Meet the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2019



Most of their efforts began to be small – few started donating to their basements. Others have a personal connection to the people they help.

To find out who has been named, you should watch "CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute," hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live on Sunday, December 8, starting at 8 PM. ET.

CNN Heroes has been promoting people's work around the world since 2007. Here's a look at this year's Top 10 CNN Heroes:

Staci Alonso: Women's shelter for pets

Her cause: In 2007, Staci Alonso opened Noah's Animal House, a full-service pet shelter located just above the Domestic Violence Shelter in Las Vegas. Less than 10% of domestic violence shelters offer pet services. At Noah's, women can visit and care for their pets as often as they want. The shelter also has "hug rooms", set up like living rooms, where women can spend time with their pets.

What inspired her: Alonso was at the service of a women's shelter in 2004 when she discovered that women who abandoned domestic abuse often had nowhere to go because the shelters would not accept their pets. "My two dogs … were my rock and my boost," Alonso said. "I couldn't imagine being in such a situation, finding the courage to leave and having to leave them behind." Alonso was also shocked to learn that in many cases, women would return to their abusive state to stay with their beloved pet.

Read more about Staci Alonso and her work

Najah Bazzy: Helping Detroit's poor women and children

Her cause: Najah Bazzy founded Zaman International, a not-for-profit company that has provided basic needs, education and 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 Detroit's Inkster suburb offers food aisles, rows of clothes and huge rows of furniture free for those in need. The team's case managers help clients access housing and other services.

What inspired her: Bazzy worked as a nurse in 1996 when she visited an Iraqi refugee family to help care for her dead child. He knew the situation was going to be difficult, but he wasn't ready for what he was facing.

"There, at home, I got my first look at poverty … They had absolutely nothing," he said. "I was so devastated by it … I decided it wasn't going to happen to my watch."

On that day, Bazzy and her family collected all the furniture and household items they could – including a crib – and handed everything over to the family. It has not stopped since.

Read more about Najah Bazzy and her work

Woody Faircloth: Determining RV donations for fire victims

His purpose: Woody Faircloth created the non-profit RV4CampfireFamily, which offers remodeled recreational vehicles – or RVs – to displaced survivors of the 2018 Camp Fire. Faircloth is affiliated with RV owners interested in donating or selling used RVs at low cost. He relocates the RVs and negotiates costs when he needs to hire professional engineers for heavy load repairs. Once the RV is ready to go, the Faircloth arranges a way of transporting it to the recipient. So far, the nonprofit has donated 70 RVs to Camp Fire survivors.
What inspired him: As Camp Fire destroyed homes in Paradise, California, Faircloth watched news coverage from his home in Denver, Colorado. "I can't imagine being in this position," said Faircloth, a father of four. "I had a difficult time letting go … I knew I wanted to do something to help." It started with the creation of a GoFundMe to raise money to buy and restore used RVs for expelled captains – and its nonprofit increased its profits.
Read more about Woody Faircloth and his work

Freweini Mebrahtu: Removing cultural stigma around women's periods

Her cause: Menstruation is considered a 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 pad. Today, she and her team produce 750,000 pillows a year at the Mariam Seba sanitary ware factory, named for her daughter. Mebrahtu works with the non-profit Dignity Period, which has conducted training workshops for over 300,000 students, teaching girls and boys that menstruation is natural, not shameful. Mebrahtu speaks occasionally about these events and enjoys seeing thousands of students receiving this message.

What inspired her: When Freweini Mebrahtu reached the age of 13, she panicked. "I remembered (hearing) that it's actually a curse to have a period," he said. "Or that meant I was ready to marry, or that I was bad."

Like most girls in northern Ethiopia, she suffered in silence, never reporting it to her mother or sisters. Without access to hygiene products, he encountered using rag. "One time I had an accident in class and I was so scared and ashamed," he said. "Even today I remember how I felt."

Mebrahtu went to study in the United States, and remembers her first trip to an American pharmacy.

"I saw the overwhelming choices of hygiene pillows," he said. "I started thinking …" What about the girls I left behind? "

Read more about Freweini Mebrahtu and her work

Mark Meyers: Sanctuary for abused and neglected donkeys

His purpose: Donkeys helped build America, but nowadays, many suffer from mistreatment and abuse. Mark Meyers and his wife operate the largest donkey sanctuary in the US, known as the Rescue Donkey Peaceful Valley. The non-profit organization has rescued 13,000 donkeys and farmers to date and has expanded to two additional farms in Virginia and Arizona. Together, the three farms can handle 3,000 of these animals at a time. The organization also has smaller satellite adoption centers throughout the country. The team trains the donkeys to place them in good homes. Each year, the organization adopts about 400 donkeys.

What inspired him: Meyers didn't always feel so strong about donkeys. In 1999, he lived outside of Los Angeles and worked as an electrical contractor when his wife bought a donkey as a companion for their dog. They were named the Izzy Donkey.

"We've fallen in love with her," Meyers said. "We opened our eyes to the donkey problem. We started to see eighty needy everywhere." By 2005, Meyers and his wife owned 250 donkeys on their land.

"We decided that either we have a problem or we should find a way to find homes for these donkeys," he said. So they quit their careers and moved to a ranch outside San Angelo, Texas, where they started the nonprofit.

Read more about Mark Meyers and his work

Richard Miles: Helping Former Prisoners Find Jobs, New Lives

His purpose: The nonprofit Miles of Freedom by Richard Miles helps people who had been imprisoned in the past to resume their lives. Working in South Dallas, the nonprofit helps individuals return home from prison, helping them gain identity, enroll in college, and secure housing. The group also provides IT and career training, financial literacy programs and job placement.

The Miles of Freedom Lawn Care provides temporary men and women employment in the program. Miles also offers a shuttle service, which receives family members to see their loved ones imprisoned.

What inspired him: Miles was a teenager when he was arrested and charged with murder. At 20, he was sentenced to 60 years behind bars. He was an innocent man.

Convicted of a crime he did not commit, Miles spent 15 years in a Texas prison. He was 34 when it was released in 2009.

"I was shocked, I was 34 years old, but I was 19 out of social status, I didn't deal with the world, and I was literally scared," he said. "I didn't know about taxes and employment. The world was completely different."

For two years, Miles struggled to get back on his feet. Eventually, she found a job, a home, and is now married with a child. His own struggles and the appearance of other formerly incarcerated men were the impetus to help other ex-prisoners to move out of prison.

Read more about Richard Miles and his work

Roger Montoya: Art Center for Children Living in the Opium-Destroyed Area

His purpose: In an area of ​​New Mexico affected by the opioid crisis, Roger Montoya is making sure young people find a different path and positive ways to express themselves through the non-profit Movile Arts Española. Since 2008, its community arts center has provided art lessons, free meals, care and support to more than 5,000 children and young people. Hundreds of students each year attend classes ranging from gymnastics and circus arts to fashion design and music such as singing, violin, ballet and hip hop. The group also celebrates local culture by teaching traditional Mexican dance, known as folklorico, as well as Spanish dance and flamenco guitar.

What inspired him: Montoya was a professional dancer in New York, but by the late 1980s he was HIV-positive and had lost his partner and many of his AIDS friends. Returning to New Mexico, it felt like returning home to die.

"My soul really felt this loss and sadness," said Montoya, 58. "It seemed inevitable that I would be on the same path."

Immersing himself in painting, a lifelong passion, helped to restore his health. Montoya was then inspired to bring the healing power of the arts to local children. Seeing young people grow as artists and people gives Montoya great satisfaction.

"You can feel when they have a sense of pride and confidence," he said. "It's a little fire there and we feed it a little more every day."

Read more about Roger Montoya and his work

Mary Robinson: Helping children learn how to mourn

Her cause: Mary Robinson founded the non-profit Imagine, a Center for Loss Management in 2011 to help children cope with all the emotions that come from the death of a loved one. At the center, children learn to deal with their grief with other children who have lost a parent, brother or sister.

Through games or arts and crafts activities, children and teens are encouraged to open up and share with volunteer facilitators. A realistic hospital room gives children whose parents are suffering from long-term illnesses a unique way to work through their emotions, while others leave a bit of steam in the "Volcano Room" with their walls filled, pens for books and punctures. .

What inspired her: Robinson founded the center to create what he did not have after his father died of cancer when he was 14 years old. As a result, her grades dropped, she quit her job and retired.

"It looked like bad behavior … But it was an example of a sad child's book," Robinson said. "I wasn't a bad kid. I was a sad kid."

Robinson struggled until getting help in the late '20s. She eventually began volunteering in a child support team and nearly two decades ago quit her job to devote herself to full-time work.

"I really do this work to make sure that other kids don't miss many years of their lives in grief," he said. "The death of a parent is really a trauma to a child, but it does not have to leave a child injured if it receives support."

Read more about Mary Robinson and her work

Afroz Shah: Holding plastic outside the ocean

His purpose: Afroz Shah has launched a voluntary movement that has cleared more than 60 million pounds of rubbish – mainly plastic waste – from Mumbai's beaches and waterways. Shah, a Mumbai lawyer, started the Afroz Shah Foundation to help spread his mission to save the world's oceans from plastic pollution. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year – the equivalent of a garbage truck dumped every minute. It is predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

What inspired him: In 2015, Sah started picking up trash from Versova Beach, Mumbai every Sunday morning. He had played there as a child and was upset to see that the sand was no longer visible because it was covered by a layer of rubbish over five feet thick. "The whole beach was like a plastic carpet," he said. "I am repelled."

Initially, it was just him and a neighbor, and then he started recruiting others to join. Word spread, and with the help of social media, more volunteers were involved.

Shah has not stopped since. He has now spent more than 200 weekends dedicated to the mission, inspiring more than 200,000 volunteers to join him in what has been called the world's largest sea cleanup. By October 2018, Versova Beach was finally clean and Shah's clearances were extended to another beach as well as a section of the Mathi River and other parts of India.

Read more about Afroz Shah and his work

Zach Wigal: They bring video games to hospital kids

His purpose: Zach Wigal turned his favorite hobby into a nonprofit that brings game consoles and relief to children with chronic illnesses. Wigal is the founder of Gamers Outreach, which ensures that children who cannot leave their hospital rooms during long-term medical care can play video games while recovering. Helped design "GoKarts", portable trolleys equipped with a game console and a series of video games that can be easily transported to a patient's room. The strollers are now in more than 150 hospitals across the country.

What inspired him: As a high school sophomore, Wigal organized a Halo 2 tournament at the high school cafeteria. It was closed "by a police officer who believed games like Halo were, in his words, distorting the minds of America's youth," Wigal said.

The cancellation gave rise to an idea: Wigal wanted to show the authorities that the players were not all bad or lazy kids – and could do something good with their gambling skills.

In 2008, Wigal and his friends organized an event called Gamers for Giving and raised money for the American Autism Society. The event continued every year, and as its popularity grew, Wigal's team branched out and began working with local hospitals.

"We noticed that many of the video games (in the hospitals) were stuck in the playrooms," Wigal said. "And because of that, there was a whole section of the hospital population that was, in a way, limited to having access to the bed environment."

Read more about Zach Wigal and his work