11:21 AM EDT 12/13/2013
Originally posted 12/12/2013 07:25AM
After two wartime tours of Iraq, Alex Brown couldn’t shut off his alert switch.
"My job as a gunner was to literally see everything," says the former Army specialist. "Not only my life, but my team’s life depended on it."
Yet back home in Louisville, Ky., the constant tension honed in combat left him anxious and jumpy – and afraid to venture beyond secure walls. His relationships crumbled in the wake of his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Originally posted 11/28/2013 09:30AM
Born without arms, Abe Harris, 35, learned to write and eat with artificial limbs, but sometimes found they got in his way – so, when he learned to drive at age 16 without them, he put them away.
"They were more something between me and what I was trying to do,” Harris says.
By 2011, Harris, an art teacher and a soccer coach, had a 3-year-old daughter who happened to be learning to ride a bike.
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 11/01/2013 10:15AM
There are days when former Marine Sergeant Andrew Litz can't bear the sounds of his two young children playing in their two-bedroom apartment in suburban Dallas, when his wife, Heather, reminds them that Daddy's head hurts.
But on this October afternoon, the sturdy, intense former soldier is imagining a new life: one of calm connection with his family.
Standing in the yard of the brand-new home in Gunter, Texas, that will soon be theirs, he smiles. "This," he says quietly, "is a place where I can heal."
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 10/22/2013 05:00PM
Beloved teacher Michael Landsberry, a former Marine, died a hero at Sparks Middle School in Nevada on Monday in another tragic campus shooting.
The 45-year-old was killed while trying to talk to the unidentified 12-year-old gunman (who later killed himself).
"He was telling him to stop and put the gun down," student Jose Cazares told Today on Tuesday. "Then the kid, he yelled out, 'No!' Like, he was yelling at him, and he shot him. [The teacher] was calm, he was holding out his hand like, 'Put the gun in my hand.' "
Students, parents and fellow teachers are calling Landsberry's actions heroic. Tom Robinson, deputy chief with the Reno Police Department, also praised him, saying, "In my estimation, he is a hero. We do know he was trying to intervene."
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.
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