Starting the New Year off in a Positive Fashion
When people return home from trips to other countries where they served those less fortunate, they often describe their experience as "life-changing."
They start to see things in a different light. Especially after understanding how good their lives are compared to some others.
Many of these people then look for ways to continue serving people in need. Such is the case with Carolina Hurley, a White House special media director.
In 2018, Hurley accompanied First Lady Melania Trump on her tour of four African countries. She saw firsthand how badly the children in Malawi needed a new school.
Great Outdoors Not Always Great
While there, she discovered that the 9,000 kids at the Chipala Primary School in Lilongwe frequently had to attend classes outdoors.
They were shoulder-to-shoulder, sitting on loose red dirt. With only 77 teachers – one for every 117 children – they were struggling to learn.
"I saw these children who sit outside all day because there wasn't enough room for them to learn inside,"Hurley said.
"Once the rainy season starts, kids would stop coming to school. It was completely eye-opening to me to see such incredible children. With absolutely nothing to their name except for a desire to learn."
Donations Make Building Possible
"I left knowing that if I could even make a dent in helping them learn, I'd be happy knowing I contributed to something bigger than myself. Little did I know how generous complete strangers could be."
Once Hurley returned to the U.S., she launched a GoFundMe page for a new indoor classroom. She received donations from friends, family and members of the public.
Construction began on the building early last year after Hurley sent the first group of donations to the school's headmistress.
The building was recently completed, prompting this tweet from the First Lady. "Thank you Carolina for showing what it means to #BeBest!"
Trip Changed Many Lives
Adding to the donation was 1.4 million textbooks provided through a U.S.-funded national reading program.
"Never in my life did I think someone like me could bring so many people together to change the lives of thousands of kids," Hurley said.
"The fact that I was chosen to make this trip has forever changed my life. And I'm eternally grateful for this beautiful country."
"I'm grateful for my fellow Americans who worked with me to help make the dreams of these young Malawians a reality."
Grandmother Gets New Home
Since January 1st, positive and uplifting stories have been flooding the news. But one story starts before the new year, when two tornadoes destroyed Earnestine Reese's home last year.
During the storm, the grandmother in Alabama knew exactly where to go – her prayer closet. That's where she waited out the nightmare, singing through the storm. But while she survived, her home did not.
It doesn't get much worse than having your home destroyed by extreme weather.
Now, nine months later, she has another reason to be thankful. The Samaritan's Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid group based in North Carolina, has stepped in to provide her with a new home.
Earnestine's new home includes a room with concrete, steel-reinforced walls. And a prayer closet. It's one of 13 homes that's been rebuilt in the area. A total of 1,400 volunteers from Samaritan's Purse have helped 110 families clear debris.
Graham's Group Opens Purse
While looking at her new home – which includes her first-ever dishwasher – Earnestine had tears in her eyes.
"Thank you for making a way. It's a blessing just to have you here in our yard," she said to Graham.
"When Ms. Reese lost everything, she thanked God," Graham said. "As soon as I heard her story, I knew we had to help."
"Samaritan's Purse is excited to welcome Ms. Reese home."
What a Difference a Year Makes
Another inspiring story comes just a few days into the new year when Danielle Franzoni found herself $2,020 richer than she had been in 2019.
The server at Thunder Bay River Restaurant in Alpena, Michigan was expecting no more than a $5 tip from a $23 meal she served.
But instead her tip matched the new year – two thousand and twenty. Written on the credit card receipt was "Happy New Year. 2020 Tip Challenge."
Only one year ago, the 31-year-old Franzoni was living in a homeless shelter.
Paying It Forward
"They don't know nothing about my story," she told a local newspaper. "They don't know where I've come from."
"They don't know how hard it's been. They're just doing this out of the kindness of their heart."
Franzoni said she is going to use the money to reinstate her driver's license and build up her savings.
Although she is unable at this time to bless someone else in exactly the same way, she quickly did what she could. She left a $20.20 tip at another restaurant. That was her way of paying it forward.
Let's Hear It for the Good
We live in a world where we hear about many more bad things than good. The negative stories are the ones that dominate the headlines.
But fortunately, there is still a lot of good in this world. And I pledge to bring you more of these positive stories as 2020 progresses.