CNN Heroes celebrates 15 years of inspiring the world

Celebrate with CNN Heroes this weekend. CNN Heroes: 15 Years of Changing the World is on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. Then find out who is the 2021 CNN Hero of the year. The 15th Annual CNN Heroes All-Star Tribute is live on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

Over the years, some of the Heroes’ missions have evolved as they’ve responded to new challenges. We caught up with some Heroes who found new ways to help those who need it most.

Here are some of the ways that our Heroes are continuing to give back.

2012 CNN Hero Jake Wood co-founded Team Rubicon to deploy military veteran volunteers to assist after natural disasters. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, they jumped in to help. At first, they delivered groceries to the homebound and helped run testing sites. In 2021, they’ve supported the nationwide vaccination effort, helping bring nearly 2 million doses to communities around the country.

“We wanted to make sure that an American’s ZIP code didn’t determine the ease with which they had access to a Covid-19 vaccine.”

2015 CNN Hero Dr. Jim Withers has spent nearly 30 years practicing street medicine and caring for Pittsburgh’s homeless through Operation Safety Net, a program he started through his health system, Pittsburgh Mercy. In the spring of 2020, Dr. Withers and his team first brought Covid-19 tests and then vaccines to their patients.

“We’re in this together, and so it behooves us to try to protect the most vulnerable people.”

Breaking down barriers to vaccination: Getting shots in arms is a shared mission for these CNN Heroes
2014 CNN Hero Dr. Wendy Ross spent her career advocating for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities like autism. Now, as director of the Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health, she has been making it easier for people with these challenges to get vaccinated at her sensory-friendly clinics run by vaccinators who are specifically trained to work with this at-risk population.

“Getting the vaccine to this population absolutely is saving lives. I just feel that everyone matters and has value and that everyone should be included.”

Covid forced too many parents to choose between work and helping their kids with remote classes. This CNN Hero is giving families the support to do both
Jennifer Maddox is a Chicago police officer and a 2017 CNN Hero, recognized for her non-profit, Future Ties, which offers free after-school mentoring and tutoring for more than 100 children on the city’s South Side. When the pandemic closed classrooms during the last school year, she transformed her center into a hub for remote learning so that parents could return to work and their kids could receive the support and technology they needed.

“We provide them with a safe space. We go around making sure the kids are online, on track, on task, and able to complete their assignments and progress.”

Helping Afghanistan through turmoil

2018 CNN Hero Matt Zeller is an Afghan war veteran who co-founded No One Left Behind in 2013. Since then, his organization has helped more than 15,000 people leave Afghanistan and start new lives. He was inspired to start this work after it took him four years to bring the Afghan interpreter who saved his life, Janis Shinwari, to the US. Since the rapid Western withdrawal last August, their mission has taken on a new urgency, and the job has become exponentially more difficult. But Zeller and Shinwari are determined to continue their important work.

“They stood shoulder to shoulder with us for over 20 years. We need to bring them home.”

After Kabul's fall, Pen Farthing says he's not leaving until his team and their animals are safely out of Afghanistan
Pen Farthing was named 2014 CNN Hero of the Year in recognition of his non-profit, Nowzad, which cares for stray animals in Kabul and reunites soldiers with dogs they’ve bonded with while they were deployed. It’s a mission inspired by Farthing’s own experience serving in Afghanistan with the British military. After the Taliban takeover, he launched Operation Ark and managed to evacuate his staff from the country, along with hundreds of their animals.

“Sadly, there’s always going to be a need for animal welfare somewhere in the world. So once our staff are happily resettled, then we’re gonna look at where we can go next.”

Razia Jan was honored as a CNN Hero in 2012 for her efforts to educate girls in a rural community outside of Kabul through her non-profit, Razia’s Ray of Hope. Her school had grown to have more than 800 students when the Taliban took over in August. While girls up to age six have been allowed to return to class, older students were barred from attending school. But Jan has gotten permission for them to use the school library so they can continue their education at home. She is eager to return to Afghanistan so she can advocate for her students.

“I’m not fearful at all. If I’m there, I can negotiate with them. The Taliban, they have mothers, sisters, wives. And if you don’t educate them, that is such a loss.”