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Get Inspired! Meet Local Heroes

Meet the 12 local heroes profiled in Your America and watch video of their inspiring stories from the investigative newsmagazine NOW on PBS.

Have Justice, Will Travel: Wynona Ward

Wynona Ward is the highly unlikely founder of Have Justice Will Travel. She went from truck driver to lawyer to inventing a new way to help victims of domestic violence in rural areas. It's an issue Wynona Ward unfortunately knows all to well: she was abused as a young girl. Her organization—part law firm, part counseling service, part taxi fleet—has helped thousands of hard to reach women in Vermont out of the cycle of domestic abuse.

Tomatoes of Wrath: Lucas Benitez

Before taking on some of corporate America's largest organizations, Lucas Benitez worked picking tomatoes in Southern Florida for wages that were barely enough to live on. Conditions were deplorable and workers faced a climate of intimidation, fear and violence right here in the United States. Lucas Benitez rose up to create an alliance of workers and consumers that forced fast food giants McDonalds and Taco Bell to change their ways. He was able to transform the lives of some of the worst paid people in America, and bring dignity to their working lives.

Corporate Cruelty: Katie Redford

While studying law, Katie Redford traveled to Burma (Myanmar) and was shocked by the human rights abuses she saw there. Inspired to make a change, she came up with an innovative way to make corporations accountable for their involvement in atrocities outside American boarders by reviving an arcane law. Her professor had told her the approach would fail. Undeterred, Katie Redford took on U.S. oil giant Unocal scoring a huge victory for Burmese villagers. Redford and her nonprofit Earth Rights International continue to take up battles to hold corporations accountable for crimes committed overseas.

Video: Helping the Children: John Walsh
Video iconVideo: John Walsh
Helping the Children: John Walsh

John Walsh knew first hand the overwhelming problems facing the foster care system in Florida. As a lawyer for the Department of Children and Families, he saw how the state was doing a poor job of intervening when children were at risk. And its system of placing kids into foster care was a mess. As a result children were suffering—some even dying—and it broke his heart. Walsh wanted to get kids out of foster care and into a better place—the quicker the better. From inside the belly of the beast Walsh came up with a way to cut case time in half. His approach has salvaged many young lives and is now being adopted by counties across Florida and across the nation.

A Literary Movement: Rueben Martinez

As a child Rueben Martinez loved to read. As an adult he used his barbershop in California to advocate literacy to his clients. But we're not talking gossip magazines. Martinez filled his barbershop with classics by heavyweights like Tolstoy and Hemmingway. As he cut hair, he shared his love for literature with his clients. Many of them didn't read English and despite a large Hispanic population it was hard to find books in Spanish. So Martinez made book runs to Mexico to pick up Spanish language titles. Demand was overwhelming which led Martinez to transform his small barbershop into a major bookshop and community center. Along the way, he has put over two million Spanish-language books into the hands of schoolchildren and adults.

Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!: Robert Moses

Robert Moses, a former civil rights activist, knew that children from poor and minority backgrounds didn't always receive the quality education they deserved. So he developed The Algebra Project, an innovative program that helps disadvantaged schoolchildren with the power of math. His initiative didn't just make math fun. It's had positive ripple effects throughout communities across America with former students leading the way. Over the years, the program Moses developed from the grassroots has helped tens of thousands of schoolchildren around the country.

Tell Me the Truth!: Peggy Buryj

Peggy Buryj went through something no parent should—the loss of a child. Her son Army Pfc. Jesse Buryj, was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq. But what made the pain of his death so much worse was that she came to believe the Army was lying to her about how her son died. She was first told that he was killed when a truck hit his vehicle. Later it was "friendly fire" by foreign troops, and then a soldier from her son's troop told her yet another version of events. As a mother, she needed the truth. So this small town mom went to battle with the U.S. military. Thanks to her efforts the Army is doing a better job of investigating and reporting military deaths.

A Loud Whistle: Bunny Greenhouse

Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse was a top civilian procurement officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supervising billions of dollars in work assignments when she discovered something was seriously amiss. She believed that Halliburton and its subsidiaries were able to get preferential treatment, including billion dollar contracts, for rebuilding projects in Iraq. She could not keep quiet, no matter what the consequences. By blowing the whistle Greenhouse helped bring accountability and transparency to a giant government organization. Her reward for whistleblowing? A demotion from her job. But this woman has absolutely no regrets.

Demanding the Future - Now: Bill Graham

Bill Graham wanted to bring high speed Internet to his small Indiana town in a bid to save it from economic doom. The telecommunications companies weren't interested so Graham, the town's mayor, developed plans to wire the town on his own. Just as he was on the verge of success, the telecommunications companies cried foul. They reached out to their political allies to strangle Graham's service. Although the odds were stacked against him, Graham spearheaded a technology revolution that has helped his town blossom into the 21st Century.

Power to the People: Jackie Thrasher

As a school teacher for over two decades, Jackie Thrasher knew that there were problems with Arizona's education system. But when she found out that her state received the least in public education funds per student, she began asking questions and following the money. She found out that the plight of Arizona's schools was the responsibility of the state legislature. But what could Jackie Thrasher, the music teacher, do to change the situation? The surprising answer: run for office. Thrasher became part of a new movement called "clean elections" that allows "ordinary" citizens to run for political office. Today, she is fighting for the education system as a member of Arizona's House of Representatives.

Greening the Gulf: Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fishing boat captain, took on a giant chemical company and forced it to stop dumping chemicals along her beloved Gulf Coast. But change did not come easily. Wilson held hearings and protests, tried to mobilize her town's residents, and urged her elected officials to help. But nothing worked. So this mother of five went on a hunger strike, her first of many acts of civil disobedience. Wilson's actions led to death threats, the loss of her jobs, as well as fights with family and friends. But in the end her determination did more than curtail a corporate polluter in her community: it pointed the entire environmental movement in a new direction.

A River Runs Through It: Lynn and Devonna Owens

Lynn and Devonna Owens have been cattle ranchers in beautiful Madison Valley, Montana for four decades. But as part-time wealthy residents moved in, including some of Hollywood's brightest stars, development boomed and the sweeping vistas and open spaces of the valleys were threatened. The Owens feared that traditional ranching would become a thing of the past given Montana's permissive laws on land use and development. So they banded together with fellow ranchers and teamed up with their former enemies—environmentalists—to create a world-class community alliance.
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