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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute

Aired December 7, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a CNN Heroes tradition continues. We're here to honor everyday men and women who work tirelessly to change the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You honor people who are heroes. It's incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very humbled to actually be taking part because I've been a fan of it and I've watched it for many years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the kind of event that you sort of wish there were more and more of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is fantastic. Who couldn't stay away?

COOPER: Stars from television and film, music, sports, and comedy have gathered to celebrate these 10 extraordinary individuals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are amazing people and they're doing really serious work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's nice that it's actually about real people doing real good things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It teaches us that we can make a difference.

COOPER: Now it's time to meet the heroes, learn the stories behind their inspiring work, and find out who you chose as Hero of the Year.

This is CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host for the evening, Anderson Cooper.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Thank you very much. And welcome to CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE.

We're here in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, also known as "whale room" for obvious reasons, to honor the generosity and hard work of men and women who are changing the world.

CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE, it's also known as the night that I put on a suit and try not to cry in front of everybody. As a wasp, we were taught to suppress all our emotions, but it's very hard on a -- on a night like tonight.

You're going to get to meet 10 real-life heroes tonight. Heroes who care for the sick, who reach out a hand to the poor, protect the environment, and do so much more. Throughout the night, I hope you'll be involved and get involved with their work.

While you're watching, you can also follow along on Facebook, on Instagram, and Twitter. You can also log on to CNNheroes.com where you'll see ways to interact and even donate during the show.

CNN has given each of our heroes $50,000 so they can continue to do their important work. Of course later tonight, one of the honorees will be named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year and receive an additional $250,000.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Now it was my idea to give the runner-up a great big bear hug from the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. That idea was nixed. I don't understand why. I'm not sure why. That will not be happening.

Our first hero tonight reaches out her hand to boys and girls in the United States who are neglected or abused and placed into foster care. She's devoted her life to making their lives better.

To tell us her story is the founder of the Compound Foundation which creates opportunities for youth in foster and group homes, Grammy Award-winning singer Ne-Yo.

(APPLAUSE)

NE-YO, GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING SINGER: Circumstance, no matter how bad they may be, shouldn't dictate where we go in life. Right now, we've got more than 400,000 kids in foster care system who feel like their wishes will never come true.

That's why Danielle Gletow works to grant everyone. Her first foster child arrived in a dirty onesie and an oversized coat. Child after child showed up to her home with next to nothing, but that didn't stop them from being kids and wishing for a book or a new pair of shoes or to take a music class. Most kids can ask their mom and dad for that stuff, and now foster kids can ask Danielle.

She started one simple wish. If a child has a need, Danielle posts it online and anyone can go to the site and make a kid's day brighter. When we showed them that they're loved, their circumstances change. They can do more than just wish. They can start to dream and dream big.

The way this works is simple, beautiful, and powerful. So meet Gigi. Her wish is for her very own doll.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She would sit by me, go on a swing, play with me, make her try to walk, sleep with me, and she can eat. Did I already say play? My wish is to have my own American doll.

DANIELLE GLETOW, ONESIMPLEWISH.ORG: This little girl has had a traumatic first few years of her life. Gigi came to the foster home without much of her own. She had no opportunity to just enjoy playing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sister, if she wants this doll back, then what am I going to have?

GLETOW: Her foster sister Riley has American Girl doll that Gigi loves playing with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She will want it back, I know.

GLETOW: Kids in foster care, not only do they not belong anywhere, but nothing belongs to them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

GLETOW: When they have something that they can keep with them, that is familiar, that gives them comfort, I think it does a lot for making them just feel more secure. And a little bit more like the rest of the kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll go to the beach together, have fun together, swimming in the ocean.

GLETOW: You know, it isn't about the doll. It's not stuff. To believe that good things can happen to them I think can be life- changing. And it could be as simple as a doll.

Hey, Gigi, do you have a doll you play with?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like American Doll?

GLETOW: You can show me it? Where's Sissy's doll?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That one's Sissy's.

GLETOW: And whose is that? Do you know whose doll that is? It's your very own American Girl Doll.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I open it?

GLETOW: You sure can.

The magic of getting something that is only yours. She'll have that memory of being the first person to get to hold her right out of the box.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whoa. She's like, a lot of hair. I want to go show everybody.

GLETOW: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at my own American doll. That looks like me.

GLETOW: When I get to see a child have a moment of pure happiness, knowing what they've been through, I feel like I'm getting a chance to give these kids just one moment of feeling loved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ding-dong, time to wake up.

GLETOW: There are hundreds of thousands of kids just like Gigi that need to know that there is a lot of goodness in this world. That's kind of what these wishes granted are, it's this love. It's showing these kids love that you hope stays with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

NE-YO: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring, CNN hero Danielle Gletow.

(APPLAUSE)

GLETOW: Sorry. I am such a mess.

When I became a foster parent six years ago, I vowed to take care of as many children as I could. Because these are America's invisible children. But one simple wish gives them a voice. And now CNN HEROES is making that voice even louder.

I truly hope that this is just the beginning of a whirlwind of love, support, and hope for children who really need to believe that wishes do come true.

Thank you so much. I love you, Joe. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Sarah Silverman honors a feisty champion for children.

And later, Mariska Hargitay. And a truly moving musical performance by Sarah Bareiless.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES.

It's very easy in this day and age to assume that everyone is online, that everyone is digitally connected. But the reality is that 60 percent of low-income families do not have access in their homes to the Internet or to computers.

You're about to meet one extraordinary woman who is trying to bridge that digital divide.

Here to tell us about her is a proud supporter of the Trevor Project and the star of the HBO special "We are Miracles," Sarah Silverman.

(APPLAUSE)

SARAH SILVERMAN, ACTRESS, HBO'S "WE ARE MIRACLES": Our next hero started working at the age of 6. She is the daughter of migrant farm workers and picked baskets of beans from Florida to New York and back again.

What Estella Pyfrom learned moving from town to town was that an education was the ticket to a better life. So she studied hard and spent 50 years as an educator in the Palm Beach County School System.

When retirement rolled up, Estella was like, I'm not tired, yet. See, there were students who still really needed her, and at the age of 71, Estella had a brilliant idea. She used her savings and found this amazing way to bring computers and technology to underserved areas.

Thousands of people have been helped because this great woman is a genius with the energy, the heart, and smarts to close a divide that's pulled us apart for too darn long.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ESTELLA PYFROM, ESTELLASBRILLIANTBUS.ORG: My name is Estella Pyfrom. I am 76 years young.

He said "keys."

During my lifetime, I never felt out of sync with my communities.

We have extra bread so take as much bread as you like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thank you.

PYFROM: I grew up in these neighborhoods. I've worked with these families for more than 50 years. I taught their children. I taught their grandchildren. So I know what's going on in the neighborhoods.

In today's time, many of our children don't have computers at home. And low-income families don't have transportation to get to where the computers are. As I was coming up to the age of retirement, I decided that I wasn't quite ready to just go home and sit in a rocking chair. I had more to offer. I figured out a way to bring technology into the neighborhood.

Here we are. Estella's Brilliant Bus.

This is a way that students and families can be more informed.

You know your password?

Better educated. More connected in the world.

Make sure that as you go through the lessons, do this as much as possible. OK?

Kids who don't have access to computers will be left behind.

Reading, math, science, social studies. It's all available to the students.

How are we doing here?

Once they get on this bus, they are glued to these computers. I had a five-year financial plan to be able to build and keep the Brilliant Bus. I'm proud to say that I just made my last payment on the Brilliant Bus. So it is here to stay.

We're on the move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

SILVERMAN: Get on the bus, everybody. It is my honor to present CNN Hero Estella Pyfrom.

(APPLAUSE)

PYFROM: I'd like to say thanks to Almighty God, my family, dedicated volunteers and supporters.

I am giving the world the best that I have and the best is coming back to me. And as you continue to support me in my project, we will continue to move across the state, across the nation, and around the world to continue to make a difference in the lives of many people.

The kids call me the gadget lady.

(LAUGHTER)

But the bus is just a big gadget with a mission on a movement.

I love you, I thank you, I thank you so very much.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: You know, we're often reminded that the need for heroes, for people who rise up and help others, it's always growing. It never stops.

In the past several weeks alone, we've seen the devastation of tornados touching down here in the United States. We've seen in the Philippines the super typhoon which decimated towns and villages, killing thousands of people.

I'll never forget the people I met in Tacloban searching for the bodies of their children all alone amidst the rubble and debris without help.

Among those responding to the typhoon was Efren Penaflorida, we may remember was honored as a CNN Hero of the Year back in 2009 for his work, educating kids in the slums of the Philippines.

He put his push cart classrooms to work these last several weeks, encouraging people to donate to the victims of the typhoon and he helped raise 30 million pesos in a nationwide telethon.

Other CNN Heroes have also rushed in to help to aid the vulnerable, and help people who have been devastated in the Philippines. 2009 Hero Doc Henley has sent thousands of clean water filters. He is here with us tonight.

Doc, where are you? Stand up, if you would. Doc, stand up right here.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Doc is awesome. And that's the extraordinary thing about our CNN Heroes. Their work never ends. Their work never ceases. And with each passing year, they keep rolling up their sleeves and they keep lending a hand. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Bombings, wildfires, floods, and tornados. So many people 2013 brought unimaginable devastation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Live pictures of a funnel cloud that has just developed.

COOPER: In Oklahoma, thousands were struck without warning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like on the movie "Twister." There's stuff flying everywhere. It's indescribable.

COOPER: 2008 Hero Tad Agoglia was at the Plaza Towers Elementary School within two hours trying to save lives.

TAD AGOGLIA, 2008 CNN HERO: We were digging through an area where we thought there could be some young children trapped. Seeing the desks, these are the paper that children had written on. It just stopped me in my tracks.

COOPER: In Colorado, as homes were being washed away, 2011 Hero Wilma Millville --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, chief.

COOPER: -- dispatched her search dogs to find survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Breaking overnight, 19 firefighters are lost.

COOPER: In Arizona, the hearts of 19 families broken, an entire community in shock. 2008 Hero Vickie Miner rushed in, bringing comfort and support to grieving families.

VICKIE MINER, 2008 CNN HERO: I love these firefighters. I will do anything to protect them and help them. COOPER: In Boston --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two explosions at the finish line.

COOPER: An act of violence inspired incredible strength and courage. In the aftermath of the tragedy, 2012 Hero Dick Traum is inspiring sudden amputees to become athletes. And in New York, 2011 Hero Jeff Parness commemorated the anniversary of 9/11 with his throng of survivor volunteers. Rebuilding the homes of first responders who lost everything during superstorm Sandy.

JEFF PARNESS, 2011 CNN HERO: This is about the people. At the end of day, it's about giving hope.

COOPER: These heroes are our heroes. They teach us that service to others never ends and that new beginnings are always possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Josh Lucas and some laughs from Jim Gaffigan. And still to come, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to the program.

There are more than 21 million military veterans in the United States, and for too many of them, life here at home is a struggle. Nearly one in 10 vets living with a disability are unemployed right now. 900,000 need food stamps just to make ends meet. Things that would make life easier for a disabled vet are just sometimes impossible for them to afford.

We're talking about a new ramp, a rehabbed bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair. But a brave veteran is committed to making their lives better.

To share his new mission is a proud supporter of Only Make Believe, a group devoted to entertaining sick kids, please help welcome one of the stars of the new film "Big Sur," Josh Lucas.

(APPLAUSE)

JOSH LUCAS, ACTOR: Thank you, Anderson. I'm very, very proud to be here tonight underneath this magnificent whale, celebrating with CNN HEROES what I think is the greatest thing a human being can do, which is to give back.

Now our next CNN Hero Dale Beatty said if you can speak honestly, then you don't have to use a teleprompter and you don't have to use -- memorize your speech. So I will at least do the first part without.

Almost 20 years ago, Dale and his friend John, they became great friends, joined the National Guard together, and they had a long, great friendship, you know, serving this country. And almost exactly nine years ago tonight, today, on a clear, crisp day in Iraq, John was driving and Dale was filming and they were telling stories and in a sense, having as good of a time they could have, when they were hit by a roadside bomb.

Their lives were immediately and instantly changed forever. Dale had both of his legs amputated below the knee, and when he was in the recovery for the next year, he lied with his two young children and tried to figure out how he could build the home that he dreamed to build for him and his high school sweetheart and his two kids. And he honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do.

At this point, John, also injured, stepped back in and said, with his community, that they were going to build a home. And in the process, they built something magnificent. This gave John the idea, and Dale, the huge idea for what they called Purple Heart Homes. To assist disabled veterans, no matter when they served, Dale's group is there with hammers in hand to build, renovate, and rehab homes for free. He also takes donated foreclosed homes, fixes them up, and secures veterans with low-cost mortgages.

With 30 projects completed, Dale does more than open new doors for his brothers in arms. He shows them a community that's ready to serve them with all of their hearts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DALE BEATTY, CNN HERO (voiceover): All veterans have been taught to be responsible for the guy to your left and the guy to your right. And no matter what, you're going to bat for them if they need you. We wouldn't leave one of our soldiers behind on the battlefield, but we do it so often here at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did three tours in Vietnam. My injuries include my right leg, left elbow, and lower back. For 35 years, no one cared.

BEATTY: Every war is forgotten when the next war starts. People welcome me home and say they love us and that I'm their hero. I knew after meeting other veterans, that wasn't the case for all of us. These other guys who struggle, they need a hand up. It's my mission to help other veterans get the support and the home they need from their communities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the young man why we're all here today.

BEATTY: It's just getting the community engaged around a couple of simple changes to someone's house, or an entire house built from the ground-up. We want to make their life easier, safer, just better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could not get my wheelchair in and out my front door because I had steps with no handrail. And it made me less of a social person.

BEATTY: We were able to build a deck and a ramp. There used to be a concrete sidewalk here. We busted that up, got it out of here. It doesn't sound like a lot, but the impact that it made was tremendous. And their emotions are being rehabbed as well. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They made me realize the challenges that i've had to endure meant something. They jump started me back into life. Purple Heart Homes, it's a welcome home. It's great to be home after 40 years.

BEATTY: Regardless of when you serve, where you serve, we're all the same. We're all veterans. They just need to know that somebody does care about them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

LUCAS: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming CNN hero Dale Beatty.

(APPLAUSE)

DALE BEATTY, CNN HERO: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BEATTY: Thank you very much. I'm honored to be here, and I just want to thank those who aren't in the room that have helped me be here tonight. I'm humbled to be able to represent my organization and the culture of the United States veterans. I'm not the only hero in this room, and none of us as heroes stand alone. We may often stand in the front, but we cannot accomplish our respective missions without those who share our vision. I dedicate this to everyone who's been brave enough to create change and make a positive impact in our world. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Please welcome a proud supporter of the Bob Woodruff Foundation that helps wounded veterans and their families and possibly the only person here tonight who is actually paler than I am. I'm very happy to see him. Comedian Jim Gaffigan.

(APPLAUSE)

JIM GAFFIGAN, COMEDIAN: Thank you. Thank you. By the way, I am not that guy from "Capote." That is the other out-of-shape pale, good- looking guy.

I am honored to be here. I tell you, I'm a comedian. I talk about eating and being lazy for a living. So when CNN Heroes approached me and asked me to speak at this event where we honor selfless, tireless, generous people, I only had one question: how much am I going to get paid? And what award am I going to get? And I also asked if I could meet Wolf Blitzer.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: But tonight we honor amazing, amazing people. People that dedicate their lives to selflessly serve other people. It's really kind of weird, isn't it? I mean, because normally when we give and volunteer our time, we kind of secretly want something in return. We're kind of like well, do I get a T-shirt? Is there going to be a meal? Is someone at least going to have to run a 10k on my behalf?

But not these people. These people are amazing. You know, CNN Heroes, they found 10 amazing human beings. Ten out of seven billion.

(APPLAUSE)

GAFFIGAN: I mean, you know, 10. I heard that next year they're only going to be able to find nine. They're keeping their expectations -- but this is like the Academy Awards for good people.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: You know? It's pretty amazing. But I've been inspired. I've only cried twice. And we all have heroes in our lives. My hero is my wife. I bought her from Russia.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: No, I didn't. She really is my hero. I'm married to a beautiful woman, the type of woman that when I'm with her and people find out she's my wife, there's usually an audible wow. Which I suppose is flattering, but it hurts my feelings. I'm not a caveman. I love her, you know. You know, and it's a relationship that we work on. Like the other night, I was eating a pint of ice cream and I finished it because I'm American, everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

I took off the lid and I threw it away because I'm not a quitter.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: And my wife came in the room and she was like Jim, are you going to eat an entire pint of ice cream by yourself? I was like, hopefully. Unless you selfishly want a bite. She was like Jim, you have a nine-year-old daughter. Don't you want to be at her wedding? I was like not really, no. Wait, is there going to be ice cream at her wedding? 'Cause if you -- I still don't want to go.

I do enjoy being married. I like having someone looking out for me. And she wants me to live longer. We all want to live longer, right? But how much longer? Right? You ever see old people, really old people, the look on their face? They always have that look like, ahh! I can't believe I'm still here! I would have eaten so much more ice cream. Why did I ever consume kale?

Can we stop with the kale propaganda? You know? Can we stop that? Can someone be my hero? Kale is so good for you. It's inedible. It's inedible. Like oh, all you have to do is freeze-dry it, cover it in cayenne peppers, put it in a shake and bury it in the ground. Kale! It's like a really bitter spinach with hair. Kale is so good for you.

They could find out kale cures cancer, and I'm pretty sure I'd still do the chemo, all right?

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: I've tried the kale.

But tonight, we celebrate, right? We're celebrating. I know some of you are going to be drinking, and I'm not just talking about Piers Morgan.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: It's interesting. You know, these heroes have earned a drink. It's amazing how our attitude on alcohol changes over time, right? Because even as a teenager, you know it's bad for you. As a teenager, you're like yes, well, I don't really like the taste of it, but it makes me look cool. And then when you're in your 20s, you're like well, you know, it gives me confidence to talk to the opposite sex. And then when you're in your 40s, you're like well, this is the only thing I like about being alive.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: Anyway, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Alan Cumming and Jeffrey Wright pay tribute to two more amazing heroes. And later, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan get down with a drill team from Jersey to honor their hero.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Throughout tonight's broadcast, please go to CNNheroes.com. You can support our heroes there and their work. You can also connect on Instagram, on Twitter and Facebook. While you're there, you can tell your friends, Facebook friends to get involved as well. Our heroes can certainly use all the support they can get, even from people you barely remember from high school who you know on Facebook.

With more than 13,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year, many poor families struggle simply to get to the hospital so their child can receive care. Here to tell us how one man saw those families and decided to help them is an ambassador for Gabriel's Angel Foundation for Cancer Research, star of "The Good Wife" and the upcoming "Cabaret" on Broadway, please welcome Alan Cumming.

(APPLAUSE)

ALAN CUMMING, ACTOR: Our next hero met a one-year-old boy with a brain tumor who needed frequent chemotherapy treatments. Richard Nares was stunned by how this boy and their mother made their way to the hospital. They would leave their home at 4:00 a.m., take four buses and arrive four hours later. After chemo with a weakened immune system, this little boy slept in his mother's arms as they would make the same long journey home. So Richard started to give them a ride in his trusted Buick, and that ride led to many more. He started a foundation, bought a van, hired a driver, and provides more than 2,500 free rides for low-income families with children facing cancer. While they're in hospital, he also offers translation services, help buying lunch, and even enrolls them in the bone marrow donor network.

For Richard, this work is more than a moral calling. It's personal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We live here. It's everyday treatment.

I had no car. I had no nothing. I asked the doctors if I can do public transportation, and they say they wouldn't recommend it. She can get an infection. She can get really sick.

UNIDENIFIED FEMALE: We're in this together.

UNIDENIFIED FEMALE: It's all I care right now, my daughter's life. We want to fight.

RICHARD NARES, CNN HERO: You doing okay? Good to see you again.

The families we serve have a very difficult time getting here. They're susceptible to disease, their immune system suppressed.

Good morning. Ready to go?

UNIDENIFIED FEMALE: Being a single mom with a daughter with cancer is not easy. She's only two. I'm very blessed to have met them at the time that I did.

You want to blow the kiss to the camera?

I don't know what I would do without them.

NARES: They can't start the fight without getting to the hospital. We get them here in a nice, clean environment and on time. I know what those families go through. My son, Emilio, was diagnosed with leukemia. We were fortunate we had rides to the hospital to bring Emilio. Many of the families don't have this. No child should miss their treatment due to lack of transportation.

Even though he's passed away almost 13 years, it's still like he's with me. To have Emilio and to hold him and to be a father, it's almost like a dream. I see kids that remind me of Emilio. I hear sounds like Emilio will hear. But that's good. Because he's here to make sure that I'm doing the right thing. Sometimes I wonder, you know, God, do I have to really do this because I lived it? But then I quickly say of course I do. When you're fighting for your child's life, nothing else matters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE) CUMMING: It's my honor to present CNN Hero Richard Nares.

(APPLAUSE)

NARES: To hear the words "your child has cancer," you become paralyzed with fear. I was one of those parents until I found a way to honor Emilio. Every day, countless children miss their chemotherapy or other cancer-related treatments because they are poor. I want these children to have a fighting chance. Please help me make Ride With Emilio a priority in all children's hospitals. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: In the United States, there is one doctor for every 413 people. In the African nation of Cameroon, there is one doctor for every 5,000 people. In Cameroon, most live in rural villages and often die from illnesses that are easily treatable because they lack access to medical care and they can't pay for treatment even if there is care.

To introduce us to a hero who works tirelessly to bring health care to his country's poor, please welcome the chairman of the Taia Peace Foundation, which assists rural African communities with economic development, star of this season's "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the very talented Jeffrey Wright.

(APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR: Thank you. Thanks, Anderson.

Work doesn't always have to feel like work. It can be decent, noble, gracious in its scope and in its promise. That is how Dr. Georges Bwelle approaches his life's work.

When he was young, his father was in a car accident, broke his arm, developed an infection, which spread to his brain. Too poor to get the care he needed for 21 years, he slipped in and out of consciousness. That is why Georges made a promise to his father that when he became a doctor, he would take care of his people.

Years later, he started Askavim (ph). After working all week as a surgeon, he travels to the villages, where people walk for miles sick and in need of surgery. And Georges and his volunteers help them, nearly 32,000 people today. And he does it for free. His work lifts his people up, and it is as decent, noble, and glorious as the sunrise they greet at the beginning of every mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. GEORGES BWELLE, CNN HERO: It was my dream. It was a dream.

My family wasn't rich. I was born in a poor family. But my parents did their best to send me to school. For a country like mine, people like to dream, to dance, to enjoy their life. But with poverty, they cannot enjoy their life. So, I decided my own part to fight against poverty. There's no system of insurance in our country. The patient pays for all. So you need to have the money in your pocket for treatment. If you don't have money, you can't pay. Sometimes (INAUDIBLE). I work for free for those people.

I saw my father ill for 23 years. Before he passed away, he asked me, you see how people suffer to see a doctor? You should graduate to be a doctor, help people.

Today we brought a mobile clinic in the south of Cameroon. And in this village, we are giving to people free health care. Here you have medical consultation for free. There you have dentists care. There you have the pharmacy, where people receive drugs for free. And we have the ophthalmologist.

They can live 60 kilometers around, and they are coming on foot. We are training today to make knots, surgical knots. For only one weekend, we are doing our own 40 surgical operations.

(via subtitles): So are you also ere for the operation? We will make everything (inaudible). Do you understand? We will begin around five to six tonight.

For only one weekend, we are doing around 40 surgical operations. We leave our address to all the patients, that if there's any problem, they can come back to us. It was my dream to go and help people. They are happy. I'm doing that to give them opportunity to restart.

(APPLAUSE)

WRIGHT: Simple. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present CNN Hero award to Dr. Georges Bwelle.

(APPLAUSE)

BWELLE: Thank you. Thank you. I'm very proud to represent Cameroon - to represent Cameroon tonight. It is an honor to show that local African initiatives like Ascovime (ph) can be an inspiration for the world. Everyone has the right to smile, to dream, and to prosper. That's why I travel almost every weekend with my team of Cameroonian and international volunteers to reduce pain and to spread hope. Everyone is welcome in Ascovime. I invite you to support our work so we can continue to help my people in Cameroon and spread this hope beyond our borders.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next, Mariska Hargitay honors a hero with a life-saving invention. And a surprise honor for an everyday superhero who put 800 children's lives before her own. "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE" is proudly sponsored by Geico, who honors those giving back to their community.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN Heroes. There's an African proverb that says when you become pregnant, you have one foot in the grave. Think about that. With nearly 800 women dying every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, one woman asks why. Why should that be?

She then helped create an invention that saves lives. To tell us about her incredible work is the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps survivors of rape and domestic violence. Star of a show I'm personally obsessed with, "Law & Order: SVU," Mariska Hargitay. (APPLAUSE)

MARISKA HARGITAY, ACTRESS: Good evening. When life knocks you down, it's a struggle to get back up because sometimes we can't see fate at work, lining up things as it does in its mysterious way. For years, Dr. Laura Stachel worked as a top ob/GYN. And after she suffered an injury to her back, delivering babies became too painful, so she had to stop.

But she got up. She went back to school. And a research mission brought her to Nigeria to find out why so many mothers and so many babies were dying before, during, and after childbirth. She learned what happened when the hospital lights went out, and it haunted her. She carried that horror home with her.

And as fate would have it, Laura could tell her husband what was needed. And he could design a magic yellow box, which has been delivered to 400 clinics in 27 countries, and countless lives have been saved because she got up and brought a little light to where it's been dark for far too long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. LAURA STACHEL, CNN HERO: We arrived in the dead of night, and there was literally no light in the health center.

Hi, are you the midwife working here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm the midwife here.

STACHEL: There was nothing. Not even a candle. How many deliveries are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's about 35.

STACHEL: Thirty-five? And how many midwives are working here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm the only one.

STACHEL: Just you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Day and night.

STACHEL: Oh, my goodness. So I said what would you do if you had to do a delivery tonight? She took out her cell phone, and she had just the smallest bit of light. So that's it. And if you're doing a delivery over there, basically that's the light that you have to work with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Very hard. But what can we do?

STACHEL: In the last month recorded, four women actually died from pregnancy complications. The problems I'm seeing in Malawi are the same problems I'm seeing in Sierra Leone and Liberia and Nigeria and Uganda.

Welcome to the world, little one. And the lights just went out.

I don't think that we should stand by and just allow health centers around the world not to have something as basic as light and electricity. So the little step we're taking is a bit of power in a yellow box. This is called the solar suitcase.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very, very nice.

STACHEL: The solar panel takes the sunlight and it changes it to electricity.

The Solar Suitcase is really rugged, simple to use, portable.

There. Perfect. Turn this on. Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

STACHEL: You're so welcome.

We include a series of phone charges. We also provide head lamps. We include a battery charger. And finally, because our focus is on maternal health care, we provide a fetal Doppler. Perfect. That's it. You can move the light where you want it.

One of the most beautiful outcomes is that it's just shifted the morale of the health care worker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will be able to give good deliveries. Suturing will not be a problem for me. Resuscitation of a baby during the night will not be a problem because of the light. It keeps me going.

STACHEL: We learn about babies that have survived or mothers that weren't turned away. Mothers are now eager to come to the clinics. They say I want to deliver in the hospital with the magic yellow box. I really want a world where women and their families get to celebrate birth, where they don't have to worry whether or not they're going to survive. This is why I'm here on this earth right now.

(APPLAUSE)

HARGITAY: It is my honor to present CNN Hero, Dr. Laura Stachel.

(APPLAUSE) STACHEL: None of this would have been possible, and I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for the ingenuity of my husband, Hal Aronson.

(APPLAUSE)

STACHEL: And a very dedicated team of six people who work tirelessly with me, along with volunteers, to make this possible.

Thank you, CNN, for shining a light on the link between energy poverty and maternal mortality. Each night when the sunsets, hundreds of thousands of health workers struggle to save the lives of mothers and infants in near darkness. They need our support. This award is for them. They are the true heroes.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Well, tonight while you're watching, if you'd like to help out one or more of our Top 10 Heroes, your donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $250,000. Please do it now at CNNheroes.com.

Now throughout the evening, we've had the chance to applaud the brilliant service of so many honorees who dedicated their lives to their critical work. But sometimes something astonishing happens and a person in the face of tremendous adversity finds the courage and grace to put others' lives and safety ahead of his or her own.

The woman you're about to meet is remarkable. She certainly did what I just described. She did that and then some on the morning of August 20th, when a troubled 20-year-old man armed with an assault rifle and about 500 rounds of ammunition, walked into the school where she works outside Atlanta, Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is an active shooter at McNair Elementary School.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: DeKalb County authorities are surrounding the school.

COOPER: Bookkeeper Antoinette Tuft is trapped inside with the gunman and dials 911.

ANTOINETTE TUFF, GEORGIA SCHOOL SHOOTING HERO: I'm in the front office. He just went outside and started shooting.

COOPER: The shooter exchanges gunfire with police.

TUFF: Can I run?

KENDRA MCCRAY, EMERGENCY OPERATOR, DEKALB COUNTY: Where -- can you get somewhere safe?

COOPER: But Antoinette doesn't run. When the gunman returns, she relays his demands to police.

TUFF: OK, he said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids. He wants the police. So back off. And what else, sir? He said, he don't care if he die, he don't have nothing to live for. And he said he's not mentally stable.

COOPER: She keeps the gunman in the front office while students continue to sprint out of the building.

TUFF: He said but if they come on, he's going to start shooting again.

COOPER: Parents anxiously wait for news about their children.

TUFF: Tell them to stand down now.

COOPER: Antoinette keeps the conversation going for over 20 minutes.

TUFF: I can help you, you want to talk to them? Want me to talk to them inside -- OK, well let me talk to them and let's see if we can work it out so that you don't have to go away with them for a long time.

COOPER: She uses her best defense, compassion.

TUFF: It's going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK?

COOPER: She forms a bond with the gunman.

TUFF: We all go through something in life.

COOPER: And shares her own past struggles.

TUFF: I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I'm still working and everything is OK.

COOPER: And in that moment, where so much could have gone so wrong, Antoinette Tuft convinces Michael Hill to do the right thing.

TUFF: They're coming. So just hold on, Michael. Go ahead and lay down.

COOPER: And he surrenders.

TUFF: Hello?

MCCRAY: Yes?

TUFF: Let me tell you something, baby. I ain't never so scared in all the days of my life.

MCCRAY: Me either. But you did great.

COOPER: On that day, courage and decency triumphed over fear and the impulse to do harm. Eight hundred children went on to continue their precious lives. They were safe because Antoinette Tuff said it's going to be all right.

TUFF: Oh, Jesus.

MCCRAY: You did great.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Ladies and gentlemen, the woman whose number I want to have on my speed dial so she can tell me that everything is going to be OK any time, Antoinette Tuff.

(APPLAUSE)

TUFF: First of all, thank you to my wonderful friend. It's great to see you again for so long.

I give an honor to God. I have spent the last 30 years raising, mentoring, and teaching young people that living in fear is no way to live at all. I never thought I could find my purpose while confronting that young man, but I did.

Oh, Jesus.

(LAUGHTER)

So I thank you to everyone who has followed my story, has showed support and love in some of the most touching and kind ways. It has meant the world to me. And I encourage all of you to battle your fears and allow your pain to push you into your purpose, too.

Thank you so very much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan shout it out for a New Jersey hero.

And later, a man trying single handedly to save the Mississippi.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES. There are some places in the United States where gang violence and gunfire make the streets a dangerous place to grow up.

Camden, New Jersey, is one of those places, and only half of the students graduate from high school. To share our next story about a woman who uses dance and discipline and hard work to give a group of resilient kids hope, please welcome a proud supporter of ovarian cancer research and the supporter of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the hosts of "Live with Kelly and Michael," all my friends, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan.

(APPLAUSE) KELLY RIPA, HOST, "LIVE WITH KELLY AND MICHAEL": We're trying not to be afraid, right?

MICHAEL STRAHAN, HOST, "LIVE WITH KELLY AND MICHAEL": Yes.

RIPA: We're trying to push through our fear of public speaking.

(LAUGHTER)

I love New Jersey because my dad was born and raised in Camden. I was born and raised not far from that city as well.

And Michael, I am told, loves New Jersey because he played, allegedly, for a football team there, right?

STRAHAN: Yes.

RIPA: Right?

STRAHAN: Yes. You're right.

RIPA: See that? And we both love our next hero because of what she has done for New Jersey, changing the lives of more than 4,000 students in a city where too many people often give up on them.

But not Tawanda Jones. When she was young, she struggled growing up. What helped her stay focused was the tough love she got from her family and her friends. They taught her self-respect and discipline, and she wanted others to have that kind of support, too.

STRAHAN: That's why Tawanda started the Camden Sophisticated Sisters drill team and then a drum line for the boys. These kids have a safe place to go after school, they have some fun, and in turn, they agree to maintain a C average, complete 200 hours of community service, and they get their homework done.

What happens when these kids meet and practice in their abandoned water tower is nothing short of amazing. They are loved, they are challenged, and they shout it out for Wawa, their second mom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAWANDA JONES, CAMDENSOPHISTICATEDSISTERS.ORG: Who are we? And what does it mean? Are y'all ready?

It's very hard for children growing up in Camden today. It's like they don't have an alternative. Like they're forced into the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the middle of Chase Street. This is where most of the drug dealers stand. This is where most of the homicides happen. This is the street I live on. This is not one of my favorite streets. There's some people in here that don't want to kill people. But some people they want to be something when they get older.

JONES: Unity (INAUDIBLE). Come on. One, two -- drill team is so good for children as far as the discipline and the structure. That's how you want things to be in your life. On point, intact. Decency and in order.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: November 2011, my dad was shot and killed. I went from A's and B's to straight F's. I started getting into a lot of fights, hanging with the wrong people.

JONES: We all have a responsibility to these kids. To extend that hand and say, baby, I'm here. You're not by yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miss Wawa, she's like my second mom.

JONES: Did you complete your homework? Let me check it. Who else had homework tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without her, I really don't know where I would be right now.

JONES: Work, Destiny, work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It changed my life around period. I'm very proud of myself, going from the GPA of a 0.5 to GPA of 3.0 in one year. That is amazing. My mom, she's just speechless.

JONES: When do you take your test?

I don't think people really understand how important it is to have these children succeed.

CSS is definitely going to make history. Do you understand that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

JONES: So clap it up.

I'm in your teacher's face. I'm in your face. I'm in your parents' face if I need to be, because I want the best for you.

Come on. Go all the way to the end. I can be rough, but it's tough love. I go above and beyond because someone did it for me.

Don't give up.

And you should continue to pass on the blessings. When you do this, you get great rewards. It's better than money. It's so much better than money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

RIPA: Ladies and gentlemen, clap it up for the pride of Camden, New Jersey.

STRAHAN: CNN Hero Tawanda "Wawa" Jones.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

RIPA: That was incredible.

JONES: Thank you so much. Thank you.

I want to give all praises to God, and to my better half, my husband Robert Jones. This wouldn't have been possible without you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, CSS, for that, and Destiny, the young woman you saw on the screen a few minutes ago, and the kids on the stage. They have all come so far and I'm so, so proud of them.

These kids are great. Selfless acts of kindness will cause an overflow of blessings you couldn't possibly be ready for. Every child has a need, a circumstance, and a desire. We have to let them know that their dreams are possible. If they can believe them, then they can achieve them. It is possible. It is never impossible.

Listen to me, kids. It is possible. It is possible. It is possible. It is possible.

Thank you so much. Love you.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next, Jason Biggs honors a Mighty Rivers caretaker.

And still to come, Allison Williams honors a hero, standing up for the rights of girls.

And we'll reveal your pick for CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back.

Our next hero is determined to keep our waterways clean. So much so that he has pulled more than 67,000 tires from rivers and streams in this country.

I actually profiled him in a story nearly 20 years ago when I was a young reporter just starting out and he was just starting out as well.

He is still out there on the water cleaning up what so many of us leave behind.

Here to tell his story is an actor who proudly supports Generosity Water, an organization that's dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries.

Please welcome one of the stars of "Orange is the New Black," Jason Biggs.

(APPLAUSE) JASON BIGGS, ACTOR: Thank you. One person can make a difference. That's the cliche we always hear. Well, I can tell you to believe it. Here's why.

Chad Pregracke, one man, used his two hands to pull 45,000 pounds of trash out of the Mississippi River. When he was 17, he tried to earn a living fishing, working on barges and diving for mussels, but seeing all that junk messing up the gorgeous banks and islands broke his heart.

Chad decided to do something about it and spent months with his boat hauling garbage from the river. Fifteen years later, he's done even more. He started Living Lands and Waters. He has barges and a crane to pull out boats and cars. He's helped plant half a million trees, launched an Adopt a River Mile Program, and so far, 70,000 volunteers completed this monumental work. Sometimes to the sweet sounds of a little karaoke.

Twenty-three rivers rolled on because Chad, one person, decided to make a difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAD PREGRACKE, LIVINGLANDSANDWATERS.ORG: The Mississippi River is one of the most famous rivers in the world. Historically helped built the country, 18 million people get their daily drinking from it. It's a huge migratory flyway for all the birds. It's almost like a huge national park.

I grew up right on the river. And I always took it for granted. Everything you can imagine winds up in the river somehow. Refrigerators, stoves, barrels, tires, cars, trucks. We're talking millions of pounds of garbage.

Let's see what it's like. This stuff just collects here and it goes on for blocks like this. It's a bad deal.

As I got older, I realized this should not be like this. And if no one else is doing anything about it, I will.

The first year, it was just myself, a boat, the river, and a lot of trash. I was just pumped up to do it. Now here we are 15 years later. I went from boat loads to barge loads.

You guys ready?

CROWD: Yes.

PREGRACKE: Yes.

We're basically creating an opportunity for people to go out on the river and do something positive.

You guys will be amazed in two hours how much stuff we get.

We gather up all these volunteers, we go out there, we just sweep it clean. It's either freezing cold or super hot.

It's a good workout.

This is hard, back-breaking work. You want to make it fun out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't think I'd be singing karaoke on a boat.

PREGRACKE: At the end of the day, it's just -- you're out there picking up garbage.

It's yours. It's totally yours. Little by little, we're getting it.

People want to have fun. And people want to make a difference.

All right.

I've removed over seven million pounds of garbage since we started. Close to 90 percent of everything we've brought in is recyclable. This is a problem that people created, but a problem that people can fix.

That was the last bag. Come on, let's give it up. Yes. It's about a cleaner river and about making America a better place. Sounds cliche, but that's exactly what we're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

BIGGS: Please join me in honoring the river's garbage man, CNN Hero Chad Pregracke.

(APPLAUSE)

PREGRACKE: Thank you. Yes. Yes. Yes. Obviously a huge honor. I really appreciate it and I accept it on behalf of all the thousands of volunteers that have helped me clean up rivers and continue to do so. So cool.

And CNN's cool. I got to throw that out there. That's awesome.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, this is great. Yes. Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

I just -- I love what I do and I love doing something good for the country and it sure is great to be recognized. But it is really cool that CNN does this for all the heroes past. I think there's 200 heroes that have been helped out and their life has been -- their work has been highlighted. And I just think it's really cool you guys do this and hopefully will continue to do it. But thanks again. And thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Such an honor. Clean up rivers.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next, Allison Williams honors a brave woman from Kenya, fighting for the rights of her country's girls.

And still to come, Shea Mitchell and a performance by Sara Bareilles.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN HEROES.

In Kenya, there are many Maasai traditions that are beautiful and inspiring and celebrated with great pride. There is one tradition, however, that Kenya has now outlawed, and with very good reason.

This story may be difficult to hear and inappropriate for some younger viewers at home. But for the 140 million women and girls around the world who have survived female genital mutilation, or FGM, we think it's an important story for everybody to learn about and for all of us to speak out about.

Well, in some places, the law has changed, like in Kenya, FGM continues. And here to tell us one woman's courageous story, please welcome a proud supporter of the Horizon's National Student Enrichment Program and the star of HBO's "Girls," Allison Williams.

(APPLAUSE)

ALLISON WILLIAMS, ACTRESS: I am so honored to be able to tell you a little bit about our next hero.

She was born in a Maasai village in Kenya where she was engaged to be married at the age of 5. It is custom there for young women to undergo FGM, cutting, by the time they are teenagers, which also marks the end of a girl's education and the beginning of their preparation for marriage.

This was to be Kakenya Ntaiya's future as well, until she took matters into her own hands. She negotiated a deal with her father, agreeing to undergo FGM in exchange for being allowed to complete high school. After completing high school, she did as no other girl from her village had ever done.

She left Kenya to go to college in the United States and her whole village collected money to fund her journey. She promised all of her supporters that she would someday return home, and in 2009, she did just that. She built the Kakenya Center for Excellence back home in her village, the area's first primary school for girls.

Today, 155 students attend the school and they all have one thing in common, aside from being girls. Their parents have all agreed not to subject them to cutting or early marriage. With uniforms, three meals a day, books, and small class sizes, big dreams take hold.

Listen to her, watch her work, because her courage is contagious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAKENYA NTAIYA, KAKENYASDREAM.ORG: It happens outside. Men and women all witnessing you. You're not supposed to cry because brave women don't cry. I avoided the ceremony as far as I could. When I knew that it was going to happen, I had to face my dad and say I would only go through the cutting if he lets me go back to school. If not, I'm going to run away. I knew that once I go through the cutting, I am going to be married off and my dream of becoming a teacher was going to end.

It was done in the morning using a very old rusty knife with no anesthesia. I can never forget that day. I wanted my freedom. But when I reached the U.S., I realized that I needed to help my sisters.

Hello, how are you, class?

When they start at our school, they are very shy. But over time, we see them very confident.

Who knows the answer?

It's the most exciting thing. They are doing very well. Fathers are now saying, my daughter could do better than my son. It's still quite difficult to push for change here. Men still control almost everything.

UNIDENTIFIED VILLAGE CHIEF: She's able to convince people about ideas that she has. She has very powerful words.

NTAIYA: Our work is more than education.

All of you had a good holiday?

STUDENTS: Yes.

NTAIYA: Nobody got married.

(LAUGHTER)

NTAIYA: It's about empowerment so that they can make decisions for their lives. These girls are saying no to being cut. They are so determined they want to be a different generation of girls.

Why should you work hard? To achieve your goals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

NTAIYA: And what are your goals? Pilot. A doctor. President.

Education has enabled me to become who I am. I came back so girls in my community don't have to negotiate like I did to achieve their dreams. The change is happening. That's why I wake up every morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

WILLIAMS: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present CNN Hero Kakenya Ntaiya.

(APPLAUSE)

NTAIYA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

In January, we welcomed 30 more girls in our school. I am so glad because it shows that the community is learning along these girls. My dream is not just that they go to school. It's not just that they will not be cut or not be married at age 12. My dream is for them to get up, to be themselves, and to achieve their goals. And to have a better future.

My dream is to create that place for them so that these girls can achieve their full potential. So that they can change their community, they can change our country, and the world. These girls are brave. They are smart. And I'm so proud of them. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next, Shea Mitchell honors a woman who works tirelessly to bring healthy food to those in need.

Still to come, Sara Bareilles honors our heroes with a moving performance.

And we announce the CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Our final hero wants the people of the United States to eat healthier, which is certainly, as we all know, not an easy task, even for those who want to improve their diets, in some communities, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult. One woman has found a way to bring good food to those who need it most.

To tell us her story is a proud supporter of the Somali Mountain Foundation, the star of the TV series "Pretty Little Liars," and a friend of CNN HEROES, this will be her third time attending our show, Shea Mitchell.

(APPLAUSE)

SHEA MITCHELL, ACTRESS: A great idea can hit us at any moment. Sometimes it takes hold of us in the simple quiet beauty of our everyday lives.

For Robin Emmons, her idea grew out of the love of her brother. He had struggled with a mental illness for years and she rejoiced when he received the care he needed. But at his group home, he became borderline diabetic because they could only afford to buy packaged processed foods.

Robin wanted him to eat well. She planted a bigger garden in her backyard and brought him baskets of good food. She soon realized that the problem extended far beyond her brother. More than 72,000 people in Charlotte, North Carolina, live without easy access to fresh food.

And so Robin went bigger. She bought acres of land, built a farm stand, and started Sow Much Good, to bring healthy affordable food into the city's food deserts.

That one necessary idea started because she loved her brother. And now it's grown wide for a grateful city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN EMMONS, SOWMUCHGOOD.ORG: There's magic in gardening. That you can drop a seed into the earth and from that there's an amazing fruit that is delicious and so good for your body. That's a miracle to me.

I have been gardening pretty much my entire adult life because I want to eat well. I myself have not always had the money to be able to do that.

In some communities in Charlotte, it's nearly impossible to make a healthy choice. You could call this the miracle mile. Pretty desolate in the way of healthy food options. There are barely any supermarkets. Once they get there by bus or a neighbor's car or on foot, they are paying a very high price for the food.

When I realized that, it made me angry. It made me want to do something about that.

We want our market to be abundant tomorrow, so let's hit it.

We have about 200 volunteers that come out and help us. Harvesting the food, getting it to the farm stand.

I'm so glad you came. What did you get?

We're bringing the food to the community and cutting the cost in half compared to what they would pay a grocery store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we were definitely looking for, especially on this side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we had to travel, you know, 30, 40 minutes just to get fresh vegetables.

EMMONS: These are heirloom tomatoes over here.

It's about giving people the chance to choose a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Six months ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes, and I also found out that my daughter is a borderline diabetic and that terrified me. Let's see if we can find something a little better.

I am unemployed right now, so it's hard. I have to pinch every penny.

These are like $1.09.

Sometimes you have to buy the cheaper things.

These are beautiful.

I couldn't believe all the fresh vegetables and the price was phenomenal. We now have an affordable option to eat the right way. It's making me and my family healthier.

EMMONS: I started growing food in my backyard. Today I grow over nine acres of land. Since 2008, we have grown 26,000 pounds of food.

Thank you. Have a good day.

I feel like I am giving them a gift. A healthier, longer, more delicious life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

MITCHELL: Please join me in honoring CNN Hero, Robin Emmons.

(APPLAUSE)

EMMONS: Yes. I'm a farmer.

(LAUGHTER)

I get that a lot. I am extremely grateful to stand in for this recognition. And I'm thankful to all the people who allow us to come into their communities and bring them the fresh food that they want and so desperately need.

We as a society have to take care of one another and raise the collective consciousness around the issue of food deserts and food insecurity. My hope is that people everywhere will support this work to ensure the basic human right of all people to have unfettered access to clean, healthy, life-giving food.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN HEROES, Sara Bareilles salutes our 10 Heroes.

And later, one of these extraordinary men and women will be named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Hey, welcome back. Again, if you want to donate, you can go to CNNheroes.com right now. In addition to your donations, the Annenberg Foundation, which is a leading supporter of nonprofits worldwide celebrating its 25th anniversary, is once again graciously providing this year's honorees, all of them with free training, including practical guidance on fundraising, communications management, and more as part of its outcoming program.

Now a song with a one-word title that could be used to describe the strength and perseverance of all of our heroes, here to perform "Brave" is a proud supporter of the Save the Music Foundation, three- time Grammy nominee, the very talented Sara Bareilles.

(APPLAUSE)

(SARA BAREILLES PERFORMING "BRAVE")

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Anderson Cooper reveals the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. It is now that time of the night. Since we announced the top 10 Heroes, we gave people around the world the opportunity to go to CNNheroes.com and to vote for their Hero of the Year. People have been voting for more than a month. There have been a -- there's been a huge response from people all over the world. And all of our heroes received a tremendous amount of support.

CNN, as you know, has awarded each of our incredible heroes them $50,000. And the hero with the most votes will receive an additional $250,000 to continue their inspiring work.

This brings us to our final honor, the Hero of the Year. I have it here.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year is Chad Pregracke.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Congratulations.

PREGRACKE: You know --

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I've met so many great people today, the other heroes. And like I'm really moved by all their stories and all the things they do around the world. And like the 250 grand, I'm just going to give 10 grand to each of them because they're awesome. So yes. Yes.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

They're awesome. And I just got to say -- yes. I just want to say I want to thank all the volunteers and especially in my hometown all the people that voted. You know, I just -- I'm humbled to be part of all of this. And like, I'll just keep on cleaning up America's rivers and love every minute of it. So thanks a lot. Thank you.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

COOPER: So I want to invite all the honorees back on stage, all of the CNN Heroes, back on stage. All of these heroes remind us that when we take action against injustice and work to solve problems, we can change the world.

I hope you continue to help their causes by donating on CNNheroes.com.

If you want to nominate someone to be a CNN Hero in 2014, you can do that right now.

I hope some of our stories have inspired you to get involved. Be -- do your part because you, too, could be somebody's hero.

Thank you and good night, everybody.

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