Prepare to be inspired: CNN has revealed the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2019 – 10 men and women who are making the world a better place by helping families affected by tragedy, cleaning up the environment, protecting neglected animals, and so much more.
Most of their efforts began small – a few started by collecting donations in their basements. Others have a personal connection to the people they help.
They were all nominated by you – our audience – and selected by CNN to each receive a $10,000 cash prize. And now you can vote on who you think should be the CNN Hero of the Year and the winner receives an additional $100,000 for his or her cause.
To find out who is named, you’ll have to watch “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live on Sunday, December 8 starting at 8 p.m. ET.
CNN Heroes has been spotlighting the impactful work of people across the world since 2007. Here’s a look at this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes:
Staci Alonso: A women’s shelter that allows pets
Her cause: In 2007, Staci Alonso opened Noah’s Animal House, a full-service pet shelter located right on the grounds of a domestic violence shelter in Las Vegas. Fewer than 10% of domestic violence shelters offer services for pets. At Noah’s, women can visit and take care of their pets as often as they’d like. The shelter also has “cuddle rooms,” set up like living rooms, where women can spend time with their pets.
What inspired her: Alonso was serving on the board of a women’s shelter in 2004 when she discovered that women fleeing domestic abuse often had nowhere to go because shelters wouldn’t accept their pets. “My two dogs … were my rock and my reinforcement,” Alonso said. “I couldn’t imagine being in that type of situation, finding the courage to leave and having to leave them behind.” Alonso was also shocked to learn that in many cases, women would go back to their abusive situation to remain with their beloved pet.
Najah Bazzy: Helping Detroit’s impoverished women and children
Her cause: Najah Bazzy founded Zaman International, a nonprofit that has provided basic necessities, education and job training to more than 250,000 women and children of all backgrounds in the Detroit area. The group’s 40,000-square-foot warehouse in the Detroit suburb of Inkster offers aisles of food, rows of clothes and vast arrays of furniture free to those in need. The group’s case managers help clients access housing and other services.
What inspired her: Bazzy was working as a nurse in 1996 when she visited an Iraqi refugee family to help care for their dying infant. She knew the situation would be difficult, but she wasn’t prepared for what she encountered.
“There, at the house, I got my first glimpse of poverty. … They absolutely had nothing,” she said. “I was so devastated by that. … I decided that this wasn’t going to happen on my watch.”
That day, Bazzy and her family gathered all the furniture and household items that they could – including a crib – and delivered everything to the family. She hasn’t stopped since.
Woody Faircloth: Fixing up donated RVs for wildfire victims
His cause: Woody Faircloth created the nonprofit RV4CampfireFamily which delivers refurbished recreation vehicles – or RVs – to displaced survivors of California’s 2018 Camp Fire. Faircloth connects with RV owners interested in donating or selling their used RVs at a low cost. He refits the RVs himself and negotiates costs when he needs to enlist professional mechanics for heavy-duty repairs. Once the RV is ready to go, Faircloth organizes a way to transport it to the recipient. So far, his nonprofit has provided 70 RVs to Camp Fire survivors.
What inspired him: As the Camp Fire destroyed homes in the town of Paradise, California, Faircloth watched the news coverage from his home in Denver, Colorado. “I just couldn’t imagine being in that position,” said Faircloth, a father of four. “I had a hard time letting it go … I knew I wanted to do something to help.” He started by setting up a GoFundMe to raise money to purchase and restore used RVs for Camp Fire evacuees – and his nonprofit grew from that.
Freweini Mebrahtu: Removing the cultural stigma around women’s periods
Her cause: Menstruation is considered taboo in Ethiopia, and girls often miss school or drop out because of their periods. So, in 2005, Freweini Mebrahtu designed and patented a reusable menstrual pad. Today, she and her team produce 750,000 pads a year at her Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, named for her daughter. Mebrahtu works in partnership with the nonprofit Dignity Period, which has conducted educational workshops for more than 300,000 students, teaching girls and boys that menstruation is natural, not shameful. Mebrahtu speaks at these events occasionally and enjoys seeing thousands of students receiving this message.
What inspired her: When Freweini Mebrahtu got her period at age 13, she panicked. “I remembered (hearing) that it’s actually a curse to have a period,” she said. “Or that it meant I am ready to be married, or (that) I’m being bad.”
Like most girls in northern Ethiopia, she suffered in silence, never mentioning it to her mother or sisters. With no access to sanitary products, she coped by using rags. “One time I had an accident in class and I was so scared and ashamed,” she said. “Even today I remember how I felt.”
Mebrahtu went on to study in the United States, and remembers her first trip to an American drugstore.
“I saw overwhelming choices of sanitary pads,” she said. “I started thinking … ‘What about the girls that I left behind?’”
Mark Meyers: A sanctuary for abused and neglected donkeys
His cause: Donkeys helped build America, but today, many suffer mistreatment and abuse. Mark Meyers and his wife operate the largest donkey sanctuary in the US, known as Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. The nonprofit has rescued 13,000 donkeys and burros to date and has expanded to two additional ranches in Virginia and Arizona. Together, the three ranches can handle 3,000 of these animals at a time. The organization also has smaller satellite adoption centers across the country. The group trains the donkeys with the goal to place them in good homes. Each year, the organization adopts out roughly 400 donkeys.
What inspired him: Meyers didn’t always feel so strongly about donkeys. In 1999, he was living outside Los Angeles and working as an electrical contractor when his wife bought a donkey as a companion for their dog. They named the donkey Izzy.
“We fell in love with her,” Meyers said. “She opened our eyes to the donkey problem. We started noticing donkeys in need everywhere.” By 2005, Meyers and his wife had 250 donkeys on their land.
“We decided that either we have a problem or we’re going to have to find a way to find homes for these donkeys,” he said. So they gave up their careers and moved to a ranch outside San Angelo, Texas, where they started the nonprofit.
Richard Miles: Helping former prisoners get jobs, new lives
His cause: Richard Miles’ nonprofit Miles of Freedom helps formerly incarcerated individuals restart their lives. Operating in South Dallas, the nonprofit assists individuals returning home from prison by helping them obtain identification, enroll in college and secure housing. The group also provides computer and career training, financial literacy programs and job placement.
The Miles of Freedom Lawn Care Service provides temporary employment for men and women in the program. Miles also offers a shuttle service that takes family members to see their loved ones who are incarcerated.