08:08 PM EDT 12/02/2013
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.
Originally posted 09/19/2013 05:00PM
In the split second before Detroit firefighter Brendan "Doogie" Milewski's life went to pieces, he remembers hearing a voice yell, "It's coming down."
Milewski dropped his hose and – weighted down by nearly 50-pounds worth of gear – sprinted away as fast as he could from the two-story blaze he'd been fighting to extinguish. But within a couple of steps, as bricks rained down around him, a 300-pound block of limestone plummeted from the crumbling exterior and flattened him.
"I knew I was in trouble," Milewski, 31, recalls. "I tried to do a pushup and slide my knees up to my chest to get myself out of there. But the only thing that would come off the ground were my shoulders."
Originally posted 09/12/2013 05:30PM
Kennedy Hubbard, 16, has never looked much like the other kids at school.
Born with Lymphatic Malformation, a mass of fluid-filled cysts surround her mouth and jaw, Hubbard was about five years old before she knew she was different.
"Once she was in school, around other kids and reacting to the way they looked at her, she would look at me kind of puzzled," recalls her mother, Leanne, 44, of Moorestown, N.J.
But Kennedy didn't let those differences faze her.
Originally posted 09/05/2013 04:45PM
It's the birthday celebration that keeps on going – and continues to change the lives of hundreds of women and children around the world.
On Jan. 20, 2003, Marsha Wallace wanted to celebrate her 42nd birthday differently than the usual dinner out with friends. She wanted it to mean something more, and for longer. She invited 25 friends over to her Simpsonville, S.C. home, asking each of them to bring a dish to share and $30 to donate to a worthy cause.
"I knew that if we helped only one, it would make a difference," says Wallace. "You never know what the ripple effect will be."
Originally posted 08/29/2013 02:30PM
They say it takes a village – or at least a small charter school in El Paso, Texas – to collect an enormous amount of jeans to help the needy.
“There were times when my office was invaded by jeans," says Vice Principal Adriana Solis. "For a while, our offices, some of the classrooms, and even the parents' center, were full of jeans!"
Less than 300 students attend La Fe Preparatory School, a West Texas school nestled against the Mexico border, which serves grades K-7 – yet they were determined to collect the most jeans as part of a nationwide campaign sponsored by the nonprofit group DoSomething.org and retail store Aéropostale. They beat 9,000 schools and collected 42,384 pairs doing whatever it took.
Originally posted 08/22/2013 04:30PM
Tawanda Jones was just 15 years old when she auditioned for the local drill team at the Camden Youth Activity Center in New Jersey.
"When I got there, it was just little kids and I said I didn't want to be a part of it because I was 15 and they were eight," says Jones, 40, of Camden.
"So the director pulled me aside and said, 'Do you want to be in charge of some of the groups?' " she recalls. "That was an easy 'Yes.' "
Twenty-five years and some 4,000 kids later, she's still teaching kids dance, drums and discipline through Camden Sophisticated Sisters, the nonprofit she formed.
Originally posted 08/15/2013 06:15PM
Back in 1999, Jonathan Kitto and his partner, Alonso Saldivar, were running a commercial cleaning company and were growing weary of the grind.
"I came home one day and said, 'I need a dog,' " says Kitto, 58, who is also an Anglican priest.
The next day they went to a local pet supply store, which was having a greyhound meet and greet.
"Alonso was a little scared of dogs," he says. "But a few minutes later I looked over and a big greyhound was sitting in his lap."
Her name was Gigi. They adopted her and took her home.
Originally posted 08/08/2013 10:30AM
Growing up, Jasmin Romero fantasized about one day attending college to study nursing. But when her father was forced to get a kidney transplant, she nearly gave up on her dream.
"All our family's money went to pay for his medications," says Romero, 19. "College just didn't seem like a possibility."
And that's when Maria D'Angelo stepped in. For the past 20 years, she and her Children's Lifesaving Foundation have worked to transform the lives of tens of thousands of low-income kids and their families in Southern California, including Romero whose college tuition she’s paying.
Originally posted 08/01/2013 11:30AM
Michele Gannon knows what it's like to be sick and unable to care for yourself, let alone your children.
In 2009, while recovering from an ongoing, debilitating illness, her doctor put her on bed rest for several weeks.
"My kids would say, 'Are you better now? Now? Now?' " says Gannon, 45, of Interlaken. N.J. "When I did surface, I just saw my whole world, my well-oiled machine, was broken down and that led to depression."
"I said to myself, 'I wonder what a woman does when she has a long-term illness like cancer?' " she says.
Originally posted 07/25/2013 06:15PM
Robyn Rosenberger thinks that children who are sick or struggling to recover from an injury need a little reminder of the hero they have inside them – so she's stitched thousands of capes for kids to wear.
"If getting a cape can make a child feel like they are a tiny superhero," she says, "I'll keep sending them for the rest of my life."
Rosenberger, 28, of Seattle launched Tiny Superheroes in January 2013, and along with her volunteers has sent over a thousand capes to ailing children across the world, including survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Oklahoma tornadoes.
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