CNN Heroes honors everyday people who have dedicated their lives to change the world
Each CNN Hero receives a $10,000 prize. The "CNN Hero of the Year" will receive an additional $100,000
“CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” airs live on CNN and CNNgo Sunday, December 11 at 8 p.m. ET
They lead cancer patients on unforgettable adventures, help women escape Nashville’s seedy underbelly and bring healthcare to rural Kenya.
The causes they support vary as much as their backgrounds, but they have all dedicated their lives to changing the world.
And now, they have more in common: They’re this year’s top 10 CNN Heroes.
Each of these heroes will receive a $10,000 cash prize. One of the 10 will be named “CNN Hero of the Year,” and receive an additional $100,000 for his or her cause.
Their efforts are being highlighted at “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” a global broadcast event on CNN Sunday night. For the first time, ABC’s Kelly Ripa will join Anderson Cooper as co-host for this special 10th-annual show, live from New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
Celebrities, including actors Taraji P. Henson and Edward Norton, and Olympian Laurie Hernandez took part in the event to honor each of the CNN Heroes.
“When you do something extraordinary, it’s shown … that you can inspire other people and I feel like that should be the goal for everyone,” Hernandez told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on the red carpet.
Here are the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2016:
Growing up with cerebral palsy in Colombia, a doctor once told Jeison Aristizábal’s mother that he would “amount to nothing.” Aristizábal has since started law school and dedicated his life to helping others reach their full potential.
His nonprofit, ASODISVALLE, offers young people with disabilities a range of free services, including medical care, physical therapy and healthy meals.
“The most special thing about the foundation is the love and care that we give to the children,” Aristizábal said. “We fight for their happiness.”
Craig Dodson was a semi-professional cyclist in 2005 when he was asked to speak to a group of students in Richmond, Virginia. He later learned that many in the crowd lived in one of the city’s roughest housing projects.
Inspired to help, Dodson founded the Richmond Cycling Corps in 2010, a nonprofit that coaches cycling teams for at-risk children. For Dodson, cycling is a way into their lives and a path out of the projects.
“We are like the Navy SEALs,” Dodson said. “We have to infiltrate and be there for every part of their life.”
Sherri Franklin poured her lifelong passion for animals into volunteer work at the San Francisco humane society. Sadly, she noticed older dogs were being passed over in favor of the shelter’s puppies.
To save them, Franklin started Muttville out of her home, a nonprofit that rescues and finds homes for senior dogs – more than 4,000 so far.
“It is not about the quantity of time, it really is about the quality of time you spend with your animal,” Franklin said.
At age 18, Brad Ludden had already completed nearly 100 “first descents” – kayak trips down a section of river no one has paddled before. After watching his aunt battle cancer when she was 38, Ludden started First Descents, a nonprofit that brings these once-in-a-lifetime experiences to young adults battling the disease – with more than 3,000 participants to date.
“It’s that important reminder that this life, it’s really fleeting,” Ludden said. “With that knowledge, we have this obligation to go out and live as fully as possible.”
Luma Mufleh founded a soccer program and school through her organization, the Fugees Family, to address the unique needs of the refugee community in Clarkston, Georgia. Last spring, the Fugees Academy graduated its first class, and Mufleh’s group has helped more than 800 refugee children.
“It’s getting people from all over the world, from all different faiths, to come together to do something great,” Mufleh said.
Umra Omar left a career in the United States to help people without any access to health care in her homeland of Kenya. Omar founded Safari Doctors, a group that travels by boat, road and air to bring free medical services to more than 1,000 people a year in remote and insecure areas near the Somalia border.
“Being here, being close to home, to be able to fill some of the gaps in accessing health care, it’s kind of been an IV drip for life and purpose,” Omar said.
Los Angeles County has the country’s largest foster youth population, and when they age out of the system, they’re often left on their own.
After seeing this first-hand, designer and chef Georgie Smith founded the nonprofit A Sense of Home, which provides comfortable living spaces for former foster youth.
“By setting up their first home, it gives them the foundation from which they can succeed,” Smith said.
Like nearly half of all African-American children in the U.S., Sheldon Smith grew up with an absentee father. Serving prison time for robbery scared Smith straight and inspired him to stay in his child’s life and encourage others to do the same.
Smith started the Dovetail Project, which teaches young fathers the life skills necessary to become responsible parents and positive role models.
“My goal when I started the Dovetail Project was to break the cycle,” Smith said.
Nearly twenty years ago, Becca Stevens, an episcopal priest, set out to help the women of Nashville who have been scarred by prostitution, addiction and trafficking.
Today, her nonprofit, Thistle Farms, runs five residential communities in Nashville, providing women a place to stay for two years, medical care, counseling and other services – all for free.
“None of the women ended up on the streets by themselves. And so it makes sense that it takes a community to welcome them home,” Stevens said.
An encounter with a girl named Stacy changed Harry Swimmer’s life. Stacy has cerebral palsy, and meeting her gave Swimmer an idea: What would happen if he put Stacy on a horse? “[S]he just lit up like a candle.”
Soon after, Swimmer retired and transformed his horse farm into a sanctuary for children with disabilities. Since 1988, his organization, Mitey Riders, has provided more than 800 children with free equine-assisted therapy.
As part of the award package, each Top 10 Hero will also receive free organizational training from the Annenberg Foundation, a leading supporter of nonprofits worldwide. They will participate in a customized version of the Annenberg Alchemy program, which offers practical guidance to help strengthen organizations for long-term success. This is the fifth year of CNN’s collaboration with the Annenberg Foundation.
For more on the 2016 CNN Heroes and to donate to the causes they support, visit CNNHeroes.com.