Covid-19 Hometown Heroes: A Look at the People Who Made a Dramatic Difference This Past Year

Morris Dickson

Across the country, millions are struggling with the medical and economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Family-owned businesses, some generations old, went out of business because aid did not make it in time. Essential frontline workers have worked tirelessly to provide care and resources while risking their own health. Working from home has taken on a new meaning itself, as parents struggle to balance their child's education while maintaining productivity on a job. And those living alone face a daily routine of isolation. 

Vaccines have been approved for distribution and some have already been administered to health care workers, but the news remains grim. A new strain in the south of England has forced neighboring European countries to suspend travel with the U.K. Scientists are warning that holiday travel could lead to Covid-19 surges that break our medical system. 

But there are many reasons to be as hopeful as there are to be fearful, and many come in the form of local leaders around the nation. To salute those who went above and beyond during the public health and financial crisis, CNBC asked readers to nominate neighbors who have made an impact in their communities.

Here are notable home-grown heros, whose compassion and courage has made a difference in so many lives. 

A distributer getting the vaccine to rural communities 

Once the Pfizer-BIoNTech vaccine was approved, distribution centers across the U.S. went into action. The team at Morris & Dickson, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, has been working around the clock to package the vaccine and distribute it to 200 rural Louisiana hospitals. The team has only three minutes to sort and load the vials which need to be stored at temperature as low as minus-80 degrees Celsius. 

"Morris & Dickson is group of dedicated people, working hard every day to get us the medications that we need to deliver the much needed emergency care to the communities we serve," wrote Chuck Burnell of Acadian Ambulance, who nominated the employees of Morris & Dickson.

Dr. Chuck Burnell administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
Dr. Chuck Burnell
Dr. Chuck Burnell administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine

"They came through with special dedication, precision and care in delivering the much needed first Covid-19 vaccine to our EMS employees quickly and safely. The world said this would be a logistical challenge but to them it was the challenge they meet every day. It is their dedication and relentless pursuit of their mission to keep all of our healthcare providers safe that puts them in our highest esteem and deserving of a sincere 'Thank You!'"

A school counselor whose work for children never ceases

Renee Gorman sits on the board of directors of She Believes In Me, a foundation that provides support to at-risk girls in the community of Herndon, Virginia, and surrounding area. The foundation provides skills training and mentorship to girls from diverse backgrounds, difficult socioeconomic conditions and traumatic experiences, as well as serving as an emergency food and supplies organizer. 

"Renee Gorman has really gone above and beyond to help out with the less fortunate in her neighborhood and surrounding community," wrote Matthew S. of Ashburn, Virginia, who nominated Gorman. "She has been able to not only help the students at the elementary school she is a counselor at, but also helps everyone in the area with Christmas presents, food, and warm clothing. She really has made a big impact in the area and I feel she should get some recognition."

Elementary school counselor, Renee Gorman, helps a young student
Renee Gorman
Elementary school counselor, Renee Gorman, helps a young student

A cross-country traveling, Covid-battling ICU nurse 

Over 2,000 miles separate Pennsylvania from Arizona, but the distance hasn't prevented Danelle Luciani, an ICU nurse at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, from battling the virus all over the country. Since the onset of the pandemic, Danielle has sacrificed a wedding and honeymoon to serve.

"Danielle volunteered to be in Covid ICU rooms since the pandemic began for at the very least over five hours a day," wrote Matthew L. of Gilbert, Arizona, who nominated Luciani. "She chased the pandemic from Yardley, Pennsylvania, to Gilbert, Arizona, to help out ICU nurses and patients at Banner University Hospital. This pandemic made her sacrifice a wedding and a honeymoon. She hasn't seen her family since the pandemic began. She doesn't ask for praise or notoriety, but I know she would cry from joy to just be recognized for even five seconds."

Danelle Luciani
Danelle Luciani
Danelle Luciani

A lifelong volunteer — at the age of 13

Rylee Brooke Kamahele of Mililani, Hawaii, may not be old enough to drive, but she has a lifetime of volunteer work behind her. From holding holiday donation drives for children in shelters to passing out turkeys with professional footballer Marshawn Lynch, Rylee has earned the honor of one of America's Top Youth Volunteers in the 2020 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. 

"Throughout the pandemic, Rylee has continued her volunteer efforts and this holiday season is continuing food distributions to families in need, distributing 2,500 boxes of food every other week," wrote Megan B. of Concord, New Hampshire, who nominated Kamahele.

"During Thanksgiving week, Rylee and her team passed out 320 turkeys with Marshawn Lynch. For Christmas, Rylee's working on The Secret Santa Project Hawaii and will be providing gifts to children. Rylee is also doing a donation drive for a nonverbal little boy who needs an iPad to communicate. They will be raising money for the iPad, the programs he needs, and a protective case for the iPad."

Rylee Kamahele, center, with Marshawn Lynch, right
Rylee Kamahele
Rylee Kamahele, center, with Marshawn Lynch, right

An NFL champion off the field

New England Patriot Brandon Copeland is no stranger to giving back. Despite an injury that cut his season short, Copeland brought together 19 current and former NFL players to surprise 200 underserved families with $800 Amazon gifts cards. The total giveaway: $160,000.

"Last year he contacted me and asked if I would like to be apart of a Christmas Shopping Spree event in partnership with Target. He galvanized several NFL players together in various states and was able to give $200 shopping sprees to 40 youth in Baltimore, and countless more around the country," wrote Joel Gamble, a former NFL player himself, who nominated Copeland. "This year, Brandon followed it up with an even bigger giveaway. Entire families were given $800 Amazon Shopping sprees over 200 families across the country."

Gamble wrote that Copeland's charitable leadership in 2020, "blessed several families affected by Covid-19 directly, as well as displaced families in shelters," in his Baltimore city community. "We also decided to bless four families of community leaders in Baltimore that have been doing great community service work, tirelessly in most cases, those that give back are overlooked as people that also need. The overwhelming joy it brought to see families excitement and emotions of tears ... Was unbelievable!!! I am so extremely proud of Brandon. He is like a little brother to me and I've seen him continue to bless others." 


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