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Change the World: CNN Heroes

Aired October 3, 2009 - 20:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN special "Change the World: CNN Heroes" with our Anderson Cooper. It starts right now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 10 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 will be changed forever. But first we need your vote. will take you to our heroes web site where you can really change the world with the click of your mouse. It's that easy. Voting is now underway 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.



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


JOHN LEGEND, GRAMMY AWARD WINNER: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all need to know that we are loved. It is by reaching out to each other that we can become closer.

LEGEND: Sing-along with me. If you are out there --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give me the confidence to transform from victim to leader.

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 you dream.

LEGEND: Tomorrow is starting now -

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

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

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

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: If you're out there --

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: We're the 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 costumed designed. This is Marie Desilva's, one of last year's honorees. But each year, they also receive $25,000 toward 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 and 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. 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.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm honored to present the CNN hero to Marie Desilva. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Since becoming a CNN hero last year, life for Marie DeSilva and her Jacaranda Foundation has changed completely.


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

COOPER (voice-over): Thanks to nearly $100,000 in donations from CNN viewers, Desilva was able to leave her job as a nanny and devote herself fulltime 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.

(on camera): How has life at the school changed.

DESILVA: A lot. The school has been built.

COOPER: You built the school?

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

COOPER: Before it was in -

DESILVA: In my house.

COOPER: In your house?

DESILVA: Yes. In my house.


COOPER (voice-over): 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.

Everything that has happened in the school within this year is through people seeing me on TV, coming in and saying what can we do. An example was we had 11 books in our library -

COOPER (on camera): 11 books.

DESILVA: 11 books before CNN. Today we have over 3,000 books.

COOPER: 3,000. Wow.

(voice-over): Huge changes that Desilva says made all the difference in helping her kids succeed.

(on camera): 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 (voice-over): Another first for the Jacaranda school, all seven graduates are continuing on to college with their tuition donated by CNN viewers.

(on camera): When you started with this dream,, this idea, did you ever imagine it would get to this point?

DESILVA: I did have hope and faith that one day I would see these children graduate and get a better future. But I did not realize 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 (voice-over): Now it is not only alive, but thriving with more than 500,000 AIDS orphans in Malawi, Desilva opens the opportunity to continue making a difference, one donated book, one high school graduate, and 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. Now remember, we are not introducing them to you in any particular order. In no way should your voting be influenced by how we made our top ten heroes tonight.

So with that in mind, meet Roy Foster. He is an Army veteran. He once struggled with addiction and homelessness himself. His experience inspired him to create the stand down house, a program that has help close to 900 veterans turn their lives around.

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


ROY FOSTER, ARMY VETERAN: How can I 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, homeless. Unacceptable.

What branch of service?


FOSTER: Army. So was I.

We are brothers at arms. So no man left behind. If you are going to work for sobriety, you got to change. Stand down house provides services for veterans only, a safe, clean place to live. All the meals, mental health services. The camaraderie, it is that internal (INAUDIBLE). They are the best. And they deserve the best. What I o, I love. I love it.


COOPER: Each hero you will 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 10 CNN hero. He grew up in the Philippines near a slum. In high school he was bullied by gang members. Today, with gang memberships surging, he gives young Filipinos living on the streets an alternative. His program uses a push Carter: classroom to reach at risk kids wherever they are including garbage dumps. Take a look.


EFREN PENAFLORIDA: Gang members are a groomed in the slums as early as nine years old. They are 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. I always tell to my volunteers that you are the change that you dream. Collectively we are the change 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 from the wake of Hurricane Katrina quit her job and moved to New Orleans to help rebuild the city, one house at a time. It has been a memorable year for Liz. And it all started a year ago, the award ceremonies in Los Angeles. A star-studded affair, attended and supported by performance like Christina Aguillera. Listen.



CHRISTINA AGUILERA: We are beautiful, no matter what they say... no matter what they say... no, no, no, no. We are beautiful... no matter what they say...




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


COOPER: That was Jessica Beale from last year's heroes event. On Thanksgiving night we are going to be back in Los Angeles to announce the 2009 hero of the year, the hero chosen by you through 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 Theatre.


COOPER: CNN hero of the year is Liz McCartney.

Our 2008 hero of the year, Liz McCartney, nominated for all she has done to help rebuild New Orleans' devastated St. Bernard's Parish. After Hurricane Katrina, no one told McCartney to take action she just did it. She quit her job, moved to New Orleans, taught herself construction and started building houses, which she has accomplished and her being named the 2008 CNN hero of the year has helped is truly remarkable.

LIZ MCCARTNEY: The heroes award was 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. 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 have had 16,000 volunteers. We are going to be celebrating the 240th home that we have completed. We have expanded our capacity to also building homes in New Orleans but it also helped us start our center for wellness and mental health. CNN helped us rebuild homes and also to rebuilt people's live 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 to 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.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the best news is this is 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 on the 10 honorees that we got for you. We've been telling you a little bit about them tonight. But when you are ready to vote this is where you do it. You simply go to the vote page. You see our 10 honorees and while we may have learned a little bit about them, maybe you are still looking for a little more information.

We told you a little 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. The screen for all 10 honorees is going to look exactly like this. 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 on CNN is what we call a fan page. You can become a fan of any of the top 10 honorees or of the CNN heroes event, in general. Choose that -- Let's say you chose the CNN heroes event. Come over here on the page and what you are going to do is click get and share.

You get that widget and you can 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 they are 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 is how to vote for the CNN hero of the year. It is that simple.

Now let's meet another nominee. New Orleans native Derek Tab is a drummer in one of the city's top brass band who credits his high school band teacher with putting him on the right track years ago. Today, he is paying it forward with the Roots of Music, a program that provided free tutoring instruments in music education to more than 100 students. The goal is keeping young people out of trouble in the city with the nation's highest murder rate.


DEREK TAB: We do more than just teach music. We offer transportation, we offer instruments. I feed you so you are not hungry. I give you tutoring. You don't have no excuse why you are not here. You don't have to have any experience. We meet five days a week year round. You are constantly learning something new that is what keeps the kids coming back every day.

Okay dokey (ph).

I always say that saving lives is giving life but a whole different life of music.


COOPER: CNN Heroes is now in its third year and one of the coolest things about it is how the lives of CNN Heroes often change dramatically, almost overnight. Aaron Jackson was named a CNN hero in 2007 when he was just 25 years old. He was on a mission then to deworm children in Haiti. All three million of them. Today, he is much closer to that goal in part because of an important connection he made. Actor Rain (ph) Wilson from "The office" saw Aaron on CNN Heroes and became a big supporter of his cause. Aaron joins us now.

That is cool that Rain(ph) Wilson got involved. How else have things changed since 2007?

AARON JACKSON, CNN HERO 2007: It is just amazing. You know, thousands of people have reached out to us and wanted to join, you know, our movement of peace. It is just amazing. When Rain reached out to us and he has helped shed light on this cause that the world does not know much about.

COOPER: What are the kind of responses have you gotten?

JACKSON: It's amazing. Little kids, you know, saving up a little bit of money and sending us donations. Other actors, Rain Wilson is not the only actor (INAUDIBLE) and participating.

COOPER: And how has it impacted your work?

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

COOPER: You plan to treat three million people?

JACKSON: Yes. There are 3.2 million children. And this November we are going to treat all 3.2 million.

COOPER: How long is that going to take?

JACKSON: We are going to try to do it all in the month of November. So it will be Haiti's first national deworming program.

COOPER: And why this? And why 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 is of the utmost importance. You know, you can literally cut nutrition rates in half.

COOPER: How much does it cost to deworm one child?

JACKSON: Believe it or not, 1.5 cents.


JACKSON: 1.5 cents.

COOPER: What comes next for your organization? What is the next goal?

JACKSON: Well, we also just started - we are buying an Amazon rain forest land, actually just for $8 an acre. We are buying all through Peru right now. So that is our main goal to start building preservations.

COOPER: And what is the goal with that? Just to try to preserve as much as possible?

JACKSON: Yes. You know, two out of every 10 breaths we take is actually provided by the Amazon rain forest and every day we destroy 200,000 acres of it. It is of utmost importance to protect that. So we're just doing what we can. Doing our small little part so the world can breathe.

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

JACKSON: Thank you.

COOPER: Much more ahead including how the 10 nominees are selected. It is a difficult job. This year's blue ribbon panel includes Sir Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, General Collin Powell, Shakira, Phil Jackson and many others. We give them an impressive list and its their job to narrow it down to just 10. It comes down to tough choices because each hero has changed the world in a profound world.

Our next contender, Betty Makono. 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 trauma, 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: In Zimbabwe young girls are raped because of the they myth that virgins 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 the 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 event in Los Angeles. Your votes will help decide this year's winner. And remember, voting is now underway. Go to And vote for your favorite hero. We will announce the winner on Thanksgiving night. It's the culmination of a 10 month journey that started on January 1st. 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 powerhouses in a range of fields, Whoopi Goldberg, Phil Jackson, General Collin 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 their response was overwhelming. So where did they start and what were they looking for?

To blue ribbon panelist Malaak Compton-Rock, it came down to her definition of service.


MALAAK COMPTON-ROCK, 2209 BLUE RIBBON PANELIST: Service is the rent we pay for living. It is actually not my quote. It belongs to Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children's Defense Fund. And one of the greatest servants out there helping U.S. children.

But I think 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 is 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 the very difficult task of picking the top 10 honorees this year. Here is another, Marianne Pearl.


MARIANNE PEARL, 2009 BLUE RIBBON PANELIST: Jorge Munoz was a bus driver. Driving in New York City is not easy. And he is driving all day long and then, you know, he goes home and the next thing you know he is just getting these beans together and going to feed people. I think it gives us a sense of if you want to help, there is a need for you to help. And these people looked around them. What can they do now to help the people around them? I think that's heroic.


COOPER: Jorge Munoz, the 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 an Angel in Queens, a one-man mobile soup kitchen which 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JORGE MUNOZ: I was born in Colombia but I'm a citizen right now. I'm a school bus driver. When I come back around 5:15, my second job starts. Prepare the meals, pack them up. It is like the family project seven days a week. I go to the same corners every night around 9:30. They are waiting for me.

Como esta? Bien.

Our economy is (INAUDIBLE) right now. Day by day, their number increase. I will help anyone who needs to eat. Just line up. The best part is when you see their smiles and I want them to eat every night. To me it is easy. Compared with them, I'm rich.


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. But 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 is what actress Kate Beckinsale had to say about that as a presentor in last year's heroes event.


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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield, coming to you live from the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We'll return to CHANGE THE WORLD: CNN HEROES SPECIAL in a moment, but first, a look at these headlines.

In Indonesia, a frantic search for thousands of people who may have been buried alive in Wednesday's earthquake. Disaster management officials say at least 540 people have been killed, but they say some 4,000 more could be trapped in the City of Padang. Crews are using hammers, chisels, even their bare hands as hopes fade that they will uncover any survivors.

And the FBI said it has nabbed the man behind the peephole videotape of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. Forty-seven-year-old Michael David Barrett is an Illinois insurance man, someone his lawyer called "just a regular guy." But officers say he stalked Andrews to her hotel room and recorded her nude through the peephole. He was nabbed yesterday at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and faces charges of interstate stalking.

And David Letterman's accused blackmailer pleads not guilty. Robert Halderman, an Emmy-award winning producer for "48 Hours", is charged with attempted grand larceny in an alleged $2 million extortion plot. Letterman shocked the world Thursday when he sat behind the "Late Night" desk and confessed to having sex with female staffers. He told his audience the blackmailer threatened to write a screenplay about his sex life unless he would pay.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN HEROES SPECIAL: CHANGE THE WORLD returns right after this.


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

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is geographically diverse, but what we 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, of course, our young wonder, Jordan Thomas, who has helped bringing vital prosthetics to kids everywhere and really changing their lives in the process. In Miami, Andrea Ivory, who is 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, actually in Queens, not too far outside of New York City, Jorge Munoz is using his mobile soup kitchen to serve meals to those who need them. Already, 70,000 people since 2004.

But as we mentioned, 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 has 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 of 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 here, in the Philippines is where we find Efren Penaflorida, who is also helping children by giving them alternatives, Anderson, to gangs.

COOPER: Erica, thanks. I want to remind you again that how you made our Top 10 Heroes tonight shouldn't be a factor in your voting. With that in mind, here's 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 in Southern Florida 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 10 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 - 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 - with the bad economic times, do you find that there are more women who are skipping on - on preventative care like mammograms?

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

COOPER: And what's so remarkable about what you're doing, I mean, you have literally saved lives. I know there is the mother of a teenage girl who recently showed up to volunteer. What - 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 she brought her mother out in the hallway and we spoke with her mother, and 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 - 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 have had so many calls as a result of the exposure that we've 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 Ivory, congratulations. We wish you the best of luck.

Just ahead, meet a former hero who discovered her 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, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2008: Just talk from your heart. That's what this is about.

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

LECROY: They know they've made mistakes, but they're still human beings and they have children and they all love them.


COOPER: Carolyn LeCroy's work struck a deep chord with Holly Robinson-Peete, one of last year's Blue Ribbon panelists. She felt so strongly about it that now she's helping Carolyn with her cause. You will hear from both of them ahead.

But first, here is another contender for our 2009 Hero of the Year. Twenty-year-old Jordan Thomas is 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.


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. It's just a freak accident. I just got pushed behind a boat. I had such great support, but when I saw the other kids that were in the hospital, they didn't - you recognize that something's got to be done. There are a lot of insurance companies who'll put a cap on prosthetics or that provide them with one pair of legs for their lifetime.

NOAH, LEG AMPUTEE: Peek-a-boo.

THOMAS: Noah is six. 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 that now he's so proud to show off how his knee bends. It's great. We provide them with prosthetics, then that creates a whole gamut of opportunity for them to achieve whatever they want. I think they deserve that.



COOPER: Great 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 these year's contenders. Here's an eighth, Brad Blauser, a Dallas native who 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 out 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 is 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 were so many people willing to reach out and touch the lives of these kids. People donate on my website. 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 10 Hero 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? Well, Carolyn says it best.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Cameron. This is your father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, JJ (ph). It's mommy. I love you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mommy misses you.

CAROLYN LECROY: The children of incarcerated parents are the silent victim of the parents' crime. These children gets forgotten sometimes.

My name is Carolyn LeCroy, and 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, and I would look at them. If they were this unhappy, what about the children?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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. This is daddy, buddy. I love you and I hope you enjoy this.

LECROY: They know they've made mistakes, but they're still human beings and they have children and they all love them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is from your daddy, OK?

CALEB (ph): Daddy?

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 when a parent 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 it about - about Carolyn's work that has struck a chord with you?

HOLLY ROBINSON-PEETE, 2008 BLUE RIBBON PANELIST: Well, you know, how do you choose a superhero among heroes? Everybody was amazing, and everyone had a unique brand of philanthropy. But there was something that touched me about Carolyn's work that it - it was - it was a problem that I really wasn't aware of, and it was 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 last - 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?

ROBINSON-PEETE: We're doing 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, and I'm helping her get into the California Penal System, in 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 - to read about these heroes, it's another thing to actually meet them. What was it like at the tribute show last year when you actually met the CNN Heroes face-to- face? ROBINSON-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. So, when I got to see Carolyn or when I got to see Anne Mahlum who - from my hometown of Philly, who literally got people back up - homeless people on their feet jogging or - or Liz McCartney or Maria De Silva. I mean, when I got to meet some of these people, I felt like I already knew them. So, I - 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?

ROBINSON-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, and my husband was like, "Look at your face." I looked like a raccoon. So next year, I will have the waterproof mascara and be ready for the emotion.

It was such a powerful, powerful show, and what I really thought was amazing was all of these A-list people there, you know, everyone from Hugh Jackman to, you know, Cameron Diaz, and 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.

ROBINSON-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 a quarter million 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 were riots, buildings being burned. The children - what they were having there was far from being normal. It was the way (ph) 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 vaccinations, clothing, food, but we cannot give them anything more valuable than a proper education.

Very, very good, right? Those we're helping, we (ph) 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 salary, but his airline contract has not been renewed because of the struggling economy. His last day of work is November 11th.

We've now introduced you to all but one of our 10 CNN heroes, and remember, how we introduced them in the show is random and should in no way affect how you 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 fundraising. 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 who are living in conflicts 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 the burden of mine (ph).



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, and the polls are open and are going to stay open until November 19th - Erica.

HILL: So, 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. If you go to, when you scroll down just a tiny bit on the main page, you'll see the top 10 honorees right here - perfect spot for you to learn more. You can vote, of course. As Anderson mentioned, polls are open until November 19th. But also if you click on someone's picture or if you want to help their organization, you are 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: Now, 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 10 CNN Hero for - for 2009, what did you think?

DOC HENDLEY, TOP 10 CNN HERO 2009: I really didn't know what to think. I was actually driving from my office to go pick my son up, and I - I had to pull my truck over because it wasn't - it wasn't processing very well, because I - like I was kind of 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: Well, it's strange. At the end of 2003, I was - I was home on Christmas break and I remember thinking back over the last five years of bartending in Raleigh at that time, and - and I just - I can't - I couldn't help but think about the regulars on the stool at the end of the bar that - that had the same routine every day, day in and day out, and I wanted to bring something to them and to that crowd, that service industry crowd.

And 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. And so, I stayed up one night that same Christmas break, couldn't sleep at all, and 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. And we had our first fundraiser about a month later in January of 2004.

COOPER: It's amazing. Now, you're normally in Boone, why are you joining us from Raleigh today?

HENDLEY: Well, Raleigh is the hometown where we got started. But, actually, I was going to be down here anyway before I found out. We are down here doing the launch of our wine label. We - I've been working really hard for the last three years to get a Wine to Water wine out. And now we're - so we've had a party planned at a place called "Amras" here in Raleigh to launch that - that wine label. So, we are excited.

COOPER: And what - what's the goal this year for Wine to Water?

HENDLEY: Well, this year, by the end - by the end of the year, we hope to have -financially, we hope to have doubled what we made last year and that was set before I knew anything about the CNN HEROES thing back in March, April - whenever I was nominated. And CNN HEROES has been huge, huge to help us actually get close to reaching that goal and maybe even push a little further.

COOPER: Well, we certainly hope so. Hey, Doc Hendley, congratulations again and I'll see you at the - the big ceremony.

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

COOPER: You've now 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 of 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 can 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.