09:18 PM EDT 04/15/2014

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Real Heroes

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Heroes Among Us: California Couple Has Helped Educate More Than 90 Foster Kids

Heroes Among Us

Roy and Claudia Asprer Help Their Foster Kids Get an Education

Originally posted 01/09/2014 01:30PM

Claudia Asprer was working at a teen health clinic as a physician's assistant in 1997 when she met and bonded with Marjorie, a 14-year-old girl from a local homeless shelter.

"Everyone in her life had pretty much given up on her," says Asprer, who was just 26 back then.

Marjorie eventually asked Claudia and her husband, Roy, to take her in as a foster child.

"I wanted them to be my parents," says Marjorie, now 30. "And I wanted some stability. I was skipping school. I had a 0.85 GPA."

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Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein
Heroes Among Us: Hospital Employee Adopts Sick Child

Heroes Among Us

Angela Redd, Hospital Employee, Adopts Sick Child

Originally posted 01/07/2014 05:15PM

Angela Redd had cared for thousands of medically fragile children in her position as a developmental specialist in Valhalla, N.Y. at Blythedale Children's Hospital. But in July 2000, when a 2-month-old infant named Saliman with webbed legs and fingers and tubes running into his body stared at her with his soulful, brown eyes, she was changed forever – she knew he was hers.

"I can't even describe it," says Angela, 52. "I just gravitated toward him."

Little Saliman wasn't expected to live beyond his second birthday because of a rare medical condition known as Bartsocas-Papas Syndrome that causes severe physical malformations.

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Credit: Ethan Hill
Heroes Among Us: Man Builds Dollhouses for Disadvantaged Kids

Heroes Among Us

Retiree Earl Hurshman Makes Dollhouses for Disadvantaged Kids

Originally posted 12/26/2013 09:15AM

Earl Hurshman was used to his wife Bernadette telling him what to do.

After almost 50 years of marriage, "we never had an argument," he says. "Now we had disagreements but we never ever yelled at each other. Never. We were raised with the same ideals and morals. We had more fun."

So when Bernadette died in Oct. 2011, Hurshman, 81, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., began visiting her grave almost daily to continue their conversations.

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Watch What Happens When a Famous Reader Wants to Help a PEOPLE Hero

Damien Escobar Honors 16-Year-Old PEOPLE Hero

Originally posted 12/24/2013 02:30PM

Back in September, readers were moved by the story of 16-year-old Kennedy Hubbard and the work she does to help other children with Lymphatic Malformation, a potentially fatal condition which features fluid-filled cysts that distend her face and have threatened her airway ever since she was born.

But when hip-hop violinist Damien Escobar read Hubbard's story – how the high school junior mentors other children with LM and raises money to help less fortunate sufferers afford treatment and for LM research – the two-time Emmy winner did more than click "Like."

He picked up the phone and asked, "How can I help?"

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Credit: Courtesy of The Jessie Rees Foundation
Heroes Among Us: Girl with Cancer Starts Charity to Bring Joy to Sick Kids

Heroes Among Us

Jessie Rees, 11, Started A Worldwide 'JoyJar' Movement for Sick Kids

Originally posted 12/19/2013 05:30PM

A few weeks into her daily outpatient regimen of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (Calif.), Jessie Rees, 11, saw some of the children housed in the cancer ward and asked her parents a question they’ll never forget.

"When do all the other kids come home?"

Her dad, Erik Rees, explained: "These children have different diagnoses than you do. Some stay days, some stay weeks, some stay years."

Then Jessie asked, "How can we help them?"

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Credit: Nathan Cornetet/Fusion Photography
Heroes Among Us: Florida Woman Matches Rescue Dogs with War Veterans

Heroes Among Us

Shari Duval Pairs Dogs with Veterans Suffering From PTSD

Originally posted 12/12/2013 07:25AM

After two wartime tours of Iraq, Alex Brown couldn’t shut off his alert switch.

"My job as a gunner was to literally see everything," says the former Army specialist. "Not only my life, but my team’s life depended on it."

Yet back home in Louisville, Ky., the constant tension honed in combat left him anxious and jumpy – and afraid to venture beyond secure walls. His relationships crumbled in the wake of his post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Credit: Courtesy May We Help
Heroes Among Us: Watch Volunteer Inventors Change a Disabled Boy's Life

Heroes Among Us

Volunteer Inventors Create Specialized Solutions for People with Disabilities

Originally posted 11/28/2013 09:30AM

Born without arms, Abe Harris, 35, learned to write and eat with artificial limbs, but sometimes found they got in his way – so, when he learned to drive at age 16 without them, he put them away.

"They were more something between me and what I was trying to do,” Harris says.

By 2011, Harris, an art teacher and a soccer coach, had a 3-year-old daughter who happened to be learning to ride a bike.

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Credit: Corbis
Heroes Among Us: California Woman Pays for College for Kids in Need

Heroes Among Us

Oral Lee Brown Has Sent More than 150 Children to College

Originally posted 11/21/2013 05:45PM

Back in 1987, Oral Lee Brown, an Oakland, Calif., realtor, made a seemingly crazy decision.

She decided to offer 23 first-grade children at Brookfield Elementary School a full-ride to college with no realistic expectations that they would even graduate from high school.

In a school district with a 54 percent high school graduation rate, Browns' kids are beating the odds. Out of that first group of 23, 19 graduated from high school and enrolled in college.

"They didn't want to fail me," she says of their success. "I believe love can turn anything around."

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Credit: Ed Kashi
Heroes Among Us: Vietnam Vet Meets War Orphan He Rescued 40 Years Ago

Heroes Among Us

Bao Tran Reunites with Baby He Saved in Vietnam

Originally posted 11/14/2013 08:30PM

Bao Tran still remembers an old man shuffling onto the bridge to hand him a tiny bundle tucked into a straw hat.

It was May 1972 and Tran was in the South Vietnamese Army fighting alongside the Americans. His company was about to blow up the bridge outside Quang Tri.

"The man said the baby was trying to nurse on its dead mother," Tran, now 65, recalls. 

He carried the baby in that hat for 60 miles – "I was in full combat gear, with explosions all around," he says – to an orphanage, where he left her with the name he'd planned for his own daughter someday: Ngoc Bich.

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Credit: Matthew Mahon
A New Home for an Injured War Hero

Operation Finally Home Gives War Hero Andrew Litz a Place to Heal

Originally posted 11/01/2013 10:15AM

There are days when former Marine Sergeant Andrew Litz can't bear the sounds of his two young children playing in their two-bedroom apartment in suburban Dallas, when his wife, Heather, reminds them that Daddy's head hurts.

But on this October afternoon, the sturdy, intense former soldier is imagining a new life: one of calm connection with his family.

Standing in the yard of the brand-new home in Gunter, Texas, that will soon be theirs, he smiles. "This," he says quietly, "is a place where I can heal."

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