Young Heroes with Big Hearts

8659044340_d249022186_cEvery morning when Sue Johnson holds her son’s hand as they walk down the stairs, she feels a wave of emotions sweep over her.

Six-year-old Hunter Johnson was honored with the Youth Good Samaritan Award in 2010 at the Heroes Breakfast. Hunter took charge in a very grown-up situation when his mother’s health was in peril. He found her collapsed on the floor. Hunter remembered what his parents and teachers had taught him. He called 911 immediately. Hunter’s brave action protected his mother from harm that day.

“He’s my hero,” Sue said.

It is important to acknowledge heroes of all ages. The American Red Cross recognizes community members every year who have demonstrated heroism through extraordinary acts of courage or kindness. In addition to the many other heroes that will be awarded at the 12th annual Heroes Breakfast this spring, one young person will be awarded the Youth Good Samaritan Award.

If you know a young person with a big heart, we invite you to nominate them today. Candidates must live or work in Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kankakee, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, or Will counties in Illinois, or Jasper, Lake or Newton counties in Indiana. The heroic action must have taken place after Jan. 1, 2013. Candidates who are chosen as Red Cross heroes will be honored at the Heroes Breakfast on April 30, 2014.

Acts of kindness and selflessness are characteristics of heroes no matter what their age is. When Brendan Leyden learned about children who are affected by epilepsy, he made it his mission to provide comfort and smiles. Brendan is the founder of Emmett Leyden’s Friends (E.L.F), an organization that provides youth affected by epilepsy with safe toys. Because of his dedication to serving others, Brendan received the Youth Good Samaritan Award in 2011.

Another hero that demonstrated an extreme act of bravery was Benjamin Groeper, 17, who won the youth award in 2012. He fearlessly jumped onto train tracks to save a man’s life. Groeper was waiting on the platform of the CTA Blue Line on his way home from work. He watched as a man fell face forward onto the tracks, while at least 40 bystanders waiting for the train witnessed in panic. Since the incident, Ben has inspired his Boy Scout troop to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

Last year, the American Red Cross recognized a another young hero with a huge heart. Acey Longley of Plainfield was honored with the youth award. When he was 7 years old, he began volunteering at his church’s soup kitchen. By age 8, he was an Illinois ambassador for Legos for Leukemia. Last year, 9-year-old Acey started his own charity, BEATS, that honors his late musician father’s memory by bringing instruments and iTunes cards to children in local hospitals.

Nominations are due Jan. 31. To nominate your hero, visit: or call 312-729-6388.

Written by: Diana Brokop and Raquel Silva


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