Readers' Nominees for Giving Back Awards

In the current issue of NEWSWEEK, we launched our Giving Back Awards honoring Americans doing extraordinary things. In the magazine, we featured six hometown heroes , chosen by you, the readers. We also asked for more nominations—and received hundreds. Here are eight more inspiring individuals.

Wayne Centra, nominated by co-worker Denise Almazan: When the young patients of the Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif., enroll in occupational therapist Wayne Centra's karate class, something quite remarkable occurs. Whether they're feeble from months of suffering, overweight and lethargic from chemotherapy or simply lacking the confidence to reenter life outside the ward, Wayne revives his kids' fighting spirit: "I see these kids come into the hospital fearful of any interaction," says Wayne, "then they take these classes, the change is amazing. They become empowered and realize they deserve to be treated like everyone else."

Nurse Juli McGowan in Kenya

Juli McGowan, nominated by father Dennis McGowan: "When I think of Juli, I see someone who has a heart for God and that is translated into a heart for people in the most desperate situations," says Dennis McGowan of his daughter Juli. At age nine, Juli McGowan decided that she was destined to become a missionary. At 15, she embarked on her first trip, taking time out from school to work in Haiti's understaffed hospitals. Twelve years down the line, she's still out helping others. After completing her training in nursing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, she moved to Kip Karen, Kenya. Living without electricity or running water, Juli spends her days working with the village's many AIDS sufferers, distributing medical supplies, establishing care groups and offering orphanage placements for children who have been left behind.

George and Molly Greene, nominated by friend and supporter John Spragins: In October, 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, causing record-breaking damage. The water crisis that followed prompted George Greene, co-owner of the General Engineering Laboratories in Charleston, S.C., to co-ordinate Project Living Water, a weekend-long drive to design and build six drinking water systems suitable for operation under emergency circumstances. The systems were sent to Honduras, where they provided safe drinking water for several thousand people. Eight years later, Greene is still constructing emergency water units and together with his wife Molly, he's founded Water Missions International, a Christian nonprofit aimed at providing safe drinking water to 100,00,00 people by 2011. Says Molly, "To be able to provide such a basic need to people—water that doesn't make you sick—is a life-changing thing in itself."

Deidra Nolan, nominated by friend Pat Garner: Deidra Nolan has a lot on her plate. She runs her own research business, Nolan Research, in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. With three sons and two full-time foster children, she has a pretty hectic family life. Four years ago, doctors found a cancerous tumor in Deidra's kidney, treating her with surgery followed by chemotherapy. And yet she manages to find time to help out in her community, be it by tracking down a national specialist to treat a friend suffering from what local doctors declared was incurable brain cancer, providing jobs for neighborhood kids with disabilities or redecorating friends houses when they're in hospital. How does she do it? "It's fun!" she says of her busy schedule. "I came from a dysfunctional family and always knew that life was going to get better. All I need for motivation is to look at my family now. That's my inspiration."

Carl Foster and friends

Carl Foster, nominated by friend Patty Readinger: In 1991, TV producer and volunteer youth worker Carl Foster became one of the nine founding board members of The Little Blue House, a nonprofit dedicated to caring for abandoned babies in Washington D.C. Initially dealing only temporarily with their kids, LBH has expanded to provide comprehensive, long-term rehabilitation programs for families struggling with the burden of maternal substance abuse. Working with a team of doctors, lawyers and social workers Carl ensures that each family receives professional aid and advice: "We're more than a social service. We set out to change people's lives. Working with the LBH I've seen more miracles than most people see in a lifetime."

Sean Williams, nominated by his aunt, Jamie Vandergriff: Service technician Sean Williams, 33, of Alamogordo, New Mexico, is unlikely to forget Jan. 31 2002. That was the night that driving home from work, he came across Rita Clark and her two daughters trapped inside their burning Jeep after a head-on collision with a pickup truck. With no medical training save a brief corporate first-aid course, Sean leapt from his own vehicle and clambered into the burning car to haul out the three passengers. While her daughters suffered only minor injuries, Rita had lost consciousness and was hospitalized in Albuquerque. A few hours later, she was followed to the hospital by Williams to witness the birth of his first son, Gavin. "I know what I did that night was important to Mrs. Clarke," says Sean, "but to me the night was special for another reason."

Cole Hodges knows how to celebrate

Cole Hodges, nominated by family friend Margaret Smith: Eleven-year-old Cole Hodges of Richmond, Va., knows how to celebrate a birthday. For his fifth birthday Cole decided that, instead of gifts, he wanted to receive donations for his friend's little sister, newly diagnosed with leukemia. Now he chooses a different charity each year. Most recently, he raised $300 in cash and some $500 worth of clothing and household supplies for the Daily Planet, which works with Richmond's homeless. Cole has also set up his own Web site, donateyourbirthday.org, where he encourages other kids to take his approach to birthdays. "He's just so motivated," says his mother Joan, "it's incredible. He's inspired everyone at his school to participate—now his teachers send bags of donations every year."

Vera Barskaya Anselmo, nominated by her friend Valentina Kasvin: "Keys for all children"—that's the motto of Vera Barskaya Anselmo's nonprofit, Piano Outreach of New York. A Juilliard graduate and professional piano tutor, Vera believes that all children should have songs in their hearts. So she founded PONY, an organization that, since 2003, has been providing scholarships for underprivileged kids to attend classes conducted by the Piano School of New York. The scholarships currently allow more than 200 aspiring musicians to participate in classes held at their schools, where they can study a range of music-related subjects. At the end of each year, the students get the chance to show off their new skills in performances at Columbia University. "The program has changed my life," says Vera. "I've had the chance to meet the most wonderful kids. I feel extremely blessed."

Readers' Nominees for Giving Back Awards | News