‘It’s iron sharpening iron’: CNN Heroes join forces in Miami to take their work to the next level

Miami, Florida

“It’s literally like winning the Academy Award of humanitarian aid work.”

That’s how Mobile Medics International founder Teresa Gray described being honored on the CNN Heroes stage in December. For Gray and many of her fellow honorees, the night of the annual “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” is just the start of a new chapter in their work.

The Top 10 CNN Heroes each receive a surge of donations and prize money for their nonprofits along with new attention on their life-changing missions. To help them make the most of this moment and take their organizations to the next level, they also receive critical nonprofit and leadership training.

For the first time, CNN Heroes collaborated with the Elevate Prize Foundation to provide the Top 10 CNN Heroes with this training, which took place at their Make Good Famous Summit in Miami Beach.

The Elevate Prize Foundation is a nonprofit that empowers social entrepreneurs and global changemakers by providing them with the resources they need to expand their philanthropic impact. The organization invited the Top 10 CNN Heroes from 2021 and 2022 to join three years of Elevate Prize winners at the conference last month.

The Elevate Prize Foundation’s founder and CEO Joe Deitch shared with CNN about the inspiration behind the summit.

“There’s an African proverb: ‘If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you wanna go far, go together.’ So often, these social entrepreneurs are alone. And … coming together periodically is energizing. It spurs innovation. It creates communities,” he said.

This is the first opportunity many CNN Heroes have had to reconnect in person since they were in New York City for the tribute show. And with Top 10 Heroes from the last two years gathering, this is the first time many of them have met.

“It’s iron sharpening iron,” said 2022 CNN Hero Debra Vines, founder of The Answer Inc., sharing her excitement about the event. “I see so many collaborations that are gonna happen.”

CNN Heroes Tyrique Glasgow (left) and Nelly Cheboi (right) showcase their work to attendees at the Make Good Famous Summit

Soaring Spirits International founder Michelle Neff Hernandez was motivated by her fellow CNN Heroes and other attendees.

“I’m just inspired by the many ways that people are solving big problems without a lot of resources,” she said.

The Heroes arrived in Miami with their own unique goals for the summit and training. Some were focused on their nonprofit’s financial planning, others hoped to find new ways to share their stories and reach a broader audience, while others looked to connect with donors to help fuel their work.

Shirley Raines, the 2021 CNN Hero of the Year, said she was in a training session when she started receiving troubling text messages about the accounting firm her nonprofit works with.

“Everything they said in that seminar that should not be done is what my accountant was doing,” Raines said, adding that she felt that she just got “that little push from the universe” and made the decision to fire her accountant.

In that moment, Raines was glad to have so many people surrounding her who knew what she was going through.

“If it’s going to happen, at least it happened at a damn summit where people are enriching me and telling me what I should do,” said Raines. After she left Miami, she said she found an amazing new accounting firm to handle Beauty 2 the Streetz’s business.

CNN Hero David Flink puts newly learned social media skills to work at the Make Good Famous Summit

2021 CNN Hero Dr. Ala Stanford put her new storytelling and social media skills to use by publishing her first TikTok while at the summit. She admits that before arriving in Miami, she was skeptical about the platform.

“In my mind it’s like TikTok is for dancing and for fun little things. It has nothing to do with removing the bias that exists in health care,” said Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium.

To bring attention to her mission of healthcare equity, Dr. Stanford came up with the hashtag #MyCultureMyCare and began using it to help build a new community online.

While in Miami, the CNN Heroes joined Elevate Prize winners to help restore Miami’s vibrant ecosystem. They participated in a service project organized by Miami Waterkeeper on nearby Virginia Key.

2021 CNN Hero Lynda Doughty was part of a group that helped clear debris from the beach. As the founder of Marine Mammals of Maine, she rescues and rehabilitates stranded seals, so Doughty was excited to help in a way that is close to her mission.

“You know, I’m a beach girl. It felt good,” she said. “It was nice to be … in a different area and still be helping wildlife.” Now, Doughty is considering organizing a similar event back home.

CNN Hero Dr. Ala Stanford picks up beach debris during a service project organized by Miami Waterkeeper

Other Heroes opted to help restore the Key’s topography by removing invasive plant species and planting native ones. Hope Renovations founder Nora El-Khouri Spencer, who trains women for construction careers, said she felt “right in my element with a shovel in my hand diggin’ in the dirt.”

For Spencer, this service project helped her reflect on the importance of broadening her horizons.

“I think sometimes we get so involved in our own giving to the community … that it’s really nice sometimes as a group to just step outside of that and give to other causes.”

The CNN Heroes left Miami with new skills and new perspectives on the nonprofit world. 2022 CNN Hero and Young Chances Foundation founder Tyrique Glasgow said the summit had given him the “energy to go back home to let our folks know that people out there are helping the cause in a positive way, moving the needle in a big way.”

For CNN Hero Meymuna Hussein-Cattan, who runs the Tiyya Foundation, she is going home with a new sense of her own power.

“Almost everything was demystified this week … even this mystery around being a Hero. For the first time I walked into a room, and I felt embodied as a Hero.”

To learn more about the 2021 and 2022 Top 10 CNN Heroes, visit the CNN Heroes website

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