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CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute

Aired December 17, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE.

How are you all doing?



We live in a time and a world full of uncertainty. But tonight is all about hope. In the movies here in Hollywood cape crusaders save the day. Tonight you are going to meet real supermen and superwomen from across the globe. Heroes who've dedicated their lives to helping people in need.

None of them wear a spandex leotard or a cape, at least not while working, not that I'm aware of. But they are true heroes.

We are live tonight in Los Angeles and around the world and we've got a wonderful group of famous folks joining us tonight. They've generously given their time to share our heroes' stories with you. Some of you even journeyed to see our honorees in action.

Jerry Seinfeld is here. Sofia Vergara, Mary-Louise Parker are here, as well as, went to meet one of our heroes in Wisconsin. My colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta is backstage right now streaming live on all night bringing you in-depth interviews with our presenters and honorees.

Also here to salute our heroes are Ice Cube, Laura Dern, JR Martinez, Christy Turlington Burns, who made a pilgrimage herself to Indonesia to learn more about one of our heroes.

And as you're watching tonight, if you'd like to share these amazing stories with your friends, follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @CNNheroes. Use #CNNheroes to help bring more attention to these important issues.

As I said, we are live tonight. I promise I'm going to try very hard not to giggle.

(LAUGHTER) COOPER: I laugh like a 13-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber for the first time, and I admit it. It's very sad.

George Lopez is also here with us tonight to tell us how you can be a hometown hero. And football great Kurt Warner will present an honoree who moved him so much he went deep into the heart of Texas to meet with him.

When hearing these stories tonight if you feel inspired to help, you can actually donate to any of our top 10 CNN heroes. Just go to

Also this year we're going to be recognizing young wonders. Kids who are making a difference. Introduced to us tonight by Emma Roberts, Chris Colfer, as well as Miley Cyrus who's also going to be performing for us tonight.

Plus another very special kid is here. He's going to raise his voice with a fitting song for the show, the one and only Kid Rock.

And if there's time left at the end of the night -- I can't promise. But if there's time left at the end of the night I personally have choreographed a hip hop dance routine to John Lennon's "Imagine." Which I'm very excited about.


COOPER: I know. My mom said, quote, "It's off the hook." Which --


COOPER: It gets cut for time every year, though. So I'm hoping this year it's going to be different.

It's the fifth anniversary of CNN HEROES. The impact of the show and our heroes, honored heroes, has made a huge difference. Since we began our heroes have worked in 77 different countries. They've helped hundreds of thousands of people. And they've received more than $6 million from you at home to help them continue their selfless work.

This evening we celebrate five incredible years of CNN HEROES.


COOPER: Tonight we gather to honor the best that humanity has to offer.


HUGH JACKMAN, PRESENTER: Ladies and gentlemen, heroes walk among us. And we applaud their stories tonight.

COOPER: They are ordinary people often toiling in obscurity, but they're doing extraordinary things and they deserve our recognition and our help.

RENEE ZELLWEGER, PRESENTER: Redemption is beautiful, dangerous, never-ending work. And a hero never fears it.

DEMI MOORE, PRESENTER: Every day this woman confronts the worst of what humanity has to offer.

GEORGE LOPEZ, PRESENTER: He is my hero because one day he rolled the window down and asked, "Are you hungry?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year I was in the heart of a war zone watching this show, and I can't believe that one year later I'm standing on the stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The CNN HEROES program totally blew the roof off of what we were able to do beforehand. We made the same in one month that we made in the entire year previous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since I've been recognized as a CNN hero, my team has grown, brought in millions of dollars worth of equipment. You guys are fantastic. Couldn't have done it without you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Each person has a hero within.

AARON ECKHART, PRESENTER: A simple thing can change lives. And that's what heroes do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us have the power to make a difference. You're never too young to change the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now I'm asking you to please join us --

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do not be afraid. And never, never, never give up.

CAMERON DIAZ, PRESENTER: Ladies and gentlemen --


EVA MENDEZ, PRESENTER: Please join me --


LL COOL J, PRESENTER: Join me in honoring --





(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) COOPER: Tonight we honor 10 new heroes, one of whom later on tonight will be named our 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. So let's get to our first honoree.

He's a champion of the forgotten, transforming people's lives by giving them the power to start their own movement.

To introduce his story is an actress who recently hosted the BeLive Gala to benefit Colombian nonprofits, please welcome Sofia Vergara.



Charity is a beautiful thing. It is powerful, magnificent and amazing the way it can grab hold of us in life. For Richard St. Denis that happened in Toluca, Mexico. Richard was there to deliver a wheelchair to a 17-year-old girl named Letty. She had polio. She's never walked a step in her life.

That morning Letty's mother carry her into the chapel and Richard wheeled her out. That single act of kindness gave her the chance to live a fuller life. Letty was able to work, get married and have children.

Richard knew because of his own accident how valuable that independence was and that just one wheelchair wasn't enough. So he started the World Access Project. He has provided hundreds of people with wheelchairs, crutches and walkers. They can move through life because charity is a beautiful thing.


RICHARD ST. DENIS, WORLD ACCESS PROJECT: In 1997 I was living in Colorado. And a friend of mine who is a pastor invited me to come to this area to a little town called Delores Egalgo. I didn't speak any Spanish. And they asked me if I could come down and bring one wheelchair with me to maybe give away to somebody.

In a room about the size of this warehouse, and people started crawling in on their hands and knees. People were pushed in wheelbarrows. People using branches of trees for crutches. And I just decided, somebody needs to come down here and take wheelchairs. And so I started coming down here once a year and started giving away wheelchairs.

The people that work with us most of the time are people that have received wheelchairs or people that have disabilities. And so I'm blessed to be able to give them a job. And the thing that really helps is they have a compassion for the people that they give the wheelchairs to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of people that come with disabilities that have never seen a wheelchair. They've never seen outside their walls. And when we (INAUDIBLE) there's personal satisfaction.

ST. DENIS: But about five years ago, I came to the realization that if I just went there once a year and never went again, who would do the follow-up? What happens when the wheelchair breaks? So five years ago my wife and I decided to focus on one country.

Many of the people come here to our warehouse. But sometimes we go to the very rural communities and we give them the equipment right where they live.

The person we're going to see today, on this paperwork it doesn't say what his disability is. But we know that he's 32 years old. He can crawl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was born with his feet stuck together. This part of the shin on both legs.

ST. DENIS: When we go to someone's house to get a wheelchair, we try to make it a great experience for them. Not just giving them a gift but getting to know them, getting to know their family. I think within a week, he'll be really good at this chair.

We want to teach people to be independent, to be self-confident. We want to teach them to be able to live the life that you and I would normally be able to live in the United States without even thinking about it.

We teach them art. We teach them music. We teach them all kinds of things. Kind of like a family.

I would say the heartbeat of this organization is the passion that all of us have to make a difference in the lives of other people.



VERGARA: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN hero Richard St. Denis.


ST. DENIS: When I broke my back 35 years ago, I thought my life was over. But I've learned that this wheelchair is an opportunity to make a difference. There is nothing better than to serve God and help others.

For those of you out there who have a disability, never give up. And for everyone, I encourage you to help others. God can use all of us.



ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Miley Cyrus. And later, Jerry Seinfeld. And a live performance by Kid Rock. "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE" is proudly sponsored by the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future. Nurses heal.


COOPER: And welcome back to CNN HEROES.

Here in this, the richest country in the world, 49 million people live in poverty. Hoping to ease some of this pain, our next hero is a guardian for those in need.

What Sal Dimiceli does is he shows us the despair that exists in this country. We see the shack over there where the rain pours in and that a family calls home. A child sitting quietly by the candlelight, her stomach has been growling for days. That elderly woman looking for change. Change she needs to keep the heat on.

Sal carries their burden one letter at a time. They write, "I'm hungry." "My dad lost his job." "We're living in the car." He doesn't wait to put on his marching boots because he knows the time is now. The time to help is now.

Five hundred people a year feel the lift of this one man's arms. Let me tell you, with Sal in this battle, poverty is in for one hell of a fight.


SAL DIMICELI, THE TIME IS NOW TO HELP: We have a grandmother of seven. Her Social Security check is only $600 a month. One of the children are disabled. I hear that she keeps having a hard time with her utilities and food.

We have an emergency situation with an elderly lady. She found out that the trailer she has been living in for the last 30 years has been condemned. We are in fear of becoming homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every week Sal provides a story of one of his visits to people in need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We print 5,000 papers, and people read them. And many people, one of the first things they turn to is Sal's column.

DIMICELI: My mission is to help those that are in the desperate pains of poverty that have been forgotten.


WILL.I.AM: Nice to see you.

DIMICELI: Welcome.

I grew up in poverty. My dad had a disease, gambling. My mom, she did not make enough money for all of our bills. It was hard times. After I got my first job, I was wanting to get home as fast as I can, because I know my mom was at home crying. And I wanted to get there and tell her, we have some relief. I got a job.

It wasn't enough. I had to just say, god, I will always remember those that are suffering like my mom.

WILL.I.AM: There's a war happening right now here in America.

DIMICELI: That's right. It's poverty. Absolutely.

WILL.I.AM: Poverty is really, really kicking America's ass.

DIMICELI: The name of my charity foundation is Time is Now to Help. You cannot take things like tomorrow or later on. People would go to others and they'd say, OK, you qualify for food. You qualify for assistance. Now there's 120-day waiting period. Where's the humanity?

Hey, Rosie. They're looking about getting you an apartment so they're working on that now.

When I see people living like this it's because they've been left alone too long. And their quality of life starts to spiral. And I'm determined that we're going to get her into a much better place.

Bye-bye, dear.

And we need to take her, and we need to change her life from top to bottom. A full-sized bed if we can just make sure if we get a truck. Kitchen table. Is it washable?

I've come across a quadriplegic. Their handicapped vehicle is no longer working. We have a network of wonderful people. Some of the very wealthy. And they're giving back.

This is going to change their world.



DIMICELI: That's a van.

WILL.I.AM: There's a lot of people that want to do and don't know how to do it. And not wait for people. That's a hero.

DIMICELI: That's what you need.

We not only help in material necessities, but at the same time, we let these people know that they are loved and they are cared for.

WILL.I.AM: Hats off and thank you, honestly. Thank you for inspiring other people.

DIMICELI: Their psyche and their depression completely changes as soon as they understand, I am not alone.


COOPER: We want to thank for traveling all that way to meet up with Sal. It's my honor to present CNN hero, Sal Dimiceli.


DIMICELI: This award is for the true heroes. The hungry children. The forgotten elderly. The neglected veterans and handicapped. The working poor I meet every day. Wherever there is pain and suffering, I want to remove it. I have a fighter deep inside of me and energy that I get from God. I want to help, and I ask you to help me also.

Thank you so much. God bless you.


COOPER: If you want to see -- if you want to see more of Sal, learn more about his work, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is backstage right now. He's going to have an extended interview with Sal which you can watch right now at They'll be there all night interviewing every one of our honorees.

Now some people grow into becoming heroes, but some start doing meaningful work incredibly early on. This year we're celebrating kids who've already accomplished what most of us can only imagine. You're going to be introduced by some of these role models tonight by some of our brightest young stars.

To tell us about our first young wonder, please welcome a founder of Get Your Good On, an organization that connects young people with community service, Miley Cyrus.


MILEY CYRUS, GET YOUR GOOD ON FOUNDER: Thank you. There are millions of young people who woke up and wanted to change the world. They saw an injustice on TV about the hungry, or read about kids who can't drink clean water or people who need homes. They had an idea to make a difference. So they took that idea to the breakfast table and said, I'm going to do some good today.

But these CNN young wonders didn't just talk about changing the world, they actually did. And what makes them so amazing is that they all had these special qualities that allow them to do this work.

The first one is empathy beyond their years. That ability to see the world through another's eyes. Rachel Beckwith had this beautiful lasting gift when she was just 9.


SAMANTHA PAUL, RACHEL BECKWITH'S MOTHER: My daughter, Rachel, was in most ways just like every other 9-year-old girl. She was goofy and wanted to have fun with her friends. There was just one little part about her that was different. She had such an empathy for others and wanted to give. So for her 9th birthday, she decided instead of getting presents. She wanted her friends and family to donate to her charity, Water Campaign.

JEREMY JOHNSON, BECKWITH FAMILY PASTOR: And she wanted to raise $300. Crazy goal of a 9-year-old child could raise $300.

PAUL: On July 20th, Rachel and my youngest daughter Sienna and I were in a car accident. And three days later, she ended up passing. While we were still in the hospital, someone had mentioned that we should try and open it up again if we could.

JOHNSON: In a matter of moments, it started to grow more than anyone could have ever imagined.

PAUL: The donations were pouring in. People all over the country. And eventually all over the world.

JOHNSON: Originally, Rachel had $220 on her page. Within days, that climbed to multiple thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rachel has raised more than $145,000.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three quarters of a million dollar.

JOHNSON: One and a quarter million dollars were raised on that page for Charity Water. She's a hero.

PAUL: Next July Charity Water is going to be taking me to Ethiopia to meet -- to meet the people and just see the wells that Rachel's campaign has created. I definitely believe she was a young wonder. And I hope she continues to inspire other young wonders.




COOPER: Welcome back. When we hear the stories of these amazing heroes, often we're overwhelmed with gratitude for all they do, but we have a hard time imagining devoting our whole life to a cause.

To share with us how even with a little effort we can make a big impact is a man whose foundation creates positive, permanent change for those in need.

Please welcome George Lopez.


LOPEZ: Hello. What all of these heroes do seems kind of daunting, right? Most of us will never change our lives in this big of a way. But that doesn't mean we can just have to sit on the couch. What if everybody did something?

Together we could really change things. Now you're probably thinking, there isn't really anything I can do to help close to home. I wondered the same thing. So I did a little research. I wanted to know how many places could I volunteer at within five miles of where I'm standing right now. Guess how many? Ten, 15, 100? Not even close. Seven hundred and 69 organizations within a 10-minute drive from this stage.

So I went to find out what I could do to help. And I helped the people at the Dream Center Feed Homeless on Skid Row. We can't all be nominees. But we all can make a difference.


LOPEZ: At the Dream Center every Thursday they feed people a hot meal here. A lot of times for these people, this is the only hot meal that they'll get. It does really bring you to the reality of our situation in our country and how easy it is to help someone else. There's a community here and there's a family here. And it's not difficult to become part of the family.

How does it make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't want to do anything else. I love this.

LOPEZ: This is one example what volunteers are doing to make their communities a better place. And there are hundreds of opportunities for every one every day in every neighborhood across America. You could spend time and help a child who has special needs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we're looking for here is really to see the kids emerge from their silent world, to see them vocalize and a lot more with the objective of getting them to participate even with their hearing loss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reward is instantaneous when you walk in.

LOPEZ: You could work to clean up your community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always been interested in helping the environment. And I knew this was a great place to get started. What we're doing today, we're removing debris and cleaning up the trails. Just to make it look beautiful and keep one of our natural parks here alive. And keep it looking nice.

LOPEZ: You could provide homework assistance to kids who want to stay in school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wouldn't believe how easy it is to volunteer. It's the easiest thing in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what matters. What matters is paying it forward, making a difference. And that's what gives true value to life. LOPEZ: Whatever your passion, whatever experience you have, whatever amount of time that you have to spare, there is something on your doorstep that you can do, too. So what are you waiting for?

One person can make a tiny difference. Collectively, we can make a massive difference.



ANNOUNCER: Please welcome one of last year's top 10 CNN Heroes, Dan Walrad.

DAN WALRAD, 2010 CNN HERO: It's an honor to be back to introduce a performer who last year called me one of his heroes. When he rocks a town, he usually leaves a trail of destruction behind. But on his latest tour, he's helping to build cities up. He's partnering with Detroit businesses to give back money to local charities around the nation and shine a positive light back on Detroit.

Tonight, he's here to remind us that the first step to becoming a hero is to care.

Ladies and gentlemen, my hero, Kid Rock.


ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Laura Dern. And still to come, Kurt Warner and JR Martinez.


COOPER: And welcome back to CNN HEROES, where tonight we're honoring some of the most giving, some of the most selfless people in the world. And none of them are any of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey," not surprisingly.

We live in a disposable world. And so much of what we take for granted and throw away could actually be used to save lives. And sometimes it just takes a different set of eyes like our next heroes to see something that we treat as garbage and transform it into something miraculous.

Tonight we're proud to introduce someone who shares his concerns by supporting Healthy Child, Healthy World which protects children from toxic chemicals. Please welcome Laura Dern.



Our next hero survived unspeakable horrors. A civil war in Uganda and a refugee camp in Kenya. He then eventually arrived in America. Derreck Kayongo landed in the city of brotherly love. He spent his first night in a hotel and was amazed by what he saw by the bathroom sink. Soap. Three kinds of it. Face soap. Hand soap. And body soap. And because of where he came from, he had no idea there were so many.

So Derrek did what everybody does. He put a couple of bars in his bag and used one. The next day it had all been replaced. He quickly ran to the front desk, gave the bars back and asked for his old soap.

He thought they were charging him for it and he couldn't afford it, of course. Then he realized what they were really doing. They were throwing it all away. And in that moment, Derreck had a life- saving idea.


DERRICK KAYONGO, GLOBAL SOAP PROJECT: This is the place where I grew up as a kid. But one evening, we had gunshots. They had rounded up pretty much the whole village. And we were accused of a crime, these big soldiers, they were asking us who had done it. He proceeded to pick people at random. You, you, you, come up. He took out his pistol and shot all four of them. On the spot.

And so that began for us this incredible journey to become refugees in Kenya.

Ask any refugee anywhere in the world. They will tell you that they lose dignity right off the bat.

Right now we're at the outskirts of Kampala. These people, they have come to this place to actually seek refuge and what you see here is extreme poverty. So the problems we have here tend to be health problems because they don't have things like soap. So what we've done as Global Soap Project is to bring some little bit of hope through -- about soap.

We have 4.6 million hotel rooms in the U.S. They throw away 2.6 million bars of soap every day. That is an aggregate 800 million bars of soap. In juxtaposition we lose two million kids to diarrhea every year.

I was livid.


KAYONGO: I said, how can we say there are resources globally to fight disease when we are throwing away one of them. And that's how it all began.

When I first started the Soap Project, I actually picked up soap with my truck from every hotel. And then we recycled that soap into a brand-new bar that would then end up in the hands of the poorest of the poor. So we're going to show you how to wash your hands so you can actually kill the germs. Do a good job. The ladies are looking at you, my man. Do a good job.

Health for me is the number one challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you imagine? We don't have soap. And yet the biggest problem in the community is hygiene. This is good giving.

KAYONGO: That's what we're trying to fight. There's a side of us that is about tenacity and being solid as a human being. Because you are going through a rough time. And you've got to be tough. So we're bringing dignity. We're bringing hope. And most important of all, we're bringing good health.

This is not a job. This is a mission. As a former refugee, I feel like I'm giving back to the community in a special way. In a real way.



DERN: It is my honor to present CNN hero, Derreck Kayongo.


KAYONGO: Oh, my god. Oh, my god. You know, you could be part of these good stories because not every difficult situation has to end up badly. You, if you encourage people to get involved, then I wonder if a result will happen. And who knows? You might, you know, help save a life. Our soap doesn't just mean health. It means hope. Thank you.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, how are you? Very nice to see you. Yes. Wow. That was -- that was absolutely amazing. What a great speech. Your energy obviously palpable.

And Laura Dern, we bring you in here as well. It's just a simple concept. We waste so many things in the country. How do we -- how do we change that besides what Derreck is doing?

DERN: It's extraordinary. I mean just him pointing out to us that with this simple idea that we are this wasteful and that we never considered it. But from his perspective he consider it and made us all wonder why we hadn't thought of it years before. So I'm so grateful, so grateful to him.

GUPTA: Definitely made a lot of people think. And your energy absolutely palpable. Thanks so much. And if you want to join the conversation about our heroes go to Follow us on Twitter. Follow these guys as well. And use #CNNHeroes. Don't forget, we're live on the whole way through the show as well, talking to our heroes and our presenters. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Christy Turlington Burns and Emma Roberts. And later, Miley Cyrus returns to the stage to perform live.


COOPER: And we'll be on the air shortly. And welcome back. So every 90 seconds, every 90 seconds somewhere in the world a woman dies on this planet from complications during pregnancy. For the most impoverished, becoming pregnant can become a death sentence. But 90 percent of these deaths are preventable.

Our next hero is aiding in the fight for life. Here to shed light on her mission is a woman who is so impressed by our hero's story she went the extra mile. In fact she went in an extra 10,000 miles to Bali, Indonesia, to witness her work firsthand.

Please welcome, global maternal health advocate and founder of Every Mother Counts, which works to improve maternal health around the world, please welcome Christy Turlington Burns.


CHRISTY TURLINGTON BURNS, PRESENTER: Eight years ago, I suffered a complication after delivering my first daughter, Grace. I was fortunate to have access to a great team of health care providers who managed the situation. But I later learned that not enough women do.

And that this same complication is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. My wish is that every mother have access to the same quality of care that I received, ensuring that they survive childbirth.

My friend, Robin Lim, shares that wish. And she spends her days and night doing just that. This extraordinary woman found her way to this work after a year filled with grief. When a devastating tragedy happened in her family, she re-examined her life and moved to Bali. She opened Bumi Sehat clinic where all mothers can give birth safely and be treated with dignity and respect. She's delivered thousands of babies. And that is why they call her Ibu, Mother Robin.


ROBIN LIM, BUMI SEHAT FOUNDATION: My philosophy is pretty simple. I do believe we can be at world peace one baby, one mother, one family at a time.

Welcome to Bali.

We have a pretty high-risk population here. Women die from hemorrhage after childbirth quite commonly in this part of the world. The needs of mothers commonly. Twenty-one years ago I lost my sister and my niece to a complication of pregnancy. My life just took a turn. I had to ask myself, what's your life purpose?

I found my life purpose really is love. If I wasn't living for love, every minute of every day, what was the point? And it led me to midwifery. If you have to pay for health care, inevitably, poor people will suffer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said if we didn't have money, they'd take my baby away. I didn't have any money so I just had to let him go.

LIM: At Bumi Sehat, we have nurses 24/7 and we have midwives 24/7. All of our services are free, and the medicines are free. Having just started one mother at a time, now we have this amazing project. So far we've delivered over 4,000 babies. For the poor, we are the only place they can call on.

BURNS: In terms of emergency obstetric care, can you do pretty much everything here if it comes to that?

LIM: Yes. Everything but a Cesarean. We have ultrasound. We have IV fluids. And then we transport to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are very fortunate to have a clinic like this here. She did great work for the people of Indonesia here. It's amazing.

Thank you, Robin.

LIM: You're amazing.

We know we can't solve all the problems. But we can just take a baby step every day. Birth is such a heroic journey. At the end of that journey, when you're holding that baby, you know that you did it. You did it.

There's just no other place on earth where almost every single child I see is someone who I greeted into this world. I know each of those children, and I know their mother's stories. It's pretty special.



BURNS: It is my honor to present CNN hero, Robin Lim.


LIM: Every baby's first breath on earth could be one of peace and love. Every mother should be healthy and strong. Every birth could be safe and loving. But our world is not there yet. Bumi Sehat needs your help to build a permanent place where compassionate health care can happen. I love you.


ANNOUNCER: Please welcome a proud supporter of the Children's Cancer Research Fund, Emma Roberts.


EMMA ROBERTS, PRESENTER: Our next young wonder embodies that characteristic they all share. Drive. That drive has to be strong and forceful and all consuming in order to make lasting change in this world.

Justin Churchman has it. He went on a charity trip to Juarez, Mexico, just like thousands of other kids do every year. Except Justin is different. He set himself an impossible goal, and he kept going back again and again until he reached it.


JUSTIN CHURCHMAN, CASAS FOR CRISTO: To give someone a home, it's from your heart and it's to their heart. You really change their life forever.

My name's Justin Churchman. I work with an organization called Casas for Cristo. And they build houses in Juarez, Mexico. After I built my first house, I just fell in love with it. It changed my heart and it changed the way I saw the world. It's an addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He organized a theme and at 13 years old led a group of Americans across the border. He built a home and he handed the keys of that home to that family in need.

CHURCHMAN: This is our first house that we built. We met this wonderful lady, and I've just fallen in love with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This house has completely changed my life because we are no longer cold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had a goal pretty early on that he wanted to build 18 houses by the time he turned 18.

CHURCHMAN: My parents got behind me and supported me and Casas for Cristo supported me, and on my 18th birthday, I completed my 18th house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's absolutely a young wonder. He's changing the world one house at a time.



ANNOUNCER: Next, football star Kurt Warner and And still to come, Ice Cube and Mary Louise Parker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Welcome back. If any of the top 10 CNN heroes that we celebrate tonight move you to help, don't hesitate. You can donate right now by going to

Through December 31st, Google is generously waiving all transaction fees, ensuring that 100 percent of every dollar that you donate goes straight to our heroes' nonprofit organizations.

Now to our next hero. Yes. That's very nice of them.

Our next hero is a high school football player has about the same chance of getting injured as an NFL player. But they don't have nearly the same medical and financial resources. That is where our next hero comes in. His story touched our next presenter so deeply he reached out to CNN wanting to meet our hero on his home turf. He was recently voted by his fellow NFL players as the best role model on and off the field.

Please welcome the founder of the First Things First Charity, Kurt Warner.

KURT WARNER, FIRST THINGS FIRST CHARITY FOUNDER: Wow. What an amazing evening. I've always been inspired by those who live their lives asking, how can I help another? After spending time with Eddie Canales and his heroic son, Chris, I realized they take this principle to heart.

In my book, Chris will always be a football star. Chris suffered a terrible injury. In the blink of an eye, the family went from the Friday night lights of Texas football to struggling underneath the lights of a hospital room where the machines sighed and the monitors beeped in sync with their broken hearts and dreams.

When Chris came home, his father knew what he had to do. Eddie quits his job and dropped everything to care for his son. That first year was tough. Despair took hold. Sorrow settled in, and all hope seemed lost. So they went back where it all started, the football field.

Under the lights, and did what heroes do. They found a way to turn their tragedy into their life's work.


WARNER: Tell me just a little bit about gridiron heroes, how it got started.

EDDIE CANALES, GRIDIRON HEROES: You know we started when Chris suffered a spinal cord injury.

CHRIS CANALES, SUFFERED SPINAL CORD INJURY: It was our last home game. We had to win this game to go to the playoffs. About four or five guys missed the last tackle and I made the last touch as to a safe tackle. But along with that, I broke my neck. EDDIE CANALES: He just reached his one-year anniversary date of his injury. Chris was going through some hard times. He started to shut down on me.

CHRIS CANALES: Depression hit, and I was still in the wheelchair.

EDDIE CANALES: So just to get him out of the house, I said, let's go to a football game. There was a state championship game. And at that game we ended up witnessing another spinal cord injury.

As soon as Chris saw that young man being put on that cart, Chris turned to me and said, dad, we've got to go help him. I know what he's going to go through. You know what the Family's going to go through. That was the inspiration behind starting grid iron heroes.

Gridiron heroes, is basically what we do is provide information, inspiration and hope, being there for the families long term, providing the equipment that they need, financial help that they need.

OK. Ready?

Well, two days ago we received a call that a young man had suffered a spinal cord injury playing football. Chris and I drove ten hours to be here to go and visit with the family.

You don't have to feel by yourself. There are other people that are going through this.

Well, Luis was a football player out of Vega High School. He was a running back and suffered a C-5 fracture. It's very tough for us when we go back because we have to relive Chris's injury all over again.

How you doing, Luis? I'm Eddie. That's my son, Chris. It's all gone in an instant. Someone's gone from being so independent and at the prime of his life, now becoming very dependent on some of the basic things, the simplest things that we all take for granted.

CHRIS CANALES: They can be mad at the world. But I'll go in there to help them. Just to let them know that they're not alone through this process.

EDDIE CANALES: This is something that we have to do. We know that this is our purpose. And so we do it.

WARNER: Who else you got here?

CHRIS CANALES: I like to collect sports history. So, for me, like, I got some of the older guys like Terry Bradshaw. Got the steel curtains.

WARNER: You know I'm not a big fan of the Steelers. In all the time I've been with them, they don't talk at all about their selves and their struggles. They talk about how can they help someone else? How can they support another family? To me that's what a hero is all about.

EDDIE CANALES: I've drawn inspiration from Chris because I know what it takes for him to be in that chair day-to-day. To me, that's a hero.



WARNER: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring my friend, and CNN hero, Eddie Canales.


EDDIE CANALES: Those who love the game of football and support the game of football, we'd like for you to get behind us. And if it's OK with you, I'd like to bring my son Chris out and share this with him.


EDDIE CANALES: We ask that you help us provide what these families need. We cheer these young men on the football field. Let's make sure we don't forget them now. Thank you very much.


GUPTA: Welcome, guys. Great speech, Eddie. Thanks, Kurt. Chris, nice to see you again.

Kurt, great to see you. I understand you were so impressed by Eddie's story that you reached out to CNN yourself to get in touch with Eddie and Chris. What did you take away from that experience?

WARNER: Well, it's just amazing to me to see all the people, not just Eddie and Chris, but all the people that are here and represented tonight. And what they're doing to impact another's life. That we can all accomplish great things, but what I've realized is that nothing is as great of accomplishment as impacting somebody's life. And that's what these guys are doing on a daily basis. And I just think it's pretty amazing.

GUPTA: They're coming up with real solutions to real problems. Eddie, Chris, thank you so much. Kurt, of course, I really appreciate it. And we'll be right back after this.

COOPER: Well, this next CNN hero -- this next CNN hero works in a country that I hold deep in my heart. He comes from Haiti.

Nearly two years since the earthquake hit Haiti. There are still so many in need. So many families still, living in squalid tent camps, so many people without a home, a job, without a future. The power and the magic of Haiti is in its people. And this next hero is a wonderful example of that.

To welcome him to the stage, here is the founder of the "I am home fund to help prevent struggling families from losing their homes", please welcome Will.I.Am.


WILL.I.AM, PRESENTER: Four years ago, Patrice Millet battled bone cancer. When the treatment started to work, he figured out what mattered most. It wasn't material. It was the desire to bring a little bit of joy to the kids in the poorest parts of Port-Au-Prince. We forget what they went through.

In the earthquake, many were trapped in darkness, under slabs of concrete without food, water, or the loving whisper of their parents telling them things would be OK. We forget what they are still going through. Many are orphans living in tents and are traumatized by the screams they still hear at night. Patrice gives them a belief from all the struggles. He is their moral compass. He guides them to become good citizens. Patrice has one goal. And that's to give the kids two goals, a ball and the inspiration to help them restart their lives.


PATRICE MILLET, FONDAPS: When you go to the street, you look at the kids, you see with your eyes the way they are living. In Haiti, we need love. Those kids, they are living in the ghetto. They are living a very, very difficult life.

I was doing business, and I was doing very well. But I started to have pain, bone pain. I went to the doctor. He asked me to wait, and after a short while, he told me, you cannot live because you have cancer.

At this time, the money, all the things that you have, it's nothing. And that what makes me do what I am doing right now. I said I love soccer. I'm going to do something for the kids. The most important, it's the love you are giving and the love they are giving to each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been teaching us how to play soccer so we can make something of ourselves.

MILLET: I try to teach them what life is all about. I think that with soccer, you have the discipline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in a tent because of the earthquake. In our tent, we have ten people living with us. Football's the best thing in my life. Football makes me think a lot of things. For one thing, it makes me feel like I belong.

MILLET: The kids are really happy. We are going to the soccer field, and it's a lot of joy. I have a dream for all the kids, whatever they are going to become. The dream is that the kid can accomplish themselves in their life.

It's like I'm a father for them. And they believe in me. They feel secure. Whenever they come to the soccer, they're coming to paradise. The kids are so happy, you know. I make people happy. For four years, I have been the happiest man in the world.



WILL.I.AM: It is my honor to present CNN hero, Patrice Millet.


MILLET: Thank you. I love my kids. They still need so much help, and that's why I have so much -- I have such big plans for them. I want to buy them a field. I want to give them a school where they can paint, learn music, study, and grow up to make Haiti great again. They are my inspiration. And I hope they inspire you, too. Thank you. God bless you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Next, Ice Cube honors a warrior against gang violence.

And later, we announce the 2011 CNN hero of the year.

Subaru is proud to sponsor "CNN heroes: an all-star tribute." highlighting extraordinary heroes with the drive to give back to the world.


COOPER: Welcome back to the fifth anniversary of "CNN heroes." To join in the conversation about tonight's show follow us on facebook, on twitter @CNNheroes. Use the hash tag appearing periodically in the corner here. Because I'm told, it's here. I way no way of actually knowing but I believe there's a hash tag there. Anyway, keep an eye out for it.

Now back to our honorees. It's estimated there are 20,000 gangs in America with more than 1 million members. In some gang infested neighborhoods, people know better than to open their doors to a stranger.

Well, our next hero not only opened her door, she welcomed some of those troubled young people into her home and built a safe haven away from the bloodshed. To invite us into her world, please welcome actor, rapper, producer and philanthropist, Ice Cube.


ICE CUBE, PRESENTER: There's a force in the city of Chicago. She moves through her beloved Roseland neighborhood in search of young people who've gone down the wrong path. When she finds them, she takes them by the hand, and with the roar of a lioness, she says, "I will not give up on you."

Diane Latiker is the mother of eight, grandmother of 13, and the pride keeper of kids off the block. She turns lives around, and I know that's hard to do. She offers gang members, troubled kids, and good ones, too, a safe place to go. They have it in her living room and the community center next door she bought for them where they can go and be safe, study and make music.

There is a forceful good in the city of Chicago. You can hear it in the voices of every kid, who's seen Miss Diane, and she's taken their hand, and they're alive because of that today. For every one of those 1,500 kids, today was a good day.



DIANE LATIKER, KIDS OFF THE BLOCK: What's made your life? A war zone. Bad day. I don't understand what makes you all think there's no hope out there beyond the gun. That worries me. You all got four occupations; basketball, football, singing and rapping, and drug dealing.

My name is Diane Latiker. I am a founding president of kids off the block.

Just how the sunrises every day, it's like a guarantee you're going to hear gunshots. Like this block here, this is basically one gang. And then my block, which is this block, it's another gang.

One of our members, he was shot here. He was shot at 30 times. When that happened and I thought that he was gone, I said that was it. I was giving up. And he survived. He still has five bullets in him, though. He came in and sat down in my living room, and then he said, Miss Diane, if this door wasn't open, I don't know where I'd be. I'd probably be dead or in jail.

And right then, I changed my mind. The memorial is a tribute to young people killed by violence, from 24 years down. But those stones over there, they don't say whether you're a man or not, do they? What makes you a man? They don't have a clue because they haven't had a chance to be a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I met Miss Diane, I was doing a lot of things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was feeling like kill or be killed at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How easy to pick up a gun as easy to pick up a book.

LATIKER: They grew up with uncles and fathers selling drugs. And now, guess what? They're in the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're around violence, around people that sell drugs, you get scared. Where can I go?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She opened up her home, her living room, to kids she didn't even know, kids who were labeled as failures. LATIKER: A woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many kids she didn't know what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One day I came in the house, there was like 50 kids in the house.

LATIKER: All because I said a few words. All, because I took five minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We talked, and she hugged me. I'm like, man, Miss D. I really do want to change. You know what I'm saying? I want to get off these streets. I'm trying to change, I'm trying to change

LATIKER: Tito is a 26-year-old, needs help. He's in a gang and wants to change his life.

Everybody wants to be the dope king or they want to ride in the Chevy, the big wheels. I got to eat, Miss Diane. Of course you do. I'm not knocking that. But, wow, imagine if you could eat and you could sleep at night. The one thing I said about you, Tito, you're a leader. You know, there's just so much negative stuff out here, you know. But if you was in your element to lead right, I believe you'd lead right. Straight up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right, Miss Diane.

LATIKER: I wish I could build an army of young people. And then see the power. If our young people knew how much power they had, they would be unstoppable.



ICE CUBE: Please join me in honoring CNN hero, Diane Latiker.


LATIKER: I go to bed at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. I get up at 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning. I'm always excited. Always know something good's going to happen today. Because some kid is going to say, thank you, Miss Diane. Some parent won't have to bury their child. All because of what we have done.


LATIKER: I know some father would be proud, because they can't change their mind and decide to live a life of positivity. Please don't give up on our young people. Please care about them. Please love them. I needed it, and so did you. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Next on "CNN heroes," Mary-Louise Parker. And later, a musical performance by Miley Cyrus. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: How great was Diane Latiker? She was just incredible.


COOPER: There's a lot of tissues being given out backstage right now. Welcome back to the program.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to ravage many parts of the world, in particular, Africa. There are many ways to fight HIV/AIDS; education, prevention, medicine. Our next hero has joined that battle, and she's fighting in a very unique and very innovative way.

To tell us her story is a proud supporter of hope north, a refuge for escaped child soldiers in Uganda, Mary-Louise Parker.


MARY-LOUISE PARKER, PRESENTER: Good evening. There is a universal desire in all of us to connect. Perhaps it's for survival, or maybe a little divine inspiration. But I'm glad it's there, just waiting for us to listen to its direction. Sometimes it is simple, and other times it sends us on a journey.

Our next hero, Amy Stokes, traveled to Africa to adopt her beloved son. But for her, that was just the beginning. Because of HIV/AIDS, she knew there were millions of children growing up alone, without guidance, care and love. So she found a way for them to connect with someone who cares, someone to say things like, "what a beautiful drawing," "you did great in school," "I'm so proud of you" because every child ought to know the answer to this universal question. Do I matter? A hero knows to always say, "Yes."


AMY STOKES, INFINITE FAMILY: If you're growing up in a community where a significant portion of the young adult population hasn't lived past 30, then it's very easy to believe that you won't either. The young adult population in South Saharan Africa, the parents who teach their children to be good community leaders, that part of the population is what has been most hit by HIV/AIDS.

Children are basically growing up alone and learning from each other.

Infinite family is based on relationships that transform the lives of children and young adults by teaching them life skills. Once or twice a week, the children come to the computer labs. They turn on the computer. They turn on the web cam. And they see their mentor.



MCFADDEN: The minute I see surprise, it is like fuel for the soul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lisa, can I ask you a question?

MCFADDEN: This little guy is having to deal with such grown-up issues. The drugs that he sees and that he encounters. And the peer pressure. So then he asks me those questions.

STOKES: As soon as someone half a world away believes that you have a future, all of a sudden we see the self-confidence start to develop, focus on schoolwork improve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And three times nine?

STOKES: One of the things we saw last year was that the national average on passing the metric exam was about 67 percent. And amongst the infinite family net buddies that took the exam, it was a 90 percent pass rate.

How are you? I am well.

Everyone at Infinite Family is extremely proud of Ayanda (ph). He was the head of the child at a household. Within six months of becoming involved with Infinite Family, Ayanda (ph) was in the front of the class and went on to finish his I.T. certification. And now, we're extremely proud of Ayanda (ph) because he's working at First National Bank.

AYANDA (ph): I didn't know anything about computers. But I wanted to do I.T. so; it was amazing to touch a computer for the first time.

STOKES: When we open our next lab, will you build us the computers?

AYANDA (ph): I would love to.

STOKES: That's cool.

Anybody can be a mentor. To a child with very few adult role models in their life, each of us is a treasure-trove of information.

MCFADDEN: This is something that anybody could do, no matter their level of experience with children, their experience with technology.

The net buddies at Infinite Family are all working so hard to create a different future for themselves. It's all the inspiration I need to keep working to help them.



PARKER: It is my honor to present CNN hero, Amy Stokes.

(APPLAUSE) STOKES: Together, with your talents and determination, we can help prepare these children to rebuild their communities. Mentoring makes the difference between a child that survives and one that thrives. Support infinite family's work and help us create a world where no children grow up alone. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Chris Colfer.

CHRIS COLFER, PRESENTER: When you're near death, it's hard to think about anything but your own mortality. When you survive that kind of illness, it takes extraordinary grace to then put others first. This is compassion in its purest form. A quality all young wonders share, especially Michael Carway. He got so sick he almost died. But that was just the beginning of his remarkable story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Michael was born, he was normal. He was active. He ran around. He played football. He was just like any other child. And one day he just got sick.

MICHAEL CARWAY, YOUNG WONDER: In 2008, when I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed with liver failure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told me straight up, if he does not get a liver transplant, he will die.

CARWAY: It was Halloween. And the doctor came in, Doctor Rosenthal, liver specialist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walked in and he said I hate to sound like the grim reaper. He says it's raining outside and it's Halloween. He said I've been doing this for 30 years. Somebody's going to die. Your son is going to get a liver.

CARWAY: So this guy right here, his name was Johnny Hernandez. He was 18 years old. And he was killed on a motorcycle accident. This family gave something to me that I needed, which was a liver from their son. So I really couldn't pay them back. So I feed the homeless in honor of their son, Johnny Hernandez.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Mikey's idea to feed the homeless and his vision.

CARWAY: December 25th, 2008, we packed up 25 meals, put them in my mom's truck and drove around. Ever since then we've launched Mikey's meals. We feed 4,000 people in the city of Oakland. Every time we feed we promote donor awareness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We signed up at least 30 people to become donors at each even that we have.

CARWAY: It's really important to help your community, because without you, there is no community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mikey is truly a young wonder.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Next, Jerry Seinfeld honors a chef who feeds the soul.

And still to come, J.R. Martinez steps out on stage.


COOPER: Tonight, 16 million children in this country will go to bed without a meal. Seeing a way to help, our next CNN hero came up with a recipe for hearty food with a sprinkling of hope. To introduce us to, a comedian working with his wife's organization, baby buggy, helping needy parents with essential baby gear clothing and services, please welcome my friend, Jerry Seinfeld.


JERRY SEINFELD, PRESENTER: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Anderson. I'm sure you're not aware of this, but that tie is wonderful with your eyes. I am so pleased to be part of this great event. This is the only reality television that I absolutely love.


SEINFELD: Such a great thing you're doing here. You know, when the world sees images of America, they think, yes, they've got a lot of food, but they don't think hunger is a serious problem for our children. And it is, and Chef Bruno Serato knows that. Hunger here looks different compared to the rest of the world, but the sadness you see in kids' eyes, who are hungry, that despair is universal in its heartbreak.

It is hard to dream big dreams when you don't have basic nutrition. You can't let your imagination conceive of becoming an engineer, a doctor, or an artist when your stomach is empty. So Bruno makes sure at least some of our kids always have a good dinner. Seven nights a week, he is making sure they don't go to bed hungry. That is the work of a hero.



CHEF BRUNO SERATO, CATERINA'S CLUB: I'm from Verona, which is the north part of Italy. I come from a very poor family. I personally grew up eating spaghetti with marinara sauce every single day because it was the cheapest thing to serve. And I came here with $20 in my pocket. And I don't speak English. I never left. That was 30 years ago. My mama, Caterina, is special. MICHAEL BAKER, BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB OF AMAHEM: On April 18, 2005, Bruno and his mother, Caterina, were touring the boys and girls (inaudible). And as I was giving them a tour, we're walking to the game room.

SYLVANO IBAY, BRUNO'S NEPHEW: They saw this little kid eating a bag of potato chips. My grandmother asked what's that little kid eating. The executive director of the club said he's eating a bag of potato chips.

BAKER: We don't serve them dinner at the boys and girls club. We don't have the means to do that. Bruno's mother, an Italian, told him, --

SERATO: Bruno, why don't you feed them pasta?

BAKER: This is very nice we're going to have a hot meal for these kids one night. He's done it every day since.

SERATO: When I do the marinara, I add a lot of vegetables. After that I blend them. When I blend them, you don't see the veggie. One time, when I prepared pasta with broccoli, nobody eat it. I have to hide it from the kids. Kids are kids.

BAKER: What I really like most about this program, is here we have some of the poorest children in orange county, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, eating from one of the finest restaurants in the world every single night. How great is that?

SERATO: When the kids have finished the pasta, we take them back to the motel. When I know where they go back and spend the night that break my heart. There's two type of family who live in the hotel. They have the poor family because of economy situation. You have the prostitution. And you have the drug addict, drug dealer. On top of it, you find a family with five, six kids, live in one room. Mom cannot even cook for them even if she wanted to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Living in one room with five people, with three other kids, as much as you try to keep everything with their own space and everything apart, you're always in one place together all the time.

Bruno seems like the type that he's just doing it because he wants the kids to succeed. I don't even know if he realizes how much it helps everybody, but it does.

SERATO: The problem with motel kids is a nationwide problem. You can buy toys. You can buy clothes. But there's nothing compares to feeding kids. Ma and dad always told me, never forget where you come from. I will never forget where I come from.



(APPLAUSE) SEINFELD: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring CNN hero, Bruno Serato. Bruno!


SERATO: I love to feed the kids who are starving all other the world. But before I do that, I want to feed the children here in America. We should not have hungry children in our own backyard. It's time to start to talk about, but to do something about it. To mama!


GUPTA: Congratulations, Bruno. What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it. Jerry, you hear a story like this, I mean, should what Bruno's talking about be a call to action for the country, do you think?

SEINFELD: Absolutely. Each one of the stories that we've heard tonight has been so moving, you just -- each one just knocks you over. It's palpable, if I may use your word.

GUPTA: It's a medical term, I think he means. It really is. It is in our backyard. It's something that we simply -- what's the impact of this, you think, people hearing Bruno's story, Jerry?

SEINFELD: I think people are going to want to immediately respond to Bruno because the energy that comes out of him, palpable. We want to help him. I mean, everyone tonight is there -- everything they're doing is going to expand because of this wonderful show.

GUPTA: A great, great night. Thanks so much, both of you. We'll be right back after this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Next, J.R. Martinez honors a woman who's turned tragedy into triumph.

And later, Miley Cyrus performs before we announce the 2011 hero of the year.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Tide loads of hope is proud to sponsor "CNN heroes: an all-star tribute" highlighting amazing individual who is offer a helping hand to those in need.

COOPER: Jerry Seinfeld is right. It's palpable. It really is. I think that's going to be the new slogan for "CNN heroes." CNN heroes, it's palpable.

Welcome back to the program. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, more than 6,000 service members have lost their lives. Fifty percent of them were married, leaving behind 3,000 surviving spouses devastated by their passing.

Our next hero has become a beacon of light and support for war widows across this nation. To share her story, please welcome a former U.S. army soldier and an inspiration to all of us, plus I hear he's a pretty good dancer, J.R. Martinez.


J.R. MARTINEZ, PRESENTER: What an amazing night. I know that when men and women like me serve this country, we ask a lot from our family. They give up so much so that we can do the job that we have to do. They are brave and strong, and we carry their pictures in our pockets to help us get back home. But not all of us do. That means flag-draped coffins, taps, and widows and widowers are in our hometowns.

Taryn Davis is a widow. She lost her husband, Michael, in Iraq just 17 months after they said "I do." She reached out for a community of other widows like her, but couldn't find one. So she created the American widow project where 900 young women gather in person and on facebook to support one another and remember. Taryn felt a void and filled it herself and others. This is why I salute her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truck flipped. And ended upside down with him up top and he was crush, killed by an IED in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He committed suicide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took off and the nose dipped, and then it spiraled to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They came to my house Thursday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody else is going to be at your door at 5:45 in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told me my husband was not coming home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't marry someone, and look at them and go; oh you're going to die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To lose your best friend, your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most difficult thing about being a widow is waking up every day knowing that my husband's not going to be there.

TARYN DAVIS, AMERICAN WIDOW PROJECT: When you have lost the one person that made you feel like you'll never be alone. And then all of a sudden that person's gone it's hard to find a reason to live. When I thought about a widow, I thought about, like, 90-year-old woman in black knitting a sweater for one of her 100 cats. I wanted to embrace the title. I knew that that title represented Michael's sacrifice and my own.

I went on to Google and I typed in widow and it came back with the response, did you mean window? And it was the catalyst to me creating what the American widow project is now. The options that were out there are sterile. I don't want to go to a seminar and have somebody tell me how to cry or tell me what stage I was in.

So I took a step back and said, OK, what is it that's going to help me get through this and realizing that that was seeing someone else like me. And just talking to them and believing in the possibility of life after death.

We have had the hardest waves pound us down in life. We still, for some reason, are going to paddle out a little farther and hope that maybe the right wave will come. If we only ride it for a couple seconds, it's enough to let us know that it's possible to ride it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only way to describe it is a recharge of the soul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like these women get me. And I get them. And they give me hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This weekend I found that I'm normal, that I can have the emotional swings and not feel like a freak.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's showing us that we can still live and not saving lives. Maybe we're not going to die from being sad, but we're not going to be living.

DAVIS: There's thousands of widows out there. And I want them to be able to have what these women had these past weekends. And that's just the knowledge that I'm not alone. I'm going to get through this. And it's OK to smile.



MARTINEZ: Please join me in honoring CNN hero, Taryn Davis.


DAVIS: We must remember to honor our calling, even if it means embracing our most tragic circumstances. I believe that widowhood is a lifetime process, and when the war ends, our war is just beginning. The American widow project is a source of healing and hope to this generation. And heaven forbid, for generations to come. I love you, Michael.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Coming up, a special musical performance from Miley Cyrus. And we reveal the 2011 CNN hero of the year.


GUPTA: What do you -- you know, how do you make that happen when you watch a story like Taryn's?

MARTINEZ: Unfortunately, you know, a lot of people pay attention to the service members that wear that uniform but they often forget about those that support us. They allow us to do what we do and go on multiple tours. So, I think the biggest thing is for all of us that have a platform, whatever capacity, is to go out and say, think of the spouses, think of the mothers, think of the fathers, think of the brothers and sisters and show them support as well and she's doing an amazing job of this. It's unfortunate but something great came out of that.

GUPTA: I learned so much tonight, Taryn, from you and J.R. you as well. Thank you both very much. An incredible night as you know.

We're just moments away from announcing the 2011 CNN of the year but first, our final performer is back to salute all of the heroes with her song "The Climb."

Ladies and gentlemen, Miley Cyrus.



COOPER: Miley Cyrus.


COOPER: Well, tonight we've celebrated extraordinary men and women from around the world who sacrificed for us all. It's time to present the final honor, hero of the year. It's our five-year anniversary. Over the course of CNN heroes more than six million votes have been cast at home. Between CNN's grants and your generous donations, more than $8 million is going straight to the heart of our heroes' amazing missions.

This year each of our top CNN heroes has been awarded $50,000 to continue their critical work. It makes a huge difference in their lives. We asked you to vote at for the hero that inspires you the most. All of our heroes received an overwhelming amount of support. The hero with the most votes will be awarded an additional $250,000 to advance their important cause.


COOPER: And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's my great honor to announce the 2011 CNN hero of the year. The 2011 CNN hero of the year is Robin Lim.