Liz McCartney of the St. Bernard Project is CNN’s “Hero of the Year” for 2008. At a star-studded gala event at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, CNN gave out their annual award for selfless charitable works.
Sometimes shows are simply inspirational. “CNN Heroes” is an award show that is the epitome of motivational inspiration. CNN honored its ten “heroes” of 2008, people who were nominated by the general public, on Thanksgiving night, November 27. Anderson Cooper hosted the annual event which held its first installment in 2007.
“Our Top 10 CNN Heroes are proof that you don’t need superpowers — or millions of dollars — to change the world and even save lives,” Anderson Cooper announced when he revealed the names of the ten finalists for “Hero of the Year” on October 9.
Hollywood’s finest, all affiliated with charitable works themselves, presented the ten CNN Heroes. All finalists were recipients of $25,000 to further their particular charitable enterprises. The winner of “Hero of the Year” received $100,000 and was chosen by internet vote.
This year’s winner received the most votes of over one million votes cast.
Kate Beckinsale presented the first CNN Hero. Viola Vaughn, a Detroit native, moved to Senegal to retire. Instead, Vaughn set up the “10,000 Girls” program where she has helped hundreds of young girls and women to succeed in school and in business. She said she had dreamed of simply retiring to a beach but she would not change was she does. She loves her work, she says.
Terence Howard told the story of Liz McCartney. McCartney left a lucrative career in Washington, D.C., to help families rebuild their lives in the devastated St. Bernard Parish in Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. She began the St. Bernard Project in 2006. To date, she has helped put 154 families back into their homes in St. Bernard Parish. Over 9000 people have volunteered to help the St. Bernard Project.
Selena Gomez told the story of Maria Ruiz and two cities – El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Maria Ruiz is an American citizen born in El Paso who was struck by how close the cities were and the drastic differences in the standard of living. Feeling the need to do something, she began crossing the border into Mexico and feeding the needy. At present Maria Ruiz helps feed 300 – 400 people every day. She hopes to one day build a kitchen, a gym, and a training center.
Cameron Diaz introduced Marie Dasilva. Fourteen members of her family have died of AIDS. She is a founder of the Jacaranda Foundation, which runs a school in Marie Dasilva’s childhood home in Malawi. She pays for the school with the wages she earns as a nanny in Los Angeles. Ninety percent of the children that attend her school are AIDS orphans.
Recent mother Christina Aguilera sang “Beautiful.”
John Krasinski of “The Office” told the story of Tad Agoglia. Agoglia moves from one disaster to another, providing help where needed in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. By reading weather maps, Tad Agoglia and his crew are able to predict where they will be needed so that they can be part of the first response. His motto: “America deserves this type of response.”
UNICEF ambassador Lucy Liu brought the terrible and inspiring story of Phymean Noun. Noun built a school at the base of the largest trash dump in Phenom Penh, Cambodia, for the children that worked the dump. Some of the children would scour and sift through the trash for ten to twelve hours daily just to make a dollar.
Meg Ryan introduced Carolyn LeCroy. LeCroy used her filmmaker background to begin producing videos of inmates who wanted to reach out to their children. A former prisoner herself, Carolyn LeCroy wanted to help others who were incarcerated make certain that their children knew they were loved. The Messages Project was the product of that dream.
Alicia Keys sang “Super Woman” with pictures of iconic women – Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, and others – flashing in the background.
Forest Whitaker presented the story of Yohannes Gebregeorgis. Gebregeorgis, who lived in Los Angeles, decided to take his personal library to his homeland of Ethiopia. He found that there were no children’s books in their native language, so he wrote one, a book written in both English and Ethiopian.
Salma Hayek told the story of David Puckett. Puckett has made 41 trips from his place of business in Savannah, Georgia, to Southeastern Mexico to outfit people with prosthetic limbs. David Puckett does this deed free of charge. When Puckett received his award, Salma Hayek kissed him on both cheeks, of which he told the gathering that it was almost enough to make him forget his speech.
Jessica Biel told the story of Anne Mahlum. Mahlum founded Back On My Feet, a program in Philadelphia to provide direction for the homeless. Anne Mahlum is a positive force that pushes the homeless to see their lives as momentum, as a force moving forward toward a goal.
Hugh Jackman, People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, honored People‘s Heroes Among Us. Those six people were Elizabeth Smart, Dan Rooney, Alferd Williams, Alesia Hamilton, Jennifer Trubenbach, and Beloved.
When Anderson Cooper announced the CNN Hero of the Year, Liz McCartney told the crowd that she had not prepared a speech because she did not think she would win. So she thanked the nine other nominees. She then challenged the people in the room to challenge their friends to help raise $100,000 for each of the nominees to help continue their work. She then dedicated her award to the people of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.
John Legend performed “If You’re Out There,” an inspirational number that calls upon everyone to “be the change we want to see.”
Anderson Cooper finished the show with a quote from President John F. Kennedy: “One person can make a difference; every person should try.”
Watching award shows usually leaves one feeling either satisfied or sad that one’s favorite has won or lost. And one gets the feeling that when some artist tells the gathered crowd that the other nominees deserved the award as well that they just could be less than truthful. With CNN’s “Hero of the Year,” there is no feelings of letdown or sadness, only the feeling that these particular people being honored truly deserve to be recognized.
Every one of them.