Join AARP in Celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Nominate Someone for the AAPI Hero Award

Volunteering

 

10 Who Inspire

Each year AARP The Magazine salutes 10 outstanding individuals who are using their energy and passion for new ideas to make the world a better place

1 Tony Danza

Motivating Students

Students, teachers, the principal — nearly everyone at Northeast High School in Philadelphia was skeptical of Tony Danza, whose year teaching 10th-grade English was filmed for the A&E documentary series Teach: Tony Danza. They assumed the former Taxi and Who's the Boss? star was unqualified to teach, though he has a degree in education, and that he was more interested in his TV career than in grading tests. But Danza, 59, surprised them all. "They saw me sweat. They saw me fail. They saw me do what they do," he says. By the end of the year Danza had won over even the school's no-nonsense principal. "She actually said to me, 'If you mess up, you're outta here,' " he recalls. Today she says she'd hire Danza for real. Though he's no longer teaching, Danza is still working to improve public education. In October he returned to Philadelphia with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to promote the Obama administration's TEACH initiative, which seeks to attract talented instructors. He's also penning a book about his experience, titled I Would Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had. "We all have a part in this," says the father of three. "My mother used to say every kid should have someone who is irrationally committed to their future. If you are relentless from the first day, the kids will understand that education is important." — Fannie Weinstein

2 Lisa Niemi Swayze

Searching for a Cure

When actor Patrick Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2008, he knew he didn't have long to live. "My husband said, 'I'm a dead man,' " recalls Lisa Niemi Swayze, 54, an author, choreographer, and director in her own right. Today, a year after Swayze's death at 57, Niemi Swayze is a spokesperson for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, working tirelessly to raise awareness of the disease that kills 37,000 Americans each year. Invoking the memory of her beloved husband of 34 years, she is a public speaker and lends her name to mailings and fund-raising. She's also working to help pass federal legislation that will funnel more research dol ­ lars to pancreatic cancer, which is among the lowest funded of all cancers. Her dream is to see Swayze's name attached to a breakthrough drug for pancreatic cancer. "If his illness and my work have anything to do with a meaningful treatment for this disease, I would consider it the best thing I've ever done," she says. "I know Patrick would hold that in higher regard than his entire acting career." — Jeanne Dorin McDowell

3 Pedro José Greer Jr., M.D.

Caring for the Poor

Two heartbreaking events led Pedro José Greer Jr., M.D., to open the Camillus Health Concern, a medical clinic for Miami's homeless. First was the tragic death of his sister in an auto accident, which left Greer feeling he "never wanted to see anyone die or suffer alone." Several years later Greer treated a homeless man dying of tuberculosis. So this son of Cuban immigrants responded by opening Camillus. "There was huge need out there, and the only thing I knew how to do was be a doctor," he says. Today Camillus cares for 10,000 homeless patients annually, and St. John Bosco Clinic, which Greer cofounded in 1991, treats an additional 6,000 poor immigrants. For his good works, the gastroenterologist, 54, received a 1993 MacArthur award, the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and three papal medals. — J.D.M.

ANDRUS AWARD WINNER*

4 Maya Angelou

She is one of the most respected and beloved voices of our time — a poet, author, playwright, civil rights activist and teacher, and a fearless storyteller. So it is a testament to Dr. Maya Angelou's enduring intellect and curiosity that today, at 82, she is adding "foodie" to her staggering list of achievements. In her new book ( her 31st), Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart, she shares this epiphany: "Eat great food; don't eat much of it." She herself has lost 40 pounds in the past year and says she felt com ­ pelled to share her newfound wisdom. Angelou's extraordinary powers of observation have guided her professional and personal life. Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and Stamps, Arkansas, she was sexually molested as a young child by her mother's boyfriend, who was then killed by an uncle. Afterward she refused to speak for six years. These early years were the subject of her best-selling memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. A friend and counselor to Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, to Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she donated her correspondence with America's great black cultural figures to Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in October. Though her achievements are extensive, Angelou counts among her biggest treasures the love of family. "Not mush, not sentimentality, not even indulgence, but love," she says. "The only way we can heal and grow hearty is if we know love." — J.D.M.

*The Andrus Award is AARP's highest honor, given to an individual who embodies the principles of AARP's founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus.

5 and 6 Joy Behar & Eve Behar Scotti

Tackling Heart Disease

Joy Behar was a college student when her mother had her first heart attack at 50. "She was so young!" recalls Behar, 68. Her mother survived, but the cohost of ABC's The View reviewed her family history and grew alarmed: Two grandparents and two uncles had died early of heart attacks. So Behar teamed up with her daughter, Eve, to lead the Mom's Second Chance campaign. Together with the nonprofit WomenHeart and Bayer aspirin, the mother-daughter duo are spreading the word that taking aspirin when you feel symptoms of a heart attack — after calling 911 — can save your life. For women the symptoms can often be misleading: nausea, dizziness, and pain, says Eve, 40, a New York City – based artist. The two women are "each other's cheerleaders" when it comes to eating well and exercising, says Eve. And in light of their family history, they keep in their purses the campaign's "pill tote" key ring, for carrying aspirin in case of an emergency. — Natasha Stoynoff

6 Helene Gayle, M.D.

Fighting Global Poverty

As head of the humanitarian organization CARE, Helene Gayle, M.D., 55, has seen vulnerable populations around the world battered by historic natural disasters this year. But even in the rubble of Port-au-Prince — CARE is investing $100 million to help rebuild Haiti — or the flood-ravaged villages of Pakistan, where CARE has so far provided relief to 150,000 survivors, this Buffalo native and pediatrician finds signs of hope. "I see a change at the community level," she says. "We're past the age of just giving people donations. What we're doing is building their capacity." Her latest mission: empowering women and girls in the developing world. " Women are not only disproportionately impacted by poverty. In many ways they hold the key to long-term change for themselves and their families," she says. "We touch 60 million lives. But every one of those 60 million people goes on to change others. That's the power of what we do." — David Dudley

8 Henry Winkler

Helping Stroke Victims

Throughout Henry Winkler's award-winning acting career, his vital, German-born mother, Ilse, was always present, applauding proudly. But following a stroke in her 70s, her arms became so stiff from a condition called upper limb spasticity that "she couldn't even dress herself," recalls Winkler, who watched her become dependent on caregivers until her death a decade later. Today Winkler, 65, is lending his star power to help the estimated 1 million Americans affected by the condition, serving as spokesperson for Open Arms: Raising Awareness of Upper Limb Spasticity, which highlights a promising new treatment using Botox. "I met a woman who couldn't move her arm at all," says Winkler. After treatment, "she was able to hug her daughters for the first time in two years." Best known for his role as Fonzie on the 1970s-era sitcom Happy Days, Winkler is a regular on the USA Network comedy Royal Pains. But traveling the country campaigning to help alleviate stroke victims' suffering has a special place in his heart. — N.S.

9 Sandy Chen Stokes

Breaking Cultural Taboos

In China, talking about death is considered bad luck — which is why Sandy Chen Stokes, 56, struggles to even broach the subject with the families of terminally ill Chinese American patients. "When children try to bring up subjects like health care directives, parents will say, 'Are you trying to make me die earlier?' " says Stokes, a geriatric nurse. But that avoidance creates an intense burden for families, who scramble for last-minute solutions. In 2005 Stokes founded the Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care (CACCC), which provides information and resources to families whose loved ones are ill. Initially the group worked to translate basic end-of-life directives into Chinese, recruiting volunteers to explain these forms to elderly Chinese Americans. Today CACCC works with more than 60 different health care organizations, including the American Cancer Society, to train health care workers about end-of-life issues for this population. — Sarah Mahoney

10 Elizabeth Warren

Fixing Finances

Ever since she was appointed to oversee the government's bank-bailout program in 2008, and especially since President Barack Obama tapped her to head the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, a new consumer-watchdog agency, Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren has become the public face of consumer protection. Warren, 61, has spent decades researching how debt affects families and has published more than eight books on the subject. Her expertise couldn't be more in demand now, with about 3 million homes in foreclosure. The new agency has drawn praise as well as criticism from some on Wall Street. But Warren is confident that leading the new bureau will give her the chance to protect millions of Americans from sneaky banking practices. "This is ultimately about people who work hard and shouldn't have to worry about credit cards and mortgages that rip them off, " she says. — S.M.

OPPOSITE: PHOTOGRAPH OF Maya Angelou BY Patrick SchNeider

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.

Next Article

Read This