12/24/2013 12:12 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2014

Quiet Heroes Making a Difference

"...and finally tonight we bring you Making a Difference." This is a news network policy of closing an evening news program largely featuring wars, violence, and the worst of human behavior. Safe landings are not news; crashes are news. But we must not be left without hope.

For many of us, however, what makes life worthwhile is to focus on safe landings and those who make a difference every day, every year. Today my heart is full of gratitude for the lives of a surprising number of heroes I have been privileged to know.

Dennis Walto has given his life to the rescue of children, in many parts of Africa and elsewhere, and is now affiliated with the International Medical Corps. Alan Khazei founded City Year just out of law school and has changed the lives of thousands of young people by providing opportunities to improve their communities. Billy and Debbie Shore, through Share Our Strength which they founded in 1984, have probably provided nutrition to more children than any other two people in America. Eric Schwarz founded Citizen Schools after spending most of his life in education and community service. Peter Gold helped found First Book, a volunteer effort to put books in the hands of children who might otherwise not have them. Laurie Matthews has spent a lifetime helping deliver health care to the people of Nepal. Richard Walden founded Operation USA and has organized the shipment of thousands of tons of food and medicine to disaster zones across the planet.

These and many more combine community and national service instincts with a concern for children and the next generations. Is there any instinct more central to the preservation and perpetuation of a civilized society? Yet this instinct seems always to be swimming upstream against a current of rugged individualism that lauds private charity but not more comprehensive social justice.

The hope always is that these examples of quiet heroism will inspire the nation toward that sense of social justice that treats all children, including the one in four in poverty, as our nation's greatest treasure, our heritage, and the hope of the future. It is staggering to imagine the talent that is lost to misfortune, accident of birth, social indifference, and national neglect.

It is for us to contemplate what is as against what might have been. In the meantime, those mentioned here and the thousands of others like them keep civilization and hope alive and hold open the possibility of a more humane society and even a reward for their sacrifice and service greater than that offered on this troubled earth.