them feel like across the country and around the world people still care. And all sorts of doors have been opened for the project as a result of the award.

Volunteers, clients, donors, I think every week people say, "I heard about the St. Bernard Project on CNN Heroes." To date we've had over 16,000 volunteers. We are going to be celebrating the 240th home that we've completed. We have expanded our capacity.

We're also building homes in New Orleans. But it also helped us start our center for wellness and mental health. So it helped us rebuild homes and also rebuilt people's lives. And we're getting there but there's still work to be done. A couple more years and we'll be there.


COOPER: Liz McCartney was last year's winner.

This year's winner, well, that's up for you to decide. We need your help.

Erica Hill is here to show you how to vote for our 2009 Hero of the Year - Erica.

ERIC HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the best news is this very easy to do. All you have to do is log on to the CNN Heroes home page.

And here's what you'll find. You can easily click through the ten honorees that we've got for you. We've been telling you a little bit about them tonight.

But when you're ready to vote, this is where you do it. You simply go to the vote page; you'll see our ten honorees. And while you may have learned a little bit about them, maybe you're still looking for a little more information.

We told you a bit about Roy Foster tonight. But maybe you want to watch that video again. Maybe you want to learn more about him. Read his story. Watch the video. And if you're ready, if Roy Foster is your guy, you can vote right there.

And the screen for all ten honorees is going to look exactly like this. So really easy to figure out where you want to click to vote for someone.

Now, after you voted, a really cool feature that we've added here at CNN is that we call a fan page. You can become a fan of any of the top ten honorees or the CNN Heroes event in general. Choose that widget.

So let's say you chose the CNN Heroes event. Come over here on the page. And what you're going to do is click "get and share." You'll get that widget and can you share it with all of your friends. Everybody in your social networking universe let them know who you've chosen as your top honoree hero or why you're so interested in CNN Heroes in general.

Put it on your Facebook page, your blog, whatever you'd like to do it's all there at the tip of your fingers. All you need to do is log on to -- Anderson.

COOPER: Erica thanks.

That's how to vote for the CNN Hero of the Year. It's that simple. Now let's meet another nominee.

New Orleans native Derrick Tabb is a drummer in one of the city's top brass bands who credits his high school band teacher with putting him on the right track years ago.

Today he's paying it forward with the Roots of Music, a program that provides free tutoring, instruments and music education to more than 100 students. The goal is keeping young people out of trouble in a city with the nation's highest murder rate.


DERRICK TABB, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: Let's go. Horns up.

We do more than just teach music. We offer transportation. We offer instruments. I feed you, so you're not hungry. I give you tutoring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's eight times three?

TABB: We call it the "no excuse" policy. You don't have no excuse why you're not here.

You don't have to have any experience -- just press down on it, just like that.

We meet to five days a week year round. They learn something new and that's what keeps the kids coming back every day.

I don't say I'm saving lives, I say, I'm giving life; a whole different life of music.


COOPER: CNN Heroes is now in its third year. And one the coolest things about it is how the lives of CNN Heroes often change dramatically almost overnight.

Aaron Jackson was named the CNN Hero in 2007. And he was just 25 years old. He was on a mission then to de-worm children in Haiti, all three million of them. Today he's much closer to that goal in part because of an important connection he made.

After Rain Wilson at the office saw Aaron on CNN Heroes and became a big supporter of his cause. Aaron joins us now. That's so cool that Rain Wilson got involved. How else have things changed since in 2007?

AARON JACKSON, 2007 HERO OF THE YEAR: It's just been amazing. And now thousands of people have reached out to us and wanted to join our movement for peace. And it's just amazing.

And Rain reached out us to and he's helped shed light on this cause that the world just does not know much about.

COOPER: What other kind of responses have you got?

JACKSON: It's amazing. Little kids saving up a little bit of money and sending us donations and other actors, Rain Wilson is not the only actor. Rena Noone (ph) has come and is participating. COOPER: And how has it impacted your work?

JACKSON: Well -- now, you know, like you just said, we're about to treat all three million people. Before, we are just doing 100,000 here and 100,000 there and now.

COOPER: So you plan to treat three million people?

JACKSON: Yes, there's 3.2 million children and we're about that -- and this November we're going to treat all 3.2 million.

COOPER: How long is that going to take?

JACKSON: We're going to try to do in all of the month of November. So we'll be Haiti's first national ongoing program.

COOPER: Why is this -- I mean, this issue -- why is this so important?

JACKSON: Well, every day 30,000 kids die from starvation, roughly. I would say 90 percent of these kids have intestinal parasites. And these parasites eat up to about 20 percent of the child's nutritional intake every day.

So by ridding these kids of worms, it's just the utmost importance. You know? And you could literally cut malnutrition rates in half.

COOPER: How much does it cost to de-worm one child?

JACKSON: Believe it or not, only 1 1/2 cents.


JACKSON: One and a half cents.

COOPER: What comes next for your organization? And what's the next goal?

JACKSON: Well, we're also just started a -- we're buying an Amazon rainforest land just for $8 an acre. And we're buying all through Peru right now. So that's our main goal. Just start building preservations.

COOPER: And what's the goal with that just try to preserve as much as possible?

JACKSON: Yes. The aim of the -- 2 out of every ten breaths we take is actually provided by the Amazon Rainforest and everyday we destroy 200,000 acres of it. So it's of utmost important to protect that. So we're just doing what we can, doing our small little part so that the world can breathe.

COOPER: It's amazing what you're doing. Congratulations.

JACKSON: Thank you. COOPER: Much more ahead, including how the ten nominees were selected. It's a difficult job.

This year's blue ribbon panel includes Sir Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, General Colin Powell, Shakira, Phil Jackson and many others.

We give them an impressive list and it's their job to narrow it down to just ten. It comes down to tough choices because each hero has changed the world in a profound way.

Our next contender: Betty Makoni; She turned unimaginable personal pain into something positive, growing up in Zimbabwe, Betty was raped at the age of six and three years later watched her father murder her mother. After surviving these traumas, she vowed to devote her life to protecting young women and girls from abuse. Her Girl Child Network has rescued more than 35,000 young victims of sexual abuse.

Take a look.


BETTY MAKONI, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: In Zimbabwe, young girls are raped because of the myths that rape will cure HIV and AIDS. Ten girls per day, they are raped.

They need an advocate to help them break silence. When a girl gets to the village - she is provided with emergency medication, reinstatement in school as well as counseling. It gives them the confidence to transform from victims to leaders.

This is the job I have always wanted to do. It gives me a fulfillment and in girls I see myself every day.






COOPER: Remarkable. Alicia Keys performing at last year's CNN Heroes event in Los Angeles.

Your votes will help decide this year's winner. And remember, voting is now under way. Just go to and vote for your favorite hero.

We'll announce the winner on Thanksgiving night. It's the culmination of a 10-month journey that started on January first.

We received more than 9,000 hero nominations from 100 countries. Each nominee had a compelling story. It was hard but we narrowed the list to 20. It was up to our Blue Ribbon panel to pick their ten favorites. An even tougher job but they were up to it.

Our 14 panelists are power houses in a range of fields: Whoopi Goldberg, Phil Jackson, General Colin Powell, Shakira, Sir Elton John and nine others. They may not use the word themselves, but each one is a hero in their own right. Either through their own foundations or others, they work on a wide range of causes from children's health to the environment to homelessness and a lot more. We reached out to them and the response is overwhelming.

So where did they start? And what were they looking for? For Blue Ribbon panelists, Malaak Compton-Rock it came down to her definition of service.


MALAAK COMPTON ROCK, 2009 BLUE RIBBON PANELIST: Well, service is the rent we pay for living. It's actually not my quote. It belongs to Marian Wright Edelman, who is President of the Children's Defense Fund and one of the greatest servants out there helping U.S. children.

But I think that everybody can make service a part of their lives. What I try to tell people is that service is telling a stranger have a nice day. Service is buying someone a meal who's homeless. Service is giving someone a flower to brighten their day. Service is shopping at a retailer who you know they put money back in your community.


COOPER: Malaak Compton-Rock, one of 14 panelists faced with a very difficult task of picking the top ten honorees this year.

Here is another, Mariane Pearl.


MARIANE PEARL, 2009 BLUE RIBBON PANELIST: Jorge Munoz (ph), you know, who's a bus driver. Working for -- driving in New York City is not easy. And he was driving all day long. And then he goes home and the next thing you know, he's just getting all his beef together and going to feed people.

So I think it just gives us a sense of happiness, that there is a need for you to help. And these people that just looked around them and said what can I do now to help the people around me? I think that's a hero.


COOPER: Jorge Munoz is a school bus driver in New York made a big impression on Blue Ribbon panelist Marianne Pearl.

More now on the work he does after his day job ends.

Jorge, a school bus driver created Angel in Queens, a one man mobile soup kitchen that he operates seven nights a week, 365 days a year. He feeds the hungry with food that he and his family make in their own kitchen. Take a look.


JORGE MUNOZ: I'm born in Colombia. But I'm a citizen right now and I'm a school bus driver. When I come home around 5:15 my second job starts. Prepare the meals, packed them up and it's like a family project seven days a week.

I go to same corner every night at around 9:30. They're waiting for me.

The economy is real bad right now. Day by day, the number increase. I help anyone who needs to eat, just line up.

The best part is when you see their smile. I want them to eat every night. For me, it's easy. Compare with them, I'm great.

Pretty good; tired, but good.


COOPER: You'll meet the rest of our honorees ahead including Andrea Ivory. Over the last three years Andrea and her volunteers knocked on more than 18,000 doors to arrange free mammograms for uninsured women. We'll have more on her work ahead.

Andrea and the other nominees probably don't consider themselves heroes; they consider themselves doing what any of us would do.

Here's what actress Kate Beckinsale had to say about that as a presenter at last year's Heroes event.


KATE BECKINSALE, ACTRESS: It's so nice to be honoring normal amazing people, you know, who've achieved extraordinary things with their lives and don't necessarily get the massive recognition that they actually deserve.



HILL: I'm Erica Hill. Back to "CHANGE THE WORLD, YOU VOTE, CNN HEROES" in just a moment, but first, this "360 Bulletin."

The worst fears of Indonesian officials are proving true. At least 1,100 people now confirmed dead in two massive earthquakes. And there is concern thousands more may still be trapped under collapsed homes and other buildings.

Rescue teams are having a tough time reaching them because roads are cut off due to debris, telephone lines are down and heavy rains continue to hamper efforts.

In Beijing, a 2 1/2-hour celebration of six decades of Communist rule and China's rise to a global economic superpower. President Hu Jintao reviewed thousands of troops. Most citizens watched it on TV, tight security keeping them away from the parade through Tiananmen Square.

A comfortable retirement will be waiting for Bank of America's outgoing CEO and president Ken Lewis; $53 million in pension benefits for him or $3.5 million a year for the rest of his life. The company's stock sells for $16 to $17 a share. That's less than half its price a year ago and still below its level when Lewis came onboard in 2001.

And according to the Associated Press, the autopsy report on Michael Jackson shows he was fairly healthy for a 50-year-old when he died in June. The AP says Jackson weighed 136 pounds and was not super thin as mentioned in the tabloids. His heart was strong, his other organs were normal.

That's a look at your headlines. I'm Erica Hill.

"CHANGE THE WORLD, YOU VOTE, CNN HEROES" continues in a moment.


COOPER: Each of this year's nominees saw a need or problem but instead of waiting for someone else to step in and do something, they did it themselves. It's a diverse group of heroes by category. We have people who are working in areas from homeless veterans to breast cancer detection to prosthetics for kids. But it's is also geographically diverse -- Erica.

HILL: It is geographically diverse. What we really want to do is maybe shrink the world a little bit like some of these top honorees are doing.

So, let's start off and give you an idea of where everybody is from here. And if we take a look -- first of all, it's interesting -- half of the top honorees are doing work right here in the United States.

We'll start off in New Orleans where Derrick Tabb is using music to help give kids some other options. Up here in Chattanooga, Tennessee, our Young Wonder Jordan Thomas who has helped bringing vital prosthetics to young kids everywhere and really changing their lives in the process. In Miami, Andrea Ivory who was working to get mammograms to women because as we know with breast cancer, early detection is vital.

Also taking a look in Florida where Roy Foster is doing his work with veterans, helping them battle addiction and homelessness. And up here in New York in, actually in Queens, not too far outside of New York City, Jorge Munoz is using his mobile soup kitchen to serve meals for those who need them. Already 70,000 people since 2004.

But as we mention, the world is getting a little smaller thanks a lot to these CNN Heroes. So let's stop right here and take a look in Africa and the Middle East where some fantastic work is being done by some of our folks this year. In her native country of Zimbabwe, Betty Makoni is fighting to rescue girls from sexual abuse. And here actually working across five countries in Africa, a bartender from North Carolina, Doc Hendley brought sustainable water systems to 25,000 people.

And let's take a look now in Iraq. That's where a man from Texas, Brad Blauser, is bringing wheelchairs to children in Iraq.

And a couple other people we want to introduce you to as we move to Southeast Asia, I'll stop us right here. In Singapore, Budi Soehardi who opened, of course, an orphanage and is now basically a surrogate dad to more than 40 children, and not too far away over in the Philippines is where we find Efren Penaflorida who is also helping children by giving them alternatives, Anderson, to gangs.

COOPER: Erica, thanks.

We want to remind that you how you meet our top ten heroes tonight should not be a factor in your voting.

With that in mind, here is another contender, Andrea Ivory, a breast cancer survivor whose mission is saving lives one house at a time. She started the Florida Breast Health Initiative. Andrea and her team of volunteers fan out across low income communities educating about breast health and helping uninsured women get free mammograms.

Andrea joins us now from Miami. Andrea congratulations.

When you heard that you had become a top ten CNN hero for 2009, what did you think?

ANDREA IVORY, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: It was surreal. I was actually overwhelmed by the call but truly excited beyond measure.

COOPER: How did your personal battle with breast cancer inspire you to get involved?

IVORY: It was truly the inspiration for the Florida Breast Health Initiative because prior to my breast cancer diagnosis, I was an extremely private person. As a matter of fact, initially after the diagnosis, I didn't share my breast cancer diagnosis with very many people, including family members. So it was truly the catalyst for the foundation's beginning.

COOPER: And with the bad economic times, do you find that more women are skipping on preventative care like mammograms?

IVORY: Absolutely. It's unfortunate that preventative care is not something on your radar screen when you have other issues like eating and paying your bills for your home or food on the table. Those things take precedent over preventative care.

COOPER: And what is so remarkable about what you're doing is you have literally saved lives. I know there was a mother of a teenage girl who recently showed up to volunteer. What was her story?

IVORY: That was very exciting. Actually, she saw us on CNN and she saw the story. And she immediately called to volunteer.

Upon her arrival, which was the first week in September, she brought her mother. So during her sign in time she asked if she could speak with us candidly and brought her mother out in the hallway and we spoke with her mother. Her mother had not had a mammogram in eight years. And we were most happy to accommodate her.

And on Saturday, this past Saturday, she had her mammogram. So we're awaiting her results. So thank you CNN because that is another opportunity to save a life.

COOPER: What is your dream for this year?

IVORY: My dream for this year is to continue strong and we're looking forward to expanding our reach to replicating our program. We've had so many calls as a result of the exposure that we received on CNN of people that want us to come to their city to provide the same service to the uninsured women and underserved women of their community. So my dream is to make this a national organization.

COOPER: Well, Andrea, congratulations. We wish you the best of luck.

Just ahead, meet a former hero who discovered here life's mission while serving time in prison more than a decade ago. Now she helps inmates record video messages for their kids.


CAROLYN LECROY, 2008 TOP 10 CNN HERO: Just talk from your heart. That's what this is about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is daddy. I love you. And I hope you enjoy this.

LECROY: They know they've made a mistake. But they're still human beings. And they have children. And they all love them.


COOPER: Carolyn LeCroy's work struck a deep cord with Holly Robinson-Pete, one of last year's Blue Ribbon panelists. She felt so strongly about it that now she is helping Carolyn with her cause.

You'll hear from both of them ahead.

But first, here is another contender for our 2009 Hero of the Year: 20-year-old Jordan Thomas, he's one of our youngest nominees. Four years ago he lost both of his legs in a boating accident. His family could afford his new prosthetic legs but a lot of families can't. So Jordan created the Jordan Thomas foundation to provide prosthetics to child amputees.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JORDAN THOMAS, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: They say I'm a bilateral transtibial amputee. In layman's terms, I lost both my legs from the mid-calf down. Just a freak accident; I just got pushed behind the boat.

I had such great support. But when I saw all the other kids that were in the hospital that didn't, you recognize that something's got to be done.

A lot of insurance companies put a cap on prosthetics or they'll provide them with one pair of legs for a lifetime.

Noah is 6. His first leg, it didn't bend. They asked for a new knee but he was denied. So we provided him with a bendable knee. Now he is so proud to show off how his knee bends, it's great.

We provide them prosthetics then that creates a whole gamut of opportunity for them to achieve whatever they want. I think they deserve that.






COOPER: Amazing performance. That was John Legend at last year's Heroes Tribute at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.

We've introduced you to seven of this year's contenders. Here is an eighth: Brad Blauser, a Dallas native he lives in Baghdad. He came to Iraq as a civilian contractor five years ago, but quit last year to devote himself to his cause; providing free wheelchairs to disabled Iraqi kids.

A recent UNICEF study found that one in seven Iraqi kids is living with a disability; Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids has distributed nearly 650 wheelchairs so far. Brad didn't set out to help kids when he went to Iraq. But now he's changing young lives in immeasurable ways.

Take a look.


BRAD BLAUSER, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: Disabled children, they're really the forgotten ones in this war. I came to Iraq as a civilian contractor. There were a lot of children that either dragged themselves on the ground or had to be carried.

There was so many people willing to reach out and touch the lives of these kids. People donate on my Web site. The wheelchairs are brought over and I distribute them to the different military units and help fit these children into the wheelchairs.

There's no paycheck. It's not really safe here. But I made a difference in the life of these families. Definitely the sacrifice has been worth it.


COOPER: It's never clear which hero story is going to resonate most with our Blue Ribbon panelists.

Last year Holly Robinson Peete was so inspired by one of her top ten heroes selections, Carolyn LeCroy, that she continued to follow her efforts, contributing both time and money to the cause. Carolyn has helped thousands of prisoners maintain contact with their kids by helping them record video messages.

Why does she do it? Carolyn says it best.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello Cameron (ph). This is your father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, J.J. It's mommy. I love you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mommy misses you.

CAROLYN LECROY, 2008 FINALIST, CNN HEROES: The children of an incarcerated parent are the silent victim of the parents' crimes. These children get forgotten sometimes.

My name is Carolyn LeCroy. I started the Messages Project so that incarcerated parents can keep in touch with their kids.

Four, please. Thank you.

In 1994, I was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. I was very fortunate; my children came to see me all the time. And there would be women who never got visits.

I would look at them. If they were this unhappy, what about the children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are my sunshine my only sunshine you make me happy...

LECROY: I know how important it was for my children to see me. When I got out, I took a bad situation and I made something good of it.

Just talk from your heart. That's what this is about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey Caleb (ph). This is daddy, buddy. I love you. I hope you enjoy this.

LECROY: They know they made mistakes. But they're still human beings. And they have children. And they all love them.

This is from your daddy, okay? Who is that?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have two books here. I hope you enjoy it. One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

LECROY: We have found with the videos for many it's re- establishing a bond that got broken. It's hard on a parent who is in prison. So I think that makes all those children heroes.


COOPER: Holly Robinson Peete joins me now. Holly, as a CNN Heroes Blue Ribbon panelist, what was about it Carolyn's work that really struck a cord with you?

HOLLY ROBINSON PEETE, BLUE RIBBON PANELIST, 2008 CNN HEROES: Well, you know, how do you choose a super hero among heroes? Everybody was amazing and everyone had a unique brand of philanthropy.

But there is something that touched me about Carolyn's work that it was a problem that I really wasn't aware of. And it is one of those duh moments. Of course, children of incarcerated parents need to hear these messages. And I just think her project was so amazing.

So I couldn't wait. After I got a chance to meet her at last year's ceremony to help her out more and just help her mission further.

COOPER: What are you working on with Carolyn now?

PEETE: We're doing a PSAs with my husband Rodney Peete and I, you know, as parents just talking about how important it is to get the messages to these children that they're loved. That it's not their fault that their parents are in jail.

So we're working with each other to, again, I just want to help get the word out. I'm helping her get into the California penal system and the jails. So that we can just spread the message across the country that these kids are loved and they're worthy.

COOPER: You know, it's one thing to read about the heroes. It's another thing to actually meet them. What was it like at the tribute show when you actually met the CNN heroes face-to-face?

PEETE: Some of them needed security from me. I was a little star struck. You know, after watching all the video packages, I sort of became so enamored with all these heroes.

When I got to see Carolyn or when I got to see Ann Mahlum who was from my hometown of Philly who literally got people back up -- the homeless people on their feet jogging or Liz McCartney or Marie Desilva, when I got to meet some of the people, I felt like I already knew them. So I was very excited to give them my card and say, "What can I do to help you?"

COOPER: I heard you're already planning for this year's tribute show and maybe doing something a little different with your make up? What's that about?

PEETE: Yes, because last year, Anderson, you know, no one told me I should have worn waterproof mascara. I was so moved and so touched and cried the whole way through. My husband was like, look at your face. I looked like a raccoon.

Next year I will have the waterproof mascara and be ready for the emotion. It was such a powerful, powerful show.

What I thought was amazing, with all of these A-list people there, you had every one from Hugh Jackman to Cameron Diaz. I just felt like the stars in the room were these heroes that were doing things not to get recognized, but because that is exactly essential to their being.

COOPER: Yes. Well said. I look forward to seeing you this year. Thanks.

PEETE: Yes. Me, too. See you then.

COOPER: Holly and Carolyn's is just one example of an unexpected and life-changing connection made through CNN Heroes. All of our heroes have a deep connection to a cause and in some cases, their cause found them.

Budi Soehardi is an international airline pilot who moonlights as a father to 47 Indonesian orphans. Ten years ago, more than 250,000 people, including many kids were displaced during a campaign of violence in East Timor.

After seeing the chaos on television, Budi and his family canceled a vacation and went to the region to help. Three years later, Budi founded the Roslin Orphanage in West Timor.


BUDI SOEHARDI, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: There was riots, buildings being burned. The children -- what they were having there was far from being normal.

Almost immediately we decided this is a place for us to build the orphanage.

When we started, we only had four children. And we found out that even more needed help badly. Right from the beginning we give them vaccination, clothing, food.

But we could not give them anything more valuable than a proper education.

Very, very good.

We are able to provide and to teach them, just be who you are. Help others and do it from your heart.


COOPER: Budi's orphanage is funded mainly by his pilot's salary but his airline contract has not been renewed because of the struggling economy. His last day of work is November 11.

We've now introduced you to all but one of our ten CNN Heroes. And remember, how we introduce them in the show is random and should in no way affect how you should vote.

After the break you'll meet the final contender, bartender Doc Hendley; he's found a way to turn wine into clean water around the world through creative fund-raising. It's a mission that has changed his life.


DOC HENDLEY, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: I got on the ground in Darfur, seeing these people living in conflict. Yet their biggest concern was the huge loss of life because of the unclean water. That's when water changed from being my passion to a burden of mine.



COOPER: Over the past hour we've introduced you to nine of our ten nominees for the CNN Hero of the Year. You're going to meet the final contender in a moment but first, Erica Hill is here to show you once again how to vote. The polls are open and are going to stay open until November 19th -- Erica.

HILL: We've introduced you to almost everybody, as Anderson mentioned, nine of the top 10 honorees. But maybe you still want to learn a little bit more about these amazing CNN heroes.

Well, that's easy to do. Go to When you scroll down just a tiny bit on the main page, you'll see the top ten honorees right here, perfect spot for you to learn more.

You can vote, of course, as Anderson mentioned, polls open until November 19th. But also, if you click on someone's picture or if you want to help their organization, you're going to get all that information that you need at the tip of your fingertips. And again, this is exactly where you vote for your top CNN hero.

COOPER: Our final nominee for CNN Hero of the Year, Doc Hendley is a bartender in Boone, North Carolina whose Wine to Water Organization provides clean water to people in developing countries. He finances his work with funds raised at wine-tasting events and taps into his regular customers for support. Doc learned about the world's clean water crisis when he took a break from college to travel. Since 2004 he's brought sustainable clean water to more than 25,000 people in five countries. It's truly amazing. Doc Hendley joins me now from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doc congratulations. When you heard that you've been selected as a top ten CNN Hero for 2009, what did you think?

HENDLEY: I really didn't know what to think. I was actually driving from the office to go pick my son up. I had to pull my truck over, because it wasn't processing very well because I kind of was freaking out. I think I'm still freaking out just a little bit.

COOPER: How did you come up with this idea of wine to water?

HENDLEY: It's strange. At the end of 2003 I was home on Christmas break and I remembered thinking back over the last five years of bartending in Raleigh at that time. And I just couldn't help but think about the regulars on the stool at the end of the bar that had the same routine every day, day in and day out. I wanted to bring something to them, to that crowd, that service industry crowd.

And then at the same time, that same break, I really, really began to really notice the water crisis in the world. I began seeing figures like 1.1 billion people don't have access to clean water.

So I stayed up one night, that same Christmas break, couldn't sleep at all. I got a pad and paper out and I wrote down wine to water and the whole idea all on a piece of paper that night, late. We had our first fund-raiser about a month later in January of 2004.

COOPER: It's amazing. You're normally in Boone. Why are you joining us in Raleigh today?

HENDLEY: Well, Raleigh is a hometown where we got started. Actually I was going to be down here anyway before I found out. We are down here doing the launch of our wine label. I've been working really hard for the last three years to get a Wine to Water wine out. We've had a party planned at a place called (INAUDIBLE) here in Raleigh to launch that wine label. It's exciting.

COOPER: What's the goal this year for Wine to Water?

HENDLEY: Well, this year by the end of the year we hope to have, financially we hope to have doubled what we made last year. That was set before I knew anything about the CNN Heroes thing back in March, April, whenever I was nominated.

CNN Heroes has been huge, huge to help us actually get close to reaching that goal. And maybe even push a little further.

COOPER: We certainly hope so.

Doc Hendley, congratulations again and I'll see you at the big ceremony.

HENDLEY: Thanks so much. I look forward to meeting you Anderson.

COOPER: You've not met all of our honorees. And as you've seen, each is doing incredible work.

It's time now for your contribution. We need your votes for CNN Hero the Year. It's your chance to change the world.

Remember, the winner is going to receive $100,000 and imagine what a difference that money could make to your favorite hero's cause. It's easy to do your part. Just go to and vote for your favorite hero.

Thanks for watching. I'll see you on Thanksgiving night.