Fort Myers, FLLearn About Ann's Story
My hero is my 26-year-old daughter who is a pediatric oncology nurse in San Antonio, Texas. Courtney and her husband have decided not to have their own children because Courtney has devoted herself to so many children at the hospital. Courtney once had a little patient who was so afraid of needles. She, knowing the little girl loved Super Woman, went home that night bought a sewing machine and sewed her a special "powerful" cape. Now when that little girl has to sit for her rounds of chemo, she sits through it bravely while wearing her special cape! There are so many other stories of about Courtney’s selflessness I could share with you. She volunteers at a summer camp so kids with cancer can be with other kids going through similar treatments and pain. She participates in races and benefits. Mostly Courtney just cares for each and every child who comes into the hospital and touches her heart. Sadly, there are kids she cares for who don't make it. It breaks my heart me to get those calls from Courtney on her way home from work crying with grief for the families who have lost a child. Courtney would not miss going to a visitation to give that last hug to a family that she has been such a part of. Because of modern medicine and technology, there are many more happy success stories about so many children who have beat cancer and have a beautiful life to look forward to. I know that Courtney has made a wonderful impression on all the kids and families that she has cared for. Courtney truly is my hero. As a mother, I could not be more proud. At 26, to devote her life to caring for sick and sometimes terminal children is truly such strength. Courtney is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside and is truly remarkable! Oh.... and by the way.... her name is Courtney Fields! (At her wedding 3 years ago we had Mrs. Fields cookies!)
Antioch, ILLearn About Betsy's Story
Since October is Down Syndrome ACCEPTANCE Month, my Hero is Nancy Gianni and this is her story. When my daughter Gigi was born, I thought my family’s life would change forever. About an hour after she was born, the doctors suspected she had Down syndrome. Panic welled up inside me but I was afraid for anyone to see it. As soon as my husband and I made eye contact I said, “If anyone can handle this we can.” He agreed and said, “Can you imagine what better kids Isabella and Franco are going to be because of her?” I knew we were going to get through this together. Don’t get me wrong – we were petrified! I cannot even begin to tell you the total fear and devastation I felt. Everything they were telling us about Down syndrome was so negative! Suddenly no one made eye contact with me anymore, they kept the door to my room closed and they kept sending in the clergy. If this was happening to us already, what was life going to be like for our kids? I was so afraid to bring her home and start this “new” life.
I remember when people first came to visit. They gave hugs of sympathy, not congratulations. They tiptoed towards the bassinet and seemed afraid to look inside to see what she would look like. When they finally mustered up the courage to look, they saw this beautiful little baby and they were shocked! They exclaimed “Oh my gosh! She is adorable!” I really don’t know what they were expecting to see, but finally people started to realize she was just a baby.
One night as I carried Gigi to bed, I could feel the weight of her low muscle tone. A weight you never knew existed due to her never-ending smile and sheer determination. At that moment, I realized how strong she actually was. As I carried her up the stairs, I made a promise to her that I would change the way the world looked at a person with Down syndrome; that I would help people understand that her and all of her friends were so much more than a diagnosis.
With the help of people like you and the Playhouses across the world, that promise is being kept – not just for Gigi but for all our children. Life with Gigi is such a gift! Once we got settled and got back into a routine at home, I realized that she was more like my other kids than she was different. Some things took her longer, but she always got it and never gave up. She inspired me everyday and I had to find a way to live up to my promise to her.
I remember my first support group meeting – we were in the corner of a sterile room at the hospital. It was a great meeting but I just kept thinking, “why isn’t there a place for us?” That is what propelled me to create a place where families could come for resources and networking; where kids and adults with Down syndrome could be the leaders and where we could celebrate our diagnosis. With my husband by my side, we went out to recruit board members and raise money. My son Franco drew the Gigi’s Playhouse logo and in just 5 months we opened the doors to the first Down syndrome awareness center in the country: The Playhouse! My favorite part of the Playhouse is the self-esteem that the kids gain. As one board member states, “My son has gained so much self confidence from being at Gigi’s. At the Playhouse, he is the leader – the other kids follow him! He is beginning to transfer this new found self confidence to his class at school.” There are over 20 different educational activities and programs designed specifically to work on important skills for each child. Many of the programs are facilitated and developed by therapists and educators. Thus, the kids are strengthening their gross and fine motor skills, speech and language development and social skills – and having so much fun they don’t even realize it! All of the skills are built in a way that can be transferred into the classrooms. They learn how to socialize with peers, how to read and write, how to take turns and most of all they are gaining self-esteem at the same time!
Jefferson Town, PALearn About Gayle's Story
My hero is Rich Padfield. He is the rock in our family and amongst our friends. He never says "no" to our Lions Club projects and has served on many committees within the club, at both district and state levels. In 2010 he served as District Governor, leading 935 members in community service. When part of our district suffered devastating losses during a flood, he was granted $10,000 from the Lions Club Foundation to assist those in need. In two days, Rich gathered a committee who shopped and solicited donations, and then sorted and distributed the goods directly to Lions Clubs in those areas. He also checks in on friends with health issues, mentors friends in their businesses, is the liaison to our local Cub Scout Pack, supports our church food pantry, volunteers for county food distribution, chairs several fundraisers annually, and schedules PA Game Commission Hunter Education programs annually. He will now be a caregiver for my 91-year-old mother who is moving in with us while I continue to work full time. His wit makes people laugh, which lifts his spirits as well! Rich is solid in his faith, his family, and our community.
Pittsburgh, PALearn About Helen's Story
All of our servicemen and women are heroes. They serve our country selflessly and defend us so we can have the freedoms that we are blessed to have living in the USA. My brother is one of these servicemen heroes. He is a trauma surgeon who has been deployed 5 times since 2006 to Iraq and Afghanistan and has the responsibility of mending and saving our injured soldiers. He bears this responsibility on a daily basis in his hospital position as well. But the military holds a special place for him as a reservist now. Most importantly, he treats it as just another day and as a true privilege to be allowed to treat our service men and women. The USO is an organization he respects tremendously. During his deployments, he described how the USO helped make him and the other soldiers feel a little bit closer to home even when far away. In closing, I salute all our armed service members. And even though my brother may not realize how impactful his work truly is, he has saved lives and mended the injuries of our soldiers so that they can come home to their families.
Germantown, MDLearn About Kristine's Story
My hero is my sister, Kimberly. She is a home care nurse based in the Jersey City, Union City, and Bayonne area of New Jersey. She primarily works with children with special needs. Additionally, she joined United Rescue in Jersey City, the very first U.S. city to deploy their United Rescue volunteers. (United Rescue is a volunteer pre-ambulance emergency care service enabled by GPS technology.) Despite working 40 hours a week AND volunteering 140 hours a month with United Rescue, my sister has just started a graduate program at Rutgers University. She is pursuing her doctorate to become a nurse practitioner. During her little bit of downtime, my sister posts photos and other information on our Instagram account (@3citysisters) to spread awareness about free medical screenings, clothing drives, food collections, and about small local businesses. My sister, Kim, has a huge heart and is the most generous person I know. Her passion towards helping others in her community is virtually endless. She spends most of her time thinking of others and is a true hero through and through.
Pittsburgh, PALearn About Laura's Story
Kelly Hughes of #FosterLoveProject is my hero. She is selfless, tireless and fearless in her pursuit of raising awareness about the mindset our society has about foster kids. She started #FosterLoveProject, which provides travel bags for children who enter the foster system. Usually, when a child is removed from their home, there is no time to collect clothing, toiletries, or personal belongings for the child. Often the circumstances don't allow for a search for belongings, and more often than not, the clothing is soiled, torn, or the wrong size. Kelly has used local news reports, social media, and word of mouth to foster groups to pass the word along about the need for supplies for these children. Volunteers can choose to purchase and fill a bag for a boy or a girl from newborn up through high school, tag the bag and drop it off at several locations throughout Pittsburgh. Another group of volunteers will gather at the end of the drive to make sure every bag is packed with a pair of pajamas, toiletries, a stuffed toy, a blanket, and a book. They will then properly tag the bag by gender/age and add it to the mountain of bags to be delivered to the local foster care agency. Children are important and Kelly makes sure all of them know it, even during the toughest days of their lives.
Derby, KALearn About Linda's Story
Yesterday, my 3rd-trimester pregnancy hormones got the best of me, and I dissolved into tears as I watched my husband flip pancakes for breakfast in our kitchen. My husband, Jon, is a KC-135 pilot for the US Air Force. He has been deployed or TDY for much of the last year. Many days, he goes without time for himself, his family, or even sleep, as he devotes his energy to our nation's defense. In the meantime, my to-do lists grow, along with the creeping realization that we are about to add our first baby to our unpredictable lives. After a weeklong TDY where communication was not possible, I greeted my weary husband with a to-do list that would make most men feign sickness. Instead, he smiled, offered to make breakfast and got started on the list. Realizing that he would spend most of the weekend working on his list, I discovered that I didn't really need the lawn mowed or the deck repaired. I just needed him to be present. He let my tears soak his shirt as he reassured me that we would spend the weekend together, and he could still take care of business.
He talked to me about the baby readiness book he has been reading as he raked our leaves (and those of our elderly neighbors), held my hand as we walked our dog (and reunited a lost dog with their owners on the way), and discussed plans for our baby as he carried our groceries. Then he called his brother, who was recently diagnosed with MS, to offer comfort and support. This is consistent with a typical "day off" for my husband. While his devotion to our country's defense demands much of his time and energy, he selflessly carves out time for our neighbors, our community and me. I am in constant awe of his kindness, optimism, and patience. While I do what I can to brighten his day (a surprise chocolate chip cookie in his suitcase never hurt), he asks for nothing in return for his efforts. His happiness comes from the knowledge that he has helped others. This is why he is my inspiration, my heart, and my hero.
Pontiac, MILearn About Myeya's Story
I would like to recognize Wasalu Jaco as my hero. He is an amazing, caring person, and does a lot of wonderful things for his community and the world. Wasalu Jaco founded the We Are Mural organization. (To me their focus is to uplift the youth, give them hope and opportunity, give them confidence and show them there is another side to what they may feel is a troubled life. They help the people in their city of Chicago with food, fresh produce, coats, educational activities, and many other wonderful things. They also have an annual bake-off that he and his closest friends and family hold in his city. Wasalu has also founded the neighborhood start-up fund www.start.fund.com for small businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the opportunity to have their product or service seen by people who can make their dreams a reality. He has also been working with Zeromasswater.com, a company that uses solar energy to make fresh drinking water. I mean, this person is an amazing, very sincere individual. His organization WeAreMural.com definitely deserves to be recognized for all they do and will do in the future and for the world.
Egg Harbor Township, NJLearn About Rachel's Story
My hero is my Poppop, Tom Schnepp, of Egg Harbor Township, NJ. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, my Poppop is proud to belong to both the local VFW (Post 2189) and American Legion (Post 469). He is very involved with both of these groups, whether through cooking meals, raising money, obtaining donations, handing out Remembrance Poppies, or hosting a fishing trip for a Wounded Warrior. Each year the American Legion hosts a Wounded Warrior and their family for a weekend getaway to Ocean City, NJ. My Poppop is always excited to host the fishing trip and show their guests a wonderful time. These groups also hold ceremonies to recognize and honor veterans throughout the year, in addition to MIA and POW ceremonies. Raising money also helps contribute to scholarships awarded by these posts. These are all important ways that our community can let our veterans and families of veterans know they are appreciated and not forgotten. With a $5,000 (or any sized amount!) donation, my Poppop could do a lot of good work for our veterans and their families. He is a truly good man who loves his country and looks for ways to serve it, all while showing his appreciation for his fellow troops. I would love for him to know that he is also appreciated, his efforts aren’t unnoticed, and that he really makes a difference in his community!
Philadelphia, PALearn About Taneka's Story
Johannah Bennett is my hero. She has been a youth and community activist for a nonprofit organization called the Collaborative at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for years. She has played a massive role in developing the minds of over a 100 teenagers, empowering them to think about social justice and worldly issues in a more holistic way. She also encourages teens to hone their own personality and leadership abilities, in addition to teaching essential life skills pertaining to interviews, job applications, and the importance of higher education. She always helps students believe in themselves and provides them with resources that they need to survive. She would pay for food out of her own pocket if a person were starving, or stay late if someone needed a listening ear. She would even give rides to students to ensure their safety. Johannah played an important role in my development. She helped me gain my confidence in the classroom. Then she even hired me as her employee to mentor others. Everything I have accomplished is because of her. All the knowledge and skills I have gained, I learned from her. Even to this very day, she has her own daughter, but still works in the nonprofit developing the next generation of young minds. No matter the toll it takes on her personally, she is the one person who will always be there, not only for me, but also for the kids who look up to her.