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CNN Heroes: An All-Stars Tribute

Aired December 8, 2012 - 20:00   ET


HARVEY KEITEL, ACTOR: A first responder rushes into a building to rescue a child. He doesn't see this as anything more than doing his job. This is a hero.

A young girl speaks up for her right to an education and get shot in the head. But her voice is not silenced and she inspires a movement of women. That's hero.

A man is found in a house with his arms tightly wrapped around his son, trying to protect him, as Hurricane Sandy swept them both away. He was a former Marine. That's a hero, too.

We don't build statues to these people, we might not even notice them, but they don't care about that because their actions are not calculated to gain recognition or reward. What they do is who they are.

As a young Marine, I was taught to help people who could not help themselves. All over the world, right now, people are putting this principle into action and saving lives.

These heroes speak one language, the language of humanity. There are different kinds of heroes around us. Those who, in that unforgiving minute, rise to the occasion when the moment calls for it, daily grind it out heroes who wake up every morning and humbly change the world.

You think you've got what it takes to be a hero. We've all asked ourselves that question. I think we do. Of course, these heroes, they're you. Just ordinary people, until they're heroes. And we need those heroes more than ever.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Anderson Cooper.

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

The men, the women and the children that you're going to meet tonight are taking aim at some of humanity's gravest challenges. They come here not only to accept our gratitude but to inspire us to take action in our own lives.

With us this evening, as you'd expect at a fancy awards show, are film, TV, music, and sports stars, but here is the difference. They didn't come here to be honored. They generously came to lend their support to our heroes as did the remarkably talented Harvey Keitel. We want to thank them for being involved. You also can get involved tonight. You'll see ways to interact and donate on screen during the performances tonight, during the show. You'll see some stuff down over here, you'll see some stuff over here on your screen, hopefully not right here because that's my face, that's the moneymaker.


We've got -- we've got 10 incredible heroes that we're honoring this year. And later tonight, one of them is going to be named the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year.

If there's any time left, the producers have promised me this time, finally, I can sing my a cappella version of "Gangnam Style," so fingers crossed, I've been practicing for weeks. And I have just been told there will not be time for that.

Like many of our honorees, our first hero story illustrates a problem that is hiding really in plain sight. To introduce us to her, please welcome an actor who champions many children's causes such as UNICEF and Race for Kids, Adrien Brody.


ADRIEN BRODY, ACTOR: Every day, so many children do the extraordinary and most of us don't even notice. They change their mother's IV. They clean their brother's feeding tube and check for bed sores. They dispense complex, life-saving drugs and then spend the night worrying if they got it right.

In the morning, worn out and drained, they catch the bus to school. And what Connie Siskowski discovered is that they carry more than their heavy backpacks into those classrooms. They carry the burdens of home.

She noticed how these adult responsibilities impacted their school work, how they were afraid that if they asked for help at home, they'd be separated from their families. And how they often dropped out of school.

While others were oblivious and critical, Connie knew they were strong. And she had the insight to start an organization focused on easing their burdens. And because of her work, we can now see these kids as inspiring, compassionate human beings.

And we are blessed that they are hidden no more.


CONNIE SISKOWSKI, CNN HERO: There are at least 1.3 million children who are care giving in the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom is a three-time cancer survivor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My biggest fear is finding out she's in the hospital when I get home from school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She might end up face down in the backyard.

SISKOWSKI: As a result of care giving, children sacrifice their education. They sacrifice their well-being. They sacrifice their childhood.

Our health care system has many gaps. Families are struggling and they don't have the disposable income to hire help at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I help my mom care for my brother, Isaac. I first started caring for Isaac when I was 11 years old. I help my mom bathe him, feed him. I also help change his diaper, put on clothes.

Let's go, guys.

Before I got into the Care Giving Youth Project, I mainly felt stressed.

SISKOWSKI: Having experienced some of that myself allows me to better understand what these families are going through. When I was growing up, my grandfather and I were really close and he had congestive heart failure. I did everything for my grandfather. The night that he died, I was the one who found that he was no longer breathing and I can still feel what his skin felt like at that time. I remember I didn't cry until -- sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After the lab, we are going to go over the periodic table.

SISKOWSKI: Working with the children and seeing their lives transformed makes me get up every day. Our society loses if we do not support these children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, look at that.

SISKOWSKI: In school, we offer skills building. We offer families a home visit to see what other needs the families might have.

You have a couple of steps to go up to get Isaac into the house?


SISKOWSKI: Maybe we can get a ramp built?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That would be great. Thank you so much.

SISKOWSKI: Fun activities are important because it allows the child to experience a piece of childhood that they otherwise might not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It helps my confidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel that they have my back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to tell the world, this organization is amazing. It really helps. And it's all thanks to Dr. Connie. I love her so much.



BRODY: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present CNN Hero Connie Siskowski.


SISKOWSKI: It's no secret that the kids you just met are the real heroes. There are still too many people who don't know these children exist. Thanks to tonight, many more do. Now it's time to make sure that they have the support they need and that not one child drops out of school to care for loved ones.

Please join us to give your community's care giving youth a chance. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN Heroes, Viola Davis and David Spade. And later, Josh Duhamel and a live performance by Phillip Phillips.


COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge 32 of our heroes of past years who are in the house tonight. We are very glad that our CNN HEROES family could be here with us. So thanks for being here.


Because of your support, they continue to do their life-changing work.

Now let's go to our next honoree.

Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the word -- the world. But in Afghanistan right now the Taliban have destroyed hundreds of schools, especially targeting ones or educating young women and young girls. Our next hero has refused to back down, welcoming girls inside the protective walls of the school that she herself built.

To tell us about her, please welcome a proud supporter of the Segue Institute for Learning in her hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island, Viola Davis.


VIOLA DAVIS, ACTRESS: Let's remember this number. Thirty-two million. That's how many girls around the world are deprived of a primary school education every day. For too many, they are denied this right simply because they are girls. Not allowed to learn how to read and write, add and subtract, understand science and the stars. Thirty-two million brilliant girls told they can't reach for the heavens. That's why Razia Jan, a woman who embodies the word courage, says not on my watch. We're going to change this and after she saw the towers fall on 9/11, she did just that. She returned to Afghanistan to educate those girls and help rebuild her country.

Under looming threats and real danger, she opened the doors of the Zaboli Education Center. Today, these students walk with their heads held high, determined to raise their voices after being silenced for too long. And greeting them each day is Razia, helping each one dream and say loud and proud, I want to learn.


RAZIA JAN, CNN HERO: I came to Afghanistan and I saw mostly desperate girls. If you see the history, the women and girls have suffered. The Russian invasion, the Taliban, the civil war. For 30 years, the girls weren't allowed to go to school. School boys, they try to cross the road, and if they see me, they will hit my car with a punch. They think that a woman shouldn't be out of the house, shouldn't drive, shouldn't do anything.

I thought that if I can do something to build this school, the best thing is to educate and start from the very bottom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other day, I was looking at a notebook, I said to my 18-year-old your handwriting has improved dramatically. Nadia said, but that's mine. When I saw her talent I cried, out of happiness. Most men couldn't do what Razia has done.

JAN: When I started this school, my mission was to have a girls' school and I was not going to change my mind, under any circumstances. What they thought is that I will fail and then they can change it into a boys' school.

Does anyone have any questions?

And now the coins have flipped, literally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to say something. If we find a place, and resources, can you please help us build a boys' school, like this one? JAN: I mean, they are very conservative, but they are not terrorists.

We still have a lot of problem in Afghanistan. The girls are being threatened. The schools have been burned. They've been poisoned. If they were walking to school, they throw acid on their face. I have security for the school. But we don't have guns.

You can be anything you want. You can be a doctor or a teacher. An engineer. This education has something that you'll never forget.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Maria. My father's name is --

JAN: I will always do my best to help you. When you have a daughter the first thing you will do is consider her education. I want you to achieve greatness. You will have a better future than thousands of other Afghan girl.



DAVIS: It's my honor to present CNN Hero Razia Jan.


JAN: Thank you. Thank you. The seed of education that was cultivated for my girls five years ago is blooming. I have great hopes and dreams for the future of Afghan girls. Please hold my hand and let's go together forward and help these girls.

Thank you very much.


COOPER: I can't watch our last hero's story without thinking of a young girl named Malala Yousafzai. She was a 14-year-old girl who was shot point blank in the head.


Shot point blank in the head in Pakistan for speaking out in support of girls' education. She is recovering right now in a hospital in England. Her father tells us that Malala is getting better, that she is actually reading books again and that she is walking again.

Her father asked that I read you a message from Malala tonight, and she says, "Thank you so much for the outpouring of love and support. I thank the people who supported me without distinguishing religion and color. People have actually supported a cause, not an individual. Let's work together," she says, "let's work together to educate girls around the world."

Thank you, Malala, and we send our thoughts and our wishes to your continued recovery.


ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Jeff Gordon. Still to come, Susan Sarandon and 50 Cent.


COOPER: In addition to the 10 heroes that we're saluting tonight, we're also recognizing young wonders, little kids who have made a big difference.

To introduce us to our first young wonder, please welcome a proud supporter of Keep a Child Alive and a member of the American Red Cross National Celebrity cabinet, David Spade.


DAVID SPADE, ACTOR: All right. Hey, everybody. It's great to be here at the CNN HEROES event.

You know, a lot of people call me a hero.


Not people in this room, but, you know, out in the streets. Because I try to do my part in helping out with different charities. I try to do what I can. Actually, I don't want to forget about our own backyard. So I've been working with some charities here in Hollywood that some people don't know about.

About two weekends a month, I work with a group called Kids Without Beamers.


And we go to Beverly Hills High and we give out red convertible BMWs.


To anyone that doesn't have one already, and there were two last year. It's a great group. It's a great bunch of people. Check our Web site.

Also, I work with some doctors, we gave out free plastic surgery and facelifts to actresses on their 25th birthday.


If they can't afford it. And the other day I was walking around, I saw a girl who looked 28 and I said, why?


This doesn't have to happen. There's also celebrities, I -- every six months, I sit with Lindsay Lohan and we figure out her next horrible career mistake.


Sometimes she starts heading in the right direction, I say, wait, trust your instincts.


That's not why I brought you here tonight. The real reason is, I'm actually going to introduce to you a very cool kid. He is the first CNN Young Wonder, Will Lorsy. Look at what this compassionate and brilliant kid did to try to end hunger in this country.


WILL LORSY, CNN YOUNG WONDER: One day when I drove home from a Little League game, I saw homeless man with a cardboard sign and said, "Need a meal." So I told my mom I wanted to do something. BO SODERBERGH, FOOD BANK DIRECTOR: Will Lorsy is a 9-year-old child. I hesitate to call him child, I think he's in a category of his own. And as a 7-year-old, he decided he was going to take on this issue of hunger.

LORSY: Welcome to FROGS.

My group is called FROGS and it means Friends Reaching Our Goals, and our motto is having fun while helping others.

I want you to write what we can do for a spring project.

WILL'S MOTHER: Will's big personality does not come from me.

LORSY: Fire me up. Pepper me.

SODERBERGH: I think every time you meet Will you look at him and you say, are you kidding me? But together with his buddies, they have raised over $20,000, or the equivalent of 100,000 meals for Tarrant Area Food Bank.

LORSY: How about some French baguettes? Made from India. The Indian peaches are a delight.

SODERBERGH: When you see somebody who gets so engaged and gets so much of the community engaged, it's an endorsement of the battle we fight to end hunger.

Thank you for your time, and remember that no matter how tall or small you are, you can make a big difference.



COOPER: Where is Will, by the way? Where is Will?

Will, stand up, will you? Right over there. Amazing.


COOPER: He's 6. By the time he's 12, we're all going to be working for him. I guarantee you.


Throughout tonight's broadcast, check out our live blog at We've got exclusive behind the scenes videos, got Instagram photos, celebrity tweets. I'll be tweeting as well. You can sign in from Facebook, Twitter, other social media at and you can do that online, on your mobile device, even from the CNN iPad app.

Now back to our heroes. Addiction is no stranger. Many of us are touched by its turmoil, whether it's addicts, ourselves or watching loved ones who've been caught in the cycle. It's a force to be reckoned with and our next hero has found a way to channel its destructive power into the healing power of sport.

To share his triumphant story as a racing hero who, through example, shows the same perseverance and drive. Please welcome the founder of the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, the amazing Jeff Gordon.


JEFF GORDON, NASCAR RACER: Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is never-ending work. It takes strength and resolve to rise up and out of that despair.

Scott Strode has been there. When he was in his early teens, he started drinking and taking drugs to mask his pain. As he got older, he made so many wrong turns that one morning, he woke up on the bathroom floor and knew that one day, his mother might find him there.

And I have -- so sorry, but we'd be able -- unable to stir him. In that heartbreaking moment, Scott realized that he had to rise up and take control of his life or he was never going to be the person that he always wanted to be. So he began that recovery. He gave it all up, the drinking, his friends and influences that went along with his life in addiction. And when he looked around, he was all alone.

So he found a community through sport. Then he did what heroes do, he built his own community, a safe, sober place where others could rise up, too. He did that not just to become a better Boxer or climber or runner, but to become the man he always dreamed he could be.


SCOTT STRODE, CNN HERO: One, two, three. When you're really getting after it, climbing on your bike, throwing the bars back and forth, or when you're hanging off a rope, your hands are all pumped, you can barely hold on, something happens. You're there there in that moment, everything else melts away. And you're just there. It can fill that void that the drugs and alcohol left.

In my recovery from a life of addiction, I did a lot of intense sports. I ended up racing triathalon, eventually, I raced Iron Man. It just changed my self-esteem, started thinking of myself as an athlete instead of an addict.

Having that experience myself, it made me realize I could give this to other people and that's where Phoenix started.

Phoenix isn't a formal treatment program. We're not a replacement for 12 Step or therapy. But it's crucial, I think. It gives people a community and it gives them positive coping mechanisms and it gives them a way to redefine themselves as something other than an addict.

On any given day, I can look out the backdoor and see somebody in the throes of their addiction and I think, how do we get them from that side of the fence into this building?

Addiction really does strip away our dreams and Phoenix is just a vehicle for people to see what they are really capable of. You got it. Pull through. Nice job, Tiffany.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very grateful for Scott for creating this community. A month after I got sober, my dad died and this was the one place that I know it was OK, that people cared if I was sober. It was like my -- my second family.

STRODE: Tiffany is, like most of our team members, you know, they walked through some tough stuff in their life. And she just has this courage. It's scary to pass through personal pain or difficulties in our life, to face those things, it inspires me.

I think when you come to Phoenix, it allows to you let go of some of that shame from your drug use and be whatever you want. You can become a climber, you can become a boxer and later on, you become a good friend and a good son.

I think there's a hook to these sports. But we are not just replacing one high for the next. As we shift that self-esteem, you learn how to overcome adversity.

It's transformative to stand on top of a mountain. From those heights you can see something in yourself that you can't see from down here and the more time you go up there, you realize eventually you don't even needed the mountain anymore. It is something that's in your heart. You know, and that's when you can walk away from who you were as an addict and you can walk away proud.



GORDON: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present CNN Hero Scott Strode.


STRODE: Thank you. Sadly, I have seen too many people lose their lives to addiction. I, myself, could have died over 15 years ago from my own drug and alcohol use. I think of that when I think of the 23 million Americans and who knows how many worldwide who are struggling with this disease.

I believe that together, we can help them rise from the ashes and who knows what gifts they will bring to this world. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Phillip Philips performs live and later Jane Lynch and Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones.


COOPER: Welcome back. Our first musical performance is a song that could easily have been written about our heroes tonight, working each day to provide love and care and safe haven to those in need. Performing "Home," here's Phillip Phillips.



ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Rainn Wilson, Miranda Cosgrove, and later, a live performance by Ne-Yo.


COOPER: Welcome back. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."

One of the things that I find so inspiring about our heroes is that many have faced tragic circumstances and they've transformed their grief into action to help others.

Our next hero dealt with death and now brings life into our world. To tell us how one woman can truly make a great change in the world, please welcome a proud supporter of the Mona Foundation, which promotes early education, particularly for girls in underdeveloped countries, Rainn Wilson.


RAINN WILSON, ACTOR: Anderson Cooper, my personal hero.

For some people, no matter how blessed their lives have been or how much hardship they have endured, they cannot ignore a problem that surrounds them and breaks their hearts. Catalina Escobar is this kind of woman. She lives in one part of Colombia, the part with nice houses, loving families, food and medicine. But she also saw the other part of the country, the place where teen mothers and their babies live in shacks, with hunger, illness, violence, and where children die too often simply because a young mother could not afford medicine.

This daily preventable tragedy was something Catalina refused to ignore so she started the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation, named for her son. Her organization provides women and babies with proper medical care and a place for them to become independent and break this crippling cycle of poverty.

It seems impossible that one woman should take on a problem so big, but there is nothing more powerful than a mother with a mission, borne from the sorrow of holding her deceased son.


GATALINA ESCOBAR, CNN HERO: When you go around in Cartagena, you find such a beautiful city. Then five minutes away, there's little kids are living without anything at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Face many hardships.

ESCOBAR: Rats and snakes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there are hundreds of rats here.

ESCOBAR: I used to be a banker. And I was very comfortable, actually. But I cannot be successful if I don't make other people happy around me.

The year 2000 I started volunteering at this hospital. A baby was in my hands and he passed away. And it was a preventable death, that life could have been saved, just for $30. Period.

My own son died, Juan Felipe. He was 14 months old. He died because of an accident, but not because he lacked resources. No mother in the world should go through that process just because they don't have the money to cover treatments.

When you bury your own son, you start being part of those women's souls. And in 2002, we built an intensive care unit in the hospital. And we have saved more than 3,000 babies.

But then, you discover the problem was bigger. Most of these babies come from teenaged pregnancies. And many of these girls are sexually abused.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a little girl, my uncle abused me. I got into drugs and was sexually exploited. I felt bad and wanted to get rid of my daughter.

ESCOBAR: We have to invest in these girls, otherwise, they are going to remain in the cycle of poverty forever.

It took us two and a half years to do all the fundraising, to build the social setup. But now every day, 1,000 moms and babies come to our setup and they're here for free. They drop their babies at the day care center so they can come and get all the skills. When you give them the tools to become socially productive, they don't need prostitution to earn money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the foundation, I've learned to value myself. And to love my daughter.

ESCOBAR: We have worked with 2,000 girls. The only thing we ask for them is to give the best of themselves.



WILSON: It is my honor to present CNN Hero Catalina Escobar.


ESCOBAR: Being here is not a personal achievement. But for the thousands of teenage moms in the poor slums in Cartagena, Colombia, they are my real, true heroes. And the little fighters, the babies, whose lives we have saved. I am only the person who helps them on their path from misery to dignity. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Please welcome a proud supporter of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Miranda Cosgrove.


MIRANDA COSGROVE, CNN HEROES PRESENTER: Just imagine you have cancer. Every day you go to the hospital for treatment. You see others just like you being poked and prodded with needles during chemo. But unlike you, they have to stay. But because you're a Young Wonder, you find compassion where others might wallow in their misfortune.

You are Jesse Reese, your heart is greater than most. You're so sick and still you give the other kids something to smile about. True joy in a jar.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesse was 11 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jesse was was outpatient, so every day we would get in the car and drive up to children's hospital of Orange County and drive home. One day we were leaving and she just simply asked us when do all the other kids come home? What can she do to help them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She kind of found that empty jar somewhere.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And started stuffing things in it.

JESSE REESE, CNN YOUNG WONDER: Put like a green turtle, and a slash ball.


REESE: Maybe a car, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Names Joy and took the word jars and came together and that's kind of how the Joy Jars kind of got birthed. She clearly knew the impact it was making in these little kids' lives as she was giving them her Joy Jars.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was really particular about what would go in the jars. It had to be something cool. It couldn't be cheap and flimsy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People from all around the United States who were following her story were saying, hey, can we get some for our friends that have a child fighting cancer, and then it just exploded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know how many people are you helping? Why are you doing that? Why not just make it all about you?

REESE: I just wanted to make them happier. Because I know that they -- they are going through a lot, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Jess lost her battle with cancer on January 5th, 2012, she was 12 years old.

It's Joy for Jesse Day.

Since Jesse's passing we have sent over 27,000 Joy Jars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's what she started and it's what we'll continue to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What makes Jesse a young wonder is that she cared and in the midst of a world that says focus on yourself, it's all about you, she said, no, it's not.





JANE LYNCH, ACTRESS: This is Olivia. She's the love of my life and she's almost 13. You know, she's the first thing I really truly loved and took care of. I was 39 years old. I've just had done "Best in Show" and I fell in love with every dog I met. And I was also in therapy, surprise, and my therapist said, you know, you should get a dog. I don't think I could be married today, I don't think I would have the relationships that I have, the friendships that I have.

I am so grateful to this little girl for opening my heart, and I take care of her and she takes care of me.



COOPER: Well, Jane Lynch is right. We love our dogs, as dog lovers. I'm a dog lover. This is my dog, actually, Molly. She has the stinkiest breath you can possibly imagine. It's like a squirrel has crawled inside her and died, but I still love her.


Our next hero found an innovative way to partner rescue dogs with people who could really use some help. Of the two million soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 1 in 5, 1 in 5 returns with post- traumatic stress disorder.

To share how our hero is saving lives, please welcome a proud supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Jane Lynch.


LYNCH: In the United States military there's a saying, I've got your 6. That means don't worry, I've got your back. For our veterans who struggle with the invisible wounds of war who feel isolated with the effects of PTSD and depression, who have to fight to get the care they need and to fight the urge to commit suicide.

Mary Cortani has got their backs in a profound way. Not just because she's a veteran, too, but because she finds these men and women a loyal, loving companion who helps them put their lives back together.

Three years ago she started matching veterans in need of a service dog with the right shelter dog in need of a home. And let me tell you, it's a soulful thing to witness this bond at work. Training as a team so that when they go out into the world, the dog can sense if the veteran is fighting a flashback, becoming overwhelmed by the sounds, and anxiety. The dog calms, the dog watches, and the veteran knows who's got their 6.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are two of my friends, really close friends of mine that were killed in action.

Being an infantry man, we're trained to see everything. If I don't see something, somebody can die. Coming back to the regular everyday civilian life, reality didn't make sense anymore. When I find myself walking, I am standing for threats that had happened in Iraq. I'm looking at windows, I'm looking at roofs. Very attracted to movement. Who's behind that corner? What's sitting on that balcony?

It feels like you're drowning. I thought suicide might have been the best answer.

Things got better for me when I did meet Mary Cortani.

MARY CORTANI, CNN HERO: Awesome. Awesome.

What I want you to do is you're going to close your eyes, right. You're safe, you got them with you, I am up here, try to match their breathing.

Operation Freedom Paws takes dogs from shelters and rescue groups and matches them with the veteran or other with the disability. For somebody who's having a flash, her anxiety attack, the dog, can sense that and nudge that, jump on the chest, give a hug, right? Break the cycle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If your hand is like this, there's still tension, unnecessary tension.

CORTANI: Olivia just wants to go check everything out.

LYNCH: What characteristics in Shadow made you think he would be a good dog for David in particular?

CORTANI: There's a young energetic man in there that needs a dog that's going to bring out that fun and kid in him again.


CORTANI: And let him realize that there is some joy.

LYNCH: Then your trust in the world is strengthened with the dog and it sounds like it's getting just better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's learning to see the world through the dog.

LYNCH: Through the dog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She called me up and said, hey, I have your dog. I show up and there is Shadow, he's running around in the building, you know. You know I knelt down with him and he sat in front of me, you know. You know, and I -- I hugged the dog. I felt like that piece I was missing right there. That's why what she does is so vital. She saved my life. You know?

CORTANI: We want to be able to help as many men and women with disabilities as we can. Let's stop the suicide. Let's get them the help they need. Love heals. Love does. Especially when it has a wet nose and four paws and a wagging tail.



LYNCH: Please join me is honoring CNN hero Mary Cortani.


CORTANI: This award is not about me. It is about the men and women who so gallantly serve this country and come home injured. We need to do more to let them know that we care. That's what Operation Freedom Paws is all about. Thank you, Nicky, and my OFP family.


COOPER: If you would like to make a donation to any of this year's top ten CNN heroes, you can go to to do that. And through December 31st, Google is generously waiving all transaction fees to ensuring that 100 percent of every dollar that you donate goes directly to our heroes' designated nonprofits.

It's been almost two decades since apartheid ended in South Africa bringing hope got new era of equality. And 18 years later, seven of ten children there live in dire poverty scale. Our next hero took matters into his own hands reigniting the hope that his countrymen had fought so hard four years ago. Here to illuminate his story is a musician who pledged to feed a billion people in Africa through world food program using a portion of the proceeds from the sale of his energy drink. Please welcome 50 Cent.

(APPLAUSE) 50 CENT, HIP-HOP ARTIST: It's not easy to start out at the bottom. In that neighborhood that sits on the shadows of a thriving city, a place where hungry is real, shocks felt as far as the eye can see, the water is carried in buckets, when you start with so little it's hard to dream about something better.

Thulani Madondo worked in Kliptown, South Africa. He lacked everything accept the climb to the bottle. So, he built himself a lot by doing what he could to get a high school education. But, when he looked down he knew that mighty ladder need to reach higher. So, the other case in Kliptown could teach, too. So, he started an after school program that gives 400 kids the confidence to climb out of the shadows, feel the warmth of opportunity, not just in the big city but in the very place they call home.


THULANI MADONDO, CNN HERO: Kliptown is a community of 45,000 people, without most of the basic things such as electricity, schools or clinics. This is the home where I was born and raised. There were nine of us lived in this house. My mom with three sisters, they slept in the bed while all of us boys would sleep on the floor here.

I never had a school uniform. Never had pocket money or lunch boxes. My vision when we started the program was it was going to be a place where children were going to get assisted with their homework, as well as food, and not just a place where they were going to take it as a home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): My kids stay on their own. I only see them twice a month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): I wish my mom could find a job nearby so she could stay with us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): KYP changes out lives a lot because when I'm at work they get breakfast and lunch at KYP and then they do homework.

MADONDO: This is our library. We've got grade 12 being tutored. And we have got three other grades in each class.

KYP members' performance at school have increased because of the tutoring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whether it is homework or assignment, they are the first group to submit. They have confidence. They take the lead.

MADONDO: One thing I tell the children is that children always tell themselves because they are poor, because you may be poor in terms of material wealth, but you can still be rich inside. I am what I thought I wanted to be.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a doctor. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a social worker.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a fashion designer.


MADONDO: Can you imagine the impact that we would have if the 400 kids that we have went to school, got their university degrees and got good jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a soccer player.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am an engineer.


MADONDO: Being able to help young people who never had the opportunity is what I wanted. I never got it, but I was fortunate to help other people get it. It makes me feel good.



50 CENT: And it is my honor to present the CNN hero Thulani Madondo.

MADONDO: KYP would feel so grateful that we can help change the lives of hundreds of Kliptown children living in shacks. Having grown up in Kliptown ourselves, we know the daily struggles. We know the challenges. For us we have a saying, pull up your own socks. It's a privilege to teach it to the children but even a greater gift to see them doing it. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Next, Susan Sarandon, and still to come to CNN Heroes, Josh Duhamel and Maria Bello.


COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES. A reminder while you are watching tonight, you can check out our log blog at Many of the stories tonight that you are going to hear involve heroes helping children achieve a basic right, the right just to be children. They are helping to free them from forces beyond their control, inequality, poverty and in our next hero's case helping free innocent children locked behind bars.

Here to tell her story, please welcome an actress, an activist who is currently executive producing a documentary "Honor a Hero" and her work, UNICEF ambassador in children's aid society, dream inspiration award winner, Susan Sarandon.


SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: One afternoon, as part of her research, a young college student went to speak with the women imprisoned in a cat man do jail. While she asked question on side of the bars, she began to feel something tugging on her clothes. Pushpa Basnet looked down. She saw a tiny hand clutching the fabric, and then the unexpected eyes of a beautiful little girl. This child would not let go and neither could Pushpa. She couldn't live with the fact that in Nepal, if a parent is convicted and there is no trustworthy guardian to be found, then often, the best option for the child is to go to prison with her parent.

So Pushpa she devoted her life to helping these kids. She created the Butterfly Home where older children live, go to school, and receive medical care. She also started a day care for the children who are still too young to leave their parent and walks them every day to and from the prison to a place where they learn to read, draw, and imagine. These boys and girls are loved, and they love Pushpa, their Mamu.


PUSHPA BASNET, BUTTERFLY HOME: Maybe God has sent me to do this thing.

We are traveling to a small jail, three hours drive from Kathmandu. You have people there with different crime, like drugs, trafficking, murder case. So now, the mother has just called us to come and pick up the child.

She said that I am in a prison for trafficking. I am scared now that I am in prison, the circle of my friends will traffic my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): I still have three to four years.

BASNET: What are you in here for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): Murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): We need to accept they won't flourish here. I don't want my kids to grow up behind bars. I want them to have a good life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): We love our kids. We gave birth to them. Of course, we will miss them but this is for the best.

BASNET: Freedom. I give them the freedom from the prison. That's the greatest thing I can give them.

I get up around 5:30. We are a family. You are not just dealing with one child, you are dealing with 44 children, with 44 various behaviors. Every child deserves a good life. We give them education, food, love, care. This is the most precious time for them, and they are spending it with me. Just imagine how lucky I am. (END VIDEOTAPE)


SARANDON: It is my honor to present CNN hero Pushpa Basnet.


BASNET: These children have not done nothing wrong. They are simply got something they do not understand. We want to work with the government to bring them all out from the prison, and they deserve a better future. This work is the only thing for me and with your support we can keep going. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, and later we announce the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year.



CULLEN JONES, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I was five years old when my parents came to take me to a water park. I was really, really excited. But unfortunately I never had swim lessons. But my dad had to get on the biggest ride there and me looking up to him I wanted to follow suit. I pushed off and when I got to the bottom of the ride unfortunately I flipped upside down.

My mom tells the story best, she heard her only child screaming and having a great time and then nothing. She pulls herself down, trying to get to me to save me. But unfortunately, she was not comfortable in the water either and she began to drown at the bottom of the pool.

My dad had to dive in and got my mom and the lifeguard came and got me. A child can drown in 20 seconds, and I was under for 30, and that day changed my life forever.


COOPER: The little boy in that story grew up to become two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, Cullen Jones. Like our next hero, he has dedicated himself to making sure that all kids, especially African-American children, learn how to swim through his work with make a splash in the USA swimming foundation.

Please welcome Cullen Jones.


JONES: Six years ago on a beautiful day a boy named Josh grabbed a raft and drifted out on to a lake. As he rested there in the summer sun, he did not know he had floated out to where the water was too deep. When the raft flipped over Josh was in trouble. He did not know how to swim. This 16-year-old boy filled with so much promise, drowned. Wanda Butts grieved her son morning, noon and night. And after a year she was determined to turn her son's tragedy into triumph to try to make sure this not happen, this horrible thing doesn't happen to any other. So, she had an idea, teach the boys and girls in Toledo, Ohio, how to swim.

I can't tell you how thrilling it is to see these boys and girls walk on the edge of a swimming pool. They jump in, and because of Wanda, they are not afraid of the water any more. They feel safe. They can kick, move, break the surface and breathe.


WANDA BUTTS, JOSH PROJECT: I believe that swimming is a basic life skill. But I learned that too late. I lost Josh on August 6th, 2006. He was special. Josh was my peach. My son drown. As a child I was never taught about the dangers of water. My parents didn't talk about it. No one in our community ever talked about it, so I never learned, and I never taught Josh.

African-American children are three times more likely to drown than white children. That's a problem. Drown something a sign of death. And I had enough of the silence.

Who wants to learn to swim today?

I started the Josh Project to teach kids how to swim. My daughter, my two grandsons and I were the first four students, and now over 1,200 children have gone through the Josh Project. No more expensive lessons. No more telling our kids not to get their hair wet. No more excuses.

All right. You doing OK? I want to reach every child in every school, and every church. I even invited Cullen Jones to come and speak to my kids.

JONES: Not learning to swim is definitely something that is generational in the African-American community. I see myself in these kids. I still remember how it felt when I almost drown. That's why I feel the Josh Project is so amazing because it sheds a lot of light on what can happen.

BUTTS: I want these kids to teach their kids, to learn to swim. Part of my life's journey is losing my own fear of water. I'm going to do it. I think the most important part of Cullen Jones' story is that he got to grow up. I love hearing what these kids want to be when they grow up.




BUTTS: Josh didn't get to grow up, but he's with me every day. Good job!



JONES: Ladies and gentlemen, my CNN hero, my hero, the new comfortable swimmer, my other mom, Ms. Wanda Butts.


BUTTS: First I must thank God for the opportunity and the privilege to be here today. My hope is that all children are taught to swim and to be safe in and around the waters. Our responsibility as adults is to give them this basic life skill. My son, Josh, is my hero, because his life gave my life meaning. Next Sunday would be his 23rd birthday. Happy birthday, Josh, I love you. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Please welcome the supporter of the one word kid charity, Rico Rodriguez.

RICO RODRIGUEZ, ACTOR: By working together we can solve problems, even big ones. This is what a Young Wonder does. They look at a problem in a creative way and say I'm going to fix this, and that is exactly what Cassandra Lin did. She had this amazing idea and brought three things together, for concern for the environment, families that need to heat their homes and leftover restaurant cooking oil. It's genius. And there is no reason this can't be done all over the world tomorrow. So, check this out.


CASSANDRA LIN, YOUNG WONDERS: When I was young I heard about global warming and I knew there was huge consequences for this problem, so I got together with my friends and we found out you could actually turn waste of oil into biodiesel fuel. Because many families in my hometown could not afford to heat their homes, I thought what if we could use the recycled cooking oil to heat their homes, these local families. We made a difference, and so can you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were just worried about keeping our kids warm and having heat and hot water. It was a major relief.

CASWELL COOKE, TOWN COUNCILOR: I was trying to talk about biodiesel and just could not get anywhere with it, and she came along and did it to get restaurants to recycle their grease.

LIN: Our bill also will also promote the yeast for alternative energy.

COOKE: The fact that it was coming from kids made it hit home a lot harder, the child shall leave them sort of thing. She set the example for the town. And it's great that westerly has a person that we can be very proud of and tell the rest of the country (INAUDIBLE). LIN: If everyone just gave a little something back and took a little time out of their day to do something for others, the world would be a better place.



ANNOUNCER: Next, Maria Bello honors the station's hero and still to come, Ne-Yo performs live.


COOPER: Our next hero comes from a country that is always in my heart, Haiti. Nearly three years has passed and Haiti is still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake that killed so many. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians still live in make shift camps where safety, especially for women, is a real concern.

Our next hero runs primary organization for women in dire need. Like a lot of stories coming out of Haiti, this one is difficult to hear and I want to warn you, it may be inappropriate for some young viewers, but it is a story that needs to be told.

To explain more, please welcome with your friend of our hero, the official goodwill ambassador for women in Maria Bello.


MARIA BELLO, ACTRESS: In the language of (INAUDIBLE), there is a term, (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). It means the center pillar of the house, and this is what Haitian women are. They are the breadwinners, the teachers, the care givers all across the beautiful country I call my second home.

Malya Villard-Appolon knows this, not just because what she is the (INAUDIBLE) for her family, but also for thousands of women and children who survived the atrocities of rape and domestic violence. I have seen firsthand how lives are transformed because of the extraordinary work of Malya and her team, KOFAVIV.

It's inspiring to be with you and Josie, to hear from Reginald and Michelle. All of the women there and the children that witness how Haitian women know what Haitian women need. They need someone who comforts them in the hospital, files complaints with the police, and recruits young men to be security guards and patrol the camps. Someone who hands out whistles and brings flashlights to the darkest places to keep the rapist and criminals away. Someone like Malya, a pillar of strength and bringing back hope for women under Haiti's blue sky.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): They would lost all sense of compassion. They didn't feel like human beings.

TEXT: Since the earthquake, there have been thousands of rapes. Until this year, no one had been convicted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): My daughter, Geraldine, was raped at the age of 14.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): Three young men came in and they all used me without conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): All four of them raped me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): I was pregnant and I lost my baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): I, too, was a victim of sexual violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): Here is the pace I will never forget. That house behind me, that's where they raped me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): My husband was there and he fought back. I want to send out an alert to the whole word, to help us combat this phenomenon of violence.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): I have got a lot of resistance in me. Whether I live or die, will not (INAUDIBLE) that others d become (INAUDIBLE). My vision is that - all the women living in the camps can go and live as human beings.



BELLO: It's my honor to present my friend, CNN hero Malya Villard- Appolon.



BELLO: Wait, my friend. You must stay here. Three works have marked me. Women, strength and pride, which my friend embodies so fiercely. When I say women, think of all the women that stood up to say no to violence. When I say strength, find it no matter what to help the victims. This is what we feel when we feel pride every time we do the work that we do.

Malya would like to say thank you, because without the support of Madre, and our other partners, we wouldn't be here today. Thank you so much. Merci.



COOPER: Incredibly inspiring story. Car crashes -- you may not know this. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in this country, in the United States, and about one-third of those are alcohol related.

Well, our next hero is changing those numbers by laying down a life- saving challenge to those in Montana.

To introduce him to ask is an actor and who also helps keep young people alive through his support, Josh Duhamel.


Under Montana's big sky in the city of Butte, there's a road with a white fence, and along that fence you will find a cross that bears the name Mariah, and it's only a block from where she lived and it's marks the place where she was walking with friends when a drunk driver hit and killed this wonderful 14-year-old girl.

Sometimes you might see her father, Leo McCarthy, there on bended knee, leaving some flowers and decorating the spot with jack o lanterns for Halloween, or wiping a tear. But, he always, at least Mariah know, that even in her death. She is making a difference.

Leo started Mariah's challenge, a scholarship program for students who pledge not to drink before they are 21 and never get in a car who has been drinking. So far 8,000 young people have taken this pledge. And this shows how a young father's tears can bring change to a city, a state, an entire generation, entire generation of young people.


LEO MCARTHY, CNN HERO: I am the voice of Mariah. My town is Butte, Montana. It has a great history of hard living the rite of passage here of drinking seems to start in teenage years. That culture has continued even when our society has changed.

Mariah was so full of fun. October 27th, 2007, Mariah was 14. She was plowed over by a drunk driver. Our innocence was changed and the town's innocence was changed. It was time to look at the reflection and say we can be better.

I am going to talk to you because I lost someone like you. The groups I talk to around Montana are from seventh grade until seniors in high school, if they take Mariah's challenge, we will give them money for college or a trade school.

I am the voice of Mariah's challenge. Mariah is the face of Mariah's challenge, and the breathing face are you people, it's about you changing a culture. You know, this nation we lose somebody every 15 minutes to alcohol-related fatalities. And what is so unbelievable, it can change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First we can start with the weekends, when you are home alone and there's that temptation. You know, I think the best that we can do is, like I said before, lead by example.

MCARTHY: We all know what type of town we have, but the town is changing and this culture is changing, and we can stop this from one presentation to another, I hope I connect with one person. It's a great feeling to have youth come up and say I am Mariah's challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just gave a lot of courage to me. Thank you.

MCARTHY: Be strong, OK. You are my hero.

Mariah's challenge is Butte's gift to the state of Montana and the United States. These kids have a chance to grow old. I know she is smiling. I think she would be damn proud of it. I will do Mariah's challenge until we don't need it. If it can change here, it can happen anywhere else.



DUHAMEL: It is my honor to present CNN hero Leo McCarthy.


MCARTHY: I am just one dad who loved his daughter with all his heart. Mariah's challenge is saving lives across Montana, and I don't see why it can't be done around the world. Talk to your kids. Let's change the culture and keep these promising, smart, funny, vibrant kids alive. We need them. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: Next, Ne-Yo performs before we announce the 2012 hero of the year.


COOPER: Welcome back. Our heroes have done so much for our world and as they help those in need, they need our help as well and our support. If you want to donate, you can do at that right now. Our final performance is a hitting anthem for our show, and here to perform "heroes," has found her at the compound foundation three-time Grammy award winner, Ne-Yo.




ANNOUNCER: Coming up, we reveal the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year.


COOPER: Welcome back. CNN has awarded each of our incredible top ten heroes $50,000 to carry on their inspiring work.


COOPER: In addition, the Annenberg Foundation, which is a leading supporter of nonprofits worldwide, is graciously providing this year's honorees with free training, including practical guidance on fund- raising and communications and management and more.

Now we gave you the opportunity to go to and vote for the hero of the year, and more than five million votes were casts around the world and all of our heroes received an immense amount of support.

The hero of the year will receive an additional $250,000 grant to continue their work.


COOPER: It is my great honor tonight to announce the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year.

The 2012 CNN Hero of the Year, from Katmandu, is Pushpa Basnet.


BASNET: Thank you so much. This award means a lot to me, and still a lot of children living in the prison, and definitely Mamu is going to take you out of the prison and you are coming to live at my place, and this is for my children and this is going back to my country, Nepal. Thank you so much for those of you that believed in my dream. Thank you.


COOPER: I want to invite all of our honorees back onstage, all of our CNN heroes in this year. These heroes stand tall against abuse, against injustice, against inequality. Please continue to help their causes by donating at

And I hope some of tonight's heroes have inspired you to bring more good to this world, and you, too, can be somebody's hero.

Thank you and good night, everybody.