If you feel that it's hard to impact the lives of others and really change the world, meet 8 women who will change your mind. All of them—from famous people like Mariska Hargitay to the woman next door—have gone out of their way to fight issues including childhood obesity, poor self-esteem, and domestic abuse. Get inspired by their success to start making a difference today. And tell us your favorite cause.
|Mariska Hargitay: Turning victims into survivors >>|
|Sharon K. Taylor, D.V.M., Ph.D: Saving wildlife in the Gulf oil spill >>|
|Katharina Harf: Bringing hope to cancer patients >>|
|Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, M.D.: Putting safe sex on people's minds >>|
|Andrea Wenner: Helping kids get active >>|
|Marie P. Chery: Continuing to fight for Haiti >>|
|Lisa Shannon: Running to help women in Congo >>|
|Dorothy Hamill: Giving kids a "can-do" attitude >>|
Mariska Hargitay: Turning victims into survivors
To prepare for her role as a sex crimes detective on Law & Order: SVU, Mariska Hargitay trained as a rape crisis advocate. "Since being on Law & Order, I've gotten thousands of emails from women disclosing their stories," she says. "Reading about the shame they experience opened my eyes."
Changing the world: the Joyful Heart Foundation
In the six years since it started, the Joyful Heart Foundation has sent more than 5,000 women and children on therapeutic programs which combine yoga, meditation, massage, journaling, even swimming with dolphins. "If something terrible has happened to you, you can find your way back to a life of hope and possibility," says Mariska Hargitay.
What Mariska Hargitay wants you to know:
This year, 1.3 million women will be assaulted by a partner. "It takes courage to ask, but there is help: 24 hours a day at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) or National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673)."
Sharon K. Taylor, D.V.M., Ph.D.: Saving wildlife in the Gulf oil spill
Sharon Taylor, 47, a veterinarian and Environmental Contaminants Division Chief with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service volunteered to leave her job and head to Louisiana for the Gulf oil spill clean up.
Changing the world: Gulf oils spill clean up
Once Taylor arrived at the site of the Gulf oil spill, she teamed up with state and federal agencies and wildlife rehab centers and led efforts to release the oil-covered birds after they'd been captured and cleaned. "It was a hard job and we often worked 20-hour days, but I felt fortunate to be a part of returning 400 pelicans and other birds to the wild.
What Sharon K. Taylor wants you to know:
Do something in your own backyard. "Many wildlife organizations and government agencies are working on the Gulf oil spill clean up but other regions are in need too. Look up refuge and national parks organizations and volunteer!"
Sharon K. Taylor's stay healthy tip:
Don't forget to take care of your mental well-being. "I've had some challenging times, but I always make sure to keep a sense of humor, go on walks, and eat healthy. If I'm away, I call my kids, which keeps me focused on why I'm doing what I'm doing—to protect the environment so that my children's generation can enjoy it for years to come."
Katharina Harf: Bringing hope to cancer patients
At age 14, Katharina Harf lost her mother to leukemia, the main reason being a lack of bone marrow donors. "At the time there were only 3,000 possible bone marrow donors registered in Germany, where we lived," says Harf, now 33.
Changing the world: DKMS Bone Marrow Donor Center
To prevent other families from suffering, her father started DKMS, a bone marrow donor center in Germany, and within a year the number of registrants grew to 70,000. Four years ago, Harf launched a U.S. branch of DKMS, which now has a database of more than 160,000 potential donors.
What Katharina Harf wants you to know:
Being a bone marrow donor is easier than you think. "You just get your cheek swabbed [request a kit at dkmsamericas.org]. If you're a match, blood is taken from one arm, run through a machine that separates the marrow cells, and puts the blood back in the other arm. It's pretty painless."
Katharina Harf's stay healthy tip:
Appreciate your body every day. "After working with sick people, I really treasure my health. "I try to eat organic food and lots of fruit and veggies."
Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, M.D.: Putting safe sex on people's minds
Washington, D.C., has the highest HIV/AIDS rate of any U.S. city and an estimated 30 to 50 percent of infected people in D.C. don't know it. These are statistics that Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, M.D., the senior deputy director of the HIV/AIDS administration in the Washington D.C. Department of Health, wants to change.
Changing the world: Free HIV testing
"HIV and other STDs carry a social stigma so people don't talk about them or get tested, which only makes the problem worse," says Kamanu Elias, 39. "We've urged doctors to remind patients to get tested and offer it for free in clinics." And it's working: Last year, there were twice as many HIV tests done than in 2007.
What Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, M.D wants you to know:
Take control of your health. "From knowing your HIV status or watching your diet, you are responsible for your body."
Nnemdi Kamanu Elias stay healthy tip:
Become a multitasker. "I have a 2-year-old son, so I've set up a treadmill in the living room. So while he's watching Sesame Street, I can work out."
Andrea Wenner: Helping kids get active
When Andrea Wenner, 32, moved to New York City six years ago, she lived near an elementary school. "I kept seeing kids sitting on the curb because there wasn't a playground," she says. "It just didn't seem right!"
Changing the world: Out2Play
Four years later, after learning that half of the elementary schools in New York City didn't have a place for kids to get active during recess, she dreamed up the nonprofit Out2Play with the goal of building playgrounds at every elementary school in New York City. "We've installed 120 playgrounds—helping more than 90,000 kids get active."
What Andrea Wenner wants you to know:
Most people will help if you ask. "Typically when I explain our project to people, they offer to lend a hand in some way, be it their time, ideas, or professional advice."
Andrea Wenner's stay healthy secret:
Find fresh ways to keep active. "I organize ski trips, run road races, and have even tried kiteboarding. It takes planning, but I get such a rush from doing something new."
Marie P. Chery: Continuing to fight for Haiti
When the earthquake in Haiti struck in January, most of us watched the devastation on TV. But Marie Chery, 56, was in the middle of it: She was two hours from Port-au-Prince doing public health work with Project Medishare when she felt the tremor.
Changing the world: Project Medishare
Chery, a nurse, immediately packed up and headed to the capital to help set up an intensive care unit, hiring Haitians to help out. "We taught them how to work in a hospital," she says. "That way we were helping to restart the economy and giving them new skills to earn a living."
What Marie P. Chery wants you to know:
The work isn't done. "Newspapers may not be covering the earthquake in Haiti like they were, but we're still trying to fix problems here. Donate what you can and stay informed about the progress at projectmedishare.org."
Marie P. Chery's stay healthy tip:
Move your feet. "In Haiti I walk everywhere—to work, to run errands, even to go see patients! When I go back to the U.S., I still try to fit in as much walking as I can."
Lisa Shannon: Running to help women in Congo
It sounds like a cliché, but an episode of Oprah changed Lisa Shannon's life. "She learned that in the midst of civil war, hundreds of thousands of women in Congo suffer rape and torture at the hands of the militia.
Changing the world: Run for Congo Women
Shannon raised money, and awareness, by attempting a 30-mile trail run by herself, which raised $28,000, giving 80 women in Congo job training and financial and emotional support for a year. She then started an organization called Run for Congo Women raising close to $7 million. Last February, Shannon organized the first run in the Congo. More than 75 women in Congo who had been sponsored took part. "The race was only one mile," Shannon says. "But every step was a celebration of life and resilience."
What Lisa Shannon wants you to know:
Exercising for others helps you push yourself. "I could never run far without stopping. But during a fund-raising race, I feel like I can go forever."
Lisa Shannon's stay healthy tip:
Let it go. "I used to get angry over things like people cutting me off in traffic. After working with women in Congo who have much more serious problems, I don't get upset about the 'little' things anymore."
Dorothy Hamill: Giving kids a "can-do" attitude
After winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, Dorothy Hamill inspired girls everywhere to take figure skating lessons. Today she's still getting kids on the ice.
Changing the world: I-Skate
Dorothy Hamill, 54, has partnered with the Physically Challenged Sports Program at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland to create a program called I-Skate. Her dream: Turn children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other disabilities into ice skaters using walkers, sleds, and special skates. "These kids are reminded every day of their physical challenges; it makes such a difference to their self-esteem to see what their bodies are capable of doing," says Dorothy Hamill.
What Dorothy Hamill wants you to know:
Share your strengths. "Maybe you're a gardener or a musician— find a way to use whatever you're good at to help other people."
Dorothy Hamill's stay healthy tip:
Don't look for excuses. "As I get older, it would be easy to use my aches and pains as a reason to skip exercise. But these kids don't use their physical challenges as an excuse to be inactive, so I won't either!"