Spring Lake, North Carolina (CNN) - Taryn Davis says she felt lost and isolated after burying her husband, a 22-year-old Army corporal killed in Iraq four years ago.
While she struggled with her grief, it seemed that those around her found it easier to move on with their lives. Other military wives avoided her as though she represented their deepest fears. Family and friends insisted that her youth should provide solace.
"After the funeral, I felt ostracized," Davis said. "Everybody liked to write off my grief due to my young age. They liked to say: 'Well, at least you're young. You'll get remarried.' "
The topic of her husband - even the mention of his name, Michael - became taboo. She also struggled with survivor guilt that kept her from seeking happiness and embracing laughter.
"It's hard to laugh and it's hard to smile after a spouse is killed," said Davis, 25. "In a way, you feel bad, because you're like, 'He should be here and have the ability to smile and laugh.' ... In another way, I think once people see you laugh or smile, they're like: 'Oh, she's over him. Great.' "
After her husband's death, the military provided a death gratuity and assisted her with funeral arrangements. She also received recommendations for survivor support groups.
Davis researched several of the groups over the Internet but didn't see anyone her age. She was also intimidated by the size of the gatherings - sometimes hundreds of people at a time. She attended some grief groups near her home in Buda, Texas, but the widows she met there were over 65 years old and not tied to the military.
New York (CNN) - Becky Fawcett considers her infertility a blessing. But it wasn't always that way.
Desperate to be a mother, Fawcett endured five rounds of in vitro fertilization and three miscarriages before she and her husband Kipp adopted their first child in 2005.
Now the proud mother of 5-year-old Jake and 18-month old Brooke says that no matter how one becomes a mother, "it's a miracle."
But the costs for adopting in the United States can be steep. While foster care adoptions are often under $2,500, licensed private agency adoptions or independent adoptions can total more than $40,000.
After Fawcett and her husband experienced those high costs firsthand, they dedicated themselves to alleviating some of the expenses for other adoptive parents.
In 2005, the couple was sitting in their lawyer's office going over the paperwork for Jake's adoption, which cost about $40,000. It struck Fawcett that many loving and fit parents couldn't adopt a child if they didn't have a lump sum of cash at their disposal.
"I sat there and thought if ... I was told that I was not going to be a mother because I couldn't afford adoption, I don't even know what I would have done," said Fawcett, 40. "I don't know who I would have turned to for help. It just hit me. I knew how lucky we were."
With their own savings and support from family and friends, Fawcett and her husband created Helpusadopt.org. Since 2007, the group has awarded more than $300,000 in financial assistance toward adoption expenses.
Toluca, Mexico (CNN) - For decades, Richard St. Denis has advocated for the rights of Americans who, like him, are living with a disability.
But the attorney from Colorado saw his life shift in 1997, when he was invited to speak in Mexico.
"I was asked to bring one wheelchair to give to somebody," he remembers. "As I was waiting for the program to begin, I was shocked to see people using branches for crutches, being pushed in wheelbarrows and crawling."
The lone wheelchair went to Leti Elizale Marcial, a 17-year-old suffering from polio. She had never walked a day in her life, and she was carried around daily by her mother.
"I saw how happy she was, but I looked around and saw the other people that had nothing," St. Denis said. "Their life was going to be exactly the same, and one wheelchair was not enough. I just felt someone had to come and help."
So once a year from 1997 until 2004, St. Denis would load a van with 10 to 15 donated wheelchairs and drive 30 hours - from Colorado to Mexico - to distribute them to people with disabilities.
Now, he has a permanent residence in the country and a nonprofit,World Access Project, that provides custom-fit wheelchairs, walkers and canes to people in rural Mexican communities.
New York (CNN) - Jeff Parness still remembers the pain of September 11, 2001, when his friend and business partner, Hagay Shefi, was among the thousands killed in the World Trade Center attacks.
But Parness, a native New Yorker, also hasn't forgotten the support that his hometown received from other communities in the immediate aftermath. Many cities - in the United States and around the world - sent volunteers and supplies to aid the rescue and recovery effort.
"9/11 changed all of us forever, but 9/12 changed us just as much," said Parness, 45. "That outpouring of kindness and generosity, to me, was more powerful than the terror that happened the day before."
That spirit of goodwill inspired Parness to create New York Says Thank You, an organization that sends volunteers from New York City to disaster-stricken communities every year - normally around the 9/11 anniversary. To date, more than 7,000 people have participated in the group's rebuilding projects.
Running a nonprofit isn't something that Parness, a former software venture capitalist who lives in Manhattan, ever thought he'd do. He had never been community service-oriented. But a suggestion from his 5-year-old son changed all of that.
Chicago (CNN) - In Roseland, one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, many residents stay off the streets to protect themselves from rampant gang violence.
But one grandmother opened her door and invited gang members to come inside.
"They say I'm a nut because I let kids into my home who I didn't even know," said Diane Latiker, 54. "But I know (the kids) now. And I'll know the new generation."
Since 2003, Latiker has gotten to know more than 1,500 young people through her nonprofit community program, Kids Off the Block. And she hopes that by providing them with support and a place to go, she is also bringing hope to a community in crisis.
"We are losing a generation to violence," said Latiker, who started the program in her living room.
According to Chicago Public Schools, 140 of its students have been shot since the school year started in September.
"How can a kid get a gun like he can get a pack of gum? It's that crazy," Latiker said.
Latiker, a mother of eight and grandmother to 13, has lived in Roseland for 22 years. She said she was once "young and dumb," dropping out of high school and having seven children by age 25. But she said that by 36, she had turned her life around: She got remarried and earned her GED. She had also given birth to her eighth child, Aisha.
This time, she said, she was determined to do things right.
Anaheim, California (CNN) - In the shadows of Disneyland, often referred to as the "happiest place on Earth," many children are living a reality that's far from carefree.
They are living in cheap motels more commonly associated with drug dealers, prostitutes and illicit affairs.
It's the only option for many families that are struggling financially and can't scrape together a deposit for an apartment. By living week to week in these cramped quarters, they stay one step ahead of homelessness.
"Some people are stuck, they have no money. They need to live in that room," said Bruno Serato, a local chef and restaurateur. "They've lost everything they have. They have no other chance. No choice."
While "motel kids" are found across the United States, the situation is very common in Orange County, California, a wealthy community with high rents and a large number of old motels. In 2009, local authorities estimated that more than 1,000 families lived in these conditions.
When Serato learned that these children often go hungry, he began serving up assistance, one plate at a time. To date, he's served more than 270,000 pasta dinners - for free - to those in need.
"Kids should not be suffering," Serato said. "[I had] to do something."