Giving thanks for those who inspire change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

While working on her graduate school thesis, Stackable was surprised to learn her home state of Oklahoma has the highest rate of female incarceration in America. Here, prisoners meditate and stretch before their creative writing class with Stackable. “It’s a sacred place where you can write, and you can feel free to share your writing and trust people in a place where no one trusts anybody,” Stackable says.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit has helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds of food since 2015. “MEANS aims to make it easier to donate food than to throw it in the dumpster. We’re like a bridge that hasn’t existed before,” Belding says.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Mickelson was shocked to learn that there were needy children in his town who were forced to sleep on the floor because they had no beds. “There’s kids next door whose parents are struggling just to put food on the table, clothes on their back, a roof over their head,” Mickelson says. “A bed was just a luxury.” Using safety guidelines and his daughter’s bunk bed as a template, Mickelson started using his own money to buy wood and supplies to build beds for these children.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Far from home and loved ones, and unable to pay for a place to stay in Lima, many families found themselves homeless while fighting for their children’s lives. Seeing the situation day after day, Pun-Chong decided to start a shelter. “The shelter is a very special place,” he says. “We not only wanted people to have a place to sleep and food to eat, we also wanted to create a space to help the kids be cured. It’s a place with a lot of love.”

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Gore sees the repercussions of violence among youth up close in the ER. “Conflict’s not avoidable. But violent conflict is,” Gore says. “Seeing a lot of the traumas that take place at work, or in the neighborhood, you realize, ‘I don’t want this to happen anymore. What do we do about it?'” So in 2009, Gore and a handful of volunteers started KAVI to work with at-risk high school students, teaching them mediation and conflict resolution.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Ajayi-Akinfolarin left her career to teach computer programming to girls in Lagos, where Facebook and Google opened offices earlier this year. A 2013 survey found that less than 8% of Nigerian women are employed in professional, managerial or technology jobs. Ajayi-Akinfolarin hopes to change that statistic. “One thing I want my girls to hold onto is, regardless of where they are coming from, they can make it,” she says. “They are coders. They are thinkers. Their future is bright.”

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

As a teen, Munsey was lured into a life of prostitution in Southern California, where she learned about the abuse of young women firsthand. Eventually she was able to escape that world to become a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist. “I always knew that God would use that time that I was trafficked in some way. It wasn’t just going to be wasted time,” she says.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

In 2015, Stout and a few friends quit their jobs and started the Veterans Community Project, which built a village of tiny homes for homeless vets. The group also connects vets to life-changing services. The first 13 tiny homes opened in January, and 13 more will be finished this November. “It provides everything these guys need to live with dignity, safely, and then fix what got them there in the first place,” he says.

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

CNN Heroes: It takes action to make change

Boxtel survived a horrific skiing accident, and doctors told her she would never walk again. She defied those expectations with the help of machines called bionic exoskeleton suits, which inspired Boxtel to create Bridging Bionics. “People need to start believing in themselves and their potential. Life isn’t over. They can still recover,” Boxtel says.

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