Last night's 3rd Annual CNN Heroes Awards Show capped off another year-long campaign where the 24-hour news network went through over 9,000 stories of giving, featured 10 remarkable people, and selected one Hero Of The Year.
The CNN Heroes project started three years ago to highlight the extraordinary work of everyday individuals, and show that anyone has the power to make a significant difference in their communities. Today, the show is a mainstay of CNN's holiday programming, and has increased in scope each year. This year, the celebrity guest list included Nicole Kidman, George Lopez, Eva Mendes and Neil Patrick Harris.
The show, which taped on Saturday, culminated with Anderson Cooper's presentation of 2009's Hero Of The Year award to Efren Peñaflorida, a social worker and teacher in the Philippines. When he's not working, he operates out of a pushcart, educating children on the streets of the Philippines, encouraging them to learn and stay out of gangs. Peñaflorida himself escaped a life of poverty in Cavite City and has spent the last decade working to ensure that other children growing up under less-than-ideal circumstances have the same opportunities he did.
Watch Peñaflorida accept the 2009 Hero Of The Year award:
See the other heroes' stories:
When I asked Susan Bunda, Executive Vice President of Content Development and Strategy for CNN Worldwide, what separates Peñaflorida from the other finalists, she was emphatic that all of the featured CNN Heroes are worthy of extensive praise.
"I personally don't use the term 'winner.' I believe all 10 [finalists] are winners," she said. "They're all very humbled by their experience."
Peñaflorida is now a celebrity in his own right in the Philippines, with Asian newspapers marveling in his international stardom.
"When you think that somebody who is taking a pushcart to help educate children on Saturdays has the whole Philippines rooting for him, that is tremendous," Bunda said.
They may all be winners, but Peñaflorida is the only finalist who walks away with $100,000 to put toward his projects. Bunda is right, however, that the stories of the other finalists are nothing short of remarkable.
Take Jorge Muñoz, for example. Affectionately called "The Angel In Queens" by many, Muñoz works all day as a school bus driver only to arrive home and cook hot meals, which he distributes to the unemployed and homeless from his truck in New York City.
There's also Jordan Thomas, a 20 year old who lost is legs in a boating accident when he was 16. Today, he runs an organization that provides prosthetics for young amputees who can't afford them.
What is the running theme through all these stories? They all involve individuals who've used the individual power we all have to make a truly astounding difference in the world.
"For so long, we've known these heroes only on videotape. And when you get the chance to meet them in person, they're like anyone you might meet on a given day," Bunda said. She agrees that these stories make anyone feel like they can have an impact.
"They do prove to the audience that it's possible."
Want to nominate a hero for 2010? You can do so right now through CNN.com