09/12/2012 05:38 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

The MENTOR Network Honors People Making a Difference at Home

In 2005, the MENTOR Network established the Ripple of Hope Awards to recognize the most outstanding among us -- employees and Mentors whose passion, energy, and skill have created a positive impact in the lives of others. These outstanding employees and caregivers create a "ripple of hope," and a legacy of compassion and caring for others to follow.

Ripple of Hope winners are people whose passion and drive have improved the lives of the individuals we serve. They have defied the odds or overcome obstacles to deliver an important service, change a policy or behavior, or lift another's burden. They exemplify the mission and meaning of the MENTOR Network.

Individuals are nominated from all corners of the Network, and every year brings more heartfelt and uplifting nominations of Mentors across the country. These individuals are just like you; regular people who welcome others into their homes and help give them a better life by sharing their lives. They are retirees looking for a way to continue contributing to society; stay-at-home moms or dads looking to earn money at home; or working families with children of their own. Mentors are individuals from all walks of life who open their hearts and their homes, making an unmistakably positive impact on the life of a child in need or an adult with.

Some of the most memorable and inspirational Mentors from across The Network have been awarded Ripple of Hope honors in the past. Here are just a few of their stories.

Sarah Martin, a Mentor with Illinois MENTOR, and 2007 Ripple of Hope Award winner, said that everyone can excel if given the opportunity. She dedicated her life to making certain that the four siblings in her care got every chance in life. A tireless advocate for her foster children, Sarah developed a unique system with their teachers: On days when she anticipated that the kids might go on to have a difficult day, she dressed them in a certain color, signaling that day's challenge to the teacher. Sarah, who considered every challenge a "teachable moment," provided her children with the tools to enhance their individual growth and fulfillment. The music room, where the kids enjoyed music lessons, doubled as a place for their therapy. The garden provided an outlet for her eldest son, who is blind, to work on his sensory perception, and the performing arts center, specially constructed for the children in her basement, offered them an outlet for greater self-expression. Sarah lives The MENTOR Network's mission to provide stable, loving homes to her own community's children in need.

Billy Chapman and John Acfalle decided to become Mentors for one reason; they wanted to help someone help himself. With the support of California MENTOR, the 2008 Ripple of Hope Award recipients welcomed Charlie, an older gentleman with developmental disabilities, into their home and into their lives. Billy and John consistently adapted to Charlie's needs and desires, allowing him to make many of his own life choices. According to Billy, allowing Charlie to be himself made a world of difference in him.

When Karen moved into Tim and Delia Shires' home, she was prone to sudden outbursts as a result of a brain injury she had sustained more than 25 years earlier. Then the Shires welcomed a second woman into their home: Jennifer, who at 71, relied on a walker to get around, and suffered from a complicated mental illness that reduced her to tears several times a day. Thanks to the loving care and support of Tim and Delia, Mentors with California MENTOR and Ripple of Hope Award winners in 2009, the lives of Karen and Jennifer have been transformed. For the Shires it was never about merely providing these women with the basics -- it was always about making their lives full and enjoyable. When the Shires discovered that Karen played the clarinet, they found a teacher to give her private lessons. Knowing that Jennifer and her sister had lost touch over the years, Tim and Delia drove 3½ hours -- each way -- so the two women could reunite. With the Shires' support, both women participate in day programs, and Karen's outbursts became few and far between. Jennifer rarely used her walker, and enjoyed weekly one-on-one outings with Delia, who said that she and her husband are convinced that investing their time and energy, and sharing their home with Karen and Jennifer, made their own lives worthwhile.

After more than 10 years as foster parents with Indiana MENTOR, Annette and Erick Gilliam still regularly kept in touch with all 14 children who have lived in their home. An elementary school social worker and veteran Indiana State Trooper, the Gilliams understood that a child's future is not defined by his or her past. The family's military background and experiences living abroad helped bring order to the disorderly and promoted a strong work ethic, but laughter was also always an important part of the equation in the Gilliam household. Annette and Erick emphasized academic success and pushed the children to be the best they could be. On any given day, at any given time, the Gilliams could expect a phone call or knock on the door from a former foster child, or even their foster children's children, asking for advice or just a hug. One of their former foster children once had the opportunity to leave the Gilliams' ordered household, but elected to stay because he knew that boundaries and loving structure were exactly what he needed. And one Mother's Day, Annette received flowers from a former foster daughter who was on a tour of duty in Iraq. These are the treasured rewards that keep Annette and Erick actively opening their hearts and their home to their community's youth in need.

The opportunity to celebrate the outstanding work of talented, caring individuals from around the country is a powerful reminder of The Network's mission. The Ripple of Hope is an opportunity to say "thank you" to the people around the country who make The MENTOR Network's mission a reality every single day.

If being a Mentor sounds like it is right for you or someone you know, please visit to learn more. Check back soon for the next blog post to find out more about opening your heart and your home and becoming a Mentor with The MENTOR Network.