Story highlights

CNN Heroes honors everyday people who have dedicated their lives to changing the world

Each CNN Hero receives a $10,000 prize. The "CNN Hero of the Year" will receive an additional $100,000

Programming note: The CNN Hero of the Year will be revealed tonight when Anderson Cooper hosts “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” at 8 p.m. ET.

CNN —  

Meet 10 remarkable trailblazers who have truly changed the world. Each one has found a way to use their knowledge and inspiration to help countless others.

Their stories will move you.

This year’s top 10 CNN Heroes include a doctor fighting to break the cycle of violence, a woman who helps the injured walk again and a teacher who uses the power of writing to lift up and heal the hopeless.

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 will be celebrated during a broadcast TV event beamed around the world. “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” airs live Sunday, December 9, at 8 p.m. ET.

Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin: Guiding girls out of poverty

Her cause:

03:09 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin left her career to teach computer programming to girls in Lagos, Nigeria where Facebook and Google opened offices earlier this year. A 2013 survey found that less than 8% of Nigerian women are employed in professional, managerial or technology jobs. Ajayi-Akinfolarin hopes to change that statistic.

Who she’s helped:

Since 2012, her group – Pearls Africa Foundation – has helped more than 400 disadvantaged girls ages 10 to 17 gain the technical skills and confidence they need to transform their lives. Through the foundation’s free GirlsCoding program, girls get training in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python and Scratch and visit tech companies to help them visualize themselves joining the industry. Many come from slums or other challenging circumstances, such as orphanages, correctional homes and even a camp for those who’ve had to flee Boko Haram militants.

She says:

“Technology is a space that’s dominated by men. Why should we leave that to guys?”

Read more about Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

Maria Rose Belding: Feeding the hungry

Her cause:

03:09 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Maria Rose Belding

Maria Rose Belding wants to help feed the millions of Americans who don’t regularly have enough to eat by connecting them with the massive amounts of food in America that goes wasted – estimated at up to 40%. She teamed up with a fellow student to develop a free online platform called MEANS, which puts businesses that have extra food in touch with charities that feed the hungry.

Who she’s helped:

Run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit has helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds of food since 2015.

She says:

“MEANS aims to make it easier to donate food than to throw it in the dumpster. We’re like a bridge that hasn’t existed before.”

Read more about Maria Rose Belding

Amanda Boxtel: Helping the injured walk again

Her cause:

03:00 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Amanda Boxtel

Amanda Boxtel survived a horrific skiing accident, and doctors told her she would never walk again. She defied those expectations with the help of machines called bionic exoskeleton suits, which inspired Boxtel to create Bridging Bionics.The nonprofit provides high-tech physical therapy to people with mobility impairments near Aspen, Colorado.

Who she’s helped:

Bridging Bionics’s physical therapists work one-on-one with clients at local gyms, creating individualized recovery plans based on their mobility issues. Clients are treated for issues ranging from spinal cord injuries to neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease. The organization has provided free or low-cost therapeutic sessions to more than 60 people, helping them overcome their injuries and do something doctors never believed possible: walk again.

She says:

“People need to start believing in themselves and their potential. Life isn’t over. They can still recover.”

Read more about Amanda Boxtel

Rob Gore: Breaking the cycle of violence

His cause:

03:08 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Dr. Rob Gore

As a hospital ER physician in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Rob Gore saw the results of violence all too closely. So in 2009, Gore and a handful of volunteers started the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) which works with at-risk high school students, teaching them mediation and conflict resolution.

Who he’s helped:

KAVI has launched anti-violence programs at Kings County hospital, local schools and the broader community, serving more than 250 young people. The nonprofit also provides “hospital responders” to assist victims of violence and their families.

He says:

“Violence is everywhere they turn … You want to make sure they can learn how to process, deal with it and overcome it.”

Read more about Rob Gore

Luke Mickelson: Making a place for kids to sleep safely  

His cause:

03:12 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Luke Mickelson

In 2012, Luke Mickelson was shocked to learn that there were needy children in his town of Twin Falls, Idaho, who were forced to sleep on the floor because they had no beds. Using safety guidelines and his daughter’s bunk bed as a template, Mickelson started using his own money to buy wood and supplies to build beds for these children. He recruited friends and family members to help. As word spread, interest and involvement surged.

Who he’s helped:

Mickelson founded Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nonprofit that has built and delivered more than 1,500 beds for children across the US. The charity has grown to include training courses, construction manuals and more than 65 local chapters nationwide.

What he says:

“These kids … didn’t get into this situation because of their choices. The need I have is seeing the joy on kids’ faces, knowing that I can make a difference.”

Read more about Luke Mickelson

Susan Munsey: Rescuing victims of the sex trade

Her cause:

03:31 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Susan Munsey

As a teen, Susan Munsey was lured into a life of prostitution in Southern California, where she learned about the abuse of young women firsthand. Eventually she was able to escape that world to become a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist. In 2009, Munsey founded GenerateHope, a nonprofit that offers a safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to heal and build new lives. The group provides long-term housing, therapy, education and medical care.

Who she’s helped:

To date, Munsey says GenerateHope has been a refuge for more than 100 victims – some as young as 18. Participants attend classes to get caught up on their high school education and prepare for college. They receive therapy focused on their traumatic experiences. Women can stay at GenerateHope’s safe house for up to two years and benefit from a variety of volunteer-led support services, such as equine and art therapy, dance and yoga.

She says:

“I always knew that God would use that time that I was trafficked in some way. It wasn’t just going to be wasted time.”

Read more about Susan Munsey

Florence Phillips: Teaching America’s newcomers

Her cause:

03:21 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Florence Phillips

Florence Phillips served for years in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica, working on community-building projects and teaching English. When she returned to the US she eventually settled in Carson City, Nevada, where immigrants make up roughly 20% of the state’s population. Recognizing a need, Phillips started the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada, a nonprofit that provides free English as a Second Language (ESL), citizenship, high school equivalency and computer classes.

Who she’s helped:

Since 2004, the nonprofit has helped more than 5,000 immigrants and their families.

She says:

“My students … are very proud about being here, learning English, learning our culture. I see the pride when they say, ‘I am an American.’”

Read more about Florence Phillips

Ricardo Pun-Chong: Comforting sick kids and their families

His cause:

03:04 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Ricardo Pun-Chong

Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong spent a lot of time making rounds at hospitals throughout Lima, Peru. Day after day, he noticed families sleeping on the floors. Far from home and loved ones, and unable to pay for a place to stay in Lima, many families found themselves homeless while fighting for their children’s lives. He decided to do something for them.

Who he’s helped:

Since 2008, Pun-Chong’s nonprofit, Inspira, has provided free housing, meals and overall support for sick children and their families while they undergo treatment. The organization has helped more than 900 families who’ve come from all over Peru.

He says:

“When I’m with these kids, and I feel how strong they are, I understand that there are no problems that we can’t resolve.”

Read more about Ricardo Pun-Chong

Ellen Stackable: Healing women inmates

Her cause:

03:31 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Ellen Stackable

While working on her graduate school thesis, teacher Ellen Stackable was surprised to learn her home state of Oklahoma has the highest rate of female incarceration in America. Stackable found that many women inmates were first-time, non-violent offenders. She listened to their stories and began to understand their difficult lives.

Who she’s helped:

In 2014, she decided to use the power of creative writing to help imprisoned women by launching her nonprofit, Poetic Justice. During weekly classes inside five Oklahoma prisons, women inmates meditate and learn about poetry and creative writing. Volunteers help prompt ideas and provide individual attention. At the end of class, the women share their work with one another. For Stackable – whose group has reached more than 2,500 women – the classes offer a therapeutic way for the women to work through past trauma and find healing.

She says:

“I see these women gain self-confidence and find self-worth. I just want them to find hope. If they can find hope, it can change their lives.”

Read more about Ellen Stackable

Chris Stout: Championing military veterans in need

His cause:

03:24 - Source: CNN
CNN Hero Chris Stout

When US Army combat veteran Chris Stout returned from Afghanistan to Kansas City, Missouri, he struggled with an injury and PTSD. He was frustrated by the gaps and inefficiencies he saw. He also saw homeless veterans living on the street because they felt traditional homeless shelters were unsafe or lacked privacy.

Who he’s helped:

In 2015, he and a few buddies quit their jobs and started the Veterans Community Project, which built a village of tiny homes for homeless vets. The group also connects vets to life-changing services. The first 13 tiny homes opened in January, and 13 more will be finished this November. The group’s outreach center assists residents as well as any local veteran with access to bus passes, housing placement, job placement, legal services, a food pantry, a clothing closet and emergency financial assistance. So far, the group has helped more than 8,000 veterans.

He says:

“We are the place that says ‘yes’ first and figures everything else out later … We serve anybody who’s ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.”

Read more about Chris Stout

CNN’s Meghan Dunn, Laura Klairmont, Kathleen Toner and Allie Torgan contributed to this report