Making a Difference: Acts of Courage and Compassion

ABC News took a look at a "special nine" from 2009, acts of compassion, sacrifice, bravery and talent that were, in every case, inspired by a single someone, or a group of many, reaching out perhaps a bit further to help a fellow man.

We chose nine stories that illustrate achievements both bold and benevolent, all representative of how people make a difference in the lives of others.

Risking It All

The residents of Layton Avenue in Milwaukee began the day of July 19, 2009, as neighbors but they ended it as heroes.

What should have been a quiet Sunday evening was interrupted when an SUV driving past their homes crashed and burst into flames. Angela P. Baldessari, 32, and her two small children were trapped in the upside-down car and it looked as if they were about to die, until neighbors and passersby rushed in to save them.

VIDEO: Ordinary people who did extraordinary things this past year.
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Baldessari and her 2-year-old daughter were pulled from the car but her 4-year-old son, David "DJ" Harper, was trapped in his car-seat.

John and Joel Rechlitz, two off-duty firefighters, took turns diving into the burning car to rescue the boy and, as a result of their bravery, DJ is now recuperating from burns covering 20 percent of his body.

DJ would have died had it not been for their fearless efforts but the Rechlitz brothers do not call themselves heroes.

"We were in the right place at the right time," Joel Rechlitz told ABC News.

To the Harper family, they were so much more.

"There are angels all around us," DJ's father, James Harper, said.

To learn more about DJ or donate money to help pay for his medical bills, click here.

Teaching by Example

For mountaineer Greg Mortenson, the path to peace begins in the mind of a child.

Mortenson has spent the past decade building schools in some of the most challenging parts of the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to help educate the boys and girls of the local villages.

Since its inception, Mortenson's non-profit, Central Asia Institute, has built 78 schools for 33,000 children.

Mortenson's work has not always been easy.

"I had a fatwa issued against me because I was trying to promote girls' education," Mortenson told ABC News.

In 2009, Mortenson received the Sitara-E-Pakistan, or Star of Pakistan, the country's highest civilian award, in recognition of his accomplishments in the area.

Inspiring Stories of 2009

"If you fight terrorism, that's based in fear," Mortenson said, "but if you promote peace, that's based in hope. It's ignorance that breeds hatred."

To learn more about the organization or make a donation, click here.

Drawing a Following

Lots of children like to draw but for 7-year-old Isabelle Redford, art is about helping others.

"I like to draw cards because I can raise money to help the orphans," Isabelle told ABC News.

Isabelle's project began after her mother told her a story of two girls in Haiti whose mother died during childbirth. Although she was only 5 at the time, Isabelle began selling her drawings to raise money, hoping to help.

The cards are now sold through the Global Orphan Project, a charity that builds and runs orphanages.

Isabelle has already raised more than $45,000, enough to build "The Isabelle Redford House of Hope" for orphaned girls in Haiti.

Isabelle and the Global Orphan Project plan to break ground on another orphanage in Uganda sometime in the next two months.

"I really want to do this all over the world where they really need it," she told ABC News.

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