Meet 13 Heroes Who Are Inspiring America With Their Selfless Work

In honor of Inspiring America: The 2021 Inspirational List, E! News shined a spotlight on celebrities and ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things for others.

By Mike Vulpo Apr 30, 2021 1:00 PMTags
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When times get tough, always look for the helpers.

There's no question that the coronavirus pandemic brought along challenges to millions of people around the world. But regardless of city, state or country, strangers stepped up to make a big difference for their neighbors.

On Saturday May 1, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb will host Inspiring America: The 2021 Inspiration List, an event honoring extraordinary individuals who made an impact during an unusually challenging year. 

From World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés to Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the special will highlight just a few of the many selfless Americans who dedicated their lives to helping others.

And in a time when good news is needed more than ever, E! News couldn't help but join the movement and spotlight a few deserving individuals.

Whether it's a college student who made it his mission to help the elderly feel less alone, to a MLB World Series champion who worked to help feed the hungry, these individuals deserve some praise for their great work.

Do-Gooder Gallery

"I'm grateful for the people who have empathy—the sort of empathy that it keeps them up at night because they can't go to bed knowing that someone else is suffering," No Kid Hungry spokesperson Viola Davis told E! News during a recent visit to the GBK Brand Bar in West Hollywood. "I'm thankful for people who have that kind of heart."

Keep scrolling and prepare to be inspired.

Holly Robinson Peete

Co-Founder of HollyRod Foundation

In 1997, Holly and her husband, Rodney Peete, created HollyRod to help advocate for families impacted by autism and Parkinson's Disease. "My son, who is now 23, was diagnosed with autism 20 years ago and is thriving, but we were told he would never do so, so I like to show his example," Holly explained to E! News. "My father, who was the original Gordon on Sesame Street, had Parkinson's. Both Parkinson's and autism have one thing in common: They are both difficult to live with economically, financially and emotionally so we provide compassionate care for those families."

When asked what keeps her motivated, the actress was quick to name her son, RJ. "This is a kid who they said would never work or have meaningful employment and now he is getting a World Championship Ring with the Los Angeles Dodgers because he works for them as a clubhouse attendant. Everyday he just inspires me and I always say I wouldn't change my son for the world, but I would change the world for my son." 

David Vobora

Founder of Adaptive Training Foundation

The Texas non-profit aims to empower those living with physical disabilities to transform their lives through exercise and community. "I believe if you treat someone broken, they'll act broken, but if you look someone in their eyes and treat them like a whole person, that person shows up," David told E! News. "It motivates me everyday to watch the hero's journey that these athletes are on. At ATF, we believe someone's unique superpowers are unlocked by not shying away from our perceived failures and scars. This authenticity to do life from that perspective unlocks huge personal growth and there is nothing more impactful than being a part of someone's life who is actively re-writing their narrative as proof to others that don't feel they can do the same!"

Dr. Jillian Stewart

Founder and Executive Director of Surf & Turf Therapy

The staff and volunteers at Surf & Turf Therapy are committed to bettering lives of kids through non-traditional therapy and activities including surfing, horseback riding and community integration. "We're really founded on the values of inclusion so we try to do as much of our work as we can out in public where the individuals with disabilities we're working with are side by side with the rest of our community and then also including the siblings because sometimes siblings of special needs children are unintentionally left out," Dr. Jillian told E! News. "They can surf alongside of us, ride alongside side of us and parents get rest too. They get an hour of their kids watching an activity together." 

Tim Hetzner

Founder of K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry

When a hurricane, school shooting or other tragedy affects a community, a group of Golden Retrievers are able to connect with people who are suffering thanks to Tim's K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry. "Time after time, I see the value of our K-9 Comfort Dogs (all Golden Retrievers) with people who are hurting, helping them process what they are struggling with during their time of loss, confusion or despair," Tim shared with E! News. "A comfort dog that is well-trained is safe. They show unconditional love, they're confidential, they do not take notes and they are good listeners. Also, dogs are one of the few animals that can look you in the eyes, which is how they know when someone is hurting. Faces can lie—eyes do not."

Tim, who is president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities, added, "I pray for a time when the need of a Comfort Dog is no longer needed because people wake up to what needs to be done in treating ALL people with dignity and respect."

Nancy Davis

Founder of Race to Erase MS

Ever since creating her non-profit in 1993, Nancy has had one mission: Find the cause and cure for Multiple Schlerosis and have a team of doctors working together to constantly communicate. "When we started, there was no drugs on the market, no hope and no cure. Today, as a result, it is so exciting that there are 22 FDA approved drugs on the market to help this disease and its progression," Nancy explained to E! News. "I know we can help so many people, as we have over the last almost 30 years, and want to help increase people's quality of life. It is very heartwarming to see all our work can help improve someone's quality of life, and every year it gets better and better.

The philanthropist added, "We are so close to finding a cure in the near future for MS." 

Justin & Kourtney Turner

Co-Founders of Justin Turner Foundation

While becoming a World Series champion is cool, Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Justin Turner can't stop paying it forward. The MLB player and his wife, Kourtney Turner, created a foundation in 2016 with a mission to support homeless veterans, children (and their families) battling life-altering illnesses and various youth baseball organizations. "The platform he has through baseball is just so great and we're so grateful for everything that comes with that and so to be able to use that for good and to reach a greater amount of people is what we're going to remember at the end of the day," Kourtney told E! News. "Our takeaway from his career is the different lives that we were able to touch." 

Jacob Cramer

Founder of Love for Our Elders

Jacob, who is a student at Yale University, created a non-profit that fights isolation in senior communities through handwritten letters, videos and stories. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, Love for Our Elders has sent more than 100,000 kind, handwritten letters of love to 1,014 senior communities written by strangers around the world and compiled video messages of hope, love and encouragement to reach homebound and independently-living elders," Jacob told E! News. "Hearing from our senior communities that we made the nursing team's day with one of our video compilations or getting to see a photo of an elder smiling with a handwritten letter from us is so gratifying."

Viola Davis

National Spokesperson for No Kid Hungry

The Oscar winner has never been more proud to be part of No Kid Hungry after the organization continued to help thousands upon thousands of Americans in need during the pandemic. "No Kid Hungry is really about going into communities and schools especially to provide meals. They also go into food pantries and keep them stocked," Viola explained to E! News. "In every way, no matter if it's big or small, they are the conduit and stand in the gap for anything: Food pantry, schools or educators like my sister who have students come into school hungry." 

Brandon Bye

Co-Founder of Aspiras Foundation

When not competing on the soccer field as a New England Revolution defender, Brandon is likely hard at work on the Aspiras Foundation. The international organization's mission is to use fútbol/soccer as a tool to raise awareness, educate and empower children in low-income communities. "I believe professional athletes not only have an opportunity, but also a responsibility to use our platforms to stand up for what we feel is right and make a difference in the areas most important to us," Brandon told E! News. "We are never going to be able to help every person in need, but if we can touch even one more life tomorrow, that is what keeps me motivated."

Evelyn Iocolano

Executive Director of LOLLIPOP Theater Network

Evelyn and her team are dedicated to bringing current movies and entertainment to children confined to hospitals nationwide due to chronic or life-threatening illnesses. From superhero walks to virtual "story time," the Lollipop Theater Network provides unforgettable experiences to kids who deserve joy. "I'm extra proud of the fact that, during an especially challenging year, LOLLIPOP has continued to keep the kids we serve connected to the outside world, entertained and smiling and tripled the number of pediatric patients we reach!" Evelyn shared with E! News. "Just one child exclaiming, 'This was so much fun!' can keep me motivated for months."

Jacob Hanna

Special Projects Lead at Goodwill Southern California

Goodwill is an American non-profit that provides job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people who have barriers preventing them from otherwise obtaining a job. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Jacob and other members of Goodwill worked overtime to help thousands of Americans. "Goodwill is designed specially to help get individuals employment," Jacob explained to E! News. "During the pandemic, we saw a whole new face of individuals. These are people who lost their job for the first time, industries that have been decimated for the first time. During this time, me and my colleagues have been motivated to work harder to get people into new roles. Our team is motivated to help these individuals get a second chance."

Krista Driver

President & CEO of Mariposa Center

Based in Orange County, Calif., Mariposa is counseling center where women and families can address the challenges that keep them from leading productive, fulfilling and healthy lives. "During COVID-19, we have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, food insecurity, economic instability and more," Krista shared with E! News. "There's no doubt this has been devastating for many people. Where can they go to get support for their mental health; a place that is affordable and accessible? Mariposa Women and Family Center."

Cheyenne Floyd

Founder of Rage Regardless Ry

The Teen Mom OG star created the non-profit dedicated to empowering families affected by metabolic conditions after her daughter Ryder was diagnosed with VLCAD. Since sharing her family's journey, Cheyenne has been able to bring awareness to several rare diseases. "Giving to families in need keeps me going. Bringing joy to the entire family makes me very happy," she told E! News. "I want to raise money so that RRR can continue to shed light on metabolic conditions and help as many families as possible. Knowing that we are making a positive impact on other families gives me daily motivation to keep going!" 

Inspiring America: The 2021 Inspiration List airs Saturday, May 1 at 8 p.m. on NBC and Telemundo. 

(E!, NBC and Telemundo are part of the NBCUniversal family) 

For the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic and for tips on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, please visit The Center for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov. To plan your vaccine, head to NBC's Plan Your Vaccine site at PlanYourVaccine.com.