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Giving in Focus

Aired December 25, 2012 - 12:30   ET


TOM FOREMAN, HOST: Each December, our nation's capital comes alive with color, light, and a special spirit of generosity. That's true in towns coast to coast. And once again, our fine photojournalists at CNN have gone out to capture their stories.

This is "Giving in Focus."


FOREMAN: Welcome. I'm Tom Foreman.

This year has been a tough one for so many people in so many ways -- economically, emotionally, and yet once again people, as they always do, have found ways to help each other.

Take, for example, our first story. It's about a group of men who live in the very area where that superstorm Sandy came ashore, and yet, despite their troubles found ways to reach out to their community.

Photojournalist Oliver Janney introduces us to the Graybeards.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our opportunity to really help a lot of people.

DANNY RUSCILLO, RESIDENT: We were totally wiped out like many other people. We lost all the belongings. We lost our car. We lost a friend across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of really ugly basketball games were held right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely busy, all good stuff, all the money coming in and got to get the checks in and write out checks.

STEVE STATHIS, PRESIDENT, GRAYBEARDS, LLC: That's our mission, to help our neighbor in their time of need. We have a lot of tentacles. We reached out in a lot of different ways. Back in 1995, we had a -- the Saint Francis summer classic basketball program.

And I was one of the fellows that helped run the league and some guys that recently moved into Rockaway had a common bond and that common bond was basketball. After 9/11, one fellow sent me an e-mail that said Graybeards of Columbus. Like the Knights of Columbus, we can become a not for profit in the community. My qualifications were I was the guy that collected $20 at the bar after we played basketball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To have Steve show up at my house today, it means a lot. We totally have zero. We lost everything. Couple of items here and there, but --


When you do something for somebody, the, you know, you go through the tears, you go through the thanks, the hugs and everything, but at the end of the day, you walk away, you go --

I just -- your name came across our desk so from the Graybeards. Huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have to do that.

STATHIS: How are you holding up? All right?


STATHIS: I did good today, you know? I helped somebody. Little something, all right, hope you get through.

The Graybeards change a person's life. There is an expression in Rockaway about you're born with sand in your diaper. Maybe after years of irritation, you know, you want to feel good, so you go out and help people, you know?


FOREMAN: Many of the folks helping out in the wake of Sandy are not part of organized groups, but they're simply neighbors helping neighbors like those that photojournalist Chris Turner found.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we were going to lose our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In an instant, it's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to lose my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing you could do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't understand. We need help.

NICK CAMERADA, STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: This is one of the toughest times that I ever faced in my life.

The people really don't know the devastation that actually occurred on Staten Island, firsthand, because you really need to be here to really see it with your eyes.

You needed to be down seeing people's lives destroyed.

If I just sit back and make like this didn't happen, I'd be lying and fooling myself.

I will be there for my community. There's thousands and thousands, millions, of people just like me that are out there looking to, you know, help and rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you like some food? You want this one?

DONNA GRACIANO, VOLUNTEER: I gave them a promise I would stay until they didn't need me anymore.

They come for their hot food, supplies. We go out and make sure they're clean. You know, they're -- if they need any help cleaning, demolition.

Seeing the people, seeing the tears, holding them while they were crying, it really touched home and I could see they really needed somebody, somebody to see every day knowing that if it was one person, that one person was there for them and wasn't going to leave and back out on them.

CAMERADA: In these hard times it touches your heart deep down inside knowing that there's people out there that care.

GRACIANO: When I go home at night, I can put my head on the pillow and go to sleep, knowing that I helped a whole bunch of people feel better about their situation maybe just a little bit.

CAMERADA: Just don't forget us. Keep us in your heart and in your prayers and your thoughts.

If you could help the people out of Staten Island in any way, please do.


FOREMAN: When we return, the hard times have not kept people from being generous in Beantown. And Chicago, the city that works, helping young people work toward better days, when "Giving in Focus" continues.


FOREMAN: The economy has given many families a whole new set of worry this is holiday season about what they can afford, what they can't, and how to make up the difference. Thank goodness, up in Boston, one charitable program started way back in the 1950s appears to be as strong as ever.

Photojournalist Bob Crowley has that story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear Globe Santa, I am writing for your help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As with many other Americans, the economy is tough and times are very difficult financially.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard being homeless with nowhere it to live, no income or place to make them a Christmas or buy presents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The holiday season is usually very tough for our family.

MIKE ROSSI, GLOBE SANTA SUPERVISOR: Making packages for the Globe Santa Foundation. On one side we keep all the boys' toys; on this side, girls' toys. We got 30 people working for me today. All these packages are going out to children in the Boston area, where the families are, you know, facing difficult times during this economy. We'll send out about 32,000 packages.

BILL CONNOLLY, E.D., GLOBE SANTA FUND: Globe Santa is the holiday gift assistance program started by "The Boston Globe" in 1956. We've seen a number of families that are writing to Globe Santa for the first time because they've been on unemployment for the last 18 months or longer.

The economy over the last five years has had a major impact on how many gifts that we have and putting together each year and that, of course, has put the stress on the donors who we rely on.

We've been able to sustain this program.

It takes a number of people who care about those in the community who can't afford to have their holiday gifts and their presents to make sure Christmas is enjoyed by all.

ROSSI: But we've all had tough times. This gives us a chance to give back to the community and just let them know that there are people out there that care.

Please help my kids have a good Christmas. God bless you.


FOREMAN: In Chicago, a different type of giving is focused more on year-round issues. Mindful of violence facing many young people on the streets there, one program is reaching out to give kids a sense of achievement, of safety, and maybe a good right hook.

Photojournalist Derek Davis takes us into the ring.


JUAN GUERRA, BOXER: I grew up watching boxing all my life.

Boxing is really, really hard. Takes a lot of discipline. Some people make it look easy but it's really hard.

As soon as I walk in those doors, I just fell in love with boxing. There's different things that the gym offers you, and different things that the streets offer you. Most of the time, the streets will lead you to death for the choices you make.

GABRIEL NAVARRO, HEAD COACH, CHICAGO YOUTH BOXING CLUB: The streets are really, really bad. There's a good one or two shootings every weekend. It keeps kids off the street like if the kid is at home, friends come over, let's go out, they're out in the street. And if they come here, it's a real nice environment for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody get into the ring. We're going to have the rap session.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This week, I want to talk about unity. In this gym, we are a community.

NAVARRO: We not only do boxing, we do youth development. When you walk in the door, we're not only teaching you boxing, we're also teaching you that -- you know, you have to go to school. We have three or four tutors that we're trying to get these kids' grades up.

GUERRA: I used to have average like B, Cs. Now, I get As and Bs.

NAVARRO: We're going to have to put everything we've got into that one minute. I joined boxing to stay away from the streets and to get my life together. So it literally saved my life, boxing. I want these kids to go to college for the next generation will be more powerful in our life.

We're more than just tough. We were also smart.

GUERRA: I want to become a champion. And I want to show people that this neighborhood is not only about violence, that there's people in here in the neighborhood that are determined to become somebody in life.

NAVARRO: If I help two, three kids a year, that's a real difference. Just like boxing saved me, I'm trying to save others.


FOREMAN: In just a moment, the dogs that came to the rescue in a warm and friendly way, and the gift that is ever green.


FOREMAN: No community suffered more in this past year than Newtown, Connecticut. The recent school shootings there shocked the entire nation, especially coming as they did in the season that so many people associate with generosity and hope.

Efforts to comfort the people of Newtown have come from all over the country, of course, including one group that came from Illinois with friends on all fours. Once again here is photojournalist Oliver Janney.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a comfort dog. You can pet him. It says right here, "Please pet me."

A comfort dog is one who brings comfort to other people when they're suffering or hurting or bring happiness to people, helps people process their grief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. That's a good girl.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A dog's a month ago when Sandy hit, we were out in New York and New Jersey. Children, they'll come up sad and they'll walk away happy.

Petting a dog relaxes a person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, you sweet thing, you're so cute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Petting a dog helps them to process whatever it is they're going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a good dog. Good dog. I love dogs. There's nothing like that connection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dogs are big lovers. And they show unconditional love and they're big, furry counselors, because they're confidential and they don't keep notes.


FOREMAN: The idea of children suffering is always hard to take, whether from violence, poverty, or serious illness. And the desire to help in such circumstances is driving one truly unusual effort.

Photojournalist Effie Nidam brings that story our way.


JOHN BELTZER, FOUNDER, SONGS OF LOVE FOUNDATION: I really had this dream of becoming this big pop star.

I finally landed a record deal. It didn't work out. They actually dropped me out of the picture. I was really distraught.

We're rocking and rolling.


ALEXANDRA MALHEIRO: Hi, my name is Alexandra, nice to meet you.

BELTZER: We wrote this song of love, just for you, my friend. A. MALHEIRO: Sing me a song because I'm special.

STACEY MALHEIRO, ALEXANDRA'S MOM: Alexandra has acute lymphoblastic leukemia T cell.

What's in that?


S MALHEIRO: She practices on this chemo doll that we gave her in the hospital.

BELTZER: Now she has --

Songs of Love created close to 24,000 songs, fully produced, personalized songs for teens and children who are chronically or terminally ill free of charge.

A. MALHEIRO: I love pickles.

BELTZER: She likes pickles so I'm thinking she'll eat pickles.

S. MALHEIRO: You have to fill out an application and it asks questions about her favorite color, her favorite music.

BELTZER: Special interests, hobbies. It says here, she is strong willed and brave. So, I'm going to add that to the chorus.

A. MALHEIRO: Fight like a girl.

BELTZER: Is that your motto? Do you fight like a girl every day? Yes.

And that's why we are doing a song for her, to bring her good vibes, boost her self-esteem, and it gives me a great honor and privilege to be doing this.

S. MALHEIRO: We received the song and we were so happy. Everybody loves it.

BELTZER: The fact that you may not necessarily get a hit song, it doesn't mean that you're a failure. You write a song for a sick child, you bring happiness. To me, that is the biggest success of all.

S. MALHEIRO: Who's one of your favorite singers?

A. MALHEIRO: Justin Bieber.

BELTZER: Alexandra -

S. MALHEIRO: And John Beltzer now, right? Cause he writes great songs, right?

BELTZER: Now she has her own song.


FOREMAN: When we return, the place where the wreaths come from and where giving grows and grows.


FOREMAN: Each winter, a gift of gratitude appears in Arlington National Cemetery -- thousands and thousands of holiday wreaths for those who served the country. But up where those wreaths begin in Maine, a different type of remembrance has taken root.

Photojournalist Jeremy Moorhead has our final story.


RUTH STONESIFER, GOLD STAR MOTHER: I know when Chris died, we kept thinking about how we were going to remember him. And we kept thinking that his spirit was moving through the trees every time you saw them moving.

I seem to be drawn to Maine even though I've never lived here. It's pretty amazing.

MIKE WORCESTER, WORCESTER WREATH COMPANY: We're in the wreath business and have been since 1971.

Columbia Falls is a little town in coastal Washington County, the perfect little country town kind of thing. We're looking for 12 to 18-inch pieces.

As fast as this brush is coming in, we're using it on the other end.

We're out on the land that produces the tips for national wreaths across America day.

RENEE WORCESTER, WEATHER ACROSS AMERICA: Each wreath is made of balsam that is picked off of our own land. It began as a family tradition to donate 5,000 wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery.

M. WORCESTER: A great source of pride for my family. It's our little way of giving back to the country is through the Veterans Wreaths Program and also the new "Veterans Remembers" trees program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's Captain Brent Morale, U.S. Marine corps. This is another tree has been tagged. Corporal Benjamin Cot, "forever in my heart".

M. WORCESTER: My day is really looking for a way of connecting the families of the veterans to the area. And we saw as most our families came, both our mothers, they loved coming out and seeing where the balsam grew.

STONESIFER: This is the one that I got out of the car, solid, and I knew that it was part of Chris' energy that was helping me pick it out.

There he is. I put the picture one on there.

Christopher Stonesifer was my son. He was born in August of '73, and he died 38 days after 9/11. The dog tags hang closer to the branches. The ribbon designates red, white, and blue that it's been dedicated to a loved one. They're never cut down. The greens that are cut down will be used for the wreaths that will go to Arlington.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so, when we lay wreaths today, remember why we're here. Remember the lives and families of those that served.

STONESIFER: That's an amazing gift that we as family members know that our loved ones will not be forgotten.


FOREMAN: And with that we hope you've enjoyed this gift from the fine photojournalists at CNN who work all year long to bring you the stories of our world. On their behalf, I'm Tom Foreman, thanks for watching. And to you and your family, the very best of the holidays.


ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, everyone. I'm meteorologist Alexandra Steele in the CNN severe weather center.

Well, snow and severe weather dominating this Christmas I'm sorry to say. And you can see pictures abound of what we've seen. I want to start things off in the Southeast where severe weather is certainly a player. You can see about 5,000 lightning strikes in the last hour alone.

So, these red boxes from Houston east to New Orleans delineating tornado watch boxes -- meaning that atmospherically conditions are ripe for tornadoes to develop and we already have tornado warnings, meaning we have seen that spin, that clockwise spin. And what we're going to see here, as this line pushes eastward, we're going to watch the severe weather push eastward as well.

So here is where we've seen some rotation, and these pink boxes showing you where we've got tornado warnings. Now, this is eastern Texas and into Louisiana, so you can see east of Houston now, and look at this line. These tornado warnings, I'm sure if you're watching us, it's kind of beeping along your screen. These tornado warnings -- meaning these storms have the propensity and have shown rotation within the radar, they are pushing eastward at 50, 55 miles per hour.

So, this line certainly is intense. And, you know, the problem is we're going to watch this intensity even pick up through the afternoon and into the evening.

So the biggest severe weather threat, here it is. This morning, we've seen it from Houston all the way to New Orleans. And then through the afternoon we're going to watch that severe weather threat push eastward, bring it into Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia.

Later this afternoon, maybe 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 and into tonight, and then that whole threat, unfortunately, pushes eastward. And, you know, today, so damaging winds, maybe 60 to 80-mile-per-hour winds. Big hail, potentially an inch in diameter, as well as the severity of these tornadoes developing.

So, it really could turn out to be a severe weather event. That's where it moves for tomorrow pushing farther eastward.

But I haven't mentioned the snowy side. There's the snowy side on the back side of this. Oklahoma City, you can see maybe two to four inches. We thought originally yesterday, there would be a little more, but it began as ice. So, that's the biggest problem through Oklahoma City, the nice that's kind of laying the groundwork.

But look what happens from today, tonight, and then into tomorrow. This is not just a one-day affair. We're going to see this play out through tomorrow and tomorrow night.

Look at this, blizzard warnings, Paducah, eight to 12 inches of snow. And then Cincinnati to Cleveland, five to nine inches. And then in western New York, how about Rochester and Syracuse, a foot of snow- plus developing.

Tornadoes are very rare in Florida and Georgia. Only in 2006 was the last time we had six tornadoes. So it's incredibly rare. Snow in Oklahoma City, only six of the last 122 years have had now there. So, it's certainly is substantial.

All right. One more weather coverage, I promise you, coming up throughout the day.

But, first, "GPS: TOUGH DECISIONS" starts right now.