Clockwise from Top: Steven Senne/AP; Courtesy Jennifer Foster
Maggie Coughlan
December 27, 2012 10:00 AM

Every week PEOPLE spotlights the Heroes Among Us, those who are making a difference in their community and in the lives of others.

From high school students taking a stand against bullying to the generosity of a police officer, these five inspiring stories warmed our hearts in 2012.

High School Football Star Protects Bullied Student with Special Needs
When Queen Creek High School quarterback Carson Jones asked his teammates to help watch over a special-needs student who was getting picked on, he had no idea what a difference he’d make. Chy Johnson, 16, who has a neurological disorder that limits her cognitive abilities to that of a third grader, was being bullied and her mother Liz, a teacher’s aide at the school, reached out to Jones to see if he could help find out who was tormenting her. But Jones did much more than that. After “having a talk” with the bullies, he and his teammates made Johnson an unofficial member of the football team, walking her to classes, taking her to dances and even inviting her to the sidelines during games.

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New York City Police Officer Buys Shoes for Homeless Man
When Officer Larry DePrimo encountered a barefoot homeless man on a cold November night, he purchased a pair of $100 boots for him. Jennifer Foster, a tourist visiting from Florence, Ariz., captured the moment with her cell phone camera, and soon the image of DePrimo’s kindness went viral.

Janitor Gac Filipaj Graduates from Columbia
After almost 20 years of sweeping the halls of New York City’s Columbia University, janitor Gac Filipaj received his degree in Classics, graduating with honors. Being a student by day and janitor at night wasn’t easy for the 52-year-old, who immigrated to New York from war-torn former Yugoslavia in 1992, but he “overcame it,” he says.

Karen Klein, Bullied School Monitor, Now Helping Other Victims
After video of 7th graders verbally attacking upstate New York school bus monitor Karen Klein went viral, a donation site was quickly established to send the 68-year-old on vacation. The site ultimately generated $700,000! But Klein wanted to turn her torment into a force for good, and established the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation to help others.

Jennifer Livingston Fights Back Against Body Bullying
With one very articulate on-air response, news anchor Jennifer Livingston gave a voice to bullied people everywhere. After Livingston received an e-mail from a viewer criticizing her weight, she took a moment to discuss the ramifications of that bullying behavior. But Livingston’s inspirational delivery was not just about her. Instead, she left viewers with one final empowering thought: “Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many,” she says.

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