Monday, June 26, 2017

400,000 people applaud this young man's small kindness

With the divisive atmosphere in our country and our media's focus on bad news and sensationalism, human decency seems in short supply. In fact, bad behavior seems more common than ever. As headlines and 24-hour news channels broadcast more and more stories of worthy of a dystopian novel, I ask myself - is the escalation in bad behavior a matter of garbage in, garbage out?

Call me callous, but I limit my intake of news. I can't spend my life's energy fretting about other people's bad behavior. I'm on the lookout for good news, hoping to fill my mind with examples of goodness and decency so my heart will absorb the message and my actions will reflect that. Goodness in/ goodness out.

That's the purpose of this blog. It's my way of calling attention to kindness, a chance to spread some decency, share some small reminders that people who behave with respect for themselves and others still exist. I believe their stories should be broadcast far and wide. Their behaviors are the ones which can and should be emulated.

Take this story for example. At a busy Massachusetts shopping mall, an 83-year-old man hesitated at the top of an escalator. A few people walked around him and still the man stood in place. Several paces back, a woman named Paula witnessed a young man later identified as 23-year-old Alonzo Johnson approach the elderly man. "Do you need help, sir?" he asked. The man explained that he'd once been caught by an escalator and still had a phobia about them. Johnson offered an outstretched arm and said he'd ride with him to the bottom. The man accepted the offer and did just fine.

Paula captured the kindness on her cell phone and posted the act of decency to Facebook. The shot has gone viral, which surprised both Paula and Mr. Johnson.

Apparently I'm one of over 400,000 people who like hearing good news. Here's hoping each of those 400,000 people spread some kindness of their own.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Teen raises funds to send Holocaust survivor to Israel for his bar mitzvah, finally

When Holocaust survivor, 89-year-old Henry Oster spoke at Viewpoint High School in Calabasas, California, 17-year-old Drew Principe was fascinated.  He spoke with the elderly Jewish man after the assembly and presented him with a gift - a bracelet inscribed with a Jewish prayer he himself had bought on a trip to Israel several years earlier. Oster was overwhelmed with the gift, and admitted that he had never been to Israel.

The two kept in touch. Principe learned that Oster was detained by the Nazis just a few weeks before his bar mitzvah and spent time in Auschwitz. After the camp was liberated in 1945, he tracked down one of his few remaining relatives, an uncle in California. At 17, he was adopted by that uncle and began a new life in America. He never did get his bar mitzvah.

The man's story bothered Principe, and he decided to act. He wrote a letter explaining his dream of sending Oster to Israel and sent it to family and friends. They in turn spread the word. Over $15,000 was raised to cover Oster's travel expenses.

Principe didn't stop there. He learned that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, had listed Oster as a victim of the Holocaust, not as a survivor. He contacted them and set the record straight.

When Oster travels to Israel this summer, Yad Vashem will conduct an official ceremony to change his status to that of a survivor. Plus, he will finally celebrate his bar mitzvah, attended by his last living relative in Israel.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Truck covered with racial slurs pulls into auto body shop, workers jump into action

Auto body shops are typically busy, noisy places. Such was the case at Collision Masters in Buffalo NY, last week, when all of a sudden, the place went quiet. The business owner, Frank Todaro later said, "You could hear crickets." The abrupt silence was because a pickup had just pulled in, covered in racist hate graffiti. Air tools stopped, no one spoke. The staff was horrified by what they saw. The pickup's owner, Mr. King, obviously wanted the graffiti removed, and Todaro quickly put two workers on the job. Cleaning that much graffiti would likely take a full day.

That's when the rest of Collision Masters' staff chipped in. They all stopped their own work in order to help with the pickup. Inside of 30 minutes, the job was done. Mr. King had his pickup back, cleaned of hateful graffiti at no charge to him courtesy of Todaro and Collision Masters.

Word spread of the conscientious workers at Collision Masters. Because of their kindness, State Rep. Tim Kennedy bought the shop staff lunch, and Mayor Byron Brown stopped by with an official proclamation hailing their good deed. A social media report of the quick, free graffiti removal got thousands of 'likes,' 'loves,' and 'shares' on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kids fold 1,000 paper cranes to encourage a hospitalized classmate

Last fall, fourth-graders at Carondelet Catholic School in Minneapolis learned that a classmate was to be hospitalized. Owen Guertin had been diagnosed with an arterio-venous malformation, a tangled web of blood vessels in the brain. The same malformation had killed his cousin just a few months earlier.

While Owen prepped for surgery at Boston Childrens Hospital, his teddy bear came to school every day, dressed for school and sitting in Owen's chair. His classmates were comforted by the bear's presence, but they missed their friend.

One day, teacher Kristen Rafferty read to the class from Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the true story of a Japanese girl with leukemia who believes the Japanese legend - a person who folds one thousand paper cranes will be returned to health. At the end of the story, one of Owen's classmates raised her hand. She asked Ms. Rafferty if the class could fold cranes for Owen. Of course, she agreed.

The class used time during recess, lunch, morning prep, and even their own time at home to fold cranes out of paper in multiple colors and prints. It was all worthwhile when Owen returned to school after a successful 17-hour surgery to find his friends had decorated their classroom with a 'cranebow.'

Monday, June 12, 2017

12-year-old invents app to help people with disabilities find accessible businesses

Alexander Knoll may be 12-years-old, but his father says he has an old soul. A few years ago, Alex watched a man in a wheelchair struggle to open a store's front door. The man's situation bothered him and got him wondering - what if that man had been able to search ahead of time for a store that had better accessibility? Would he have taken his business elsewhere?

Like most inventors, Alex identified a need and is working to satisfy it. His idea was simple - create an app which acts as a clearinghouse for information needed by people with disabilities when they access their community. Availability of braille menus, ramps, automatic doors, accessible restrooms, wheelchair-friendly restaurant seating, etc. would all be found within the app, a one-stop site for disability-friendly businesses.

The idea has won awards sponsored by the Discovery Channel and 3M, and has garnered Alex invitations to speak at national and international tech symposiums. He and his Ability App have been featured on TV programs, including TD Jakes, NBC Nightly News, and Ellen Degeneres. Alex is raising money on a GoFundMe page to finish the app development and marketing, which should be helped along by Ellen's contribution of $25,000.

An idea filled with compassion from the heart of a 12-year-old. We adults have much to learn.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

He's going home, courtesy of kind co-workers

In 2012, Samuel Nzube left his home in Nigeria  to study finance and economics at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. In addition to his studies, he's been working part-time at the local Little Caesar's pizza. Money and time are both tight, so he hasn't been home to see his family in five years.

Enter his Little Caesar's co-workers. For seven months, the staff secretly pooled their delivery tip money. They saved up enough to purchase Samuel's airfare home. When presented with the gift, Samuel was speechless, overwhelmed by their kindness.

Samuel was quick to thank his co-workers publicly. He added that their boss supported the idea, and offered to pay for any shortfall himself.

Now he'll head home to visit loved ones and enjoy his mom's home-cooking, courtesy of generous friends in the US.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Filipino man does One Right Thing, 64 times over

Persecution of religious minorities is horribly familiar. It was seen in ancient times and has continued into the modern era. Just last weekend, ISIS terrorists searched the Philippine city of Marawi, hunting down Christians and beheading them. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a 60-day period of martial law in the region.

A number of Christian workmen were doing repairs at the home of Noor Lucman, a Muslim and a resident of Marawi when word of the attacks reached them. The men were stuck: it was unsafe for them to stay in the city and yet they were unable to leave. Lucman sheltered the workmen in his home, risking his own life by doing so. The following day, more Christians joined them and Lucman sheltered them as well. A total of 64 people took refuge in Lucman's home. He was determined that nothing would happen to them under his roof.

Sure enough, ISIS members came knocking. They recognized Lucman as a Muslim and left respectfully when he asked them to leave. When that door closed behind them, no doubt everyone inside breathed a sigh of relief.

Lucman's courage astounds me.

Goodness and decency are not limited to one religion, one nationality. All of us have the capacity to either step aside and let terror reign or to act for the dignity of our fellow man.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Barber supports dignity of teen with autism by finishing haircut in mom's mini-van

Cork, Ireland barber Donncha O'Connell has been cutting Evan O'Dwyer's hair since he was a little boy. Now 16, Evan has severe autism and sensory processing disorder, so unusual or unpredictable noises frighten and agitate him. He is non-verbal, so when stimulus overwhelms him, he cannot express himself. Even though O'Connell and his hair-cutting routine are familiar, some days the busy barber shop is too much stimulation.

Last Monday was just such a day. Right in the middle of a haircut, Evan became agitated. He fled to his safe place, his mom's mini-van parked outside. Rather than leave the teen with a half-done haircut, O'Connell followed. While Evan's brother kept him calm and his mom captured the barber's exceptional kindness on video, O'Connell finished with the clippers in the mini-van's back seat, climbing in and around the seated teen.

Small kindness matters.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Music creates a bridge for Afghani teen and his future in the US

Under Taliban rule, the study and performance of 'Western' music is banned in Afghanistan. That didn't stop 17-year-old Ahmed "Baset" Azizi from his love of playing trumpet, but he lived in fear. If a neighbor or passerby heard him practice, he and his family could be in danger.

He was studying trumpet at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul when his instructor left and no replacement was named. Other instructors were nowhere to be found. The only way Baset could continue to challenge his skill was by watching You Tube videos of other trumpeters.

One of his favorites was David Bilger, principal trumpeter for The Philadelphia Orchestra. Baset reached out to Bilger online, and Bilger responded with an offer: they'd meet via Skype once a week for an hour of coaching. Baset was delighted.

Bilger didn't stop there. He teamed up with Robin Korevaar, a clarinetest and created a Go Fund Me page to bring Baset to the US to continue his study of music. It worked, and Baset attended the Interlochen school last fall. Now he's headed to the University of Kansas School of Music on a full scholarship, and another GoFundMe page has been set up to offset other living and travel expenses.

Baset hopes to touch the world and spread peace through his music. Bilger and Korevaar have done both by giving a hand up to a stranger on the other side of the world. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Stranded soldier given plane ticket by Good Samaritan

Keaton Tilson is a 19-year-old Army mechanic stationed at Fort Hood. At the last minute, he was given leave for Memorial Day weekend. He hurried to the airport to try for a stand-by flight to see his family in Illinois. Two days went by - with the chaos of holiday travel, no flights had room for him. He started to lose hope.

That's where Josh Rainey came in. He heard Tilson's story at the airport and offered his ticket to the young soldier. Unfortunately, airline regulations won't allow exchange of ticket ownership so that was a no-go. Rainey called his wife and she agreed - Rainey bought Tilson a $350 round trip ticket. Tilson gratefully accepted the gift, and gave Rainey the only thing he could give: a heartfelt hug.

Tilson's family shared the good news with friends and neighbors and spread the story online. They want to make sure Rainey's kindness is acknowledged.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day: Tribute to those who died in defense of American freedom

We Americans tend to see Memorial Day as a two-faced holiday. The first side relates to its original purpose: a day set aside to remember those who died in service to our country. Graves are decorated, prayers said, flags flown, some proudly, others somberly at half-mast. The other side of Memorial Day is the three day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Barbecues are lit, pools are opened, and frisbees are thrown on trim green lawns. A hard truth of this world is this: without the first, the second would cease to exist.

Which brings me to today's topic. On Friday afternoon, a passenger on a Portland Oregon commuter train began a tirade against two other passengers. The man's words were full of hate speech and aimed at the young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, the other of whom is black. In fear for the women's safety, three other passengers moved in to try to calm the man down. He continued his racist rant and attacked those trying to calm him. He stabbed all three of them, killing two: Army veteran Rick Best and recent college graduate Taliesin Myrddin Namkai MecheThe third man was taken to the hospital in serious condition.

These three men stood against hate-speech, defending a basic freedom: for two young women to ride the train in peace. By doing so, they symbolically stood up for the right for all Americans, black, white, Muslim, Christian, whatever, to go about their business without harassment or intimidation.

I believe a comprehensive list of those who died in service to our country would include Best and Meche. As we honor our military dead this weekend, we also ought to take a moment to remember those non-military folks who have fought right here at home in the belief that the freedoms we hold so dear are indeed for all of us.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Courageous 20-year-old fights fire, saves food pantry

On Wednesday, CJ Sparks was driving through Citrus Heights, California when he spotted smoke and flames coming from a church. He turned his car around and pulled into the parking lot of Advent Lutheran Church. One entire side of the structure was on fire. 

Thinking quickly, the 20-year-old Sparks called the fire department, but he was concerned by how fast the fire seemed to be spreading. He took matters into his own hands. He entered the church, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and got to work.

He was soon joined by a neighbor with a hose, and the two of them fought back the flames until firefighters arrived. 

The pastor is thankful for the early fight against the fire. If the fire had spread, it would have destroyed the food pantry, and with it, meals for hundreds of the area's homeless people every week. Sparks says, " was something I had to do." The pastor calls it "a God moment." 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To protect and serve: police officer to donate a kidney to young boy

A Facebook post from a desperate Wisconsin mom caught the attention of 30-year-old Lindsey Bittorf. The mother's post was a plea for help - her 8-year-old son Jackson needed a kidney transplant. A donor needed to be found, and quickly. 

Bittorf, herself a mom and an active member of the local police force, was touched by the plea. She was one of about 50 people who voluntarily got themselves tested to see if they were a match. To the surprise of doctors and all involved, Bittorf matched Jackson's blood type and three other antigens. Bittorf and Jackson are not related, and in fact never met until the match was confirmed. 

Their meeting was punctuated by hugs and tears. Bittorf is humble about her decision. She gave Jackson a plaque which says, "Jackson, I took an oath to serve and protect my community. My kidney will now be able to serve and protect you! I am your kidney donor."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Toronto chef opens a pay-what-you-can soup bar

For years, Toronto chef Jagger Gordon noticed the food going to waste - imperfect but completely edible produce, canned items close to expiration date, oddly-shaped breads from notable bakeries - good, nutritious food thrown in the dumpster while some local residents went hungry. As a man who made a living working with food, the injustice bothered him. He decided to do something about it.

He founded Feed It Forward in 2014, intent on connecting the food industry to those in need. He developed an app which he hopes "will allow farmers, wholesalers, retailers, caterers, restaurants and even home cooks to donate food without having to worry about legal restrictions that currently exist prohibiting the free donation of food. The app will provide an alternative avenue for food donation by providing a platform connecting those in need, with donors, who will be paid by donation via the application. The recipients will have unrestricted access to donations and will receive donation notifications detailing the types of food available, locations, and pickup times in their area." 

In keeping with his mission of connecting nourishing food with those who need it, Gordon's newest venture just opened - a pay-what-you-can soup bar. Presently, he offers four kinds of soup, all made by him from ingredients that would otherwise have ended up at the landfill. Instead, those gleaned ingredients are nourishing bodies and encouraging the spirit of the people of Toronto. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chinese woman wouldn't give up on her son

Back in 1988, Zuo Hongyan gave birth to a son in her home province of Hubei, China. Birth complications led to the baby being diagnosed with cerebral palsy in infancy. Local doctors advised she give up the baby, as he would probably be disabled and/or have low intelligence. Her husband agreed, saying that the boy would be a burden on the family his entire life.

Zou vowed to keep the baby. The couple divorced.

In order to support them both, Zou took a full-time job and several part time jobs too. In between, she took him to therapy and learned how to carry over some of the activities at home. She bought puzzles and brain teasers, massaged and stretched him, and insisted he learn to eat with chopsticks as was their custom. Her goal was to push her son as far as he could be pushed given his disability.

Zou's son Ding Zheng has done well indeed. He obtained a bachelor's degree from Peking University’s Environmental Science and Engineering School, and then enrolled in that university's International Law School. Last year, he began studies at Harvard University

That's right. The Chinese baby who was to be 'given up' as a 'burden' now attends an Ivy League school in the US. All because someone believed he shouldn't be defined by his disability.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Short Tales 3 anthology

My short story The Broken Leg Birthday is now included in an anthology called Short Tales 3 for readers aged 8-12. It's published by Australia-based Storm Cloud Publishing, and is available (for free!) on Smashwords, where it can be downloaded in epub, mobi, or PDF file type. I understand Kobo, B&N, and Apple iStore versions will be available shortly.

Do you want to know a secret? The story is historical fiction set in NYC in 1965, and is loosely based on a tall tale told by a long-time friend of my husband's. With a little help from my friends in Australia, the story can now be read any time at all.

And yes, there are clues to the story's subject in this blog post. Please please me and download the free e-book.  😀

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Calm bus driver gets 56 kids off safely before bus bursts into flames

It started as another Tuesday morning for school bus driver Teresa Stroble. She picked up 56 kids bound for the Duncan South Carolina elementary, middle, and high schools. Suddenly, two older students in the back of the bus yelled that they smelled smoke. Thinking quickly, Stroble pulled the bus over into the parking lot of a car wash. In less than a minute, she evacuated all the students from the bus, moved them a safe distance away, and radioed her transportation office to call 911.

The empty bus burst into flames.

Grateful students, parents, emergency responders, and school district officials are unanimous in their praise of Stroble's calm management of the crisis. No doubt, her ability to handle the situation exactly as she was trained to do saved lives.

The students have dubbed Teresa Stroble their superhero.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Girl with chronic illnesses founds a non-profit to bring smiles to hospitalized kids

Kayla Abramovitz and her brother Ethan know a thing or two about hospitals. Both have had extended hospital stays because of chronic illnesses: Crohn's disease, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Eosinophilic Esophagitis.

When Kayla was 11-years-old, she wanted to help some younger patients through their long, frightening, often boring hospital stays, but she was too young to volunteer. She noticed some Thomas the Train DVDs on her own shelves at home and had an idea.

With the help of her family, Kayla Cares 4 Kids began with a goal of collecting 100 donated DVDs for Niklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. That was four years ago. Kayla Cares 4 Kids, now a 401c3 non-profit, has collected over 14,000 items to date, including DVDs, electronic hand-held games, and arts and craft supplies. Donations are dropped off at collection points in Florida and New Jersey, and have been enjoyed by kids in children's hospitals and Ronald McDonald houses in all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico.

Now 15, Kayla has won numerous local and national awards for her work. She works as hard as ever to "help sick kids feel better one smile at a time."

Monday, May 8, 2017

The ladies who kept the water flowing

Three years ago, Detroit started the process of shutting off water to residents behind on their payments. That typically included the city's poorest and most vulnerable people. Many people around the country, including the UN, called the practice a human rights violation. Despite that, the practice continues today.

Tiffani Bell, working on a fellowship in the city of Atlanta, stumbled across a Twitter post about the situation in Detroit. She learned that if a $150 bill was unpaid for 2 months, water service could legally be shut off. That made no sense to her, and Twitter acquaintance Kristy Tillman agreed. The two women put their heads together and let their hearts lead them. Within days, they set up a page for donation pledges, and started to connect with folks in the most need. In a few weeks, the workload of managing donations and notifying residents grew to a full-time job.

Eventually, Bell and Tillman founded a non-profit called The Detroit Water Project. In a year, they collected over $170,000 to pay water bills for over 900 Detroit families.  Of course, problems paying the bill are not isolated to Detroit, so the project has expanded to Baltimore. The non-profit, now called The Human Utility, hopes to continue to expand its model to other cities and communities.

Another example of two people who saw a problem and didn't just sit by and let it happen. Tiffani Bell and Kristy Tillman became part of the solution.

Friday, May 5, 2017

This officer's example led his community to go above and beyond

Back in February, Atlanta Georgia Police Officer Che Milton responded to a call to apprehend a shoplifter. The thief was a 12-year-old girl, caught stealing $2 shoes from a Family Dollar store.

Officer Milton spoke with the tearful girl. He learned she stole the shoes to give to her 5-year-old sister, because she wanted to do something nice for her. Touched, Officer Milton offered to drive the girl home and speak with her mother.

The girl's small home was in a rough part of town. The home had almost no furniture, and sheets lay on the floor where beds should be. There was little food for the family of seven, two parents and five children. The girl's mother explained that her husband works jobs that don't pay much, and prohibitive day care costs for the little ones prevent her from working.

The officer's heart broke. He went to a nearby pizza shop, bought four large pies, and dropped them off. Several times in the next few weeks, he brought diapers and bags of clothing.

Back at the station house, he was called into his sergeant's office. The sergeant had heard about the family's situation and wanted Officer Milton to know he was organizing additional help for the family. The department posted the children's clothing sizes to their Facebook page. Now people from all around the Atlanta area have pitched in with donated goods, all because one man listened to his heart.

Monday, May 1, 2017

6-year-old boy and his dad find $2000, turn it in

Erik Dopman and his 6-year-old son Jasper were walking near a school on April 18th. Jasper noticed a black bag on the ground, and Erik opened it to investigate. The bag contained large amounts of cash and some deposit slips. Erik called the local Arlington, Massachusetts police and turned it in.

The bag and its cash belonged to a small family-owned Mexican restaurant. An employee who was supposed to deposit the money reported it missing. Police returned the money to the grateful restaurant owners.

Erik and Jasper were both recognized for doing what's right. They were given Outstanding Citizen awards by their local community and gifts from the Mexican food company.

No doubt, Jasper will remember the lesson - doing what's right won't make you rich in the eyes of the world. The richness it brings is far more fulfilling.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Kind-hearted repo man raises funds for elderly couple

For Jim Ford of O'Fallan Illinois, that day last November was a regular day in his job as a repo man. He had to repossess the Buick Century belonging to Stan and Pat Kipping because they'd fallen behind on their payments. When he learned the elderly couple's story, he knew he had to do something to help them out.

The couple explained that the reason they'd fallen behind was the cost of Stan's medications. The prices had doubled in a year's time, a big problem for the couple on a fixed income. Jim was obligated to take the car that day, but he also opened a conversation with the bank to come up with a plan. The bank agreed to work out some finances with the couple. A good start.

In the meantime, Jim set up a GoFundMe page for the couple. In a few days, donors contributed enough to pay off the car. A friend of Jim's gave the car an oil change and detailing. Someone else donated a Thanksgiving turkey. Needless to say, the Kippings were grateful, overwhelmed.

But Jim didn't stop there. He and his wife and children took the Kippings out for dinner in a nice restaurant, a treat the Kippings hadn't enjoyed since 'I can't tell you the last time.' In March, while Pat was hospitalized with a heart condition, Stan fell at home. He later died at age 83. Jim again worked from the goodness of his heart, updating the info on the GoFundMe page with the need for funeral expenses. To date, over $28,000 has been raised.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, I'm taking a break from my usual blog in which I highlight one right thing done by an individual. The reason? Today, April 24 2017, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Because of its origin on the Hebrew calendar, the day falls on a different Gregorian calendar date every year. Unesco has set January 27th as Holocaust Remembrance Day, so I suppose that makes two dates each year in which we are to remember. Either way, the date's purpose is to give us pause so we can remember victims of the Holocaust and to refocus on the pledge: Never Again.

Twenty years ago, Holocaust survivors talked with school students and civic groups, putting a personal face and story to the greater horror. Fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are alive now to share their stories in person. Thankfully, many documented their truths via the archives at US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and numerous books, articles, and videos. There is great wisdom there, free for the asking.

And so here we are, a third generation away from those horrible events, and the question is as relevant as ever - have we learned the lessons of history so we can, with confidence, say 'Never Again'?

Prejudice and racial/religious profiling still exist worldwide, including right in our own country, our own towns. People are still lumped into categories and weighed against a popular standard in an assessment of worth. Genocide, wiping out entire populations based on some defining feature, still happens around the world.

In addition to the prevalence of anti-semitism in today's world, the 'other' victims of the Nazi regime also continue to be viewed as lesser human beings, still fighting for basic rights and basic dignities. This includes people who are homosexual, disabled, Roma Gypsies, or anyone who resists their government's status quo.

So no, even with two recognized dates in which to examine our prejudices and our actions toward one another, we haven't learned. The possibility of another holocaust is quite real.

God help us.

And that's why I continue to read and write about those years. I can't change history, and I can't fix the world. But I must do what I can to share what I've learned with subsequent generations. Anyone who reads Risking Exposure and its sequel (my work-in-progress) will hopefully see how dreadfully simple it is to move from feeling prejudices to verbalizing them to acting upon them (or turning a blind eye while others do so.) Only awareness of the historical cost will prevent us from going down that road again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

12-year-old stops a carjacker to save her little sister

Brandie Weiler expected a terrific day with her daughters, 12-year-old Maddie and 7-year-old Mollie. They were headed to Busch Gardens last Saturday, ready for a day of fun. In moments, everything changed. Two cars right in front of them were involved in an accident. Brandie pulled over, grabbed her phone, and left her car to help.

As she was calling 911, Brandie spotted a man who had been involved in the accident walking toward her car. Knowing her girls were in the car, she started yelling and ran back over.

Meanwhile, Maddie kept her wits about her. She saw the man whom she described as 'psycho' climb into the car, mumbling to himself about having to get away. She put the transmission in Drive, knowing that the car wouldn't start while in that position. While the man, later identified as Paul Salsman, struggled to start the car, Maddie kicked and screamed and punched him, allowing Mollie to escape the car's back seat. Salsman was soon restrained and has been charged with several felony counts.

Brandie is grateful she and her husband taught Maddie how to stand up for herself. When asked where she got the presence of mind to fight back, Maddie, an avid horseback rider, shrugged and said, "If I can control a 1500-pound animal, then I sure was gonna try to take care of him." She comes from a family of police officers and fire fighters, and has been told many times that if in danger, she has the right to kick, scream, hit, gouge eyes, whatever it takes.

Maddie injured the growth plate in her wrist during the altercation. For anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation, Maddie has one word of advice. "Fight."

Monday, April 17, 2017

14-year-old has raised money for 400 wheelchairs, passes torch to younger sister

When Zach Francom was 6 years old, an organization called LDS Philanthropies challenged each class in his school to raise enough money to buy a wheelchair. The chair would then be donated to someone who needed it but didn't have the funds.

Zach wanted to participate in a big way. With his parents' help and approval, he set up a cookie and lemonade stand in front of their home. Promptly dubbed "Zach's Shack," he sold out of his stock in a few hours.

Since then, Zach's Shack has been open for 2 days during his spring break each year. In its 8 years of operation, Zach's Shack has raised about $85,000 which purchased almost 400 wheelchairs for worldwide distribution.

This year, Zach's 6-year-old sister Helen asked to get involved. "Helen's Hut" appeared alongside Zach's Shack this month. Helen is every bit as enthusiastic as Zach was, and she expects to keep up this generous family legacy. Zach will now move on to other ventures, confident that his works have borne good fruit and that he leaves his kindness project in good hands.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Waitress gets a huge tip and a life-changing offer

Cayla Chandara moved from Santa Rosa to Hawaii to attend college. Between the high cost of living there and her school loans, she was soon financially overwhelmed. She quit school and started working two waitress jobs in Honolulu to pay down those loans.

Last week, she waited on a tourist couple from Australia . She chatted with them, learning a bit about them. In turn, they learned a bit about her, including her dream of paying down loans and finishing college. The couple left her a $400 tip.

Cayla was stunned. At the end of her shift, she delivered some flowers and a thank you note to the couple at their hotel (thankfully, they'd mentioned where they were staying!)

The next day, the generous couple returned to the restaurant and spoke with Cayla. They offered to pay $10,000 of her debt so she could return to college. Their only condition - they wish to remain anonymous. 

An overjoyed, overwhelmed Cayla accepted the offer with an open heart. She promised the couple that she will be the best person she can be, and will return to college this fall to continue her studies.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting folks back on their feet, literally and figuratively

Two years ago, Eugene Yoon followed his heart. He quit his job at a California research company and began a hike from the California/Mexico border all the way to Canada. Why? To raise funds for a total stranger.

That stranger, Arthur Renowitzky, had been mugged and shot ten years earlier. His injury left him unable to walk, and though he vowed to walk again, it seemed less and less likely as time went on. For some inexplicable reason, Eugene felt he needed to help Arthur walk again. The two spoke and Eugene was determined to make it happen.

Eugene learned of an exoskeleton which would give Arthur the support he needed to walk. It cost $80,000, well out of reach financially. Where others would see an obstacle, Eugene saw an opportunity. The hike raised the needed funds, and Arthur got his exoskeleton. When he took his first steps, Eugene was there to witness it.

Now Eugene's heart has led him to another need. He met Alberto Velasquez, a skilled garment worker, in Skid Row, and learned that the man and 24 relatives lived under one roof. Alberto and other family members already worked long hours, but were unable to earn enough to free them from their poverty. With Eugene's help, a new clothing line called KIN LOV GRA was born. Proceeds from the sales will ensure a living wage for Alberto and his family.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Man stops to help stranger, returns to build a ramp

Jennifer and Don Austin were ready to get home. Don had undergone a below-knee amputation because of months of medical problems, and the couple was anxious to let him rest and recover in his own home. They knew Jennifer couldn't get him into the house in his wheelchair, so Don was ready to hop up his front steps with crutches.

He couldn't make it. He was too weak and off-balance, and try as she might, Jennifer couldn't help him. Don sat on the stairs to scoot up on his bottom, but even that proved too much.

At that moment, Steve Smith happened to be driving by. He didn't know the Austins, but decided to circle back and stop. Smith asked the couple if they needed help, and the Austins gratefully said yes. Smith picked Don up and literally carried him into the house.

Smith's kindness didn't end there. The next morning, he came back and asked the Austins' permission to build a ramp. He supplied the manpower and made it happen.

The Austins call Smith an angel, one who saved them twice within 24 hours. They shared his kindness on social media.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Man pulls stranger off subway tracks in the nick of time

We humans like to think we can be brave when needed, that our inner hero can be readily called into action to save the day.

If only.

Truth is, most of us hesitate, grapple with indecision or surprise, or are sluggishly weighing out the pros and cons while the problem unfolds. Perhaps that's why we love hero stories. When seconds count, their best self emerges and they act.

Thankfully, Jonathan Kulig acted. On Saturday night, the 29-year-old had just gotten off a subway and stepped onto the platform. On the opposite platform, he saw something fall onto the tracks. When he reached it, people yelled and pointed to a person lying on the tracks below. The train would come into the station in less than a minute.

Kulig jumped down and scooped up the barely conscious young man. He lifted him to the edge where other subway patrons helped him to a bench. Then Kulig climbed out himself, and was promptly proclaimed a hero. The rescue was caught on video, including the dramatic moment when the train rushes into the station.

Word is that the young man who fell was drunk. He was taken to the hospital with non-critical injuries.

Kulig is employed by Con Edison, and had just gone through the MTA's track safety course. He knew how to keep himself safe as he helped the fallen person. "I did what I had to do," he said.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

The persistence of a 6-year-old saves a man's life

Six-year-old Karter Thorpe of Franklin, Virginia was riding in the backseat of his grandmother's car. As they trolled the Lowe's parking lot looking for a space, Karter called out to his 'Mimi' that he saw a man lying down on the pavement. She later reported that since Karter has such an active imagination, she doubted his words and kept driving. Karter wouldn't let it go. "You have to go back!" he told her. "He's hurt!" So to prove him wrong, Mimi turned the car around.

Sure enough, a man was lying beside a car just where Karter had seen him. The man was gasping for air. Mimi called 911 and a second passerby performed CPR until the ambulance arrived.

Mimi later learned that the 64-year-old man had suffered a heart attack. He likely would have died if Karter had not spotted him and kept after Mimi until she stopped. The man and his family want to meet Karter to thank him personally. The police officers who responded to the scene have offered to buy Karter ice cream.