Good People Doing Good Things — Everyday Heroes

This evening I began working on what I thought would be today’s ‘good people’ post, but the deeper I dug, the better it got, and I simply began, after about 3 hours’ effort, to realize that it was more than I could finish before the clock ran out on me.  So, you will have that one to look forward to in a week or two.  Meanwhile, as always, I was able to find a number of everyday heroes, people who do the right thing just because it is the right thing.  These are the real people in the world, those who see someone struggling and jump in to help.

A community pitches in …

For months, Teresa Steele, pregnant with her first child, has been living with no air conditioning or heat after someone stole the copper from her property and broke her home’s HVAC unit.

“I called insurance and they wouldn’t cover it. It feels bad because this is how we live… They did it to take the copper and sell it for a few dollars. I don’t have $6,000 to get a new system.”

Steele needed to get her unit repaired in the next few weeks or she was going to lose her home owner’s insurance. She was also worried that social services would take her baby from her if she brought a newborn home to a cold house. And while she has reached out to various organizations for help, she had no luck.

Ms. Steele lives in Richmond, Virginia, where a local CBS affiliate has a segment called Problem Solvers and it was to them that Steele turned for help after all else had failed. Once they aired her story, she says her phone began ringing off the hook.

“My phone’s going crazy. People were sending me messages and saying stuff like, ‘We’re willing to help.’ And it was just bringing tears to my eyes.”

She was still crying when River City Heating owner Bobby Robinson and his crew pulled up last Thursday to fix her unit for free.  Robinson said his wife saw the story and urged him to help.

“What goes around comes around, so one day I might be in need of help and hopefully there will be help for me,” Robinson said.Steele-1

Her local energy company also pitched in to lighten her load by placing Steele on their “Energy Share” program which will reduce her monthly heating bill.

“You never know who’s out there listening to you. You have to have faith… and have to believe that the more you spread your love, someone will have love to spread back to you.”

Dogs is people too …

Okay, so I know this is a ‘good people’ post, but open your minds and hearts and let this canine hero in, okay?  (My grammar/spelling program keeps trying to change “hero in” to ‘heroin’ … a sign of our times?)ToddMeet Todd, a six-month-old Golden Retriever who just happened to save the life of his owner, Paula Godwin.  It happened while Todd and Paula were out for a walk near their home in Arizona, and suddenly a grey-speckled rattlesnake appeared.  Todd put himself between the snake and Paula and was himself bitten.  Todd is on the mend, and in a humanitarian moment, the makers of Milk Bone sent him a package of treats to aid in his recovery.  But that’s not all …

Milk-Bone named Todd their “Dog of the Year”. Milk-Bone says the award is designed to celebrate bravery, overcoming obstacles, strong personality and loyalty traits that make all dogs truly special.  According to senior brand manager Jonathan Rodgers …

“We created this honor because we believe that dogs deserve to be honored in the same way humans are honored. We are thrilled that fans voted for Todd to win the first ever Milk-Bone Dog of the Year Honor. Todd truly embodies the qualities associated with this honor and goes above and beyond by providing comfort and happiness to all of those around him.”

pawprintWoof, Todd … just woof!

A mysterious do-gooder …

I do not know the name of this good person, but I know the name of the recipient of his generosity:  Zac Oliver.  Zac was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of leukemia in May. He is the only person with the condition in the UK and just one of six in the world. The treatment has recently been licensed for use in the UK, but strict medical criteria means Zac is not eligible.ZacAn anonymous donor heard about Zac’s situation and donated £100,000, or about $130,000 USD, to help with Zac’s treatment.

Zac’s family can now afford to fly him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for its 17-week CAR T-cell therapy which will give Zac a 60-80 percent chance of survival, as opposed to less than 25 percent if he continues with chemotherapy in the UK.

Zac’s mom, Hannah, said she received a phone call out of the blue telling her “not to worry” and to “pack her bags”, reassuring her it was not a hoax. Hours later, the money appeared in their bank account.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, anonymous donor, thank you for giving Zac that extra chance to live.

A chance for dreams to come true …

24-year-old Cavin Muodzi is a Zimbabwean living and working as a waiter in South Africa.  As a child, he had dreams of becoming a football player (For my U.S. friends, ‘football’ anywhere but in the U.S. is what we call ‘soccer’.  Other nations do not play with de-flated ovoid balls made of pigskin.)

Muodzi says his mother didn’t support his football dreams. She wanted him to pursue an academic career. But that didn’t stop him from dreaming. Now he would like to live his dream by helping children in a similar situation.Cavin MuodsiMuodzi founded Harvest Soccer Academy in 2016 and currently sponsors 43 young children, with most of the funding coming from … wait for it … the tips Muodzi earns at his job as a waiter!

One of the young students, Yibanathi Joji, 15, of Muizenberg High School, says, “My parents are happy that I am off the streets and being a good example to my young brother. I now come home early, do my homework on time, don’t smoke and am obedient to my parents.”

Who could ask for anything more?

Folks, none of these people did huge, elaborate things.  Sometimes I think in today’s world, we have come to think in terms of dollar signs with at least six figures behind them, even though none of us will likely ever see that much money.  But the point is that … it isn’t about money.  If we’re focused on the big things, it’s altogether too easy to miss the little things, and sometimes those are the most important.  It’s about caring enough to share whatever you have, be it time, knowledge, skills, expertise, or money.  These are the people we should be taking pride in, not the bloated egoists who occupy the halls of government or Wall Street.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean a Lot

Ever notice how, as a general rule, it’s the people who have the least that give the most?  I find that both inspiring, but also depressing, for what if every single millionaire/billionaire decided to give 10% of their net wealth to humanitarian causes every year?  There would be no more poverty!  But anyway, that isn’t how the world works, but today I am bringing you two young people who are giving of themselves.  Today I’m focusing on young people, for it is they who hold the keys to the future of this planet.  If we teach our children the importance of caring for others from a very young age, then there are no boundaries for how far they might take those lessons.  Today, I will introduce to you two young people, both from Louisville, Kentucky, whose parents obviously began teaching this lesson as early as they could.

Andrew DunnMeet Andrew Dunn.  Andrew is 14 years of age and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he has made a big difference in his community.  In 2012, when Andrew was in fifth grade, his parents gave him an advent calendar which required him to perform one act of kindness a day in order to receive a present.  From December 1st thru the 25th that year, Andrew thought up and performed small acts of kindness, and by the end of Advent, Andrew was so caught up in the spirit of giving, of doing, that he didn’t want to stop.  So he didn’t!

Andrew didn’t want to have all the fun, however, he wanted to share the joy of doing small kindnesses, of putting a smile on someone’s face, so he started his project that is called Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Louisville.  RAK is a social movement with the goal of creating a community where service activities are the norm.  It started small, just Andrew and a few friends doing little things like mowing a lawn, making a food box, etc.  While the movement has grown, Andrew’s ultimate goal is for RAK Louisville to become an integral part of every single one of the Jefferson County Public Schools, the schools that serve students in Louisville.

RAK Louisville’s mission is to make service and acts of kindness a part of Louisville’s culture, by removing barriers to service, such as age, fear of doing projects alone, or not knowing where to start. Andrew and the RAK team design monthly challenges that highlight a need in the community. The organization partners with nonprofits in the city to create service events. Andrew has partnered with organizations, such as The Forgotten Louisville, Furniture for the Forgotten, and The Burrito Riders to serve immediate needs in Louisville, such as collecting, delivering, and providing services and goods for transitioning homeless families and veterans in Louisville. Through these partnerships, RAK Louisville has provided over 3,100 breakfast burritos to homeless individuals, along with 250 food boxes to people transitioning into housing after homelessness. One of their bigger projects was organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for 168 homeless people.Andrew Dunn-3Last year, Andrew’s good works came to the attention of Nickelodeon’s HALO awards.  HALO stands for “helping and leading others,” and honors teens making a difference in their communities. In 2017, Andrew was one of four teens so honoured.  As part of that honour, RAK Louisville received a check for $20,000 and Andrew received a $10,000 scholarship.  And just this month, Andrew was chosen as an Everyday Young Hero by Youth Service America (YSA).

Anna-Maria BeckIt was through Andrew that I met today’s second good person, Anna-Maria Beck.  Anna-Maria was only 7-years-old when she was first diagnosed with brain cancer.  All in all since that day, she has undergone no less than twelve surgeries on her brain, and eight rounds of chemotherapy.  Anna-Maria spent hours upon hours sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms and chemo clinics, but she didn’t spend those hours feeling sorry for herself, saying “Why me?”, or indulging in self-pity.  Nope … Anna-Maria spent that time thinking … thinking about how she could make a positive difference for the other patients she saw there.

“Sitting as a patient in a hard, uncomfortable chair, my emotions and ideas overwhelmed and prompted me to take action.”

Anna-Maria Beck-Mitch McConnellSince she loved baking and sweets, Anna-Maria decided to hold a bake sale at her school. Joined by friends, schoolmates and family members, she spent a whole week baking and raised $8,000 in a single day for a pediatric oncology clinic. Subsequent sales more than doubled that amount. In 2014, she shared her story at the Norton Children’s Hospital’s annual fund-raising dinner, which raised nearly $400,000 for the hospital. Recently, Anna-Maria traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on behalf of young cancer patients, and has recruited a third of her school’s student body to participate in a dance marathon that will raise money for clinic needs and research.  Whew!!!  This young woman puts me to shame!!!

Andrew and Anna-Maria shared the stage in May 2017 when they were both honored in the nation’s capital for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Anna-Maria and Andrew – along  with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Both were interviewed by John Ramsey of Louisville’s Wave3 NBC-affiliate television station … take a look …

These two young people are doing good things … small things?  Sure, they are not moving mountains … yet.  Check back in ten years or so, and you might just see a mountain shifting slightly to the left.  But their hearts are in the right place, and they are shining examples of what we need our next generation to be.  My hat is off to both of these young people, but also to their parents, teachers and community that taught them to be humanitarians first.  Our friend Keith often quotes a few lines from a song in the old movie South Pacific …

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Maybe … just maybe … it works the other way too, yes?

Good People Doing Good Things — After the Storm

box of tissues.jpgGood people … they are everywhere, but sometimes we fail to notice them because they are too busy to toot their own horn, and they are overshadowed by so much noise on a day-to-day basis.  I recommend you grab your box of tissues, Gronda, for I needed a box just to write these stories.

Luis Ocampo is an Army medic currently serving with the National Guard in North Carolina.  Naturally, his services were much-needed last month in the wake of Hurricane Florence, and Luis was called out to help those in need. He was on duty for several days without returning home, and when he did return home, it was to find that his home had been ransacked and robbed.luis ocampoAn aside here … what kind of a person does it take, in the middle of a disaster when thousands are suffering, to do this?

His girlfriend and one-year-old son were staying with his parents in Luis’ absence, so the house was unattended.  Gone were all their electronics, coins and jewelry, and even the refrigerator!  His girlfriend, Kailey Finch, posted on Facebook, asking if anybody had seen anything that could help them identify the vandal/robber, and a friend, Mary Elise Capron saw the post.  While most of the commenters offered well-wishes and condolences, Mary Elise took an extra step and set up a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $5,000 for Luis & Kailey to help them replace some of the stolen items.

Within days, the account reached nearly $15,000 as 400 people reached out to the couple and reached into their wallets.  Heartwarming, yes?  But that isn’t the best part.  Luis, overwhelmed by the generosity of so many, despite many having their own troubles in the wake of the hurricane, gave most of the money away!  He donated the funds to the Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, and also to a fellow guardsman who has been homeless since a tree fell on his home during the hurricane.

“A big part of wanting to give the donations comes from seeing how generous people have been, and I wanted to pay that back to someone else who needed help. We’re very happy none of us are hurt.”

Now folks … doesn’t that warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity?

Jarete Hucks owns a 70-room motel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, called the Midtown Inn and Cottages.  When Hurricane Florence hit, Mr. Hucks opened the doors of his inn to all those in need of shelter.  In the first few days after Florence hit, he already given away some $50,000 worth of goods and services, but it doesn’t end there!  People heard what he was doing and started volunteering everything from diapers and ice to food and new shoes — even haircuts!

Grab another tissue and watch …

It seems that troubles may be the thing that brings out the best in people, yes?

Florence Wisniewski, better known as just “Flo”, lives in Chicago.  Last month, Florence was surprised by hearing her name … her full name, not her nickame … over and over again on television.  Her mom Tricia Wisniewski explained to Flo that everyone was talking about a hurricane named Florence and showed her pictures of the storm — flooded neighborhoods and people in shelters.

“I showed her one picture of a family staying in a high school hallway and told her this is all they have, here in the hallway with their baby. Flo said matter-of-factly that we should send them diapers or toys, like that was just common sense!”

Flo didn’t much like sharing her name with something so evil that hurt so many.  Little Flo’s enthusiasm and generosity motivated not only her own family, but their entire neighborhood. Her dad, Paul, made a donation sign, showing the hurricane’s path but with Flo’s face over the spiraling clouds, and her brother Bud pulled a wagon door-to-door collecting donations to send to the hurricane victims.

flo donation signWhat started with a small girl’s desire to protect her good name … grew and GREW …

“I thought that would be it. We would fill a few boxes and Florence would feel good about her name. But a Facebook post got around and then the local news got involved, and now we are getting donations from around the country.”

The family’s two-car garage was soon filled to overflowing, and the problem became … how to get all this stuff to the people who needed it in the Carolinas. Little FlorenceThe problem was solved when Mathew 25 Ministries offered to add the donations the Wisniewskis had collected to their own truck that was heading down south filled with donations they had collected.

Florence didn’t even mind that in the heat of the moment, with the buzz of activity in trying to get everything packed and ready to go, her birthday rather got overlooked.  She figured the packing tape somebody brought by was a good enough gift for now … the birthday can wait.Flo birthdayHer mom is, needless to say, proud.  What she had hoped would be a teachable moment for her daughter about helping others became a larger lesson, and a storm of goodwill in its own right.

I love doing these posts.  Sometimes it’s hard to get a start, for I am mired in the everyday muck of the world, but once I find just the right good person, I focus on that person or people and the world fades away for a short time.  I hope these stories warmed your heart and helped the world to fade away for a bit.  Have a great day!

Good People Doing Good Things — Betty Kwan Chinn

You are going to fall in love with today’s ‘good person’ …gateway-to-life.pngHer name is Betty Chinn, and as you may have already guessed, she is originally from China.  I’ll let her tell you about the days of her childhood …

Betty-Chinn“I was born in a very good family. I’m one of 12 kids. And then in the 1960s, they had the Cultural Revolution. My mom was a US citizen and a Western educator. My mom believed in God, religion. Because my parents had religion and education, my family was a target for the government.

I was separated from my family and I lived on the street by myself. I had to wear a sign on my neck that said, ‘I’m a child of the devil.’ I had nothing to eat, hungry all the time. Every time when I asked for food, I was beaten up by people. Torture, separation from my family, abandoned, betrayal … this all happened at a very young age.

My sister took me out of the country … and then to Hong Kong. I did not know my birthday.

I had never been to school. I stayed home. Then I found my best friends on Sesame Street. They were the ones who taught me English.

Each day when I get up in the morning, I get moving, that’s my birthday. I am celebrating my birthday every single day when I can move, and I can breathe. I have my freedom. That’s the way I look at it.”

And now that you know how Ms. Chinn got her start in life, let’s take a look with what she is doing today.  Eventually Betty was sent to live with a sibling in California and settled in the town of Eureka in Humboldt County.  Married to now-retired Humboldt State University physics professor, Leung Chinn, the couple had two sons, and it was this that would spark Betty’s passion for helping others.

One day in 1984, while volunteering at her son’s elementary school, one of his classmates complained that she was always hungry.  Betty began putting an extra sandwich in her son’s lunch for the girl, only to discover a few days later that the girl and her family were homeless, living out of their car. So, Betty began sending extra food for the family, as well.  Although she didn’t realize it yet, she had just started down the path that would last for the rest of her life. She began observing people in the town and was shocked to see how many other people were in the same situation and decided to make it her mission to provide for the less fortunate in her community.

“I’d do anything I could do to make people not hungry. When I even hear somebody say, ‘I’m hungry,’ my stomach hurts. I feel the hunger inside me. I still remember the hunger.”

She used income from her part-time job to buy food, which she would load into her car and deliver to people living on the street, under bridges and highways, anywhere she could find them. At first, she didn’t tell anyone about what she was doing – not even her husband.

“He did ask me, from time to time, ‘Why are you cooking so much food? Why we buy so much food from the supermarket?'”

He eventually found out – ten years later – and is now her biggest supporter!

Though she never publicized what she was doing, Chinn’s efforts were noticed and appreciated. In 2008, she received the Minerva Award for remarkable women from California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, which included a $25,000 prize.  By now, I’m sure you can guess that Betty did not spend that money on new clothes and a lavish vacation, right?  Nope, she built showers!  Yep, you heard me right … showers.  The following March, she opened Eureka’s first (only) free public shower facility, with the mantra “Providing Dignity One Shower at a Time”.

In 2010, she was one of 13 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama, the nation’s second highest civilian award. She was honored for showing how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten.Chinn-Obama-2010It was at that point that she started dreaming of opening a “Betty’s House,” a type of central location where she could help clients keep warm and fed while connecting them with a variety of services housed under one roof.  Four years later, this dream culminated in the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center which houses Betty’s commercial kitchen, helps clients connect with services, jobs and housing, while also offering after school care, wellness courses, and educational programming for homeless Betty didn’t stop there!  In 2016, she opened Betty’s House, a family shelter that provides transitional housing up to 8 families at a time, giving them the stability, services, and support needed to find a permanent place to live. The shelter’s downstairs, operated in partnership with St. Joseph Hospital, offers a space for up to 10 homeless people recently discharged from the hospital to convalesce under a nurse’s 24/7 care.betty-house-front.png


Betty-house-2Betty-house-3But we’re still not done …

Also in 2016, as the city of Eureka was working to clear its largest homeless encampment from a greenbelt near the bay, Betty partnered with the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights to convert some old Connex shipping containers into a housing village, known now as Betty’s Blue Angel Village, that shelters up to 40 people at a time while offering intensive wrap around services aimed at transitioning them into permanent housing situations. It is one of few shelters on the West coast that allows animals.Village-1Village-2There is so much more I could write about Betty Chinn … this woman … this woman is so good, has done so much for her community, that my words feel inadequate to describe her.  Betty arises at 2:07 every morning, ready to go, seven days a week, rain or shine.  I recommend paying a brief visit to her website, The Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, where you will find additional information, photo galleries and more.

In 2015, she received yet another award from President Obama …2015-Chinn-ObamaLast week, Ms. Chinn was named one of CNN’s Heroes … an honour well-deserved. In addition to American recognition, Betty has received commendations from China and is hailed as the “Hong Kong Angel.”  And around Humboldt County, she is known as the ‘Chinese Mother Teresa’.  Eureka’s police chief, Andrew Mills, described her as a philanthropic force of nature. “It’s a humbling experience just to sit in her presence.”

Heck, I found it humbling just to research and write about this woman … I am in awe.  If I had a third, I would give this woman three thumbs up, but as I have only two, I shall give her both.  Thank you, Betty Kwan Chinn, for making such a wonderful difference in the lives of so many!  👍👍

Good People Doing Good Things —

Today’s good people are on a smaller scale than I had originally planned, but they will make hour heart smile, I promise!  I had one of my rare false starts this evening, and had to abandon the ‘good people’ project I had spent 4 hours on!  Needless to say, I was frustrated and panicking, but within minutes I found a whole contingent of other good people.  I was not about to forgo the ‘good people’ post this week … we all need it more than ever, I think.  And so, I bring to you …

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My BrotherNoah-and-LucasNoah Aldrich is 12 years old, and his brother Lucas is 10.  When Lucas was two months old, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic neurological condition called Lissencephaly.  According to his mother, Alissa …

He has severely impaired motor skills (can’t sit, stand, walk or roll-over), he is non-verbal, and is fed by a g-tube.  He is at a high risk of having seizures and pneumonia in the future.  There is no cure for Lucas’s condition and he is expected to have a significantly shortened lifespan.

But Lucas has something very special … Noah.  For one so young, Noah has always shared a special bond with Lucas.  In 2014 when Noah was only eight, the family heard about a youth triathlon being sponsored by the local YMCA, and Noah knew he wanted to do that with his brother.  He began training the very next day!

Before the triathlon, Noah didn’t even know how to swim, but here he is pulling Lucas in a raft …Noah-pulls-raft

And pushing him for the running part of the competition …


And pedaling him for the biking portion …

noah-biking-lucas.jpgThey may not have come in first in the triathlon, but they were the biggest winners, don’t you think?  When asked by a local NBC News affiliate who covered the event if he thought it was a big deal, Noah responded, “Well not really … I’m just doing something with Lucas.”  I wonder if ever before has one so young worked so hard to give his brother a bit of pleasure?

This is a short (2:28 minutes) clip, but do yourself a favour and check it out … it will make you smile … Gronda, get your tissues!

Two Big Hearts …

You remember Hurricane Florence that hit the Carolinas a couple of weeks ago?  Shelli Trench of Garner, North Carolina, wanted to help her neighbors.  When she dropped off some water at a shelter in the local high school, Shelli asked the rescue workers what their greatest need at that moment was, and they replied, “T-shirts”.  Apparently people were stopping by for showers, but the shelter had no clean clothes to offer them.

Shelli isn’t rich by any means, but she had $50 she felt she could spare, so she headed to the local Wal-Mart to see what she could do.

“I went in and asked for a manager, hoping he would give me some kind of discount to make that money go further. Instead, I got a blessing.

When Jeff Jobes, the manager on duty, heard about the plight of the people at the shelter he didn’t give me a discount. Instead, he armed me with one of his associates (Alex) and a shopping cart and told her to fill it… on him.

Y’all… $1,251 later, I was able to deliver 254 items of clothing to the evacuees at the Garner High shelter because Jeff the manager loves his community and he proved it with his actions.”Shelli-Jeff.jpg

Aren’t Shelli and Jeff just wonderful people?  Why can’t everybody in the world be like this?  But wait … there’s more to this story …

I woke up to this morning to this text from Manager Jeff: ‘How is everything this morning? Need anything?’

So I drove to the shelter and ask them what they needed and they gave me a list of fresh fruit for snacks, Ensure, Boost, and Gatorade.

I texted the list to Jeff and his response was: ‘Give me 30 minutes then come see me.’

Y’all when I got to the store, manager Jeff and his co-manager Kelly were busy pulling together the items that were requested.

They didn’t donate bags of fresh fruit. They donated case after case after case after case of apples and oranges and bananas and Ensure and Boost and Gatorade and Cliff bars and pastries and bread and cookies.

My van was loaded to the top.

The outpouring of love and support from the Walmart in Garner is unbelievable.”

Jeff Jobes.jpg

Javier Amos of Watertown, South Dakota, is 9 years old and has leukemia.  He is currently in remission after undergoing chemotherapy for most of last year.  You’ve heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, right?  Well, they recently selected Javier to be the recipient of a wish.  Most kids would likely pick a trip to Disney World, right?  Or skiing in Aspen, or meeting Colin Kaepernick, or a new 10-speed bike.  But not Javier!Javier-AmosYou see, Javier has spent much of the past year in and out of hospitals, too sick to attend school, and while he might not have missed long division too much, he missed his friends a lot.  So, Javier decided to use his wish to throw a huge pizza party!  According to Make-A-Wish South Dakota Program Services Director Joe Evenson …

“Out of all the wishes we have granted, this has got to be one of the most unique ones.  For a kid his age to be able to do what he’s doing today, he could have literally went anywhere in the world, chosen to met anybody he wanted to or had anything he wanted.”

But all Javier wanted was to be with his friends.javier-party

And that is all I have time for tonight, but I hope these people helped to remind you that the whole world is not like what we see on television and the internet every day!  Now, let’s all go out and be good people ourselves, shall we?

💥 Saturday And Wednesday Collided 💥

Is it Saturday?  Or is it Wednesday?  There seems to have been a collision on this blog of Saturday and Wednesday … what shall we call it?  Satnesday?  Wedurday?  Friday evening, I was pondering whether to even do a Saturday Surprise post, as my heart truly wasn’t into it.  The blue light began flashing on my phone, indicating a private message from a Facebook friend who sent me a link that he ‘thought I might find interesting’.  I did, and my initial reaction was to flag it for Wednesday’s ‘Good People’ post, but as I was trolling news and pondering deep things like whether to have another cup of coffee or not, the article kept popping back into my head.  And then a thought hit me … this is such a heartwarming story about such a beautiful person … and we are all in need of something happy after this past week … so … who says I can’t feature a ‘good person’ for Saturday Surprise?  After all, it’s my blog and I can do what I want with it, yes?  The only rule about Saturday Surprise is no politics!  And so … without rambling any longer, please allow me to introduce you to a great man, Mr. Todd Kirnan!

Todd was born in 1972, and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with autism.  His mother was abusive, frequently tying him to his crib for hours at a time. Eventually the law intervened and Todd spent time in foster care before his father, then separated from his mother, assumed custody.  Now Todd lives in the town of Gresham, Oregon, population 111,523, where he is known to all as Mr. Gresham.  For twenty-plus years, Todd has dedicated his life to doing little things in the town to help out small business owners and others.  He delivers coffee and food, makes trips to the post office, empties trash cans, and other odd jobs, but most of all what he gives is smiles and hugs.  He spends some twelve hours a day meandering the downtown streets of Gresham, seeing if there is anything he can do to help merchants.

Todd now lives with his younger sister, Suzette Rackley, who says of her brother, “Todd is really miraculous. He is the love of everyone’s life.”todd-with-sister-e1538196166915.pngTodd attended special education classes at Gresham High School, where he became best friends with Shane Bemis, who was serving as a student-aide to the special ed classes. Bemis became a mentor for Todd, who says, “Shane would always stick up for me against bullies.” Today, Shane Bemis is the mayor of Gresham and he and Todd remain friends.todd-with-mayor.pngThe reason this story is in the news today is that last week, the town of Gresham threw a parade in Todd’s honour, culminating in the unveiling of a Todd Kirnan statue!  Right on main street!  Hundreds of people turned out …


Just look at the crowd that turned out to honour Todd!!!

Well, y’know what?  I am going to let you see for yourself … this is a short clip, and it is so very heartwarming … Gronda, get your tissues!

I think that Todd Kirnan is the antidote to the week we’ve just had, and I also think the townspeople of Gresham deserve a round of applause, for they are some pretty special people. This, my friends, is what ‘community’ is all about.  I hope you all enjoyed meeting Todd and the good people of Gresham, Oregon!  Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Good People Doing Good Things — The Teacher & The Bridgebuilder

Today I have not one, but two ‘good people’ for you, and … a surprise ending!  If these two people don’t bring a smile to your face and a song to your heart, then I don’t know what will.  Gronda … grab your box of tissues. For today’s story, we travel to Kenya on the African continent …

The teacher …

Can you imagine being engaged at the tender young age of five, being expected to leave school to marry, bear children and become a homemaker in your early teens?  That is exactly what was expected of Kakenya Ntaiya, who spent her childhood in the small Maasai village of Enoosaen in Western Kenya. She was the oldest of eight children, working hard alongside men tending the fields and helping her mother haul water and care for her siblings. The family was very poor, but young Kakenya would dream of a better life. School was her respite and she excelled at it, dreaming of becoming a teacher, but her life was set to follow the traditional path of ending school to become a wife and a mother.  Kakenya’s dream was important enough that she was willing to defy her father in order to return to finish high school.

Eventually, she was accepted to college in the United States and awarded a scholarship, but she needed help to travel there.  She reached out to her community and promised that in exchange for their support, she would return to the village and use her education to help them.  And that is just what she did.  The villagers all pitched in and collected money to help Kakenya, and off she went to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now the co-ed Randolph College) in Virginia.  Although Kakenya had grown up without electricity, it didn’t take her long to get the hang of writing papers on a computer.  She also became the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, where she traveled the world as a passionate advocate for girls’ education. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where she received her Ph.D. in Education.

And during it all, she never forgot her promise to her village. Kakenya returned to her village in Maasai where only 11% of girls even finish primary school, and in 2009 she opened the first primary school for girls in her village, the Kakenya Center for Excellence.  The Kakenya Center for Excellence started as a traditional day school, but now the students, who range from fourth to eighth grade, live at the school. This spares the girls from having to walk miles back and forth, which puts them at risk of being sexually assaulted, a common problem in rural African communities. It also ensures the girls don’t spend all their free time doing household chores.the schoolStudents receive three meals a day as well as uniforms, books and tutoring. There are also extracurricular activities such as student council, debate and soccer. Class sizes are small — many schools in Kenya are extremely overcrowded — and the girls have more chances to participate. With these opportunities and the individual attention they receive, the girls are inspired to start dreaming big.

“They want to become doctors, pilots, lawyers. It’s exciting to see that. Fathers are now saying, ‘My daughter could do better than my son’.”

As a public school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence receives some financial support from the Kenyan government. But the majority of the school’s expenses are paid for by Ntaiya’s U.S.-based nonprofit, Kakenya’s Dream. While families are asked to contribute to cover the cost of the girls’ meals, an expense that can be paid in maize or beans, Ntaiya covers the costs of any students who cannot pay.traditiional dance.jpgEach year, more than 100 girls apply for approximately 30 spots available in each new class. Parents who enroll their daughters must agree that they will not be subjected to genital mutilation or early marriage.

Her nonprofit also runs health and leadership camps that are open to all sixth-grade girls in the village and teach them about female circumcision, child marriage, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

“We tell them about every right that they have, and we teach them how to speak up. It’s about empowering the girls.”

in classToday, Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya reaches thousands of young girls and community members each year through the holistic, and girl-centered programs she pioneered at Kakenya’s Dream.  There is much more I could say about Dr. Kekenya Ntaiya, but I want to introduce you to the other ‘good person’ …

The bridge-builder …

Harmon-ParkerHarmon Parker is a bricklayer who became a master mason early in his life. Just an everyday, average workingman, he spent some time working with a developmental group in Africa some twenty years ago. And he heard the stories … stories like this one …

Nengume could see the lights of the clinic, not far away, shining in the deep darkness of the landscape. As the lights grew brighter, her hope grew stronger. Help for her child was near. She adjusted the baby on her back and pushed ahead. Then, she heard the sound she had feared, and hope faded quickly into the dark, angry waters of the rushing river.

The same life-sustaining waters that provided so much were now keeping her from the help she needed. An attempt to cross the floodwaters, especially at night, would mean certain death. A safe place to cross could be more than twenty miles down the river. She looked up again and saw the lights on the other side of the river – hope just out of reach.

bridge in useNegume’s was just one of many such stories, and as he listened, Harmon Parker saw his path.  Harmon Parker began building footbridges over dangerous rivers in Kenya more twenty years ago.  Since 1997, Harmon Parker has helped build more than 60 footbridges over perilous rivers in Kenya.  He established Bridging the Gap Africa (BtGA), a nonprofit that doesn’t just build the bridges, but involves the community so that the people truly feel they are a part of the effort.  Their mission statement is simple:

BtGABridging the Gap Africa (BtGA) believes that marginalized African communities should not suffer from the dangers posed by impassable rivers.  Footbridges prevent drowning and ensure safe, uninterrupted access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. BtGA builds bridges that save lives.

And this is what Harmon Parker has dedicated his life to for the past 20 years.

Both Dr. Ntaiya and Mr. Parker certainly qualify by themselves as ‘good people doing good things’, but wait!  There’s more!  These two, each having been a ‘CNN Hero’, met at a CNN Heroes event and felt an instant connection.  It happened that a bridge near Kakenya’s village had recently been washed away in flood waters, leaving many children unable to get to school.


Harmon Parker & Kakenya Ntaiya

“I’ve got a project for you!” said Kakenya, and Mr. Parker rose to the challenge.  See them tell the story themselves …


Now wasn’t that awesome?  These two people and their sheer level of dedication to making life a bit better warmed my heart, and I hope it did yours too.  Have a great day, friends!

Good People Doing Good Things — Luke Mickelson

I had to flip a coin tonight, for I was hard-pressed to decide between two good people, both of whom are dedicating their lives to helping children.  I didn’t want to leave either one behind, but there was only so much time, so after the coin flip, I promise to bring you the other next week.

Mickelson-2Luke Mickelson’s life changed back in 2012 when he was asked by his church to build a bed for a little girl who had none.  It was Christmas time, a cold and blustery winter in Twin Falls, Idaho where a little girl was sleeping on the floor on naught but a pile of clothes.

“This little girl had a nest of clothes, it looked like a little bird’s nest. And that’s what she slept on, that’s what her bed was. When we delivered the bed, she hugged it and just couldn’t let go. It was such an eye-opener to me. I sat there in silence thinking, ‘Is that really what’s going on?’ I had no clue about what the need was. There’s kids next door whose parents are struggling just to put food on the table, clothes on their back, a roof over their head. A bed was just a luxury. “

Using his daughter’s bunk bed as a template, Mickelson started buying wood and supplies to build beds with his own money. He recruited friends and family members to help around the holidays.  As word spread, interest and involvement from his and other communities surged — along with Mickelson’s bunk bed output.

Mickelson-3That first year, Luke and his team of volunteers built 11 bunk beds in his garage, and the next year it was 15. As their project became known around the community, the demand rose and before long, Luke had a dilemma … he had a lucrative job, with a six-figure income, but building beds was becoming more and more time-consuming.  What to do?  Luke did what few would likely have done … he quit his job to make beds!  He took a significantly lesser-paying part-time job to support his family and turned his attention toward the needs of his community.SHP-2Mickelson set up a non-profit called Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) and their motto is “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town”.  With the help of volunteers and donations for materials, SHP in Twin Falls built and delivered 612 beds to children in 2017.

But the organization is no longer just in Twin Falls, Idaho. Mickelson began a training center where people interested in starting a chapter in their own community can come and learn how to make beds and how to organize their own chapter.  In February, Mickelson and SHP were featured in a Facebook video feature titled Returning the Favor and the response was so overwhelming that they increased their chapters from 14 in February to 100 today.  And per their website, they have more than 900 pending requests for new chapters.  This is an idea that is taking off like wildfire, and for such a good cause. mapIn September 2017, a storage unit used by SHP to store materials, mattresses, etc., was burglarized and over $2,000 worth of materials stolen.  From the Idaho State Journal …

CHUBBUCK — A local charity wants those who burglarized the storage unit that contained several mattresses and bedding supplies to know that their actions have kept eight children sleeping on the floor at night.

“It’s very heart-wrenching,” said Luke Mickelson, the founder of the non-profit Sleep in Heavenly Peace, or SHP, which builds and donates bunk beds to children and families who don’t have anywhere to sleep. “Anytime you have something stolen you feel very stripped. But in this case, when you think about it, those people just robbed eight children of a place to sleep.”

First reported to the Chubbuck Police Department on Sept. 1, Mickelson said the thieves stole eight Malouf Lucid twin-size mattresses, along with several boxes of sheets, pillows, pillowcases and custom handmade quilts from a storage unit located in Chubbuck.

Mickelson continued, “If someone is so desperate they have to steal bedding, I hope they were in dire need and they can put it to good use because the quilts were really priceless and were donated from these awesome elderly ladies that put a lot of time into making them. How do you put a price to their time?”

In June, Luke Mickelson and SHP were featured on CNN Heroes. From the SHP website:

We have grown a lot in just the last year. As you can imagine, we are still working out all our processes and bugs. We are currently a 100% volunteer board and staff. No one currently receives a dime from any of the donations.  

Where we didn’t expect such a torrent was in requests to start a new chapter. It was such a flood of requests to start up that we had to better define our processes. As of the writing of this post, we have have a total of 521 requests to start new chapters in 47 states, in 4 provinces of Canada, 1 in the Philippines, 1 in Kenya and 1 in Mexico.

Perhaps the most important thing we can give to others is our time.  Luke Mickelson gave up a lucrative job and countless hours of his time to do something for children.  He and his team of volunteers from coast-to-coast are bringing smiles to kids’ faces every day.  People like this, my friends, are the ‘real’ people in this world, the ones that restore our faith in humanity.

Good People Doing Good Things — Carolyn Collins

I was working on a special piece for this week’s ‘Good People’ feature, but as often happens, I find that it requires more digging and research than I have time for right at this moment, so I will have that one next week.  But for today … you are going to fall in love with this woman!  She will restore your faith in human nature!  Please allow me to introduce …Carolyn-Collins-2Carolyn Collins, a high school custodian in Tucker, Georgia.  About four years ago, Carolyn was working the early shift, it was still dark out, and she was getting ready to take out the trash when there came a knock on the cafeteria door.  Two students — a boy and a girl — looked at her nervously. “Can we please come in?” asked the boy, even though school didn’t start for two more hours. “Me and my sister are getting tired of waiting outside.”

Talking to the two, Carolyn learned that they were homeless, living in a car with their mother, and hadn’t had much to eat for several days.  She fixed them something to eat and sat chatting with them for a few minutes.  It was from them that she learned there were actually several homeless kids in the school, some living in cars, some in homeless shelters, some even living on the streets.  Carolyn’s heart was touched, and she knew she had to find a way to closetAfter work that evening, Carolyn stopped at several dollar stores on her way home, purchasing $200 worth of snacks, toiletries, socks, underwear, notebooks, and pencils.  The next morning, she dropped into Principal Eric Parker’s office to let him know what she was doing and to ask if she could make use of a small, mostly-unused storage closet near the cafeteria.  And with that began the Giving Closet.

Many of the students at Tucker High School live in poverty, and according to Principal Parker, at any given time there are typically 10-15 students who are homeless.  Carolyn started out with just a few items, but as she realized how great the needs of the students were, she expanded and now has clothing, belts, shoes, gloves, hairbrushes … you name it, she’s got it, and if she doesn’t have it, she’ll get it.  She spends a few hundred dollars of her own hard-earned money each month keeping the closet stocked.  These days, teachers, other students, and members of the community also bring items to help keep the closet stocked.

Carolyn’s son was murdered during the Thanksgiving weekend six years ago in a home invasion.  She hopes that what she is doing will help keep the young men and women of Tucker High off the streets and prevent what happened to her own son from happening to these young people.

Earlier this year, her efforts came to the attention of television host Steve Harvey after Atlanta-based TV station 11Alive shared Carolyn’s story in December of 2017. Grab your box of tissues and take peek …

“I never anticipated it would get this big, lots of good people want to help. Not every kid who comes to the closet is homeless — some come from single homes and don’t have dads in their lives. It’s hard not to have a dad at home, especially when you’re a young boy. I just hug them and love them and let them know that I’m here for them.”

One of the young men she helped who has since graduated and is now a sophomore at Savannah State University, says of Carolyn …

“I love her with all my heart, she was my angel. Ms. Collins took me aside a couple of times and made sure that I was doing okay and asked me what I needed. And I basically told her, ‘everything.’ I didn’t have clothes or good shoes or food, or even a toothbrush. She gave me all of that and more.”

I so admire Ms. Carolyn Collins … she is what we should all aspire to be, don’t you think?


“They can come to me for anything. If I have it, I’m going to give it to them.”


Good People Doing Good Things — Florence Phillips

Good people.  They are not hard to find.  They come from all walks of life, and their contributions to the world are many and diverse.  As we have seen since I started this feature in February 2017, some contribute large amounts of money to worthy causes, others just do small things that may go unnoticed.  They are young, old, every ethnicity, race, gender and religion.  The common bond they share is that they care about people.  While giving money to good causes is certainly admirable, I always enjoy highlighting those who give of themselves — their time and energy.

Today I have the honour of introducing you to one great lady, Ms. Florence Phillips.  She was born in New York in 1931, shortly after her Jewish parents came to this country from Europe prior to the Holocaust.  Young people are most always able to learn a second or even third language much more easily than adults, and Florence was no exception.  Her parents struggled to learn English, and for most of her childhood, Florence served as their interpreter.

“I did all the translations for them. I saw how they struggled being new to a country and not knowing the language.”

For most of her life, Phillips worked various desk jobs. Then, in her late-50s, she enlisted in the Peace Corps. She served three tours—in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica—working on community-building projects and teaching English.  When she returned to the U.S. after her last tour, as she said in one of her videos, she found she had “nothing to do”.

“It came to me that I didn’t have to leave the US or my hometown to help. I could do here what I did overseas.”

She volunteered with AmeriCorps, a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in public service work with a goal of “helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.”  She moved around the country, eventually settling in Carson City, Nevada, where immigrants comprise some 22% of the population.

Florence-Phillips-4She started out by contacting some of the immigrants, and one woman asked her to come for a visit.  When she arrived, she found five people, three of whom spoke no English, all eager to learn.  As she worked with this family, teaching them to speak the language, word spread and before long she was getting dozens of calls.Florence-Phillips.jpgNow, Florence is an energetic woman, but even so, it soon became more than one woman could handle. And thus, her ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada was born.  The organization is a nonprofit that provides free ESL (English as a Second Language), citizenship, GED and computer classes and relies strictly on volunteers.  Started in 2004, they have thus far helped more than 5,000 people become more proficient in English.

Recently, Ms. Phillips was interviewed by CNN’s Laura Klairmont … let’s listen in, shall we?

Laura Klairmont: What are some of the barriers that get in the way of immigrants accessing English classes?

Florence Phillips: It was amazing to see how many immigrants there were that wanted to learn English. I got calls from all over Nevada. Many of these immigrants could not attend ESL classes because the schools and other organizations have a set schedule, and their times were not convenient for the student who works three jobs. So, my program teaches morning, noon, night, weekends, holidays. We provide these services at the times and days that the student is available and wherever the student is or can be. My program is very flexible.

We teach English on all levels to immigrants and refugees in Northern Nevada who want to learn. There is no other program like this in the state. We give the students personal attention; I match them with a tutor. We teach at no cost to the student.

There are people who were living in rural counties and in other counties where they did not have transportation if there was a class available for them to go to. If they lack transportation, just had a baby, are sick or disabled, we will tutor in their own homes or the tutor’s home.

Klairmont: Your program also provides free classes that help people prepare for their citizenship test.

Phillips: It is a very difficult test. A lot of Americans say they could not pass. These people have to know the answers to questions about the branches of government, how many senators there are, etc. It’s a lot of history, a lot of civics, a lot about our government. They have to know how to write, how to read. They have to know how to converse in English with the interviewer. We do all of that for them. We have a mock interview at the end of the class so that they know what to expect when they go for their exam. It takes a commitment of coming to a 12-week class. It takes a lot of memorization.

To apply for citizenship today, it costs more than $700. Many of our students cannot afford to apply. So, we help to raise money to help these students apply.

Whether they’re working two, three jobs, they have to sit down and study every single day, and they make that commitment because it is their desire to become an American. My students inspire me because of their dedication, their commitment, their motivation to learn.

Klairmont: How has your work affected the lives of your students?

Phillips: I have students that were promoted to be supervisor. I get students who call me and say, “I was able to talk with the teacher about my child.” And I’m being told by the students that they went to the market and the clerk understood them. Those are the rewards I get as they progress.

My students love this country. They are very proud about being here, learning English, learning our culture. I see the pride when they say, “I am an American.”

Florence-Phillips-2.jpgIn this day, when fear of immigrants is being manufactured by politicians, isn’t it refreshing to see people who are actually trying to help immigrants assimilate and become contributing members of our society, realizing that they have so much to offer.  My hat is off to Ms. Florence Phillips, who at age 87 has more energy than I do at 67!