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CNN Special Reports

Young Wonders: A CNN Heroes Special. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 08, 2018 - 20:00   ET



[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: They are protecting the planet, leading a movement to clean-up and preserve paradise by saying no to plastic bags. Spreading kindness and care to people experiencing homelessness. Sharing a love of baseball with children halfway across the world. And giving kids of all ages a chance to celebrate their birthday.

Already, these young people are making a difference and a reminder that you are never too young to change the world.

Tonight we are honored to share their stories. This is "young wonders," a CNN hero special.


COOPER: Hey, I'm Anderson Cooper.

There has been a lot of ups and downs this year. Such a change to make us all feel like our understanding of the world is fragile, uncertain.

Well, tonight, the next generation reminds us of the unwavering foundation that really connects all of us, incredible acts of kindness, unconditional love and the promise of a better tomorrow.

The focus and courage of these young people is truly inspiring. It is a testament to the positive power of change. We are thrilled to introduce you to this year's Young Wonders. Five ordinary kids who found extraordinary ways to bring more hope, empathy and decency into this world.

Even at such a young age, they realize they held the power to be a compassionate force. And they didn't wait to grow up to act. As you meet each of these young wonders, I hope you will be inspired by their efforts. If you want to learn more about them or share their stories, you can go to at any point during the show.

These remarkable kids will also make an appearance at CNN Heroes, an all-star tribute which is this Sunday night. Lucky for me, Kelly Ripa will once again join me as a cohost as we honor these year's top 10 CNN Heroes live from the American Museum at natural history in New York.

Now to kick things off, we visit the Indonesian island of Bali, the place our first young wonder duo calls home. In this paradise with its lush forest and beaches, mountains and rice fields, nature surrounds sisters Mallati and Isabel Wijsen. But when they began noticing plastic pollution everywhere, these sisters got to work, just 10 and 12 years old. And alarming man of plastic wastes makes its way into the ocean every year, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic dumped every minute every single day. And Donte, these sisters set out with one goal, a simple step that people could take five years on, bye-bye plastic bags has grown into a movement working to protect nature on the islands of the Gods.


MALLATI WIJSEN, CNN YOUNG WONDERS: Bali does have a sort of enchantment to it. I think it is a magical place to grow up here. Our house is really close to the ocean and surrounded by the rice fields, the forests.

ISABEL WIJSEN, CNN YOUNG WONDER: Living so close to nature, I think it established a bond with mother earth at a young age.

My sister and I, we always would go on adventures and just really go out there and explore all the different wonders. We have old ancient temples. We got and jungles. We got mountain ranges.

M. WIJSEN: The more we would go and explore and run with the river all the way to the beach, we would start seeing plastic.

I. WIJSEN: It is a serious in-your-face kind of situation here. Plastic is a massive issue and there is really no escaping it. On the beach, the river banks, in the rice fields, in the streets, in the gutters, it is really everywhere.

M. WIJSEN: Millions of animals die every year due to plastic pollution. In 2015, there will be more plastic than fish in our ocean.

I. WIJSEN: By 2050, that is like 30 years away. That isn't our lifetime. Plastic doesn't go away.

M. WIJSEN: The single use items, a plastic bag, a plastic bottle, a plastic straw, once you throw it away in the environment, it never really goes away. It stays in the environment forever. Why is this the mark that we are leaving behind? My name is Mallati.

I. WIJSEN: My name is Isabel.

M. WIJSEN: We really believe that the first step is saying no to plastic bags.

I. WIJSEN: Bali plastic bags was born in 2013. And we started when we were 10 and 12 years old. With just the pure passion and the intention to make this island plastic bag-free.

M. WIJSEN: And then you can subscribe just by clicking here.

I. WIJSEN: One of our first actions was to create a petition to show the governor of Bali how serious we are. And within the first 24 hours, we had 6,000 signatures. We got a meeting with the governor of Bali. And we got him to sign a memorandum of understanding stating that he would support us to get the people on the island to say no to plastic bags.

[20:05:10] I. WIJSEN: It was huge breakthrough for us in our team.

M. WIJSEN: This going to be quite a busy summer for us.

I. WIJSEN: We have been working for five years to campaign.

M. WIJSEN: The focus is for elementary school students and it is where a lot of fun their actions like --.

We have a kick ass group of kids involved.

GROUP: Bye-bye plastic bag.

M. WIJSEN: This is a youth empowered movement. We started very small but definitely ripple affected all across the island. Right now we are in our pilot village called (INAUDIBLE).


I. WIJSEN: The village is home to around 800 local families. The community was already having discussions about how to make their village clean and green. And we went with the idea of creating a copy/paste model that we could implement around the island.

All the shops are family-owned. These local shops were spending a lot of money buying plastic bags that they have to give for free. So we wanted to provide them with free alternative bags that they would get on a weekly basis. We have been working with (INAUDIBLE) for three years now. If they are going to the market, they are bringing their alternative bags. That's a lifetime bag that you can bring again and again and again.

It is safe to say that the village has reduced their plastic bags by 60 percent.

When I see people using alternative bags I just get like a huge sprout of joy in me. Because it really shows that people are caring. Seeing the shift especially in this village has been heartwarming.

Right now, we are headed over to the village where we have a social enterprise matching mammals (ph). The project takes place up on the slope of Batukaru (ph) mountain in a very isolated small Balinese village. We worked together and empower the local women to produce alternative bags for recycled materials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is their project. They are taking lead.

M. WIJSEN: I love working with these women. These bags are really unique because they are all from recycled or donated material. We have three designs. The first one is newspapers and recycled magazines. I. WIJSEN: And then this one, our tote bags which is recycled

material within the inside and then we have our crochet bag which I just learned how to make today and these are made from recycled clothes that we got donated from our friends, family, our own closets.

I. WIJSEN: I mean, I'm pretty sure this one is my shirt.

M. WIJSEN: We are actually paying each women for each bag she makes individually. They are resold in stores around the island. And 50 percent of the profit goes back into the village, the community.

I. WIJSEN: Every time I go into workshop place, there is not a moment that goes by where I am not laughing and smiling and giggling with all the women and all their children.

M. WIJSEN: Which is your favorite? I like this one. What do you think? You like it? It looks good.

I. WIJSEN: It is just a wonderful sense of community in the workshop space.



M. WIJSEN: This morning, we are actually meeting with our local high school students here in our one of our pilot village location and we are going to put up a river boom.

Let's start with the materials first.

We literally only need a net, recycled bottles and stones, and lots of friends to help you make it.

And then you can slide the bottles.

A river boom is a sort of floating dam device to stop trash from passing it.

We have to close this so that the bottles don't fall out.

One of our biggest challenges on Bali is not actually having an island wide waste management system.

Let's go.

And a lot of the ways ends up in our rivers which then end up into our ocean.

OK. OK. OK. Keep it going.

When you see the first piece of plastic that is stops, it is like you are holding your breath to see if the net holds it and it holds it. Yes, it did it.

You can already see on the other side of the river how clean it was compared to the other side. And then, it doesn't end there because after that, they have to do daily, weekly clean ups and they are the ones taking that trash out of the river and separating it.

Majority of is plastic bags, yes.

Not only is it a really visual wake-up call where people see that the trash is being stopped and see the trash pile up, but it is also having a clear impact.

Wow, look at that. Look at that.

For the oceans, this river boom means cleaner water that it is receiving.

[20:10:02] I. WIJSEN: Water is life. Every second breath we take comes from the ocean. I think this is where we have to say thank you to the ocean. I know that we can have a world that says bye to plastic bags.

M. WIJSEN: The world can say bye-bye to plastic bags.


COOPER: Really makes you think, their work has spread far beyond the island with youth in communities worldwide joining in their crusade.

Up next, a teen from Wisconsin who turned a passion for little league into a whole new ball game for kids halfway around the world.


[20:13:45] COOPER: Welcome back to Young Wonders, a CNN Hero special.

Our next young wonders was just 12-years old when he turned a tragedy into a beacon of hope for kids half away around the world. Max Bobholz lost his baseball coach suddenly and he was searching for a way to honor his coach's legacy. He found it in a group of kids from Uganda, the first team from Africa to play in the little league world series.

Well, Max learned that many kids in Africa lacked the gear to play. No bats, balls, gloves, shoes. But in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Max knew he and his friends had old baseball equipment lying around their garages. Max created Angels of Bat. And since then, kids throughout Kenya have received thousands of pieces of donated baseball items from communities in six days.

Max has traveled to Kenya several times delivering more than just equipment. He brings joy and smile to kids of all ages as he shares the love of the game.


MAX BOBHOLZ, CNN YOUNG WONDERS: What I like about baseball is the mental aspect of the game. All eyes are on you especially when you are on the mound dealing with adversity, dealing with negative situations. It happens a lot in life and baseball teaches you how to deal with that.

My name is Max Bobholz and I am 18-years old. I started the organization, Angels at Bat.

When I was younger, baseball means a lot to me because it was the game that I loved playing. It was the game that I always kind of wanted to be better at.

[20:15:20] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thing about Max is he often said he plays as good as his coach believes in him. And so Todd was one of those coaches that believed in Max.

BOBHOLZ: He thought that we were going to do great things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Max was 12-years old, his coach had taken his own life. We had to tell him that his coach had died.

BOBHOLZ: I felt numb. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to deal with it, so I kind of spent the next six months or so trying to figure out a way to honor him, to grieve the process.

In August of 2012, I watched the little league world series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are underway. And the first pitch - how about that?

BOBHOLZ: And Uganda was representing Africa for the first time in its history and they had stories of where the team came from and not everybody had enough balls to play and no uniforms, no hats, no shoes. I knew I had that in my garage. I knew all my friends had it in their garage. And I thought why don't we gather that together and send it to the kids in Africa so they could play.

When I thought of this idea, it popped in my head, let's do it for Todd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Max came to me with this idea, I was so proud that he was thinking this way, but I also was worried as a parent that this sounded impossible. So I waited to see if this idea stuck and it stuck.

BOBHOLZ: It stuck with me for two years until it was a thing and it still stuck with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably the easiest part of this charity has been the collection of the equipment.

That's great. Thanks for doing this.

There is a lot of good people in the world and they want to help.

BOBHOLZ: We get equipment in a variety of ways and sometimes we have people just drop off equipment at our doorstep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got some bats, balls and baseball gloves for you. BOBHOLZ: Awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were fortunate that after about a year and a half, we met a rotary club member who invited us to join them on a trip to Africa.

BOBHOLZ: That first trip when we went to Kenya, me and my mom took 19 suitcases worth of equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The very first day we arrived, we played baseball with children in an orphanage. And I realized, his dream just came true.

BOBHOLZ: Teaching them baseball, it hit me like a brick. I was 14- year-old kid at the time, I had no idea the magnitude or the effect that it could have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew pretty early on this was a kid who had this natural innate compassion and empathy for others.

BOBHOLZ: We put number 20 on all balls, gloves and helmets. And the number 20 is Todd, that was my coach's softball number when he played.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband would be so proud. I know that Todd is just smiling down on Max. That Max is doing it in his memory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Angels at Bat was found in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But we have established multiple branches across the United States that are also led by teenagers.

BOBHOLZ: In the past six years, we have collected just about 10,000 pieces of equipment. So we have been on the road for upwards of 20 hours now to drop off our u haul trailer filled with equipment.

We partner with a group called American Friends of Kenya. And they are located in Connecticut and they help us ship equipment to Kenya.

This summer I went to Kenya for the fourth time. One thing I have noticed is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. We have taught kids from wealthy families. We taught kids that have been in the slums.

We are at the (INAUDIBLE) children's home. It is the place where my charity kind of started. It is an orphanage for kids infected with HIV and AIDS. And it really is (INAUDIBLE) meaning home in (INAUDIBLE).

We hit. And now we are going to run all the way around. OK?

Watching the children's home kids grow up with Angels at Bat, it is a special moment to see something that you believe in wholeheartedly have an impact on peoples' lives across the globe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I met Max last year when he brought things for baseball and we played with him.

BOBHOLZ: One, two, three steps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Max goes to Kenya, he and his father will have clinics where they will teach the skills of baseball.

BOBHOLZ: There you go. Just like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He will bring the equipment to universities, high schools and if we can, primary schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Mahinda (ph), he is our boots on the ground there who receives the equipment, distribute to teachers. He is president of the Kenya little league.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good baseball equipment like balls and gloves and the helmets have been quite a challenge.

BOBHOLZ: There is no way for them to get equipment other than donations. The goal of Kenya little league is to grow baseball and make baseball the sport in Kenya. One of the days that we are in Kenya we got to see probably the two best teams in the country go against each other.

It was cool to see a sport that was so foreign four years ago be played so perfectly in a way. Having this organization has made me more driven. It's made me see that anybody can do anything as long as they put their mind to it, they believe it and they want it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Angels at Bat is just one good idea, one good boy with a really good heart.

BOBHOLZ: I have been asked a lot what is my mission statement. And my mission statement is that I don't have one, because my goal is to never stop.


COOPER: Max is now a college freshman and plans to start a campus chapter of Angel at Bat.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to sing happy birthday.


COOPER: Up next, the teen who believe that making a wish, blowing up candles aren't something you can't be taken for granted.


[20:26:57] COOPER: Welcome back to Young Wonders.

Our next young wonder believes that really everyone deserves a chance to celebrate their existence in this world. And Sonica Menon's family, birthdays have always been a big deal. After all, celebrations are often where special memories are made and people feel love, plus there is cake as well. Who can beat that?

So when this 14-year-old learned there were local children whose families didn't have the means to celebrate, Sonica had an idea. She listed the help of her brother and cousins and created the Birthday Giving Program. And just a year-and-a-half, they have shown hundreds of people of all ages that no matter where they are in life, their birthdays are a big deal too.


SONICA MENON, CNN YOUNG WONDERS: I think having a birthday it is important to create memories and it is important to create something that you can hold on to and remember for a long time in your life.

Happy birthday, Anna.


MENON: It is important to know that even when you are facing hardship, that people always are going to be there for you and that they love you for who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With the birth of Sonica, her first birthday was really special. My pregnancy with her, I had a lot of issues so birthday celebration was even more special. And we wanted to celebrate with all our family and friends.

MENON: I always thought about how other people who were living in less fortunate conditions also celebrated. When my family and I would travel and we would see homeless men, women and children, and that really opened my eyes to all of the problems and issues going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are here! Hi, come in.

MENON: The birthday program mission is to provide birthday bags and to celebrate all individuals who are affected by poverty, addiction, abuse, homelessness, and physical and mental challenges.

All right, guys. Let's start talking about tomorrow's birthday parties.

Mostly families are involved in my organization. There is my two cousins, (INAUDIBLE), my brother Rohan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a Facebook fundraiser where we paid $7 to promote an ad. And we made a 4115 from it.

MENON: It is important that families involved because family who is going to support you in all of your decisions.

We are going to sing happy birthday.

ROHAN MENON, VOLUNTEER: I am a volunteer under my sister, Sonica. She had big ideas and see how passionate she was for the birthday program, I really wanted to go along with her.

MENON: All right. Let's go make cake.


MENON: So the recipe is one cup of water, half a couple of oil.

Cake making is a very time consuming process. We think about all the little details that go into it, the decorating, like Anya. She is really into decorating. It is worth it. It shows that we care about what we do.

And then we'll go on to the party supply.

We spend a lot of time shopping. We feel that's important to put extra time into customize the bags because it's a more enjoyable experience for the recipient and we want it to be worthwhile.

We've got all our party supplies done. We also have some boys, 6, 7, and then two, 9 year olds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's move on to toys.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're together a lot. So sometimes, we could get on each other's nerves.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But we're pretty good with each other. That's a family thing too. We have the same thing. The other ones had glitter too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's actually kind of hard to shop because we need to count how much of each thing, we're mostly holding up the cash register, sometimes people got a little annoyed.

We have to cancel the second one too.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But we explain, oh, it is for charity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like we've accomplished a lot so far. It's just grown, and grown and grown. Like we started with one organization and now, we're partnered with over 20 organizations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we're glad to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we have the children's division, the mentally and physically disabled adults division and then the senior's division. I handled the children and adults' division and then Renna (ph) takes care of the senior division. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's important to celebrate the seniors because I really didn't want them to be forgotten. Now, a lot of the seniors living in nursing homes have family out of state or friends that don't come to visit them very often.

I hope that they really feel special and that they feel remembered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birthday people, Mia (ph) (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People aren't having parties because of affordability. We want them to feel that their existence matters in the world because it's very important for their futures, their development as individuals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority of our members currently, a lot of them are residing in homeless shelters, the foster care system and come from single parent homes.

We always wanted to do something for everybody's birthday. But with our numbers, it's really hard to do especially with budget constraints.

What Sonica is doing, it captured our attention immediately, basically especially because it fit in perfectly with our mission. And we can see there's a buzz around the club right now. And everybody's wondering whose birthday it is next. We're going to keep going and we're really excited about it.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of communities are often neglected because they're different. We definitely want all of the communities we serve to feel like we're family to them and we'll be there to support them if they need us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birthday to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got a party. I got a gift and a cake. I got balloons and I got Snapple and everything. I'm so happy today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like celebrating a birthday is important because you need to realize that you do make a difference because everyone is unique in their own way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter Penny just turned two. And she is a rambunctious little toddler now who just happens to have Down syndrome.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a prenatal diagnosis. I am definitely concerned and had fears and I still do as to how people perceive and will welcome Penny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, for me? It's for me?

It just breaks my heart that people can't see past the physical being.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope this year is the best one yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The kids that came tonight -- you're going to make me cry.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What special hearts they have. It's just so touching to know that there are young children out there who are giving of themselves to make other people feel good about themselves.

ALL: Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think those memories that these kids are creating for each other will last forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are four musketeers and I'm still glad that they are able to help those who need us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to inspire other younger individuals to take the initiative and to try making a difference. Some people may feel little bit hesitant to try a new idea. But you'll never know the impact unless you actually try. Like this idea started off so small and we're surprised that it even got this far.

[20:35:16] I get a warm feeling in my heart. It's a priceless feeling seeing everyone happy and smiling and giggling. Knowing that they feel that way because of what we do.

You're more of yourself when you're around other people who make you feel special. Nothing else can ever replace that.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Such great work they're doing. They've delivered close to 500 birthday bags and counting.

Up next.



COOPER: Meet 11-year-old who's got more lunch buddies than anyone in the world.


COOPER: Welcome back to "Young Wonders: A CNN Heroes Special."

Two summers ago our next young wonder decided to do something pretty amazing. Most kids his age might be enjoying their summer days at camp working fog juice and tie dying t-shirts. Liam Hannon was thinking about the men and women living on the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Little more than a garden wagon of loafer bread and a lot of love. Liam disproved the old adage, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Handing out 20 meals that first day. Liam's lunches of love was born.

[20:40:02] Now, more than 2,000 homemade meals later, Liam's regulars knowing by name but he's giving out much more than food. His messages of encouragement and care show how a little kindness from a lunch buddy can go a long way.


LIAM HANNON, SIXTH GRADER WHO HELPS THE HOMELESS: I think about how tough it is for someone to be homeless. Everyone should have a place to live. Helping people is important to me because people just need a little kindness in their life.

My name is Liam Hannon. The mission of Liam's Lunches of Love is to give food to people experiencing homelessness.

Right before the summer of 2017, I told my parents that I didn't want to go to summer camp so they told me I had to do something productive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the coolest things we found was this Web site called Brain Chase. They have to do academic challenges to work their way through the treasure hunt. One of the subjects that Liam picked was service.

HANNON: I thought because there are people right outside of my home that are experiencing homelessness, why don't I make them lunch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like you're a genius.

HANNON: Three, four.


HANNON: I kind of had big ideas at first, something huge like getting a food truck.

This one definitely.

But then I realized that I need to think smaller. I knew if I started small, it could grow and go uphill and it'll get larger and be better.

MAYOR MARC MCGOVERN, CAMBRIDGE CITY COUNCIL: Usually when people think about Cambridge, they think of Harvard and MIT and expensive real estate. We have over 500 homeless people on our streets every night.

HANNON: I was really scared at first. I thought that people might be mean to me. But once I gave the first lunch out, I realized that mostly everyone was really nice. When I gave someone a lunch, their face lit up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From there, things just grow. The next week we did 50 lunches and then we get 60, and 70. And, ooh, it's very quick that people are into helping.

HANNON: Until 2017 that we've made 2,000 or more lunches.

Hey, guys, I just wanted to say hi at -- on Sunday, I am passing out lunches. So if you guys want to come and help, that would be awesome. So see you guys later. Bye.

Who wants to make sandwiches?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm doing peanut butter.



HANNON: A lot of my friends have actually come and help.

Do you want a core apples and then put them into sandwich bags?

Decorating the bags and making onto, I know that they're going to go to someone that needs it.

Who can make more slices of their item first?


HANNON: I win.

The message I'm trying to give is that they can be inspired to help others and that they can be happy. And it just makes me feel really good inside.

Today is Sunday, and I'm giving away 60 lunches with my friends and family.


HANNON: You're welcome.


HANNON: You too.

A lot of people treat them like they're not even humans, but they are. And this shouldn't be happening to them.


HANNON: You're welcome.

It was really nice to see everyone, instead of being sad, they were happy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any time he has seen somebody struggling, hurting, upset, he would always step in.

HANNON: Hi, James.

There is this man named James.

Can I put this in your bag?

He's not homeless, but he travels all the way up to Harvard Square, because there's so many.

Can I give you a handshake?

He's super friendly and he taught me a secret handshake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the most important things that we do is the acknowledgement. It really is more important than the food.

HANNON: All right. Bye, James.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liam has stuck with this. This is his mission. He didn't just say I'm going to do this for a little while. Oh, this is too hard. I don't want to walk three miles every time we do this. It's raining. So I was really honored to present him with the Luminary Award from the mayor's office which we give every year to a number of folks in the community, all of whom, much older than Liam.

HANNON: And it says your light shines bright in Cambridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did a turkey drive together. He's really expanded from just the lunches and doing so much more.

[20:45:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liam is absolutely our partner. Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center is a family shelter provider.

HANNON: This is all kids' books.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I met Scott and Liam, Liam was 10 at the time and we actually started talking about how many 10-year-olds we had in the shelter at that point. And he says, no, I want to do more. I want to do something to help.

HANNON: We've done supply drives with them for toys, for Christmas or holidays. We've done school supply drives.

The Legos of Love came about by we were thinking of the toy supply drive. I had a lot of Legos. And we donated all of the Legos to Hildebrand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had been out there on the lunch delivery. No matter what's happening, he wants to give them healthy treats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. HANNON: You're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to have a conversation and say hello and make them feel welcome.

HANNON: Would you like a lunch?


HANNON: I got it.


HANNON: You're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being able to provide that kind of hope to someone means the world and it's amazing that he does that on his own time all the time.

HANNON: We want to be able to make more lunches because we kept running out too early. Also to hand out lunches more efficiently. This is our new electric cart. And we're able to purchase it with the help of our GoFundMe. Completely solar powered, space to cook, stair nose, care packages, emergency blankets and many other items.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liam is one of the most goodhearted people I have ever met in my life.

MCGOVERN: Three words to describe Liam, powerful, inspiring, passionate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liam is going to change the world.

HANNON: I'm definitely proud that I've come all this way to make that many lunches. You just have to start small, get help from friends and do something that you love.


COOPER: Liam one day hopes to have a full on food truck for his work.

Coming up, where are they now? We caught up with six young wonders from past years to see how they have grown.


[20:50:56] COOPER: Welcome back to "Young Wonders." We're showcasing remarkable kids doing amazing things has been a "CNN HEROES" tradition since 2007.

This year, we wanted to catch up with some young wonders from past years to see how they and their efforts have grown since their moment in the tribute show spotlight.


CHRIS CAO, FOUNDER, REBOOT FOR YOUTH: I remember, you know, looking in the crowd before my family.

COOPER: Please join me and give me a big hand for a young wonder, Chris Cao.

CAO: Definitely one of the highlights of my life. And, you know, as cliche as it sounds, it's definitely magical.

I'm Christopher Cao and I was a young wonder in 2015.

I'm the CEO.

I founded Reboot for Youth.

Running a nonprofit at the age of 16 is definitely hard.

A 501 (c)(3) nonprofit aimed at increasing education opportunities for underprivileged youth through greater access to technology.

This is a game, see. Up here, two plus one.

Luckily, we have given out about 150 computers. And globally, we have given around 50 computers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here, your net browser here.

CAO: Since then, we had tripled the amount of computers that we've donated around the world with the global reach of about eight to nine countries now.

Currently, I'm in Boston working for Datto, a data protection and disaster recovery company.

In the future, I hope to continue my passion for technology working on the software aspect of increasing education opportunities and access to technology for disadvantaged people worldwide.

It was very emotional for me.

COOPER: How cool is he?

CAO: Being there around people who were change makers was something that I really, really loved.

JOSHUA WILLIAMS, JOSHUA'S HEART FOUNDATION: My name is Joshua Williams. And I was a Young Wonder in 2014.

When I was four and a half years old, I found my purpose in life.

Joshua's heart is a 501 (c)(3) not for profit and to stamping out hunger in our community as well as motivating and teaching kids how they can be a force for good.

Since I started, I have given out over 650,000 tons of food, over 30,000 individuals.

Since then, Joshua's Heart has grown significantly.

Recently, we've bought a warehouse where people can come for emergency food if they really need it. We are at about 2.2 million pounds of food so far.

I really want to say thank you to everybody that made this day possible. My mom.

We raise over 700,000 and we've given helps to over 400,000 people across the world.

So welcome to my dorm. I have some cool lights in the background. I have some records. I'm attending NYU. I'm attending the Stern business school.

Personally, I'm trying to trade a career for myself that I can be able to help more people. I grew up with the foundation and the foundation grew up with me. So I think without it, I wouldn't be where I am at all.

MACKENZIE BEARUP, CNN YOUNG WONDER 2010: I'm Mackenzie Bearup and I was a Young Wonder in 2010. I remember flying out to L.A. for the award show and getting all dressed up. It was really fun.

When I was first interviewed for "CNN HEROES," I was 16.

Yes, I'm ready.

The doctor that diagnosed me was reflex sympathetic dystrophy. When something touches it, it's like a bomb goes off in my knee. They asked me if there was anything that helps with the pain. And I said reading.

The doctor did know about a shelter for abused children and they had just built a library. And she asked me if I could donate my books that I didn't want anymore and I knew that my few books wouldn't be enough. So I went around the neighborhood. I handed out flyers.

Thank you so much for donating.

My original goal was to get 300 books. Before I knew it, I have 3,000 books.

Today, I am almost a half a million books.

As it kept going and it grew bigger and bigger, both of my brothers started to help out and then my health has gotten worse over the years. So my brother has almost taken over sometimes.

[20:55:10] It's my goal to at least make someone smile every day. And I can definitely do that by donating books.

MARIA KELLER, CNN YOUNG WONDER 2014: When I was a Young Wonder, I was 13. So I was just starting high school. I felt nervous. I was excited. I was overwhelmed.

My name is Maria Keller and I was a young wonder in 2014. My mom told me when I was 8 that some kids don't have books. So I wanted to do something to change what I heard. And so I started a small book drive. And then told my parents that I want to collect and distribute one million books to kids in need by the time I turned 18.

Since I was Young Wonder, Read Indeed has reached over 2.8 million books distributed to kids in need and we estimate we have touched the lives of 1.6 million children.

Now, I'm 18 and I'm starting my first year at Notre Dame. So without reading impact, I don't think I would have been so committed to service. I don't think I will be myself as in some way responsible for the good of the world. And utilizing my life and my energy in a way that can benefit others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 16, Jordan was on his boat getting ready to enjoy a beautiful day fishing with his family.

JORDAN THOMAS, JORDAN THOMAS FOUNDATION: I remember everything about that night. Every second of it. I remember being surrounded by people that I felt so star struck by. Just so incredibly amazed by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He jumped into the water, was pulled toward the propellers and lost his legs. He started with the Jordan Thomas Foundation.

THOMAS: They provide prosthetics for kids that can't afford them. We're going to help them until they're 18 years old. So families never have to worry about that burden.

My accident was a terrible descent, but I wouldn't change it for anything in the world because it's given me a new found perspective in my life.

I'm 29 now. We've raised a lot of money, just almost two million now. So huge, huge impact CNN had. That exposure took us to another level in terms of outreach. Every day, I get multiple, multiple e-mails from kids throughout the world or their families asking for support.

Surround yourself with people that believe in you and your vision and your purpose and you will go to the moon.

RYAN HRELJAC, RYAN'S WELL FOUNDATION: Hi, I'm Ryan Hreljac. And I want to provide clean water for everyone in the world.

I was 16 when I was a Young Wonder. And I'm 27 now.

The Ryan's Well Foundation is a Canadian not for profit that works to bring clean water to the neediest people of the world.

Back when I was 16, the foundation would have just started. You see the impact of what one little well can do and it's just -- it gives you a lot of inspiration.

Since then, we've been able to do now 1,277 water projects all around the world helping hundreds of thousands of people. Amazing.

My name is Ryan.

2018, in August, I was invited to go to Sweden to speak at for water week with water professionals from all around the world. And I was there on a panel representing youth. Who here knows how fire fight plumber exist?

Today, I was actually at an elementary school called St. Mary's.

I read a lot and, yes, it's looking good this year. It should be an interesting one.

And the principal there, 20 years ago, was my first grade teacher back in my elementary school who helped give me the idea to start the project in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a 6-year-old, he was really amazing. And he was really determined. I always say keep going, keep going and this day and age, perseverance is the biggest thing for everybody.

HRELJAC: I think my words for the Young Wonders of this year would be stay true to why you got engaged and why you care about what you do. Never lose that. It can become an amazing part of your life for when you're an old wonder.


COOPER: Incredibly inspiring group. So there you have them. If you want to learn more about the amazing kids you met tonight and get involved in their causes, just go to We were also thrilled that this year's Young Wonders are going to be joining us for the 12th annual "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute," live this Sunday night.

We'll honor this year's top 10 heroes and find out who's going to be named the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year. Co-hosting with my friend Kelly Ripa. It's going to be a great night. Thanks for watching. I'll see you then.