Nurses. Teachers. Therapists. Social workers. Advocates. Veterans. Musicians. Regular Joes.

Unexpected heroes.

Every day, all kinds of people work hard to make life better for others. Get inspired by this list of 12 people who did great work in 2014 to help society’s most vulnerable.

1. Bars and Melody and their awesome anti-bullying rap “Hopeful.”

Leondre Devries, aka Bars, was bullied, and he turned his pain into progress with a positive message—and supercool song and video—about hope. Together with friend and fellow musician Charlie Lenehan, aka Melody, Leondre was a top Britain’s Got Talent contender in 2014. The duo also represent the Diana Award Anti-Bullying Programme as Anti-Bullying Ambassadors.

2. Marilyn Armour and her inspiring take on how to lower student and teacher dropout rates.

University of Texas at Austin professor Dr. Marilyn Armour says that two things are essential to keep both students and teachers in the classroom: teaching students and teaching teachers. In a Huff Post article and video, she stressed that when teachers are taught how to use positive, problem-solving strategies like Restorative Discipline, they—and their students—get the tools they need to succeed.

3. Drew Neckar and how he made his hospital safer for everyone.

Campus Safety Director of the Year finalist Drew Neckar is Regional Director of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, WI. By partnering with the Behavioral Health, Quality, and Emergency Departments in his hospital, he helped decrease violence, increase staffs' feelings of safety, boost patient satisfaction scores, and reduce the amount of time that Security spend in the ED. Check out his Campus Safety podcast.

4. Mark Barnes on why Emotional Intelligence matters more than IQ.

"Emotional Intelligence [EI] is about the skills someone uses to understand and manage emotions effectively," writes Mark Barnes, author of five books on education and an authority on student-centered and digital learning strategies. He wrote a blog post and shared an infographic highlighting research on how a high EI helps people recognize others' emotions, control their own emotions, learn from mistakes, and stay cool under pressure. Teaching Emotional Intelligence also helps prepare kids for the workplace, he says, as "71 percent of hiring managers value EI over IQ."

5. Laura Merkle and the way she designed a brand-new classroom for her kids with autism.

Oftentimes, teachers have to make do with their classrooms. Occasionally they get lucky with an exceptional room. But for special education teacher Laura Merkle, a unique opportunity arose this year. She got to start from scratch by setting up a brand-new community classroom to best serve the needs of her K2 students.


Laura designed a schedule wall to be "the hub of the classroom," and there’s a kitchen area for sensory and life skills activities; a work area with individualized work stations; a play area for toys and games; and a break room with bean bags, pillows, a tiny tent, and other tools to help students find peace when they need a break. Check out her primary ASD community classroom and follow her at @asd_teach for updates on how her classroom is working for her students.

6. Paula, a registered nurse, and her brave story about being assaulted.

Throughout her over 40-year career, Paula had been hurt many times. But an altercation with an exceptionally violent patient ended her career when her shoulder was injured from repeated kicks. Paula’s story reminds us, says fellow nurse Sheila Wilson, that violence in the ER is not only unacceptable, it must and can be changed and prevented when staff write incident reports, work with security for backup, brainstorm with administration about solutions, and take care of themselves and their coworkers. Learn more in Sheila’s editorial and watch a video of Paula telling her story.

7. Carely, an app for reducing family stress.

Carely's not a person, but it's easing tension for families with loved ones in care. It's a phone app that care companies can offer families to help them plan and report to each other on visits.

8. Nurses Rock Facebook Community and the way it gives nurses props.  

What do you think of a shirt that says “God found some of the strongest women and made them registered nurses”? If this strikes a chord, check out more from Nurses Rock.

9. Annie Fox and her work to take the drama out of kids’ friendships.

“My friend posted really nasty things about me on her site.”

“I'm afraid I'm going to get beaten up.”

“My daughter's best friends are being mean to her.”

These are just some of the issues Annie Fox offers solutions for. Through her website, podcasts, books, Facebook page, assemblies for kids, workshops for parents, and trainings for teachers, Annie teaches us all what we can do to make schools safer, more accepting places for all students.

A Difference Maker in our 31 for 31 showcase, Annie writes posts like I’m Too Scared to Talk to My BFF! that guide kids to build strong friendships based on trust and respect.

10. While Siri's not exactly a person, she's an incredible friend to a boy with autism.

“Siri is a nonjudgmental friend and teacher,” Judith Newman wrote in To Siri, With Love. Newman's son Gus doesn't easily connect with most people, but Siri has opened up his world. “When he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked.”

11. Laurie Flasko and how she helps parents and kids survive bullying.

Laurie's daughter Amanda was bullied. It took years to get Amanda's life back on track, but she's now doing great. Laurie felt powerless when Amanda was being bullied, not knowing how to help her daughter. Throughout the process she learned what to do and what not to do, and later co-authored a survival guide for other parents called Bullying Is Not a Game. Check out the book's Facebook page for more about what parents can do to help kids who are bullied.   

12. Puppi the Dog, Burma the Adventure Cat, and their mountain hikes that counter PTSD.

Like Care Monster and Siri, Puppi and Burma aren't people, but this service dog and therapy cat—plus adventure therapy—are what got Stephen Simmons through the devastating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder he lived with after returning from service in Iraq. Running and hiking in Oregon's mountains with his dog and cat gave Simmons an outlet for surges of cortisol and adrenaline. Check out photos of the adventure animals on Facebook and follow Burma on Instagram.

We hope these 12 people doing positive things inspire you (or your cat, dog, or phone app) to keep up your own work to make the world a better place. Here's to a fantastic 2015!

Who would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!

Want to see more amazing people doing inspiring work? Check out 31 Difference Makers in School Bullying Prevention.

Images from ASD Teach and Cruel's Not Cool.