Stories adapted from the Giraffe Heroes Project website
John Holland McCowan
John Holland-McCowan was five years old when he first announced that he wanted to help kids who were in need. He saved up his allowance and bought some toys for kids who were living in a shelter. When he dropped off the toys he said that he thought the kids would like to have friends to play with too, but the shelter rules said that he couldn't play with the kids. He didn't think that this was right so he got his parents to help him to speak to the people in charge and they changed the rules. Then John thought that other kids would like to play with kids in shelters and hospitals, and so when he was seven he started a group called Kids Cheering Kids. He asked other kids at his school to come and play with kids in shelters and hospitals but many of them were afraid. "They are just sad kids who need cheering up," he told them. After three years his organization had over 300 volunteers between the ages of 5 and 23. John said, "I knew we could do it because kids are strong and kids can help other kids."
Doris Haddock was 89 years old and had arthritis which made it hard to walk and emphysema which made it hard to breathe. There was a problem that Doris was very worried about. She didn't think that it was right that the people who were trying to get elected to be in charge of the government were receiving large amounts of money from big corporations to help with their campaigns. She thought this was wrong because by taking this money the politicians felt that they had to do what the big corporations said and not what the people wanted them to do. Granny had written letters to the government over and over again but it didn't seem to change anything. Granny felt so strongly that this was not the way that democracy was supposed to be that she had to do something drastic to let more people know about it. She decided to walk across the country to meet as many people as she could and to tell them about this problem. Wearing a backpack with 25 lbs. in it and walking 10 miles a day she got herself into shape despite her illnesses and age. She ended up walking from California to Washington, DC . She spoke with many, many people along the way who often joined her on her walk, and who became involved in her campaign. She got hypothermia in the cold and dehydrated in the desert but she kept on going. Several of the states she walked through have already made changes in the system of how much money a corporation can give to a person running for office, and many more people are now working to change this problem.
Kaneesha Sonee Johnson
Kaneesha was an African American girl growing up in California. When she was in the fifth grade she noticed that that there were two groups of kids in her school, those of African American ethnicity and Asian ethnicity, and that they didn't talk to each other or play together during recess. She also noticed that some of the African American kids were bullying the Asian kids. She decided that this was wrong because she had been bullied and she knew how it felt. She also didn't see why the two groups couldn't be friends. She began to make friends with the Asian kids by helping the ones that didn't speak English to do their homework, and telling the bullies to leave them alone. The bullies got mad and, "tormented" her for this, and she cried at home, but she held her ground at school. Eventually she got the two groups to work together in class, seeing each other as "real people" and she got them to be on each other's teams during recess.
Julia Butterfly Hill
Julia Butterfly Hill is a young woman who learned that many trees in a Redwood forest were being cut down for lumber. These trees were more than a thousand years old. She decided that the only way to get people to pay attention and to protect the trees was to climb up into one of them and to stay there for as long as it took. She lived in a tree that she named "Luna" for more than two years to keep the chainsaws away. Julia said, "I climbed into Luna's branches knowing only that it was horribly wrong to turn beautiful forests into clear cuts and mudslides.... I was determined not to let my feet touch the ground until I had done everything in my power to protect Luna and make the world aware of the plight of our ancient forests." Julia lived in Luna's branches on a plywood platform approximately 6'x8' and as high as an 18-story building, a tarp as her only protection against the elements. Friends brought her food and supplies that she hauled up by rope and she bathed with a bucket. While she was there she used a cell phone to carry on a daily campaign to educate the world about the destruction of ancient forests.
She stayed in the tree despite 90-mph winds during two intense winters. She endured harassment from a helicopter that nearly blew her out of her perch and she felt tremendous sorrow as she witnessed many of the redwoods surrounding Luna crash to the ground.
Julia's determination not to give up helped to get the lumber company that was cutting the trees to negotiate with environment groups. The company agreed to spare Luna and to create a protective buffer zone around it. Julia felt that this was just the beginning. She is no longer living in the tree, but she has started an organization called Circle of Life Foundation which helps people through "education and inspiration and connection" to live in a way that honors the diversity and interdependence of all life.
"It is not an issue of whether or not we can make a difference," says Julia Hill. "The truth is that we do make a difference."