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Charyn Pfeuffer, Seattle
As a travel writer, 37-year-old Pfeuffer has visited luxury destinations around the world. On many of her trips, she was upset by the extreme poverty just outside the gates of the resorts. "It's hard to rationalize the fact that some women who live in these countries would need to work an eight-hour shift to afford a single fruity cocktail," says Pfeuffer. "It makes you rethink what it means to lead a 'rich' life." Inspired by her travels, Pfeuffer started the Global Citizen Project in June 2010. Her goal? Spend 12 months doing 12 volunteer projects in 12 countries. Pfeuffer used social media and her blog, globalcitizenproject.blogspot.com, to spread the word and raise $20,000 for the project. So far she's helped teach and care for underprivileged children in Honduras, protected sea turtles from poachers and released hatchlings in Mexico, and more. In January she heads to Haiti. Pfeuffer hopes her project will inspire others to volunteer. "Just one small act of kindness can transform a community and make you a hero to someone," she says. "It hasn't all been easy. It's required me to step way out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn't swap these experiences for anything."
Pfeuffer received a $5,000 Travelocity voluntourism grant, which she'll use for the Global Citizen Project.
Theresa Lucas, Anderson, Indiana
Though she was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), a rare disorder that affects the joints and severely impedes her mobility, 45-year-old Lucas is a watercolor artist whose paintings have won local awards. But she never wanted to paint in front of people because she was self-conscious about her unique way of holding a paintbrush. That changed five years ago at the first convention for AMC Support, a nonprofit that provides help for families dealing with AMC. At the convention Lucas led a painting workshop for children and revealed her process: She paints by gripping the brush between her teeth. The kids got a big kick out of trying to paint with their mouths, too. Lucas (the group's president) now travels to schools around the Midwest to share her story -- and her technique -- with children. "I help show the kids that everyone is different," she says, "and I help them understand that being different is okay."
Lucas won $10,000 from Wyndham Worldwide and is donating her prize to Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita Support. Lucas also won an all-inclusive weekend vacation at the Playacar Palace Wyndham Grand Resort, in Mexico.
Hilari Scarl, Los Angeles
Scarl, an independent filmmaker, was inspired to work and volunteer in the deaf community after seeing a performance at the New York Deaf Theater in the '90s. "It completely changed my life," says Scarl, age 44, who is not deaf herself. "It showed me a whole new dimension of communication and art." She started to learn sign language and the next year was cast as a voice actress for the National Theatre of the Deaf. She quickly became close to her fellow cast-mates. "I saw the incredible talent and frustrating lack of opportunities," says Scarl. "It's shocking how few roles there are for deaf performers." Eleven years later she was finally able to do something about that. In 2007 she began making her first feature-length documentary, See What I'm Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary. The film focuses on four deaf performers: a comic, a drummer, an actor, and a singer. Released this year at film festivals and in limited release at theaters around the country, it's been a critical success. The film will continue to tour the country through 2011 and will be released on DVD in February. "I'm so proud that I'm showing performers who happen to be deaf," she says. "I focus on them as human beings, on their hopes and dreams. And we're sharing their experience with people who never knew they existed."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2010/January 2011.