PAST OPEN HEARTS AWARD RECIPIENTS
Our honorees are as varied as the causes they represent. They honor us, as we do them
2017 Open Hearts Awardees
Yudi Bennett is a passionate advocate for all those with special needs, especially young adults with autism. She is the co-founder and past director of Exceptional Minds, an innovative visual effects and animation school and studio for artists on the Autism Spectrum. Her dream is to see all these young adults in meaningful jobs, leading independent and productive lives.
Susan Zwerman is the heart and soul of the Exceptional Minds Studio, known for her work on Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 while working as the VFX Studio Executive Producer at Exceptional Minds, a non-profit vocational school and studio that prepares young adults on the Autism Spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.
Ernie Merlán is the Executive Director of Exceptional Minds, a non-profit school and digital media studio serving young adults on the autism spectrum. With a dedicated team of parents, board members, behaviorist, teachers, support staff and industry professionals Ernie has been the architect a one of a kind 3yr program that teaches social skills side by side with the technical skills Hollywood is actually looking for.
Laure Woods offers a unique perspective to Bay Area Lyme Foundation as a clinical researcher and a person with late-stage Lyme disease. Her clinical research experience includes trials for treatment of cystic fibrosis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cancer and infant nutrition. She has held clinical research positions at California Bay Area companies like Matrix Pharmaceutical and Genelabs Technologies. Early in her career, she founded Woods Consulting, Inc., to advise companies that test the safety and efficacy of medications, devices, diagnostic products and treatment regimens intended for human use.
David Richard began his global mission as a volunteer working with his family to provide wheelchairs to children in Guatemala, as the founder of Wheels for Humanity, a non-profit organization he established out of his Studio City garage in 1996. In 2012 he created Global Mobility with the primary purpose to provide free wheelchairs to persons with disabilities around the world, primarily in, but not limited to, developing nations.
Drew Plotkin is the Chairperson of Global Mobility. He has extensive international development and philanthropic volunteer experience, as well as knowledge of global wheelchair and mobility issues.
2015 Open Hearts Awardees
Mending Kids gives sick kids life-saving surgical care while advancing education and training towards medical self-sufficiency in their communities. Their work has been done, to date, in 57 countries, including the United States. Most of the surgeries provided correct congenital heart defects, orthopedic abnormalities, severe scoliosis, urological defects, and facial deformities. This organization started in mid-80s when the adopted daughter of founder Cris Embleton, passed away just prior to her first birthday, when $5 of medicine would have saved her life. Cris set out to make sure other families wouldn't suffer as hers had, and that children around the world would have access to life-saving surgeries and medical care.
The Beating Hearts Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to help children with cardiovascular illnesses. Eileen Garrido, the founder, was born with a very serious heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot, which causes her heart to provide insufficient oxygen to her body, and if left untreated, would be fatal. After three successful heart surgeries at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Eileen’s damaged heart was repaired. Eileen now seeks to help others affected by cardiovascular diseases, educate parents on how to provide for their sick children, and teach about resources available to them including CHLA. Through musical performances, speaking engagements, donations, and fundraisers, Eileen raises money to help children with serious heart conditions just like hers.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives and give them the opportunity to reach their potential. It all started in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more kids come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and set out to find volunteers. This marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement; a movement that aims to match adult volunteers (Bigs) with kids (Littles), who are facing adversity, to provide professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships. This movement has had and continues to have a measurable and transformative impact on the lives of our youth, our mentors and our community.
2014 Open Hearts Awardees
I Am That Girl is an organization helping girls transform ‘self-doubt’ in to ‘self-love’ by providing a safe space to connect and have honest conversations about things that matter. Every day, girls are confronted with messages that attack who and what “she is NOT”, and this organization works every day to help her love who “she IS”, and to inspire that in others. I Am That girl is shifting girl culture by raising the standards for how girls treat themselves, each other, and the world. By building a community for girls to be seen, be heard, and belong, this organization is giving them something bigger than themselves to stand for and creating a healthier, more powerful world.
LiveBeyond is a faith-based, humanitarian organization bringing medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, orphan care, community development, to the oppressed in Thomazeau, Haiti. This organization aims to “Live Beyond” ourselves, our culture, and our borders so that others can Live Beyond disease, hunger, poverty, and despair to transform Thomazeau.
Travis Mills founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist wounded and injured veterans as well as their families. During Travis Mills recovery at the U.S. Army’s flagship hospital, Walter Reed, Travis found a passion for inspiring fellow wounded servicemen and women. While at Walter Reed, Travis consistently toured the facility seeking opportunities to encourage and spend time with fellow wounded soldiers and their families. He continues to inspire wounded servicemen, women and their families by showing them that they can overcome their physical obstacles and emotional challenges, and find purpose by staying on course through their recovery and beyond.
The Derrick Hall Pro-State Foundation is an organization dedicated to serving as a comprehensive tool to help those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and their families, understand the challenges and choices they face and how they can maintain a “pro” state of mind. For Hall, it was this approach and the support of those around him that helped him get through the most difficult time of his life and has put him and the D-backs back on the winning track.
2013 Open Hearts Awardees
The Pat Tillman Foundation invests in military veterans and their spouses through academic scholarships – building a diverse community of leaders committed to serving others. The scholars chosen show extraordinary academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change through their work in the fields of medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts.
The Hannah Storm Foundation is an advocate for Children’s issues. This organization’s goal is to inspire individual potential and to promote an active and fulfilling life. The Hannah Storm Foundation was created in 2008 to raise awareness, fund treatment and provide educational information for children suffering from debilitating and disfiguring vascular birthmarks. Hannah’s passion stems from being born with a port wine stain birthmark underneath her left eye.
The Team Gleason Foundation was created by Steve Gleason who played for The New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. In 2011, Steve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease. Steve is determined to inspire others by continuing to pursue life adventures despite his diagnosis, and has challenged the worlds of technology and science to identify their most promising developments toward new treatments and a cure. Steve and his friends and family started Team Gleason to generate public awareness for ALS, raise funding to empower those with ALS to live a rewarding life, and ultimately find a cure.
The Children’s Lifesaving Foundation (the CLF) is a non-profit organization, dedicated to transforming the lives of homeless and at-risk children and families in Los Angeles through academic, social and domestic support. Since 1993, the CLF has served over 75,000 at-risk and homeless youth and families-through it’s three program platforms- Living, Learning and Enriching. Maria D’Angelo is the Founder, President and CEO of the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation. After meeting a few extraordinary children at a South Central LA shelter in 1993, Maria knew that she wanted to change their lives for the better. Her experience as an immigrant in America and the years she spent teaching in New York shaped her vision to provide transitional families with the same sense of hope that she had as a child.
The Bob Woodruff Foundation aims help impacted veterans, service members and their families thrive. This nonprofit was created from Bob's personal experiences when he sustained his life-threatening traumatic brain injury while reporting on the transfer of power between U.S. and Iraqi security forces for ABC’s “World News Tonight,” Jan. 29, 2006. The experience inspired their family to do one thing: Ensure that our nation’s impacted veterans, service members, and their families have access to the highest level of support and resources they deserve, for as long as they need it.
2012 Open Hearts Awardees
The HollyRod foundation is dedicated to providing compassionate care to those living with autism and Parkinson’s disease. Inspired by Holly’s father and their son, RJ, the HollyRod Foundation was formed in 1997 by actress, Holly Robinson Peete and her husband former NFL quarterback, Rodney Peete. This organization seeks to fill an unmet need by providing compassionate care and services to underserved individuals and families that are burdened financially and emotionally by a diagnosis, and strives to help individuals live the best life possible.
The Always Dream Foundation’s mission is to inspire underserved children to reach for their dreams through innovative reading programs, and by advancing the cause of early childhood literacy. The organization’s belief is that greatest gift to a child is to provide them with the necessary literacy resources to increase overall academic success and life potential. Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, New York Times bestselling children’s author, philanthropist and mom, established her Always Dream Foundation in 1996 to support the hopes and dreams of children and her passion for reading ignited the Foundation’s commitment to early childhood literacy. In 2012, ADF launched Always Reading as our core program to connect children with e-books and 21st century technology in both the classroom, home environments and through community events.
The Christina- Taylor Green Foundation aims to honor the life and memory of Christina-Taylor through charitable and educational projects that reflect and embody her interests, values and dreams. These charitable and educational projects focus on the Three A’s: Athletics, Arts, and Academics. Their vision is for a community that enables children to learn, and to grow into their full potential, despite financial challenges.
Kim Campbell created CareLiving.org to continue her husband Glen’s quest to educate people about Alzheimer’s Disease, and she made it her personal mission to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers. In August of 2016, she launched CareLiving.org, a website and social movement designed to inspire, encourage and empower caregivers to care for themselves while caring for others. CareLiving is poised to become the go-to source of hope and progress for caregivers worldwide by raising awareness through social media, events, education, real-world actions and celebrity engagement.
2011 Open Hearts Awardees
Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution that provides pediatric health care and helps patients in a setting designed just for their needs. This organization began in 1901 in a small house on the corner of Alpine and Castelar Streets (now Hill St. in Chinatown) and has grown into over 350 pediatric specialty programs and services to meet the needs of our patients. As the first and largest pediatric hospital in Southern California, CHLA relies on the generosity of philanthropists in the community to support compassionate patient care, leading-edge education of the caregivers of tomorrow and innovative research efforts that impact children at our hospital and around the world.
The Andréa Rizzo Foundation was established in memory of Andréa Rizzo, a beautiful young woman who survived childhood cancer and was tragically killed at the age of 24 by a drunk driver. Her dream was to become a dance therapist and give children with cancer and disabilities the gift of dance. With the support of many, her dream has become a reality. The Andréa Rizzo Foundation’s goal is to foster Andréa’s dream of helping children with cancer and special needs through the power of dance.
Life Rolls On Foundation was founded by world champion quadriplegic surfer Jesse Billauer, who is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury. Believing that adaptive surfing and skating could inspire infinite possibilities beyond paralysis, Life Rolls On began as a splash into the unknown on September 11, 2001 and now touches the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities (PESC) creates and funds unique educational experiences and enrichment opportunities for underserved children. Focusing primarily in North Texas, PESC's TEAM 22 program partners with established organizations to provide a multi-year curriculum for underserved students, accessing and funding opportunities such as a summer camp, tutoring and leadership training. In addition, PESC funds existing children’s programs in North Texas through its annual grant application process.