GoFundMe on Thursday recognized a select group of change-makers who went above and beyond to help others, marking the platform’s first-ever live event.
Six people from around the country were honored for their selflessness during GoFundMe’s first annual Heroes Celebration in San Francisco. The event was hosted by Mike and Nick Fiorito, who were previously recognized by the company for their fundraising initiative to buy blankets for the homeless. The event’s live stream, which you can watch above, was hosted by popular YouTuber Matt Santoro.
The keynote speaker, 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser, spoke about the importance of helping others.
“Tonight, as we sit together safe and sound and think about the meaning of the word ‘hero’, let us also think about the everyday day heroes in our own lives and even our own moments of heroism,” Lesser said. “Let us be grateful for this opportunity to listen and thank ordinary individuals who took extraordinary risks and made sacrifices to do the right thing. Remarkable people who took responsibility, who took the wellbeing of others in front of their own needs… That, my friends, is my definition of a hero.”
Each of the night’s recipients received a surprise $10,000 check to go toward their mission.
Stemming from five different projects that were nominated by the GoFundMe community, the six honorees included Michael Benavides and Sergio Cordova of Brownsville, Texas. The duo was commemorated for their work near the Mexican border.
Along with a team of volunteers behind #TeamBrownsville, Benavides and Cordova have lent a helping hand to asylum seekers who are often in desperate need of supplies when they arrive.
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“We do not see our mission as a political one, or one of religion, we see it as a humanitarian mission,” Cordova told the audience after accepting the award. “Helping the people most in need of supplies, comfort, guidance, love and compassion.”
#TeamBrownsville has given out diapers, wipes, coloring books, and toys, and offer meals to dozens of people every day. Volunteers also pass out maps to asylum seekers and help to connect them with services when needed.
“The work that we do is not optional,” Cordova said. “We have to continue to do it every day to right the wrong.”
Charlie Hyatt was honored for her work with veterans in her hometown of Columbia Station, Ohio. Hyatt has long volunteered at the local VFW, and was inspired to bring in supplies like soap and clothes for the homeless veterans who visit the facility after hearing about their struggles.
“I talked to as many people as I could, and we completely filled my husband’s van with donated items they were asking for,” she explained during her speech. “I would never forget how huge it was that day, it was like Christmas.”
But when one of the veterans opened up to her about how he was moving into a new apartment with no money to purchase cooking supplies or furniture, Hyatt went a bit farther by setting out to furnish the apartments of veterans transitioning out of homelessness with her Help for Heroes charity.
“Sometimes it’s just more than getting their homes furnished,” she added. “It’s the fact that they’ve found a stranger who actually cares. My work for Help for Heroes has been one of my greatest pleasures in life.”
Daniel Alvarado, 16, of Colorado, was a child when his older brother, Diego, was diagnosed with leukemia. The following years were filled with long hospital stays for the family, and the experience left an impression on then-6-year-old Alvarado.
Not one to wait to do something, Alvarado came up with the idea of Cancer Fighters to the Rescue, his initiative to collect toys for children at the hospital. He asked people in his neighborhood, and soon he received a flood of toys he could donate to children and families in need of a smile.
Though Diego died in 2016, Alvarado has continued the mission, having donated more than 9,000 toys, all in his brother’s memory and following his motto to “never give up and keep on trying.”
“I lost my brother, I lost my best friend, but I’m standing in front of you pitching my cause to make a difference and to focus on the positive things, and to never give up and keep trying,” Alvarado told the audience. “Don’t ever give up, you can do it. No matter what life gives you, you can plant the seed of something positive.”
Since he is below the age of 18, Alvarado hasn’t been allowed to pass out the donated toys himself. But in a surprise, hosts Mike and Nick Fiorito announced that GoFundMe helped to secure the hospital’s permission for Alvarado to hand out the toys this year.
Lance Cooper created the #SaveFlintChallenge in response to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Though he lives more than 600 miles away in Richmond, Virginia, Cooper was determined to inspire his community to help people in Flint get access to clean drinking water and keep the media focused on the situation, even when attention has faded.
“Live your purpose, live your truth, but above all never stop reaching back to uplift others,” Cooper said, in an effort to inspire others to help communities in need. “Own your purpose, own your vision and never give up.”
Lisa Peyton-Caire’s mother died at 64 from congestive heart failure in May 2006. The tragedy led Peyton-Caire to launch the Black Women’s Health & Wellness Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
The facility provides important health services for women in the community and offers support to new mothers and moms-to-be. The center also offers financial education workshops and mental wellness support.
“It is my belief that to whom much is given, much is required, we each have something unique and special to offer this world,” Peyton-Caire said during her speech. “It is our purpose in life to uncover what that is and to act in service to this calling for the greater good.”
After her mother’s death, Peyton-Caire set out to create a place where black women could be cared for — and Black Women’s Health & Wellness Center is the realization of it.
GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon praised the honorees during the event’s live stream.
“We get to see these heroes every day, but the broader world at large doesn’t really know about how many amazing things are happening,” Solomon said. “We think it’s important to celebrate regular people doing amazing things, and then we hope it inspires more people.”