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Senior Correspondent

Among all the doom and gloom in the media, CNN’s Heroes of the Year reminds us that there are ordinary people in the world making extraordinary differences. Not only was it inspiring to meet this year’s heroes and their causes, but these were only the top 10 picked out of an even wider number of nominated heroes out there doing good.

Whether motivated by their own tragic life-events or the desire to make life better for others, these heroes didn’t just whine and complain. They did something to right wrongs, support forgotten and unseen sufferers, and turn despair into hope. Each had to face building something meaningful from nothing. Finding funding to put their good intentions into practice was a daunting task to say the least, but each hero faced that task and persevered.

It impressed me that most of the 10 heroes were women, and two Young Wonders were young indeed. Will Larsey was only seven years old when he started FROGS to supply food to the needy. He’s only nine years old now and, with a staff of his young friends, raised $20,000 for a food bank. Because of young Cassandra Lin, 210 homes in Rhode Island have been heated by 100,000 gallons of used cooking oil. What might the future hold for these two Young Wonders?

The heroes came from the U.S. to far away Afghanistan, South Africa, Nepal and Haiti. Each had a burning desire to right a wrong. Each improved other people’s lives in some way. Mary Cortani wanted to stop the suicides of veterans through service dogs whose wet noses and wagging tails helped them see life as something worth living. Pushpa Basnet wanted to get children out of the prisons in Nepal where their parents were incarcerated to give them laughter, joy, and beauty. Malia Villard-Apollon brought comfort and sisterhood to rape and domestic violence victims in Haiti. Thulani Modano, Catalina Escobar, and Razia Jan have also found ways to make life better for others in their countries.

Grief was a powerful motivator for Wanda Butts who set up The Josh Project that has taught 1,200 mostly Afro-American children to swim after her son drowned because he couldn’t swim. Scott Strode wanted to share his own success out of drug addiction through sports with others in Phoenix. Leo McCarthy turned the loss of his dear 14 year old daughter because of a drunk teen driver into 8,000 signatures of teenagers so far who pledge not to use alcohol and drugs when underage.

What differentiates these heroes, and those of previous years, from the rest of us? They are a tribute to passion and resilience and I look forward to seeing many more years of CNN’s Heroes of the Year awards.

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