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.