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Champions For Change. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 26, 2020 - 22:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Join Alisyn Camerota and John Berman as CNN honors the people who are walking the walk, creating change to make the world a better place. "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" next on CNN.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: In trying times, it's easy to get discouraged.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: But even now, especially now, the human spirit thrives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a problem solver.


CAMEROTA: Change makers are out there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I realized I need to try to make things different.


BERMAN: Redefining what is possible.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have to live this way.


CAMEROTA: And lifting up humanity.

BERMAN: These are their stories.


CAMEROTA: Good evening and welcome to CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

Tonight, you're going to meet some people who are changing the world. They're not celebrities, they're not political leaders, maybe you've never even heard of them. CAMEROTA: These are unsung champions who rolled up their sleeves and taken on some of the tough problems facing humanity, so let's begin.

In the mountains of Kentucky, an area struggling with unemployment and opioid addiction.

BERMAN: But the region also has rich traditions of craftsmanship and music. And a local artisan has found a way to turn that heritage into a culture of recovery.


DOUG NASELROAD, DIRECTOR, APPALACHIAN SCHOOL OF LUTHIERY: There's a lot of beauty in Southeastern Kentucky. We have a saying around here that every holler is a home to someone's weary soul. Troublesome Creek got its name for the most obvious of reasons. In rainy times, it tears out bridges and roads when it gets really, really angry.

Well, it's a pretty good metaphor for the downturn of the coal industry, taking away all the good jobs and, of course, the opioid epidemic.

I am a master luthier. Lutheriery is the art of stringed instrument making. Hindman Knott County, Kentucky is considered by many to be the birthplace of the mountain dulcimer. When I first came down to establish the Appalachian School of Luthiery in 2012 and then came Earl.

EARL MOORE, INSPIRED CULTURE OF RECOVERY PROGRAM: When I did my first OxyContin, I felt like it would ease the pain and make it easier for me. The pain from failures, the not believing in myself. I was in jail for nine months. I've been through five different drug treatment facilities.

But I had a love for woodwork. I've never had a love for guitars. He said, I need you to teach me how to make guitars. And I said, well, that's no problem. That's what we do. And he said, no, you don't understand, I need to come and do this.

I was probably headed for death at that time, how many more chances do you get in life.

NASELROAD: There was some discussion about the wisdom of bringing people in addiction into our studios.

MOORE: He's like, we're going to give you a chance, don't let us down. What was supposed to be in a one year artist-in-residence turned into a six year relationship. I've built over 70 instruments at this point.

Art releases something deep inside of you, you don't know you have. In woodworking, I was able to see the flaws but turn them into features. I grew in self confidence. I'm still sober eight years later.

NASELROAD: We actually took our experience with Earl and using that as a spring line. The staff of the Appalachian Artisan Center created the culture of recovery program, which is designed to host people in recovery in our studios, our blacksmith, pottery and lutheriery studios.

We don't do the difficult work that the recovery centers do. We don't take people in who need to go through detox. They do that and heroically what we do is we accept people into our studios when they've phased into a place where that's useful to them.

ANYTHONY CARTER, STUDENT, CULTURE OF RECOVERY PROGRAM: I've never really completed anything before in my life and it's actually turned out to be a pretty nice piece of artwork.

JUDGE KIMBERLEY CHILDERS, KENTUCKY CIRCUIT COURT: With my drug court clients that participate in the program, the recidivism rate is very low. I would consider it to be 10 percent or less. They're learning skills, they're learning patience or building relationships, and they're going to have a finished product in their hand.

NASELROAD: Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company is an extension of our school that allow us to bring people from the recovery community into full time employment.


MOORE: My life today is bigger than I ever dreamed imaginable. I went back and got a master's degree in network security. From an addict to Director of Information Technology.

So today I get to work with addicts. It's amazing to see people's lives change. Doug believed in me. He was able to show me a lot of things that I couldn't see in myself. I feel like God put Doug in this town.


BERMAN: It really is amazing what people can achieve if just given a chance.

CAMEROTA: Everyone needs a purpose. I mean, and that Troublesome Creek is offering it.

BERMAN: All right. So last year, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduce us to a man who survived a suicide jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. His story has literally saved lives. Sanjay recently met back up with the mental health advocate at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has the whole world on edge.


KEVIN HINES, ACTIVIST: People may see me as the bridge guy, but I'm just Kevin.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's been almost 20 years since the iconic Golden Gate Bridge became a symbol of Kevin Hines mission in life. Life, that's the key word here, because when Kevin was 19 years old, he jumped. Falling more than 200 feet and survived.

GUPTA: This is the place where you jumped.

HINES: Yes. This is the place where I lived.

GUPTA: I love that.

GUPTA: How much does that still define you?

HINES: It doesn't define who I am, but I have come a long way from under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Today is our gift.

GUPTA (voice over): Kevin has since become an advocate for mental health around the world. His motto, be here tomorrow.

HINES: I fulfilled 10 lifetimes on this journey. I'm so grateful to be here with you.

GUPTA: But I do want to show you this clip of someone else's life that you touched, let's take a quick look and I want to get your reaction to this.

GUPTA (voice over): Last year after our story about Kevin aired, Jen Principe and Toni Musso stopped and helped when they saw a man about to jump off a highway overpass.

JEN PRINCIPE, GOOD SAMARITAN: Within like seconds, that interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Kevin Hines just came back to me and I said we have to turn back.

HINES: Oh, wow. That's beautiful.

GUPTA: That's a life saved.

HINES: Oh, my gosh.

GUPTA: That's pretty emotional. I mean, it's emotional for me.

HINES: Yes. It is.

GUPTA (voice over): But now during this pandemic, we're not always able to reach out and physically help someone.

GUPTA: I remember even in the beginning, the terminology that people were saying, you need to be socially distant.

HINES: I hate that terminology.

GUPTA: Me too, right?

HINES: Physically distanced, socially connected.

GUPTA: Makes all of the difference.

HINES: Yes. GUPTA: What should people do? Right now people are watching. They say, you know what, I know somebody who's probably kind of lonely out there. They they've been cooped up at home.

HINES: So if you know someone that is going through it mentally during this period of crisis, please reach out to them. Don't wait for them to reach in, be that person, that lends that hand through that video call, because you can help someone literally change their life.


CAMEROTA: And Sanjay joins us now. Sanjay, it's so true particularly now that everybody needs to be connected. And if we want to reach out to somebody, do you have best advice for how to do that?

GUPTA: Yes, there's a few things Kevin told me which I've already started adopting into my life. First of all, you may just want to even today just make a list of a few people that you'd like to reach out to during this time in particular and then find the time to do it. These may be people you haven't spoken to in years even.

Also, when you're talking to them, this expert who sort of focused on loneliness, said a couple of things. One is don't accept the first answer you receive. You say how are you doing, they say I'm doing fine. And it can end up being a very superficial conversation. But just take the time to probe a little deeper and then listen.

And also, very interestingly, and again, I've started doing this, have the conversation be directed in a way that maybe even you're asking them for help or guidance in some way.

BERMAN: Kevin's story and your relationship with him, Sanjay, have been so inspiring. Every time I hear it, it's just remarkable. One of his goals has been to get a suicide net around the Golden Gate Bridge. What's the progress there?

GUPTA: Yes. So this is happening and this has been his life's work. Things have slowed down a little bit because of the pandemic like so many other things, but the net itself is basically constructed. They've started to put up the support brackets around the bridge. And they say now by 2023, that net which is about 360,000 square feet should be all around the bridge basically as a safeguard to keep people or at least protect them if they do decide to jump.


I mean there's still to this day three people or so every month roughly that do jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. So this net will go a long way.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, what an accomplishment. Sanjay, thank you very much for that great update.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ahead on CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE. A young inventor floats a simple way to clean trash out of our oceans.



CAMEROTA: Welcome back to CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE. Each year, millions of tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans. It gathers in vast floating garbage patches that do not go away by themselves. But a Dutch inventor named Boyan Slat created a promising system that can intercept trash before it gets to the ocean.


BOYAN SLAT, INVENTOR: Researchers found that just 1 percent of rivers is responsible for 80 percent of all plastic that's entering the ocean around the world. The Interceptor is a fully solar powered and autonomous cleanup system, which basically uses the current of the rivers to collect the plastic.

Quite satisfying.

We have three interceptors cleaning rivers, one in Indonesia, one in Malaysia and one in the Dominican Republic getting out tons of plastic every single day.


CAMEROTA: It is so cool. Slat's organization is called The Ocean Cleanup.


In addition to its fleet of river craft, the group is working on technology to skim away those massive garbage patches in the ocean.

BERMAN: Good for them.

CAMEROTA: All right. So Wyoming in the dead of winter not where you'd expect to find groundbreaking agriculture.

BERMAN: But earlier this year, we caught up with this Champion for Change to reimagine farming and also found a new way to cultivate dignity.


NONA YEHIA, FOUNDER, VERTICAL HARVEST: Jackson Hole exists at 6,200 feet. We are surrounded by Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Park. There are not many farmers in this region. So there's a real need for good quality produce in our town.

We came together to look for an out of the box solution. We wanted to grow as much food as possible in our town, employ as many people as possible and do both year round. And that's where the idea to go up came from. Vertical Harvest is really an evolution. None of us set out to be vertical farmers. I'm an architect by trade and I've always believed in the power of architecture to be a vehicle for social change. On the 10th of an acre, we grow now the equivalent of 10 acres worth of food. We grow tomatoes, lettuces, microgreens. We serve four different grocery stores in our town and over 40 restaurants.

BEN WESTENBURG, EXECUTIVE CHEF, PERSEPHONE WEST BANK: It's a very cold snowy place, which poses a lot of problems for getting fresh produce. The way Nona has approached it is bringing something unique to those chefs that they can use and feature all year round.

YEHIA: Creating a local source of produce was the inception of the project. But then as we came together, we realized that there was also a big problem. People with physical and intellectual disabilities in our town who want to work, who want to find consistent and meaningful work who were not able to do so.

I have a brother with disabilities and I think I've been an advocate for this population before I even understood what the word meant. We're pairing innovation with an underserved population and really creating a sea change of perception of what this population is able to do and we've created an amazing committed loyal crew of unexpected farmers.

JOHNNY FIFLES, EMPLOYEE, VERTICAL HARVEST: I'm a microgreen grower. I take some seeds and I lay them on the medium. One layer, no more, no less.

YEHIA: Johnny is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and really we count on him to accurately seed every type of microgreen. He is the person that we trust most.

SEAN STONE, EMPLOYEE, VERTICAL HARVEST: I'm grateful for Nona for hiring me, so I can work at this job and help grow produce.

YEHIA: Sean wash dishes for most of his career and the thing is, is that Sean never had an opportunity to really show to his employer what he can do. Sean is incredibly unique in that he knows how to make this ecosystem run. And while before he had a job, now he has a purpose.

We can empower the most underserved in our communities, just by giving them a chance. Everybody here is a champion and everybody here is dedicated to change. And everyone here has shown their ability to change things profoundly in our community.


BERMAN: As if Jackson could be even more awesome. So from young adventurers to some adaptive old friends, after the break we'll catch up with a chorus of seniors social distancing in perfect harmony.


[22:22:12] BERMAN: So last year, I spent time with the Young@Heart Chorus. This is an inspiring group of senior citizens who perform rock hits for audiences across the country. They were my CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE.

STEVE MARTIN, MEMBER, YOUNG@HEART CHORUS: Don't give up when you get older. Don't be afraid of getting old, because you have so much to offer. You have so much to give.

BERMAN (voice over): Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the chorus to cancel all in-person rehearsals and performances.

BOB CILMAN, DIRECTOR, YOUNG@HEART CHORUS: Everybody at home, everybody on the phone, you're going to sing along.

BERMAN (voice over): But thanks to technology, they have not let it stop the music watch.

CILMAN: It was really quite a task to get to 25 people whose average age is 85 to be able to be on Zoom, but we did it.

ROSIE CAINE, MEMBER, YOUNG@HEART CHORUS: If you want time to go slowly at this age and living in a pandemic because the time has just crawled by. But having Young@Heart and the structure of that and new music and learning new lyrics has just been incredibly helpful and very stimulating.


BERMAN: I swear, every time I am with them or even hear them, I just want to sing with them. I just want to sing. They make you want to sing.

CAMEROTA: I agree with you. I mean music is so healing but I also feel like they've officially adopted you.

BERMAN: That'd be great. I mean, that would be awesome. I get nonstop cookies, things like that. Look, they're wonderful. And the fact that they found a way to work on is so important because they need this, they need this outlet and they have so much more to provide to all of us. So visit to join them for their next live virtual concert. That's on October 3rd.

CAMEROTA: Just terrific. I love all their songs and they've mastered Zoom.

BERMAN: Yes, I know.

CAMEROTA: No easy feat.

BERMAN: I imagine which is the hardest part for seniors, I'm not kidding.

CAMEROTA: For all of us.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to introduce you now to a plumber who knows a few things about smashing through walls and joining pipes. CAMEROTA: Her name is Judaline Cassidy and her program Tools and Tiaras empowers girls to break barriers.


JUDALINE CASSIDY, FOUNDER, TOOLS AND TIARAS: When I arrive at a plumbing job, most people do not believe I am the plumber. Sometimes people doubt what you are capable of, WHAT I'm trying to change that stereotype.

So when I first started Tools and Tiaras in 2017, my goal was to give little girls the exposure to different careers in a trade.


We have a free monthly workshop for women and girls and then a free summer camp, where girls can come and be exposed to all of the awesome careers in the building trades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the bottom of your bird feeder.

CASSIDY: All instructors are women. We had to order different kits and ship it out in boxes to the girls. My mission is to really just put tools in girls' hands and let them build a world that they so desire.


CAMEROTA: Americans are doing a lot of soul searching when it comes to race and taking action. But even before this time of reckoning, Tony Weaver was fed up with the discouraging portrayals of black people he saw in the media. So he literally put on a cape tapped into his own creative powers and set out to change the message.


TONY WEAVER JR., FOUNDER, WEIRD ENOUGH PRODUCTIONS: The United States is in a place of reckoning and that what some people interpret as rising racial tensions that are recent are actually things that have been present in our country for a really long time that I believe are actually woven into the fabric of what this country is.

Black students are dealing with something especially stressful right now. They see pictures and videos of people that look like them being killed and assaulted by police around the country. When I think about kids right now, it makes me realize that there's a lot of work that needs to be done.

When I was younger, I was dealing with a lot of bullying. And I wanted nothing more than to not exist, I can't rest knowing that there are kids that look like me that want nothing more than for somebody to look at them and say I believe in you, you're worth something and they don't have it.

When I started Weird Enough in 2014, I was struck by the fact that media portrayals of Michael Brown were having a tangibly negative impact on the way that I as an individual was treated on a predominantly white college campus. So I had a thought process that maybe media representation, it can have a positive impact as well.

My work is rooted in creating a new world of diverse and original stories featuring characters and heroes that help young people find the hero in themselves.

I'm really excited to see everybody.

The Weird Enough team is scattered around the globe. Our thought was what if we could take that same amazing feeling that you get when you watch an anime and translate it scientifically to the way that young people behave in school and the way that they develop. So we have a program where we take an original comic series that we create called The N Commons and we partner it with lesson plans and curricula that can be used in school, but also any kid or any parent or caretaker can access from home too.

AMARA BOWMAN, THIRD-GRADER: Verman (ph) has very, very, very great power. What I like most about The N Common is that it is about black heroes that save the day. My favorite character is Iris (ph) because she is mostly curious and funny. She is a black girl and the hero kind of like me.

WEAVER: Our characters do fight giant monsters, but they're not the type that are the size of buildings. They're different types of monsters; insecurities, fears, past failures, things that people spend their entire lives running from.

DR. YOLANDRA HANCOCK, PEDIATRICIAN: This doctor approves of Tony Weaver's message. When we have books that can speak to what messages we are trying to encourage in our children, there's one thing for me to say it as a mommy. But there's something completely different when my daughter can look at a book and see herself and the messages speak to some of the challenges that she has as a little black girl growing up in this country.

HATTIE MITCHELL, FOUNDER, CRETE ACADEMY: There has not been in my experience that curriculum that represents our black and brown kids in a positive way. When Tony introduced his literacy program in 2017, he also just spoke to the kids about being a young black entrepreneur.

So they were inspired that this young kid with a cape who's super cool and has a high top hair cup looks like them.

WEAVER: For me, my cape is a way to unapologetically bring myself into any space I enter. My way of saying that I'm not going to allow any people to minimize who I am. But what's a cape for me might be different for a different young person. So I encourage them to find the thing that makes you feel empowered and don't let anybody take it away from you.


BERMAN: Up next, the common shipping container, a bowl designer and new hope for Puerto Ricans who lost their homes in hurricanes.



BERMAN: So welcome back to CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE. We are smacked in the middle of hurricane season right now. In fact, September is historically the season's most active month.

CAMEROTA: So exactly three years ago back to back hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico. Then, earlier this year, an earthquake struck. But Puerto Ricans are getting back on their feet, thanks to people like this architect who builds new hope with old shipping containers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hurricane Maria changed everything for everyone here in Puerto Rico. There were about 70,000 homes destroyed. Some had no roof and some only just had a toilet left standing. We don't have to live this way.

CARLA GAUTIER CASTRO, KONTI DESIGN BUILD STUDIO: My mission is to build homes that are earthquake proof and hurricane proof. My company is challenging the way we look at construction. We're using shipping containers as a base structure.


I'm a third generation architect. My grandfather and my father are both architects. They've always taught me that being part of a community and helping out that community is actually really important. Some days after Hurricane Maria, I joined FEMA to work as a construction inspector.

I remember this one case, this lady came in to us and we couldn't find the house. And we realized that we couldn't find the house because there was absolutely nothing left. The desperation in that woman's face was just, I'm just never going to forget it.

The name of my company is called KONTi Design Build Studio. In Spanish, it actually combines into many phrases. For example, the word contigo which means with you, as in you can take your home with you.

These actually look really good. And then we go inside. So there's a holes on the roof. There's no holes in the walls, this is a really beautiful container. It's a really beautiful future home.

Our first KONTi home was built in Vieques, which is an island off the coast of Puerto Rico and was one of the worst off communities after Hurricane Maria.





CASTRO: When I come visit, Mildred and Amador, who are the owners of this house, it just makes me feel so happy to see that this couple was actually able to get their dream, because it was more cost effective and faster. It's probably one of my proudest moments.

LUIS AMADOR, HOMEOWNER (through interpreter): I opened those doors and I'm in Paradise. It was her dream. We had something that is ours and we achieve it. At first, we didn't have a lot of faith, but she fought for us to build.

MILDRED DIAZ, HOMEOWNER (through interpreter): Vieques (ph) lives with her hair standing on end waiting to see if we will get hit by another hurricane. This is the best option.

CASTRO: Almost three years after Hurricane Maria, the island is experiencing a string of earthquakes. In the south part of the island, this has left some homes and businesses uninhabitable.

The nonprofit Americas for the Conservation and the Arts is using one of our homes as a health command center in order to be able to distribute supplies and aid to the people that have been affected by the earthquakes.

The median income in Puerto Rico is about $20,000, when the average home costs about $100,000. The math just doesn't add up. Our KONTi M1 goes for about half the price of the average home in Puerto Rico. We can also make our homes completely off grid.

So the ultimate goal is to be able to produce a hundred units a month. We can really use these houses for disaster relief. We can use it for refugee camps. But the best part is, we want to produce them here in Puerto Rico and ship them all around the world.


BERMAN: You can bring your home with you. What an incredibly creative idea.

CAMEROTA: And those are some good-looking homes and super sturdy.

BERMAN: Cool design.

So 15 years ago, Meagan Williams was a teenager watching Hurricane Katrina devastate her hometown in New Orleans.

CAMEROTA: Today, she's an engineer, a problem solver, whose system of greenspaces and retention ponds keeps things dry in the Big Easy.


MEAGAN WILLIAMS, STORMWATER PROGRAM MANAGER, CITY OF NEW ORLEANS: This is my baby. This is a project that I am most proud of and most excited for. This is the (Inaudible) project. This in and of itself can hold about 950,000 gallons of water. This is water that's not in the street and also not in people's houses. DARYL MOREAU, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Pre-rain garden, if we had any kind of even moderate rain we were going to get standing in water anywhere from six to 12 inches of water and it would stay there. It could stay there for 24 hours. It is absolutely been a godsend to have this has been wonderful.

WILLIAMS: To see a project like this come to fruition and just really serve a much needed purpose for a neighborhood that does not often get things like this is - it's something I'm really proud to be a part of.

Thank you for talking to us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are our hero.


CAMEROTA: Up next, he spent his first 22 years in a refugee camp. Now, a video game he created provides aid for migrants around the world.



CAMEROTA: A former refugee has created a powerful computer game. Its players directly help migrants who were forced to flee for their lives.


LUAL MAYEN, CEO, JUNUB GAMES: I first saw a computer for the first time in 2007 during a refugee registration. It was an amazing moment for me. I came to my mother and I was like, "I want to buy a computer." She kept quiet to save money for like three years looking for $300.

After my mother bought for me the computer, I then realized I could walk three hours per day to be able to charge my computer. And I would do it daily, every day.

LEO OLEBE, GLOBAL DIRECTOR & GAMES PARTNERSHIPS, FACEBOOK: It's three hours to charge his laptop so he can walk three hours back so he can work for two hours. He's sitting in a refugee camp in northern Uganda, teaching himself how to code and building and creating a game.

MAYEN: My name is Lual Mayen. I'm the CEO of Junub Games and I am a creator of video game in Salaam.

Salaam is an Arabic word the main peace. Salaam is a game that is really personal to me. When you're playing game, you're actually putting yourself in the shoes of somebody. We realize that games are very powerful tool that can bring our global communities together.

I was born on the way as my family was fleeing South Sudan. As they settle in northern Uganda, I spent over 23 years in the refugee camp.

It became like a really permanent home for us. The only thing we could do was wake up in the morning, go and find foods to eat because like all you need is to survive.

CHRIS BOIAN, GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, UNHCR: We're looking at a problem proximately 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world today and that number is higher than we have ever seen.


What we're talking about are people who are really running for their lives. They're seeking safe ground.

MAYEN: Salaam is a high-tension runner game. Your focus as a player is to take a refugee from a war-torn country to a peaceful environment. We are like in-app purchases in the game. When you buy water in the game, you're actually buying water for somebody in the refugee camp.

BOIAN: What Lual game does is it provides people engaging in that game, an opportunity to contribute actual relief and assistance to refugees.

MAYEN: You're better than me.

BOIAN: Lual's game is going to bring people that are not necessarily a traditional audience for messages about refugees and it's going to bring them into the room and they're going to be learning about this at a younger age. It's really a game changer.

MAYEN: My hope is I want other refugees to understand that we're not here just to survive. We're also here to thrive.


CAMEROTA: Kevin Barber was living the life of a comfortable teenager in San Diego, but he felt a calling to help the homeless. So he posed a question that seemed almost naive in its simplicity. Why not pay homeless people a fair wage to pick up litter. He convinced civic groups to help him set up the program now known as Wheels of Change.


KEVIN BARBER, CO-FOUNDER, WHEELS OF CHANGE: We employ 20 people a day to make $52 at the end of their four-hour shifts. The other biggest part of our program is the homeless peer-to-peer outreach aspect. Our homeless employees go up to other homeless on the street and they offer them services such as rehab, shelter, permanent housing.

EDWARD BIDWELL, HOMESS WORKER, WHEELS OF CHANGE: Everything you see here that I'm wearing is purchased. This is not donation. I bought it with the money from Wheels of Change.


BERMAN: Last year, CNN's Bill Weir introduced us to some former homeless people and the program that gave them a leg up. It's called Urban Pathways and it turns the traditional approach to addiction and homelessness upside down. Bill recently checked back in and gave us this progress report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice over): In the richest city in the world, a place was so much to see, it's a site that makes most look way.


WEIR(voice over): But they lean in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all right?

WEIR(voice over): In 2018 we met the angels in orange from Urban Pathways.


WEIR(voice over): Out here, rain or shine or constant rejection, all with the hope of moving chronically homeless folks like Robert, not just into a shelter for the night ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look how big my bathroom is, bam.

WEIR(voice over): But a place of his own forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a shower and I got a hand shower.

WEIR(voice over): For generations, an American had to get clean and sober before getting any shot at help with housing, but mental illness and addiction and years and scary shelters instead creates an expensive treadmill of emergency rooms and jails. Urban Pathways believes in housing first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of your friends at Urban Pathways, welcome home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

WEIR(voice over): Just a few years after they found him, Robert Burroughs is now a full time social worker.

KISHEA PAULEMONT, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, URBAN PATHWAYS: We identified particular individuals that were able to live on their own. He was one of them.

WEIR: And he proved you right.


WEIR: After a year and a half, he proved you right.


WEIR: It's just like brand new. They take good care.

ROBERT BURROUGHS, FORMERLY HOMELESS: It's phenomenal. I love this building. I love this building. I love this neighborhood.

PAULEMONT: Not only is he now working full time, he's shown that he's able to do it, finish school even during a pandemic.

WEIR: But while he is thriving, our other friend from 2018 is surely missed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It saved my life, man. It saved my life.

WEIR: The physical toll of decades on the streets caught up with Robert Aufley (ph) since we met, but his life ended with comfort and dignity and love that began when Urban Pathways leaned in when it's so much easier to just look away.

MARTHA VALENTINE, CASE MANAGER, URBAN PATHWAYS: They are somebody and the best part is to see them come through at the end. Ten years down the line, you see them and you won't even recognize them.


BERMAN: A doctor found a new way for patients to pay for surgery without money. The currency of community up next.



CAMEROTA: Welcome back. It's time to revisit one of my CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE. Two years ago, I went to Colombia to meet a special doctor who works with the nonprofit Operation Smile. I watched Dr. Mauricio Herrera perform surgery on an infant born with a cleft palate. Without the operation, baby Samuel would have suffered a lifetime of problems with speech, with eating and with just fitting in.

Little Samuel came through with flying colors. He just celebrated his third birthday. We caught up with his mother in Columbia for an update.


MAYERLY ARIA FAUGAS(through interpreter): Since Samuel went through surgery, he has changed and that he can breathe very well. He can eat his food very well. He expresses himself with his words very well. He already says a few words; mom, dad, thank you. He tells me mommy I love you. And ice cream, he loves ice cream very much.

I honestly did not expect those results to my son. Maybe I didn't believe it. When he looks in the mirror, that helps him see himself beautiful.


I thank God very much because my son was privileged in having had surgery. And I feel sorry because there are children right now that can't because of the challenges that came along with a pandemic.

My dreams are for Samuel to be a child that gets an education.


CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, I can't believe how much Samuel has grown up since I just met him.

BERMAN: And that smile, it's just perfect.

CAMEROTA: Operation Smile for just in under an hour and for just a few hundred bucks changes kids lives forever.

BERMAN: A few hundred bucks, but it's a million dollar smile to be sure.

CAMEROTA: He looks great.

BERMAN: So this year, we're featuring another physician, Dr. Demetrio Aguila. While working in Nebraska, the surgeon came to a stunning realization.

CAMEROTA: He could restore people's health in the operating room, but too often the expenses drove his patients to financial ruin.

BERMAN: So the doctor looked for a remedy and he found one. Earlier this year before the pandemic, he took off his surgical mask and sat down with us.


DEMETRIO AGUILA, SURGEON: Medical debt is a huge problem here in the United States. Two-thirds of the individuals who went bankrupt last year went bankrupt due to medical debt.

I'm a surgeon. I started hearing stories about patients who were experiencing financial burdens that were unfathomable to me. And maybe I helped them with their pain or maybe I was able to help them walk again or go back to a normal life, but then I would find out that some of these patients were under enormous financial strain. I felt helpless.

I realized, I need to try to make things different.

I was in the Air Force for almost 21 years between my active service and my reserve time. We get a lot of surgery in Afghanistan, largely humanitarian surgery. But 95 percent of those were cases that we did to help the civilians.

Now, my team and I get to do that medical mission work right here in our own backyard. The M25 Program is a mechanism by which we allow patients to invest in themselves. Now, what do we mean by that? The patient comes in and they say, well, I can't afford the financial impact of the surgery.

So we offer them the opportunity to volunteer their time at a charitable organization. It also allows them the opportunity to recruit friends, family, neighbors and even people they've never met before to assist them in getting those volunteer hours done. In this way, we help take care of the patient, we help take care of the community, we have neighbors helping neighbors.

JEFF JENSEN, PATIENT: I suffer from neuropathy, which is compression of the nerves in your lower leg and foot. My right leg feels like it's asleep all the time. Stairs are always the hard part. I can very easily fall. He tells me, "It's 560 community service hours, Jeff." Twelve thousand dollars was not doable.

I have a small business. So somebody else needs to be out sick, they still have a paycheck at the end of the day. I don't. If this wasn't an option, I probably would have just said, well, we'll deal with it and save money until we can pay for it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw a video on Dr. Aguila's Facebook of Jeff telling his story and how he became involved with the M25 Program. I immediately thought of the nursing students here at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and so I thought it would be the perfect fit for our community service project.

We provided approximately 180 hours of community service collectively toward Mr. Jensen surgery.

JENSEN: Not one person in that nursing program knew who I was. It was the kindness of strangers that got this accomplished for me.

AGUILA: To have the moral support of their community to help them get better and that is shifting the way in which patients pursue their healthcare. It's hard to make a difference if you don't try to disrupt the status quo. The M25 Program empowers patients who often feel like victims of the system.

In my heart of hearts, I had this hope that we would rekindle in our neighbors and in ourselves a sense of volunteerism.


CAMEROTA: These days, M25 volunteers are taking proper coronavirus precautions and continuing to pitch in. The pandemic cannot stop their spirit of volunteerism.

BERMAN: In fact, the best of human nature is still going on all around us strong. It'll make headlines, but average people are out there doing extraordinary things.

CAMEROTA: Maybe you can be a "CHAMPION FOR CHANGE," too. Maybe we all can. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks for watching.