CNN awards 2018 Hero of the Year

Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong was named the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year for his efforts to provide free housing, meals and support for sick children and their families while they undergo treatment.

Posted: Dec 10, 2018 10:34 PM
Updated: Dec 10, 2018 11:03 PM

For Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong, being a physician isn't just about treating patients -- it's about how you care for their families.

As a doctor undergoing his medical training in Lima, Peru, Pun-Chong treated many children who traveled with their parents from rural parts of the country. And for most, it's a dangerous journey -- over mountains, across rivers and along unsafe roads, all for medical treatment.

Once in Lima, far from home and often unable to afford lengthy hotel stays, Pun-Chong saw many families forced to curl up on the hospital floors.

"I couldn't get the picture of the families sleeping on the floor out of my mind," Pun-Chong told CNN earlier this year. "So, I decided to do something for them."

On Sunday night, Pun-Chong was named the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year for his efforts to provide free housing, meals and support for sick children and their families while they undergo treatment. The award is determined by online voters who selected Pun-Chong from among the Top 10 CNN Heroes finalists.

In 2008, he founded a shelter and a nonprofit called Inspira and to date, his organization has helped more than 800 families. The shelter was designed to make the children feel at home and to provide a space for kids to "be kids."

Pun-Chong will receive $100,000 to grow his cause. All of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2018 will receive a $10,000 cash award, and donations made to each of their nonprofit organizations are also being matched up to $50,000.

"We can start building our new shelter with this -- with this prize, we can triple our assistance," Pun-Chong said. "Thank you so much CNN -- thank you so much everybody."

He was presented with the Hero of the Year award by hosts Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa.

"The real heroes are our kids," Pun-Chong said. "Infinite thank yous to each one of you for trusting us and showing us that love has no borders."

Sunday's CNN Heroes Top 10 tribute show was chock full of stars and good vibes, laughs and some tears -- but only the happy kind.

Ripa and Cooper emceed the show from New York's American Museum of Natural History, and Grammy Award winner Lenny Kravitz got the crowd moving by performing the song "Here to Love" from his album "Raise Vibration."

Will Ferrell, Bryan Cranston, Danai Gurira, John C. Reilly and Ted Danson were among the stars in attendance. And even Sully, former President George H.W. Bush's service dog, was on hand ... err, paw ... to celebrate an incredible cast of everyday heroes.

Here's how the rest of the top 10 CNN Heroes are changing lives in their communities:

  • Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, a computer programmer in Lagos, Nigeria, teaches impoverished women in the city's slums how to code through a program run by the Pearls Africa Foundation.

  • Maria Rose Belding launched MEANS, a platform that reduces food waste by connecting restaurants and businesses with extra food to charities that feed the hungry.

  • After she was paralyzed in a ski accident, Amanda Boxtel started Bridging Bionics -- a nonprofit that provides high-tech physical therapy to people with mobility impairments near Aspen, Colorado.

  • Dr. Rob Gore, an emergency physician in Brooklyn, New York, founded the Kings Against Violence Initiative, which leads anti-violence programs in his community.

  • Luke Mickelson quit his high-paying job to found Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nonprofit that builds and delivers beds to children in need.

  • Susan Munsey escaped from a life of sex trafficking and in 2009 started GenerateHope, a group that provides housing, therapy and more to survivors of sex trafficking.

  • At age 87, Florence Phillips still leads her nonprofit -- ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada -- which provides free English, computer and GED classes to immigrants.

  • Ellen Stackable is a former English teacher who founded Poetic Justice, a nonprofit that teaches creative writing to incarcerated women in Oklahoma.

Also honored Sunday were the 2018 CNN Heroes Young Wonders, an impressive group who despite their young age, are already making the world a better place. This year's class is working to eliminate plastic bags, feed the homeless and much more.

Beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, December 9, donations made to the designated nonprofit organization of each Top 10 CNN Hero, via CNNHeroes.com and crowdrise.com/cnnheroes, will be matched by Subaru up to $50,000 per Hero through January 2, 2019.

Now in its 12th year, the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" has profiled more than 300 heroes and has received nearly 100,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

To learn more, like CNN Heroes on Facebook, follow @CNNHeroes on Twitter and use hashtag #CNNHeroes. Behind-the-scenes images can be seen on the CNN Heroes Instagram account.

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