World

It takes action to make change

Updated 7:09 PM ET, Thu December 27, 2018
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The top 10 CNN Heroes of 2018 show that passion + action = change. Florence Phillips, 87, is the founder and director of the ESL In-Home Program in Carson City, Nevada. Phillips, far left, and an army of about 200 volunteers have helped teach English and provide citizenship classes to immigrants in the area for free. Melissa Lyttle for CNN
Phillips worked for years in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica, teaching English and focusing on community-building projects. When she returned to the US she eventually settled in Nevada, where immigrants make up roughly 20% of the state's population. "My students ... are very proud about being here, learning English, learning our culture," she says. "I see the pride when they say, 'I am an American.'" Meet the rest of the top 10 and vote for CNN Hero of the Year. Melissa Lyttle for CNN
Ellen Stackable, co-founder of the nonprofit Poetic Justice, teaches female prisoners in Oklahoma self-expression through creative writing. Stackable is pictured here outside of the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma.     Krisanne Johnson for cnn
While working on her graduate school thesis, Stackable was surprised to learn her home state of Oklahoma has the highest rate of female incarceration in America. Here, prisoners meditate and stretch before their creative writing class with Stackable. "It's a sacred place where you can write, and you can feel free to share your writing and trust people in a place where no one trusts anybody," Stackable says. Krisanne Johnson for cnn
While still in college, Maria Rose Belding launched MEANS, a free online platform that connects businesses with extra food to charities that feed the hungry. She was dismayed that up to 40% of America's food goes to waste. Eric Kruszewski for cnn
Run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit has helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds of food since 2015. "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," Belding says. Eric Kruszewski for cnn
Luke Mickelson of Twin Falls, Idaho, is the founder of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nonprofit that makes and distributes beds for children in need. Mickelson started crafting the beds out of his garage in 2012, and the organization has grown to include more than 120 chapters nationwide. John Nowak/CNN
Mickelson was shocked to learn that there were needy children in his town who were forced to sleep on the floor because they had no beds. "There's kids next door whose parents are struggling just to put food on the table, clothes on their back, a roof over their head," Mickelson says. "A bed was just a luxury." 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. John Nowak/CNN
Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong's nonprofit, Inspira, has provided free housing, meals and overall support for sick children and their families as they receive treatment. The organization has helped more than 900 families who've come from all over Peru. Danielle Villasana for cnn
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. Seeing the situation day after day, Pun-Chong decided to start a shelter. "The shelter is a very special place," he says. "We not only wanted people to have a place to sleep and food to eat, we also wanted to create a space to help the kids be cured. It's a place with a lot of love." Danielle Villasana for cnn
New York emergency room doctor Rob Gore helped create the Kings Against Violence Initiative, an organization that hosts anti-violence programs at Kings County hospital, local schools and in the broader community. The nonprofit, which serves more than 250 young people, also provides "hospital responders" to assist victims of violence and their families. David Scott Holloway/cnn
Gore sees the repercussions of violence among youth up close in the ER. "Conflict's not avoidable. But violent conflict is," Gore says. "Seeing a lot of the traumas that take place at work, or in the neighborhood, you realize, 'I don't want this to happen anymore. What do we do about it?'" So in 2009, Gore and a handful of volunteers started KAVI to work with at-risk high school students, teaching them mediation and conflict resolution. David Scott Holloway for cnn
Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is the founder of Pearls Africa Foundation, an organization that helps girls from underserved communities in Nigeria gain relevant technological skills that could transform their lives. Andrew Esiebo for cnn
Ajayi-Akinfolarin left her career to teach computer programming to girls in Lagos, 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. "One thing I want my girls to hold onto is, regardless of where they are coming from, they can make it," she says. "They are coders. They are thinkers. Their future is bright." Andrew Esiebo for cnn
Susan Munsey is the founder of Generate Hope, a San Diego-based safe house for survivors of sex trafficking. Generate Hope offers healing and the opportunity to find restoration with long-term housing and trauma-informed therapy, education, and vocational support. Melissa Lyttle for CNN
As a teen, 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. "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," she says. Melissa Lyttle for CNN
Army veteran Chris Stout helped found the Veterans Community Project in 2015. The nonprofit provides assistance and housing to homeless veterans in Kansas City. John Nowak/CNN
In 2015, Stout and a few friends 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. "It provides everything these guys need to live with dignity, safely, and then fix what got them there in the first place," he says. John Nowak/CNN
Amanda Boxtel started Bridging Bionics in Aspen, Colorado. It pairs clients with physical therapists to work one-on-one 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, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease. Jeremy Freeman/CNN
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. "People need to start believing in themselves and their potential. Life isn't over. They can still recover," Boxtel says. Jeremy Freeman/cnn