But amid the tragedy and sadness, we receive daily glimpses of hope and happiness—moments when our spirits are lifted and we’re reminded of the generosity and kindness of others. The following is a mixture of tales, both personal and newsworthy, that restored our faith in humanity.
By Your Side
Los Angeles resident Mohamed Bzeek, 62, encompasses what it means to be selfless. He has taken in terminally ill children who are in the L.A. foster care system for the past 20 years—initially with his wife, Dawn, and now alone since her death in 2014.
Bzeek, originally from Libya, has cared for 40 children throughout the past two decades and currently takes care of a 6-year-old girl who is blind, deaf and paralyzed. He says that although he knows she cannot see or hear him, he always holds her and talks to her so she knows she’s not alone in the world.
A Sudanese woman, Alik, who was pregnant and had two young children in tow, arrived in Fort Worth, Texas, without her husband, Dyan, in 2012. Upon leaving their refugee camp in Egypt, Dyan wasn’t able to make the journey with his family because the couple had no official proof of their marriage with them. Alik was processed as a single mother, which bumped her to the top of the resettlement list, and her husband, a single man, was moved down to the bottom.
Over the next four years, two women with The Village Church in Fort Worth helped Alik and her children get their lives started in the U.S. The women also called congressional representatives, spoke with attorneys and met with social workers in an attempt to help Dyan come to the U.S.
After four years, Dyan was finally reunited with his wife and three children, including the baby Alik was pregnant with when she left. Video footage shows Dyan dropping to his knees in a tearful prayer of thanksgiving after being reunited with his family.
News to My Ears
In March 2017, someone anonymously donated $1 million to pay for students across the country to receive free access to The New York Times online, according to a press release from the New York Times Company.
All Are Welcome
COURTESY OF JUSTIN NORMAND
Justin Norman, 53, of Dallas, Texas, held this sign in front of the Islamic Center of Irving to “share the peace with his neighbors,” according to his Facebook page.
In the predawn hours of a Saturday morning in January, an arsonist set fire to the Victoria Islamic Center, a mosque in Victoria, Texas. The fire gutted the building, but the shocked community immediately responded with love. The Jewish and Christian communities of Victoria quickly stepped up, offering their churches and a synagogue for worship to the congregation of fewer than 150 people. And within days, a GoFundMe account set up to raise funds for rebuilding the uninsured structure surpassed the goal of $850,000, raising more than $1 million from people of all beliefs—including atheists.
Respect the Hustle
Hijinio Camacho, a vendor who sets up his cart on the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus, hung up a sign with his Venmo username one day so students could pay for their elotes (Mexican street corn) and raspados (snow cones) through their cellphones. A photograph of him went viral online, and people from around the world began sending him donations to applaud his hustle.
Let There Be Love
In March, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Modern Love column, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” appeared in print and online in The New York Times. In it, the accomplished author battling terminal cancer created a dating profile for her husband of 26 years, sharing her hope that “the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.” Her generosity of spirit in the face of adversity floored me. And although her death 10 days after her column was published is a tremendous loss for those who loved and admired her, Rosenthal’s unselfishness despite her own suffering was truly admirable.
As the sister of a brother with Asperger’s syndrome, love stories like that of Florida couple Nico Morales and Latoya Jolly are by far my favorite kind. After meeting on a dating site for those on the autism spectrum, the two connected quickly and built a deep relationship based on mutual understanding and support. Morales describes their dynamic as being “even more extraordinary together.”
(Inter) Stellar News
A welcome break in the 24-hour news cycle came one morning in the form of an announcement from NASA: the discovery of seven Earth-size planets, three of which are “firmly located” in the habitable zone where life is most likely to thrive. Unexpectedly cheered by the positive, uplifting headlines focused on innovation and good old-fashioned science, I channeled my inner Neil deGrasse Tyson and took it upon myself to share the news with everyone I encountered for the rest of the day.
Lending a Helping Hand
Impressed by his work ethic, Derrick Taylor’s UPS co-workers pooled their resources to buy the Alabama teen a Jeep Cherokee. Not wanting to burden or rely on others for rides, the teen had been walking his approximately 10-mile roundtrip commute to work—much in darkness—for more than a year. Taylor, 19, had been working since the age of 14 to support his sick mother. He was moved to tears by his colleagues’ gesture.
In the summer of 2010, Chris Leeuw took a break from kayaking to climb a truss bridge and dive into a deep southern Indiana river. Ten seconds later, he couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. Another guy had jumped with Leeuw and drifted over mid-fall, landing on Leeuw’s neck and leaving the 28-year-old a quadriplegic by the time he surfaced. In the ensuing weeks and months, the wheelchair-bound Leeuw traversed a dizzying network of hospitals, outpatient centers and nursing homes, but found the maze of his care complicated, expensive and not focused enough on his goal: walking again.
Low on traditional options, Leeuw discovered Neuroworx, a low-cost therapy center in Utah, founded by a former quadriplegic, that allowed him to recuperate at his own pace for a tiny fraction of what traditional care would have cost. Eighteen months after his accident, Leeuw walked again. And in 2015, fueled by the revelatory experience, he opened NeuroHope, a low-cost clinic near downtown Indianapolis that provides affordable therapy, equipment and facilities to patients with spinal cord and other neurological injuries.
In the past two years, the facility has expanded twice, received a state grant to expand its services and spearheaded legislation that funds affordable long-term therapy programs. “We’ve helped 36 patients on their road to recovery,” Leeuw says—a road that still stretches on.
Touched by an Angel
Stephen Parker found himself trapped under his Toyota Prius after the car fell on him while working underneath it. This is it, he thought. His 17-year-old son, Mason, was inside the house, leaving Parker’s 8-year-old son, J.T., to try to use the car jack to save his father. And he did. When J.T. was asked how he found the strength to lift up the car, the 50-pound boy said angels helped him.
Scraps for Cash
When Johnny Jennings visited Georgia Baptist Children’s Home, he felt it was his life’s mission to help the children. He was 18 at the time and not ready to adopt a child, so he started helping financially. Jennings began collecting scrap paper and aluminum so he could cash in his collections for money. Today Jennings is 86 and has donated more than $400,000 over the course of his lifetime.
Saroj Sood’s Indian Society for Sponsorship & Adoption (ISSA) helps lost, abandoned and orphaned children in Kolkata, India. For four decades, Sood has upheld this motto: “Adopting one child won’t change the world. But for that one child, the world will change.” One boy famously paid it forward: Sood took in a lost 5-year-old who was later adopted by Australians. Decades later, as depicted in the six-time Oscar nominated film Lion, the boy found his impoverished birth mother and financially supports her and ISSA.
While attending school, Natalie Hampton was snubbed when she asked to join others at their lunch table. Now Hampton aims to wipe out that painful experience: The 11th-grader created the Sit With Us app. Using it, kids agree to be lunchtime ambassadors and post available seating so lonely students, through their smartphones, can subtly find welcoming tablemates and make friends. The free app was quickly embraced when it launched in September 2016 and spread internationally within days.
Pat Rydzy, a retired dental hygienist from upstate New York, discovered a need one day in January 1997 when an adult male with developmental disabilities sat down in her hygienist’s chair. The man was sad because “Santa Claus couldn’t come.” It was three weeks after Christmas, so Rydzy knew the lack of a single present had made a dent in the man’s heart. She discovered there were not enough extra funds to buy holiday gifts for the adults in the county’s Arc program, which helps people with mental and developmental disabilities.
“This seemed like a niche that was being missed,” Rydzy says. So she began playing Secret Santa. Each fall she asked group home coordinators to procure Christmas lists from their residents. Most are between 30 and 60, and many have outlived their own families. Rydzy scours sales flyers and stakes out Black Friday deals to fill every list, every year.
Now 20 years into this Secret Santa endeavor, Rydzy, her youngest daughter and some elves from her church use their own money and some donations to buy and wrap presents for around 25 “kids at heart” each December.
“I feel like I’m doing something more than just Christmas gifts,” says the grandmother of seven. “These are members of our community that we should be taking care of.”
A Ripple of Hope
When Aidan Thomas Anderson got involved with charity work at age 8, he thought he’d be inspiring his generation to give back.
“But adults are coming into the picture,” says the now 16-year-old, who speaks and performs music at corporate events for up to 10,000 people. “The need is so great for people to learn how to give.”
By year’s end, he will have worked with 500 charities thanks to his Aidan Cares movement that helps others find their passion for service. He’s also spoken alongside Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, has given his own TEDx Talk and released a single on iTunes. “We don’t need to be a big deal,” insists the teen. “Just a ripple.”
Sunshine on a Ranney Day
In 2012 Holly Ranney combined her background in interior design with her husband’s construction expertise to give an 11-year-old cancer patient in Macon, Georgia, a bedroom makeover they paid for themselves. His reaction to the room changed the couple’s lives.
COURTESY OF HOLLY RANNEY
“Pete and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, this is definitely something we were meant to do,’ ” Holly says. Today the duo heads up Sunshine on a Ranney Day, an Atlanta-area nonprofit that offers free makeovers of child bedrooms, therapy rooms and bathrooms for kids with long-term illnesses.
“A lot of these families don’t feel like they deserve it or think that there are others out there who need it more than them,” Holly says. With the support of generous sponsors, volunteers and donors, the couple has overseen more than 50 makeovers, giving families under incredible stress a huge home blessing and a new reason to smile.
A Rescue Mission
Dogs that have been beaten, abused, run over by cars or left to die with massive tumors have a guardian angel and advocate in their corner—Jennifer Smith. Her Noah’s Arks Rescue charity pays the medical, rehabilitation and caregiving costs for dogs that otherwise would be euthanized, spending an average of $20,000 per animal. Thanks to numerous small donations and an undisclosed amount Smith kicks in, Noah’s Arks Rescue drops around $1.5 million each year to make miracles happen for these pups.
And when a dog can’t be saved, they throw a party for it before they say goodbye.
“When that dog passes,” Smith says, “he’s gonna have so much love around him that he’s gonna think he lived his whole life this way.”
Trail Angel Mary
In 2001 Mary Parry was homeless and living in a tent in Pennsylvania when she began befriending hikers along the roughly 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. Today she’s one of the trail’s most well-known “trail angels,” routinely opening her two-bedroom apartment a block from the trail to strangers with backpacks. In a typical year she shelters or shuttles up to 800 hikers who text her or knock on her door, giving them home-cooked meals, rides, the use of her car, and a place to shower and sleep.
To weary, grimy, hungry “hiker trash,” Trail Angel Mary is a godsend. But she says God sent them first. “Helping them,” Parry says, “is my way of thanking God for him bringing those people to me when I was having a rough time in my life.”
Up in the Air
In March Alaska Airlines pilot Jodi Harskamp donated a kidney to flight attendant Jenny Stansel. “I lose a kidney and she gets to live,” Harskamp reasons. “It’s pretty easy. There’s really no question.” The captain didn’t hesitate, despite the small chance she could never fly again if having only one remaining kidney left her too weak to pass stringent pilot health standards. So far, signs look good. The Anchorage women hope to fly together for the airline this summer.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
More people are adopting or fostering old dogs than ever. One such dog is Danny Boy, an Australian cattle dog diagnosed with blood cancer after landing at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco. Foster parents Russell Utley and Marie Macaspac checked off a bucket list for the pup. They took happy-go-lucky Danny to Half Moon Bay, California, to eat crabs bought off a boat, dressed him for fancy fundraisers, fed him homemade food and took road trips. Given three to six months to live, Danny stretched that to 15 months. In that time, Danny transformed the lives of his owners. “Old dogs have a wonderful spirit,” says Utley, who now fosters 16-year-old blind and deaf Chachito for Muttville, which pays for veterinary care and last year found hospice homes for 85 dogs. Senior dog rescue groups have popped up around the country in the past decade. The Thulani Program in California has saved more than 290 senior German shepherd dogs to date, with a goal of finding homes for 100 every year, says director Bob Jachens.
Scrolling for Kindness
Scrolling through Facebook one evening, I landed on a video that I thought might intrigue me. But unless something really grabs my attention, I don’t press the audio button—so I tentatively watched the soundless footage of a young girl interacting with homeless women on the street.
Intrigued, I turned on the sound to hear the voice of Khloe Thompson, a then-9-year-old humanitarian who donates hygiene essentials to women in need. She delivers them in colorful, handmade totes called Kare Bags, which contain things like soap, toothpaste and deodorant.
Witnessing her charity work, Khloe Kares, in action restored my faith in the human heart.
Iceland native Thordis Elva, then 16, knows there are 7,200 seconds in two hours. She knows this because she counted every single second of those two hours while being raped by her then-boyfriend, Tom Stranger, an exchange student from Australia. After nearly a decade of written communication between Elva and Stranger following the crime, the two found peace, forgiveness and a drive to open society’s eyes to the realities of sexual violence and the misplaced blame that perpetuates the problem. In their joint TedWomen talk, viewed more than 3 million times, Elva asks the tough questions that society has yet to answer.
“How will we understand what it is in human societies that produces violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it? And how can we empower survivors if we’re making them feel less than? How can we discuss solutions to one of the biggest threats to the lives of women and children around the world, if the very words we use are part of the problem?”
A poem for a stranger
There is a man she sees weekly, when he visits her café,
She hears the girls whisper “tall, dark, and handsome,” though she doesn’t see him in this way.
A grin from ear to ear, and always a pleasant thing to say,
She found that simply his presence alone could salvage greatness within her day.
Yet there are times when he looks troubled, and once she was brave enough to ask why,
He said his grandmother was very ill and his family struggles to get by.
A shock because from appearances, he always looked just fine,
Nice hair, a job and an AMEX, who would guess he had problems of this kind.
Months passed and she noticed his lighthearted manner with customers or the occasional friend in town,
Stuck behind a digital highlight reel, it was nearly impossible to spot the thorn in his crown.
One afternoon, while mopping the floor, she overheard a phone call that left him in a terrible frown,
Insurance asking for more money than he had, and her heart began to drown.
She dashed to the bar and on his cup, scribbled a sharpie note spiraled all around,
Then handed his drink with a closed-lipped smile, not making a single sound.
He looked as his chaotic cup puzzled, struggling to understand,
She pointed for him to read it with a swift gesture of her hand.
The words looked a little bit awkward, some letters squished and not lined up just right,
But to the man in the café this message changed his thoughts on what people call love at first sight:
“I want to thank you, brother, for everything that you do,
But especially for being gentle and patient when people assume things of you.
Like when you smile from your lips to your eyes, and they believe you’ve never felt “real pain,”
They see you standing so strong, they cannot imagine you so low as having to crawl
through mud and rain.
You carry this invisible burden, brother, and never speak of it aloud,
Because the fact that you carry it is not of something you are proud.
Though you’ve accepted the cards you’ve been dealt with, you wish that people knew,
How much more effort the world demands for just simply being you.
But I want you to know, I see you, brother, for ALL that you are,
And be proud to know that to some you shine brighter than the other stars.
Because you’ve not lost temper or heart, even though yes, the system is flawed,
10,000 hours just to be equal, 10,000 more to hear the applause.
So all I ask is that as you open the door and begin to start your day,
You say to yourself and truly believe, “I am already a success story today.”
With watery eyes they smiled, he opened his mouth but she insisted, “You don’t need to say a word.
This life is about feeling connected and seen, not just about being heard.”
He nodded right then and he kissed her, ever so softly on the cheek,
Replying, “I have not the words to express how grateful I am, sister, that our paths allowed us to meet.”
They do not speak that often, but when they converse it is quite grand,
Much deeper than quiet pleasantries and a soft shake of the hand.
They share of dreams and struggles openly, and never is their talk just small,
How wasted this life would be if we didn’t tend to the roots that help us grow tall.
They laugh, they cry, they hug, and always before they part,
They look at each other slyly and say, “Thank you for letting me see you today;
truly from the bottom of my heart.”
Multiple Sclerosis affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Each year, more than 300,000 people participate in Walk MS events, many requiring assistance to complete the 3.1-mile walk. Since the first event in 1988, more than $970 million has been raised for MS research.
Talli Osborne is different. Her multicolored mohawk and multiple piercings make her look more like a band member than a motivational speaker. She rides a hot-pink scooter with skulls on it. To other “punx” in the punk rock community, she’s known as “Nubs,” based on the song “She’s Nubs,” written about Osborne. She believes that differences should be embraced.
Embracing the different is nothing new for Osborne. She was born without arms and the majority of bones in her legs, which is why she requires the scooter. But rather than letting this difference be a limitation, she embraces it, and in her words, “lets her difference sparkle.” Before becoming one of the most sought-after inspirational speakers on the TEDx roster, she rose through the ranks at Virgin Mobile Canada to become the airline’s best customer service agent in the Americas. Richard Branson even includes her in his list of top 10 most inspirational people in the world.
With a natural gift for storytelling, her presentations weave humor, wit and grace into powerful messages about acceptance and tolerance: “I want people to leave my presentations feeling inspired and motivated, to be the best person they can be, to learn to love themselves, dream big and live life to the fullest.”
A Toast to Charles’ Wife
Sitting on a cramped bench in the oldest pub in Dublin, I met Charles. He toasted his Guinness with mine in honor of his upcoming 60th birthday. Taking a hefty gulp, Charles said, “This is the second-to-last surprise.”
I was intrigued. “Each month leading up to my birthday, my wife has surprised me with something off of my bucket list.” She’d said time wasn’t slowing down any, but I could tell in his tone it meant more to him than the satisfaction of a checkmark. The surprises began with dinner at the swankiest restaurant from their hometown in Brussels and progressed to skydiving, matching tattoos and a “bachelor’s” weekend in Ireland—she woke him up at 5:30 a.m. that morning with plane tickets and his two best friends at the doorstep.
Thirty-six years later, they’re still best friends. It made my chest flicker, which I promptly pushed aside because even happy tears aren’t allowed in a pub. Their story wasn’t exaggeratedly fairy tale blessed—they’d met at the bank. But it was real and unselfish.
I asked Charles about his wife’s birthday and he chuckled. “I have 10 months to try and top this,” he gestured around the room, live music bouncing off of every wooden stool and pint glass. “I’m screwed.”
Good Day to You
Morning commutes can be the bane of city dwellers’ existences, but not for commuters at the Armitage train station in Chicago. In the coldest of winter mornings, Janet Martin, with the Chicago Transit Authority, mans the turnstiles, welcoming customers with a huge smile.
Slowly, zombielike commuters open their eyes, lift their chins and rip out their headphones to return her greeting.
“Good morning, everyone! Have a fantastic day!” Janet bellows. She’s eager to help someone with questions or a problem.
Janet has given me pep talks for job interviews and has helped me when I have forgotten my train pass. If it’s a rainy day, she asks me if I’ve packed my umbrella.
When I moved and took a different train, my commutes were lackluster without Janet. When I returned, she embraced me like an old friend.
“You’re back!” she exclaimed. “Welcome home.”
Yes, I was home.
Related: 3 Ways to Spread Positivity
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.