CNN Heroes

Tad Agoglia
Marie Da Silva
Yohannes Gebregeorgis
Carolyn LeCroy
Anne Mahlum
Liz McCartney
Phymean Noun
David Puckett
Maria Ruiz
Viola Vaughn
Tad Agoglia
Tad Agoglia Community Crusader
Long Island, N.Y. & Knoxville, Tenn. & Picher, Okla.
Tad Skylar Agoglia is homeless but has more neighbors than most people will acquire in a lifetime. He’s quickly running out of money, but has earned a greater fortune by the age of 32 than many will ever claim. He is fiercely optimistic, though he follows devastation day after day. He is the founder of the Disaster Recovery Solutions’ First Response Team of America, his self-funded, non-profit, nomadic, four-man clean-up crew that has provided free, specialized emergency aid to thousands of victims at more than 15 U.S. disaster sites since May 2007 and has rapidly become a recognized name in first-responder aid.
Maria Da Silva
Marie Da Silva Championing Children
Los Angeles, Calif. / Malawi, Africa
As a nanny, Marie Da Silva spends her time caring for children in a well-to-do neighborhood of Los Angeles. But every week, Da Silva also spends hours on the phone running a school that she established for AIDS orphans in her native country of Malawi. Like many African countries, Malawi has been devastated by AIDS. According to UNAIDS, 14 percent of the country’s adult population is infected with HIV, and more than half a million children have been orphaned by the disease. Da Silva has been touched by this epidemic firsthand, losing 14 family members to the disease, and it was this personal loss that helped inspire her to start the Jacaranda School in her childhood home in 2002. Today, every month Da Silva sends more than $1000 -- about one third of her monthly paycheck -- to Malawi to cover the expenses of the school. Through her efforts, more than 220 children receive food and education, free of charge.
Yohannes Gebregeorgis
Yohannes Gebregeorgis Championing Children
Addis Ababa & Awassa - Ethiopia, Africa
At 19 years old, Yohannes Gebregeorgis’ received the casual gift of a romance novel titled Love Kitten that changed his life forever. Forced to flee Ethiopia to the Sudan and then to the United States in 1981 as a political refugee, Gebregeorgis put himself through university and a graduate degree in library science and in 1985, took a post at the San Francisco Public Library’s Children’s Section. There he discovered the wonder of a childhood of literature and determined to bring it to every child in his homeland. In 2002, Gebregeorgis left his job to return to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 15,000 donated books. With them, he opened the Shola Children’s Library in 2003 followed by The Awassa Reading Center and Ethiopia’s first Donkey Mobile Library, servicing the children of remote villages around the rural capital of Awassa. Ethiopia Reads has just celebrated the fifth annual Ethiopia Children’s Book Week, has dedicated 10 school government children’s libraries and offers free, ongoing training for new librarians. In 2007, they offered 30,000 child members access to its two main libraries; 60,000 visits to Shola alone.
Carolyn LeCroy
Carolyn LeCroy Championing Children
Norfolk, Va.
Carolyn LeCroy is a former inmate-turned-activist who makes it possible for prisoners to record video messages to their children and families. Through “The Messages Project,” LeCroy and volunteer camera crews have taped roughly 3,000 inmate messages, stories, poems and wishes. Since 1999, “The Messages Project” has worked in six state prisons at least three times a year throughout Virginia.
Anne Mahlum
Anne Mahlum Community Crusader
Philadelphia, Pa.
Three mornings a week, an unusual running team hits the streets of Philadelphia. Old, young, black, white – the runners are diverse, but there’s more to this group than meets the eye: Some of these men and women are homeless. It’s the Back On My Feet running club, the vision of 27-year old Anne Mahlum. A veteran marathoner, Mahlum established the group in July 2007 to share the positive benefits of running with the homeless community; since then, almost 60 residents of local shelters have joined. Back On My Feet provides shelter residents with running gear, and more than 250 member-volunteers join them for morning runs, offering support, encouragement and friendship. The group has also partnered with a local job training program, where three members are currently taking classes, and three members have already found jobs. Mahlum plans to bring Back On My Feet to ten area shelters by the end of 2008 and expand the program to other cities in 2009. While she admits that running alone can’t end homelessness, Mahlum believes her approach teaches important skills that can help people get back on the road to self-sufficiency.
Liz McCartney
Liz McCartney Community Crusader
New Orleans, La.
Like many Americans, Liz McCartney was horrified by the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Six months after the storm, McCartney headed to New Orleans to volunteer, but when she arrived in St. Bernard Parish – just east of the city -- McCartney was shocked. Virtually all of the area’s 24,000 homes had been left uninhabitable, and very little progress had been made to rebuild. Moved by the plight of so many displaced residents, McCartney quit her job and move to Louisiana to help. In August 2006, she helped start the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to repairing houses in the community. With volunteers and donated materials, the St. Bernard Project can rebuild a home in just 8-12 weeks, for an average cost of $12,000. To date, more than 6,000 volunteers have enabled more than 120 families to move back home.
Phymean Noun
Phymean Noun Championing Children
Phnom Penh, Cambodia & Toronto, Ontario, Canada
To Phymean Noun, an education can save a life. Growing up during the Pol Pot genocide, everyday Noun not only fought to stay alive but to finish high school. That education led to a decade-long career with various aid organizations, like the United Nations. Despite having left behind the poverty of her youth, Noun’s success did not fulfill her, she yearned to do more. On a fateful trip to Phnom Penh in 2002, she tossed a chicken leg into a garbage can. Phymean then watched in horror as several children fought to reclaim her discarded food. After meeting the children and hearing their stories, she learned that they worked at Stung Mean Chey, the municipal garbage dump. Children comprise a large majority of the workforce at Stun Mean Chey. Many of them are barefoot, shirtless and can be as young as four years old. Children often work from 3 a.m. until dusk for about 50 cents a day. At that moment, she decided to leave her job and dedicate $30,000 of her own money to starting schools for underprivileged children. Today, she runs the Stung Mey Chey Center, which provides more than 200 “dump children”, a free education, health services and an opportunity to be a child in a safe environment.
David Puckett
David Puckett Medical Marvel
Savannah, Ga. & Mexico
When David Puckett first visited the rural villages of southeastern Mexico at the age of 17, he was struck by a lack of resources that thrust the abundance in his own life into new perspective. Decades later, the Savannah-based, licensed prosthetist began PIPO Missions: Limbs and Braces to Mexico, realizing his dream to return to the region to serve its people in significant and life-changing ways. In the United States, Puckett collects donated, used prosthetic and orthotic materials for their free refurbishment, refitting and redistribution in Mexico to those in dire need. Since its first trip to Mexico in November 2000, his non-profit has held 41 free “clinics” and provided ongoing prosthetic and orthotic treatment to more than 420 Mexican people.
Maria Ruiz
Maria Ruiz Championing Children
El Paso, Texas & Juarez, Mexico
Maria Ruiz literally goes the extra mile. For more than 12 years, this 41-year old El Paso native has crossed the border several times a week – thousands of times – to bring aid to impoverished children and families in Juarez, Mexico. It all started in 1996, when Ruiz visited the outskirts of the city. When she saw children living with no water, electricity or food, she realized that she had to take action. She responded by starting a food program at the local elementary school, cooking food at her home in El Paso, and driving it south across the border every morning. Ruiz kept the program going for three and a half years -- feeding more than 1200 children every day -- but when the businesses she depended on for donations shut down in 1999, she found other ways to help. She began gathering donations – food, clothing, toys, furniture – and distributing them in Juarez at local “giveaways” that she and her family host a couple of times a month. A devout Christian, Ruiz and her family do this work as part of their ministry – JEM Ministries -- but they’re happy to help anyone in need, regardless of their beliefs. They’re currently building a trade school, orphanage and community kitchen that will feed up to feed up to 500 students at a time.
Viola Vaughn
Viola Vaughn Championing Children
Kaolack, Senegal, Africa
Retiring to Kaolack, Senegal, from Detroit, Mich. to raise her five grandchildren, Viola Vaughn just wanted to “watch the coconut trees grow.” When her granddaughter’s playmate saw Vaughn home-schooling her grandkids, the girl asked her to help her pass third grade. By the end of the week, Vaughn had 20 girls in her house who were failing out of school and wanting her to teach them. Vaughn learned that families’ economic need of young girls working at home prevents their success in school; they start to miss school and ultimately fail because they can’t juggle both. Teaching 20 girls in her home led to 10,000 Girls, an education and self-sufficiency program. Girls who have failed out of school, or never went, run entrepreneur projects that raise funds to support the educational supplies and after-school study for the younger girls currently in school.