10 Lives That Were Forever Changed Thanks to the Power of Generosity
These stories of radical compassion reveal our inner humanitarians, the part of us that believes that if we live with an open heart, we just may find ourselves in a better world.
Lights delivered door-to-door in the darkness of a hurricane
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Reader’s Digest wrote about these moving, dramatic rescues. The spirit of serving can be incredibly moving. Here is a story from Annalysa Longworth, a survivor of Hurricane Maria, in her own words: “The total 36 hours of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was undoubtedly the scariest event we’ve ever gone through in our lives. Our house sits on the north-west coast of Rincón where I rode out the storm with my boyfriend, Javi, and our three dogs. In the darkness, over 100 mph winds changed direction causing a tremendous amount of water flooding our house. The only place left dry and safe was our kitchen floor, where we were forced to ride out the rest of the storm. I laid blankets on the cold damp tile, and we huddled together clenching the only flashlight we had at the time. The downstairs of our home had blown out from underneath us, leaving nothing but its structure with walls, doors, and windows scattered around the yard. It’s been 50 days since the storm, and we are still without power and water. During our regular afternoon showers, we are ecstatic to collect rainwater but are quickly reminded of the people living without roofs, and how devastating it must be for them. Our emotions are consistently in a state of confusion. Recently, our good friends approached us downtown to tell us about a video interview they were doing with Watts of Love, a solar light company. Watts of Love generously gave us a headlamp (which illuminates an entire room) for our personal use and a box with 50 headlamps to distribute throughout our town. Rincón was completely blacked out so making a simple walk through a parking lot to your car is dangerous and impossible. We used to have to rush to get things done before sunset, but now I can continue daily chores in the dark. What changed our lives most was being able to share this gift with others. We delivered the lamps house by house to the people in the mountains who needed them most, as even batteries and candles are scarce. Even though supplies have trickled in, people have been out of work and can’t afford to pay their electric bill. I’ll always be grateful to Watts of Love for allowing us to pay it forward and be witnesses to the smiles that light can bring.”
Through education, two young women transform their community
Esther, a fifth grader from Uganda, hasn’t gone through puberty yet but recently led a workshop for women in her community on how to make sustainable, reusable pads. She led the workshop with Dorcus, a seventh-grader at Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda where Esther attends school. The pair raised money for the workshop’s supplies by selling homemade jewelry. Their service project wasn’t just about the importance of feminine hygiene; it was also about the power of education. In rural Uganda, it’s common for a young woman living under the poverty line not to have access to sanitary pads, a fact that contributes to school absenteeism, which is a practice Esther, 11, and Dorcas, 14, would like to help reduce. The young women are scholars with She’s the First, a non-profit that supports girls who will be the first in their families to graduate high school. Esther told Readers Digest, “She’s the First encouraged me not to think that education is only for boys. In my country, women are considered to be very low and men to be very high. I want to make all men and women equal.” Since 2013, Esther and Dorcus’ education has been supported by She’s the First, which currently sponsors over 900 scholars. Co-founder Christen Brandt told us that the organization pays for tuition, health care, and (when applicable) boarding costs for every scholar until they graduate. Brandt explains, “Their lives were not changed because of a charitable gift, but because of the combination of donations, sustainable social change organizations, and their own hard work—and of course, in the process, they’re creating a ripple effect in their own community.” Check out these shopping sites that support women’s causes worldwide.
A veteran embarks on his dream of becoming a farmer
Michael Trost had one wish: to become a commercial hops farmer. The California native served in the U.S. Army for 32 years with 20 of those years in active duty, retiring in 2014 after 31 surgeries to repair injuries sustained in Afghanistan. In 2016, Trost had a below-the-knee amputation on his right leg and was fitted with a prosthetic. Through all this, his hope of becoming a farmer remained. Since his retirement, Trost earned a certificate in Brewing Science. A Warrior’s Wish, a program within the nonprofit Hope For The Warriors, which honors the goals and desires of severely wounded service members, veterans, and their families purchased a 6.5-foot backhoe and accessories to provide the necessary tools needed to fulfill Trost’s wish—at a total cost of $7,605. Trost’s goal is to use the donated backhoe to grow hops to sell to local microbreweries and home brewers in Tennessee. He will plant his first crop of hops in spring 2018 and harvest them in the fall of 2018. “Although I have some limitations,” Trost says, “I now live my life by the following motto, ‘It’s not what you don’t have; it’s what you do with what you do have.'”
A free vacation for a breast cancer patient and her husband
Taking a vacation is likely to be the last thing on the mind of a cancer patient. Traveling can be expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes hard work. While people facing illness may be short on resources needed to go on vacation, they arguably are most in need of a stress-free time away. Sandra is one such patient. Here is her story in her own words: “My diagnosis is Stage IV Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It has spread to my bones and lungs. I was diagnosed in March 2014 at the age of 45. I was scared beyond belief. At the time, I was working 60 hours a week as a billing clerk. I went from doing that to being on disability because of my medications’ side effects. I lost my career and what I thought made me who I was, though I later discovered that character, love, and spirit are what matters. Through a Facebook page, I heard about Little Pink Houses of Hope, a nonprofit that provides a free week-long vacation to cancer patients and their families. After applying and being approved for a retreat, we drove from Houston all the way to Hatteras Island in North Carolina, and it rained most of the time. I had no idea what to expect and was almost apprehensive. Looking back, I am so glad I went. I have never felt such unconditional love and such a sense of family. We went to the beach, we made jewelry, we had wonderful meals, we paddle-boarded (which I never thought I would get the chance to do). We bonded in a way I didn’t know was possible, not only with the other participants but also with the volunteers. It was nice to see my husband bond with the other husbands and just not have to worry for a while. With him being a caregiver and the breadwinner, he has a lot on his plate. (Here are some tips to avoid caregiver burnout.) I’ve been diagnosed for three and a half years now. I want people to know that just because I am living with a terminal disease, I am still living. I am not dead yet. Don’t grieve me; make memories with me.”
After a nanny’s beloved bike was stolen, a community surprised her with an even better ride
Miranda Cazin had her bike stolen while working as a nanny in New York City. Cazin recalls, “Having my bike stolen was like having a piece of myself stripped away. I was devastated, shocked, and it felt personal even though I knew it wasn’t.” When her friend Rachel Fenton found out, she felt strongly that she should help Cazin get a new bike. “Instead of offering what I could budget on my own,” Fenton says, “I felt that I should ask others for help so that she could get a great new bike, helmet, and insurance. I started a fund for Miranda’s bike with the goal of raising $500. We shared it with our church community and also with the family Miranda and I both nannied for at the time. On the spot, the family donated 15 percent of the goal. Within two weeks of setting up a GoFundMe account, we raised $530.” Hello, bigheartedness. Don’t miss reading these other tales of heartwarming acts of kindness. Cazin says, “Having a bike gifted to me from a group of people seriously rocked my world. It made me feel completely seen and known and loved in a way I’m not sure I’ve felt before. It blew my mind when people I didn’t even know also donated. At this point in my life, I wasn’t making enough money to really afford to take public transportation daily. Biking was the way in which I commuted everywhere, how I exercised, and how I explored the city. I was biking close to 20 miles a day between home, work, school, and everything else.” The feel-good vibes ran both ways, as Fenton says, “It felt so good to be able to gift something to Miranda like that. I got so much joy from watching her ride up to meet me in Bryant Park on her sweet new ride.”
A Harvard education for a first-generation college student
In 2010, Jesse Sanchez received a four-year, renewable $2,000 per-year scholarship to attend Harvard University through I’m First, an online community for first-generation college graduates. In 2014, he became the first person in his family to graduate from college. He now works as a dream director for The Future Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helps underserved high school students plan for the future. (Thinking about your education? Check out these 11 secrets of straight A students). In a video on I’mFirst.org, Sanchez says, “If it wasn’t for I’m First and exposing me to the opportunities of mentoring youth and working in education, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. I’m very excited to continue the work with students like me.” During school, Sanchez founded the Harvard College First Generation Student Union, a student group that provides support for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Sanchez told the Harvard Gazette that his college experience was “paradigm shifting” and “incredibly full of growth.” Sanchez, who grew up in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, also told the Gazette, “College was something I thought would be impossible because there were no examples of people going to college from my neighborhood.”
A world of opportunity instead a grim future
At 34, while awaiting sentencing for a drug charge, Delvin (who wishes to use only his first name) heard about a Feeding America initiative called Virginia Peninsula Foodbank’s Culinary Training Program. The program provides participants with job training while they help serve approximately 5,000 hot meals each week for children at local community centers. Delvin says, “I thought I was going to use the program as a way to get less jail time, to show the judge that I was doing something productive with my time and giving back to the community. It ended up being way more than that.” For 12 weeks, he learned life skills such as time management, in addition to perfecting his culinary craft and receiving a food service certificate. The program wasn’t easy, but by the program’s end, he received the “most improved” award. When it came time for sentencing, Delvin’s teacher from the Feeding America program wrote a letter to the judge, and Delvin’s sentencing was significantly reduced. After years of legal trouble, Delvin served his last sentence for just 18 months. Delvin, now 38, is a cook at PHO 79, a Vietnamese restaurant in Virginia where he still is involved with the FoodBank and has since helped other program graduates find work. Delvin shared that he’s also been sober for four years after struggling with alcoholism. He says, “The program was the start of my change. I want to help people who are in my position. I have a lot of opportunities now that I didn’t have before.”
Reliable transportation can make dreams come true
In 2001, Stephanie DeBow’s son, Kerrvontey Miller, passed away from muscular dystrophy. She now cares for her 21-year-old nephew named Thomas, who also has muscular dystrophy. Stephanie says, “I want people to know that muscular dystrophy is more than just a disease; it is a lifelong struggle, not just for the person with the condition but for the family as well.” Stephanie reports having many sleepless nights checking in on her nephew’s breathing, praying he doesn’t catch a cold, which could be devastating.
To get to college, Thomas needs to travel in a handicap accessible van. Since the family’s old van wasn’t adequate and public transportation is difficult with a wheelchair, Thomas had to drop out of school. One night, while Stephanie was at her second job, her husband called to say that they won a new van from the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation. It was their second time applying for one in hopes to help Thomas go back to school, socialize, run errands, and visit family. Stephanie says, “Receiving this van has saved our lives. It also gave us back the ability to do the things Thomas deserves.” Thomas is currently starting the process of re-applying to go back to Ivy Tech in Indianapolis and wants to find a part-time job. Stephanie says, “Thomas is now the co-pilot for every doctor’s appointment, shopping trip, and fast food run. Just being able to talk to Thomas while I drive has truly been a gift.”
Life-saving flights for a child with cancer
At just three years old, Utah native Beckham Peterson was diagnosed with advanced stage IV neuroblastoma. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York provided treatment options that gave the family hope. One major obstacle? Money. Trying to afford flights between Salt Lake City and New York for treatment seemed overwhelming. The Petersons, along with their social worker, applied for help from The National Children’s Cancer Society, a non-profit that provides emotional, financial and educational support to children with cancer, their families, and survivors. Since 2014, The NCCS has provided more than $30,000 to cover flights, gas mileage, cab fare, and more for the Peterson family. Beckham’s father tells Reader’s Digest, “In all, NCCS has been able to help with the last 15 trips back and forth from Utah to New York City. When I first was told by the hospital social worker that NCCS may be able to help cover our flight costs, I was nervously hopeful. When NCCS let us know they would be able to help us with our travel expenses, I was shocked at first and then overcome with gratitude. I felt so grateful that some of our financial burdens were being lifted. As a parent of a child going through a wide range of treatments, from chemo, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy, and all the many steps in between (blood tests, scans, needle pocks, pills), there’s just so much. I’m sure if we hadn’t begun treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Beckham wouldn’t be with us today. Beckham’s cancer was resistant to the available standard therapies, and the hospitals in Utah had done all they could do. Luckily, we were blessed with the means to get Beckham into Memorial Sloan’s treatment program. Someday, when this experience is behind us, I plan on giving back. There are so many out there who need help.” Moved by the Peterson’s story? Meet the five incredible parents fighting to end pediatric cancer.
Giving art (and the artist) a home
Artists are natural innovators. Take these creative souls who changed the way art is made. When artists work with business ventures, amazing things can happen. Scott Benner is an artist who has faced homelessness in the past. He started drawing after losing his job and savings. He found himself sleeping near the bushes in a train station and later, in a local shelter. In 2012, he developed Horner’s syndrome, which impacts nerve function. After hearing about ArtLifting, a social enterprise that offers artists facing homelessness or disabilities an opportunity to earn income through their work, Scott started to make money through his art, which features fine line pen and ink. Fifty-five percent of the artwork sold through the company goes to the artist and one percent goes toward strengthening art services in the community. Scott’s art made it beyond the online marketplace to a gallery in SoHo run by Leesa, a luxury mattress company working in partnership with ArtLifting to feature the artwork of artists facing homelessness and disability. Leesa launched a limited edition mattress design inspired by Scott’s work, on which he earns royalties. In a blog post on ArtLifting.com, Scott, who is no longer homeless, said, “My focus right now is really working on my art as a full-time thing. This is the first time in my whole life that I can focus this way. When you just draw every now and then, every time you start up, you’re kind of starting from scratch. I’m actually pursuing it as something I can do on a full-time scale.”