07:08 PM EDT 03/10/2014
Originally posted 11/21/2013 05:45PM
Back in 1987, Oral Lee Brown, an Oakland, Calif., realtor, made a seemingly crazy decision.
She decided to offer 23 first-grade children at Brookfield Elementary School a full-ride to college with no realistic expectations that they would even graduate from high school.
In a school district with a 54 percent high school graduation rate, Browns' kids are beating the odds. Out of that first group of 23, 19 graduated from high school and enrolled in college.
"They didn't want to fail me," she says of their success. "I believe love can turn anything around."
Originally posted 11/14/2013 08:30PM
Bao Tran still remembers an old man shuffling onto the bridge to hand him a tiny bundle tucked into a straw hat.
It was May 1972 and Tran was in the South Vietnamese Army fighting alongside the Americans. His company was about to blow up the bridge outside Quang Tri.
"The man said the baby was trying to nurse on its dead mother," Tran, now 65, recalls.
He carried the baby in that hat for 60 miles – "I was in full combat gear, with explosions all around," he says – to an orphanage, where he left her with the name he'd planned for his own daughter someday: Ngoc Bich.
Originally posted 11/11/2013 03:10PM
Veterans Day is a time to pay tribute and say thanks. And just as families across the country today are honoring those who have served and sacrificed, we too are reminded of the brave men and women we've met through the years.
PEOPLE's ongoing series Heroes Among Us profiles everyday Americans who are going the extra mile to help neighbors and strangers, and the seven amazing men highlighted below – all retired from, or affiliated with, the armed services – deserve another round of applause for their inspiring acts of kindness.
Originally posted 11/07/2013 03:45PM
In the fall of 2007, doting mother Gretchen Holt-Witt of Califon, N.J., was in good spirits. Her 2-year-old son Liam, who had spent months in and out of the hospital battling neuroblastoma, a form of nerve cancer, was in remission and appeared healthy once again.
"We were so grateful his cancer was gone, we felt it was important to give back," says Holt-Witt.
So Gretchen and Liam, a joyful risk-taker of a kid who loved to cook – "he'd download tons of cooking apps," Holt-Witt says – decided to pay it forward. They came up with the idea to bake cookies to raise money for pediatric cancer research. But a few dozen wouldn't do. They opted for 8,000 dozen.
Originally posted 10/31/2013 12:25PM
On paper, Andrew Stoloff knew it made no sense to buy Rubicon Bakery in Richmond, Calif.
But the former Wall Street analyst's decision to take over the failing business in 2009 and save the jobs of its 14 part-time employees – most of whom were recovering drug addicts or ex-convicts – had little to do with dollars or cents.
"I fell in love with its mission: to give people a second chance," says Stoloff, 53.
Originally posted 10/24/2013 12:15PM
Firefighter Bill Lavin just wanted to help.
Last December, his New Jersey community was still reeling from Hurricane Sandy's effects when Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, 20 of them children.
"I was thinking that we could combine these tragedies to bring some time of hope and recovery," says Lavin, 55, of Woodbridge, N.J.
So he formed The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play, whose goal it is to create 26 playgrounds, most in storm-ravaged areas, each dedicated to one of the 26 victims from the Sandy Hook shootings.
Originally posted 10/17/2013 12:30PM
When wounded veterans get together on the baseball field with kids who are living with amputations, they don't just learn about fielding and hitting – they also learn about courage in life.
A few weeks ago, 12-year-old Nicholas Knotts was playing softball at his junior high in Oxford, Mich., when he heard one of the kids in the outfield snicker, "Easy out," just as he stepped up to bat. Born without a fibula, Knotts's left foot was amputated when he was 10 months old, and as he stood there waiting for the pitch, he watched as the opposing team members moved in close, confident that the seventh grader with the prosthetic foot couldn't hit.
"I popped it over all their heads for a single," laughs Knotts. "That felt really good."
Originally posted 10/10/2013 11:30AM
Rebecca Welsh was volunteering in orphanages in Honduras in 2002 when she had an eye-opening encounter with a child living on the streets.
"A 6-year-old little girl stopped me and begged me for water," she says. "She traveled in a pack of about 10 children and was the youngest in the group."
She soon found out the children, who couldn't get shelter in the city's overflowing orphanages, slept on cardboard boxes at night and dug through trash to find their next meal.
"I just couldn't believe that was going on and I'd never even heard of it," she says.
Originally posted 10/03/2013 09:40AM
More than twice a month, on average, those who've lost all hope come to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, climb over the railing and, tragically, plunge 220 feet into the Pacific Ocean to end their pain.
That number would be higher, if not for California Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Briggs, nicknamed the "Guardian of the Golden Gate." Since 1994, through sheer compassion and expert listening skills, Sgt. Briggs has helped convince more than 200 people on the precipice of death not to take their lives (so far, he's only lost one).
"People who come to jump don't necessarily want to die," explains Briggs, 50, who calmly introduces himself just a few feet away to the despondent person, often standing for hours in bone-chilling wind or heavy fog.
Originally posted 09/26/2013 12:00PM
One week after Donna O'Malley's 23-year-old son died last February, the retired Montevideo, Minn., nursing-home worker found a large manila envelope stuffed inside her mailbox.
Inside were 15 handmade sympathy cards from a group of first-graders O'Malley had never met.
"We're so sorry about your loss," read one card in a crooked scrawl, covered with pink and purple hearts.
"We care about you," read another, embellished with rainbows and a smiling sun.
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