Every community has leaders and heroes-and the same is true for virtual communities, like Beliefnet. We asked our community staff and hosts to highlight the members who especially inspired them this year, and we offer our appreciation to all.

For three years Beliefnet member Shaner has lovingly tended the prayer circle and support group she began for bereaved parents, in memory of her late son Shane. It is one of Beliefnet's longest prayer circles, 202 pages with more than 4650 posts. Shaner volunteers three to four hours a week answering every post. Other members join in regularly to give mutual support. As one member noted, "You have no idea how long ive looked online for something like this....You are the thing ive been praying for." Shaner's comforting, accepting presence offers solace to those enduring this most difficult of losses.

Long-time member AmaraS created the Friends of Beliefnet Community Fund, enabling Beliefnet members to help each other in times of financial need. She volunteers her time to administer the fund. When she hears of a member in trouble, she organizes donations and arranges to make utility or rent payments for them, and offers gentle moral support as well. In its first month, the fund was able to pay the phone bill of a disabled woman so that it would remain connected, as well as the electric bill for a family of five. When a member lost his sister in a brutal and senseless crime, members of Beliefnet made donations to the fund to send flowers and cards. For one mother, whose son was returning after 11 months of serving his country, specific collections made it possible for her to be there when he came off the ship. Amara's mantra is: "Together we can perform miracles."

Ranchhand is a young gay man with a painful past who has come through it without anger and with a sense of compassion that is inspiring. Members often refer to him as "Christ-like" and are encouraged by his loving posts, in which he manages to see the human face even in the most angry and insulting poster. He has earned the respect of opponents and the admiration of gay members. When asked how he was able to offer such calm and measured responses to antagonistic writers, he posted: "A lot of times, I copy a post into my word processor and leave it and then come back and read it. I try to think about what the poster might have been thinking, feeling. There is a lot of hurt in the anti-gay posts sometimes. A lot of fear. And they all come here for a reason. And sometimes I can feel that reason...I work hard to talk to people the way I think God is leading me to talk to them...We are different voices in the same choir."

In February, Mariah, a Muslim physician whose Beliefnet moniker is Docwitchy and her husband Ahmed (Beliefnet member Cutter65), both U.S. Army Reserve surgeons, were deployed to Kuwait and then to Iraq. Their devotion to healing and their courage in fulfilling their military obligation have inspired admiration in Muslim and non-Muslim members alike. Just this week Ahmed was sent to Iran with a medical team to assist victims of the devastating earthquake, while Mariah remained home with their new baby. "I have mixed emotions," she posted on the Women in Islam board. "It's best for me to stay home but I wish I could go."

SecondSonOfDavid is the fundamentalist Christian whom non-Christian members like talking to. Many attest that SSoD has helped them heal old wounds and overcome their deep-seated fear of fundamentalists. He never fails to show up with kind words and offers of prayer when someone is hurting, and participates in discussions with intelligence and humor. His brilliantly imaginative ongoing story, "Loco Fundy Judgment Day," has sparked 600 posts and lively debate from across the religious spectrum.

As host of the Angels & Spirit Guides boards, Stardove donates countless hours of her time doing free readings for members, counseling and advising them. Every newcomer who asks a question or posts in the Angels & Spirit Guides board receives a personal welcome e-mail from Stardove. In her offline life, she volunteers her time in numerous support groups for women and mental health issues.

JoyfulJudy continues to prove that she has chosen a good nickname, as her joy in her life and in God continually glows from her messages. Fellow members on the Eastern Orthodoxy boards appreciate her supportiveness and kindness. Judy modestly calls herself "merely a busybody who loves to haunt these boards." But her prayers for those who request them and her cheerful spirit light up discussions such as this one on gratitude.

StillSmallVoice, who frequents the Bible (multifaith) and Jewish boards, is an invaluable source of knowledge on Jewish theology and the Hebrew Bible. A Jew living in Israel, he always does his research first and treats posters of all religious faiths with lovingkindness. A host notes, "He is truly one of the best members around."

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