Some people go beyond the call of duty to make the world a better place. These generous spirits make incredible sacrifices to help others, thinking nothing of their own interests. From unpaid volunteers to everyday heroes, many within our local communities play a silent, yet indispensable, role in keeping the cogs of society turning. These unsung heroes serve meals in soup kitchens, raise money for charitable causes, and offer support to schools and hospitals.
The 24-hour news cycle has a tendency to focus on dramatic, headline-grabbing stories. Oftentimes, this means a lot of Good Samaritans do not get the recognition they deserve. So, with that in mind, let’s focus on a few heartwarming acts that will restore your faith in humanity.
10 The 70-Year-Old Who Sailed the Ocean
On February 6, Frank Rothwell completed a staggering 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The 70-year-old grandfather organized the journey to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK, after his brother-in-law was diagnosed with the condition. His JustGiving page attracted considerable attention, raking in an impressive $1.5 million. Frank faced a number of ordeals aboard his small vessel, the aptly-named Never Too Old. He was forced to contend with choppy waters, a broken oar, and hours of isolation. Making matters worse, he also received news that his brother-in-law, Roger, had passed away.
Against all odds, Frank pressed forward and made it to the finish line. “Having received hundreds of messages from people who, like me, have witnessed the heartbreak of dementia, I am proud to have raised such an incredible amount in honor of Roger, and everyone else who has experienced the devastation it causes.”
Frank started the row – known as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – back in December last year. The annual event kicks off in the Canary Islands and ends in Antigua and Barbuda, with participants battling 20-foot waves, sleep deprivation, and salt sores. Rothwell took 56 days to complete the challenge, meaning he is now the oldest person to make the crossing completely unassisted. “You’re never too old,” Frank reminded his loyal supporters.
9 Giving Kids a Place to Sleep
Eight years ago, an Idaho man started looking at ways to help his community over the festive season. While hosting a Church event, Luke Mickelson discovered that one underprivileged family couldn’t even afford to buy beds for their children. The father of three decided to get members of his local youth group engaged in the local community by building the bed as a team. Using his daughter’s bunk bed as a template, Luke set to work. He then started making a second bed out of the leftover wood, recruiting his wife and children to help with the build.
The family made their first delivery over the Christmas holidays – a decision that would change their lives forever. The Mickelsons gave the bed to a single mother who was struggling to put food on the table. The woman had only just found a place to live following a period of homelessness, and her six-year-old daughter had never slept in a real bed before. “She showed us her room where we put the bed and there was nothing more in it except for a few beat-up toys and clothes piled in a corner where she slept,” Luke explained. “I was shocked. She was so happy and excited and couldn’t quit hugging it.”
Since that day, Luke has made it his life’s mission to give every child a place to sleep at night. In 2012, he launched a bed-making charity from his own garage. His non-profit, Sleep in Heavenly Peace, has gone from strength to strength, with over 130 trained chapters dotted across the globe. Luke’s organization has now delivered 60,000 beds worldwide, helping those affected by poverty, domestic violence, and natural disasters.
The 43-year-old has sacrificed much in the pursuit of his ideals. He has since quit his job as an executive at a local water treatment facility, taking a massive pay cut to focus on his charity work. Although Luke’s salary has been slashed in half, he says he couldn’t be happier. His mantra is simple: “No kid is going to sleep on the floor in my town.”
8 The Rescue Dog Who Paid it Forward
A rescue dog recently saved her owner, Brian Myers, after he experienced a medical emergency at his home in New Jersey. The 59-year-old collapsed in the corner of his room after suffering a stroke. His loyal companion, a German shepherd named Sadie, sprung into action. “She came to my side and she lied down next to me, licking my face to keep me alert,” Brian said. He then held onto Sadie’s collar as she pulled him towards the telephone. “I don’t know how she knew to do it.”
Sadie’s intervention gave her owner the opportunity to call 911. Emergency medical assistance quickly arrived on scene and took Brian to the hospital. He is now recuperating at home, with Sadie by his side, following a stint at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.
Brian found Sadie at the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland. Although the 6-year-old pup was initially anxious around the company of men, she soon grew fond of Brian’s cheerful nature. Now that Brian is on disability, one of his main priorities is looking after Sadie. But help was at hand. After learning of the Jersey man’s plight, the rescue shelter is now seeking donations to cover the cost of Sadie’s veterinary bills.
7 The Boy Who Saved his Family from Poisoning
Just before midnight on February 4, Michael Martinez heard a loud beeping noise coming from downstairs. The 7-year-old knew he had to alert his parents to the commotion. Martinez, who has limited mobility owing to his cerebral palsy, was forced to slowly slide along the floor to his parents’ bedroom. After getting over the rude awakening, his mother and father went to check out the noise. The couple initially assumed it was just a smoke detector that needed replacement batteries. They were stunned when it turned out to be a carbon monoxide detector.
The family quickly opened all of the windows and rushed outside. At the time of the alarm, six other people were sound asleep in the house: Michael’s parents, aunt, and three cousins. Without his timely intervention, it is possible the entire family would have died in their sleep.
Carbon monoxide is formed by the incomplete combustion of certain fuels, including oil, gas, and coal. It can result from faulty household appliances (cookers, boilers, etc.), poorly ventilated households, or blocked chimneys. In this instance, investigators believe the leak originated from the family’s stove. Carbon monoxide binds to the oxygen-carrying pigment of red blood cells, thereby reducing the bloodstream’s ability to transport oxygen around the body. Exposure to the odorless gas can kill within mere hours.
Various members of the Martinez household were already starting to experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as they fled the home, including nausea and chest pain. Michael’s mother, Angie, believes her son is a hero. “If it wasn’t for him, we probably never would have woken up,” she explained.
6 Haihuwa Lafiya Saves a Village
The Nigerian state of Jigawa is currently going through great economic hardship, a situation that has endangered the lives of many pregnant women. Limited access to healthcare has resulted in high levels of infant mortality. Malnutrition is widespread. And the road network has fallen into disrepair, making hospital trips a perilous ordeal.
For years, a small village called Bardo has been without any proper means of emergency transportation. And with the nearest hospital over 18 miles away, childbirth comes with significant risks. Eighteen pregnant villagers died in the space of just two years. Halima Adamu decided enough was enough, after seeing so many of her friends losing their unborn children. She set aside funds from a government allowance scheme to buy the village its own emergency car. The vehicle, dubbed Haihuwa Lafiya (Safe Motherhood), has already benefited hundreds of villagers.
News of Bardo’s actions soon hit the headlines, prompting the government to launch a review into the transport crisis. Jigawa’s leaders have since put in place a private fleet of cars to transport pregnant women to and from hospital. Meanwhile, a local businessman, Nasiru Danu, has donated a vehicle to help with the effort, along with money to pay for replacement tires and fuel.
5 The Dolphin Ambulance Charity
The Massachusetts coast is a hotspot for dolphin and whale strandings. Every year, hundreds of dolphins end up on the beaches around Cape Cod. It’s not unusual, then, to see a crack team of dolphin rescuers running down the beaches, armed with specialist medical equipment and giant stretchers. When a member of the public reports a stranding, the IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team is usually the first to arrive on scene. It used to be that most of the stranded dolphins were beyond saving. Now, with advances in tech and treatment, the release rate has soared from 15 percent to around 80 percent.
Saving stranded dolphins is a race against time. Stress, sun burn, and dehydration can trigger a muscle-wasting condition known as capture myopathy syndrome. The creature’s fragile heart is often one of the first muscles to fail. After the rescue team arrives, the dolphin is stretchered onto an awaiting ambulance. The unit is stocked with ultrasound equipment, intravenous drips, and various testing facilities. Here, the team monitors the patient’s heart rate and tries to keep them hydrated. Blood analysis is then used to search for signs of infection or organ damage. As dolphins use echolocation to help navigate their surroundings, the team must also test the dolphin’s sense of “hearing.”
The charity has saved thousands of dolphins since its founding. Back in August 2020, the crew responded to a mass 45-dolphin stranding event. “[It] was the first time my jaw physically dropped when manning the hotline,” explained one of the attending technicians. Volunteers poured onto the beaches to keep the creatures alive, making sure to keep their blowholes clear of the rising water. A dozen of the most critically ill dolphins were hauled away into ambulances, while the rest were coaxed back into deeper waters. Astonishingly, after hours of intense work, all but four of the dolphins survived.
4 Turning a Furniture Store into a Giant Shelter
Jim McIngvale, also known as “Mattress Mack,” is well known for his charitable deeds. In 2017, the Texas legend used his furniture store to shelter the victims of Hurricane Harvey. He also dispatched delivery trucks to rescue residents stranded in the flood waters, before giving them food, water, and a place to sleep. When Tropical Storm Imelda hit, dumping over 40 inches of water in many parts of the state, the businessman opened his doors once again. His other achievements include funding a mobile stroke unit, organizing a 6,000-meal banquet for residents on Thanksgiving Day, and donating pieces of furniture to local schools.
Mack’s incredible generosity was also on full display in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri. An intense blizzard from the North Pole recently took the state by surprise, taking down powerlines and crippling hundreds of generators. Suddenly, millions of residents found themselves with no heating, electricity, or water. A statewide emergency was declared, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas introduced rolling blackouts to ration the supply of electricity.
Mattress Mack responded to the catastrophe with his trademark kindness, opening all of his stores across the Houston area and ordering truck loads of food. To keep the lights on, he purchased 10,000 gallons of diesel to power his stores’ backup generators. Volunteers worked around the clock to serve meals and entertain children. The Texas tycoon, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, explained his selfless actions: “[W]hat we can’t afford is to cause these people to lose hope, we got to give them hope.”
3 Transforming the Beach from Hell
As a young boy, Afroz Shah would spend hours playing on Versova Beach in northern Mumbai. But as the years rolled on, the entire area became a dumping ground for refuse. Plastic waste washed ashore, covering the sandy shoreline in mountains of bags, bottles, and clothing. In 2015, Shah started spending his weekends picking up the trash by hand. The 34-year-old lawyer’s deeds did not go unnoticed, and he was soon joined by an army of fellow environmentalists.
Now, after more than 200 weekends of painstaking work, the beach is completely trash-free. It is estimated that Shah has inspired more than 200,000 people to join his cause, cleaning beaches not just in India but around the world. The ambitious cleanup operation has seen the removal of over 20 million kilograms of waste from Versova Beach alone. Wildlife has now returned to the area, including nests of baby turtles.
Shah has spread his message around the world, sprucing up beaches in America, Japan, Norway, and Malta. “See, the idea is to go clean and provoke others to do the same, [because] I’m not going to be there permanently,” he explains. In 2016, the UN Environment Programme handed Shah the prestigious Champions of the Earth award.
2 The Sanitation Workers Who Thwarted a Kidnapping
On February 7, a 10-year-old girl disappeared from a relative’s home in New Iberia, Louisiana. According to witnesses, the youngster was last seen getting into a silver Nissan Altima. The local police department was quick to react, issuing an Amber Alert and providing details of the vehicle. Fortunately, two sanitation workers were paying close attention to the news. On their regular pickup route, workers with the Pelican Waste & Debris company spotted a vehicle conspicuously parked in the middle of a field. “I didn’t second guess it,” explained Dion Merrick. “I said, ‘for that car to be parked in this location, and it matches the description on the Amber Alert, something is not right.’”
With that, the two used their garbage truck to block the driver’s escape. They then called the police and, within mere minutes, the vehicle was surrounded by officers. The driver was hauled from the car and handcuffed. As the girl was taken away to undergo medical examination, she thanked her rescuers for their heroic efforts. The sanitation workers have since received praise from the entire community, including the victim’s father.
It turns out the suspect, Michael Sereal, was a family acquaintance. The 33-year-old is now charged with aggravated kidnapping. He is also accused of not registering as a sex offender. In 2006, the 16th Judicial District Court sentenced Sereal to hard labor for carnal knowledge of a juvenile.
1 Planting a Food Forest Full of Free Food
In 2006, Ruby and Willie Morgan sold their farm in southeast Atlanta to a building developer. While the plot was initially earmarked for the construction of a townhouse complex, the 2008 recession quashed these plans. Eight years on, the place was overrun with several invasive species of plant life, including English vines and Chinese privet. The city took control and restored the land to its former glory.
Over the years, Ruby and Willie would leave spare fruit and vegetables out for their neighbors. City officials took inspiration from the couple’s giving attitude, working with volunteers to plant a community food forest and orchard. After years of hard work, the garden is now teeming with life. Residents are free to pick what they need, including cucumbers, watermelons, tomatoes and peppers. The orchard also contains a variety of nut trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, and herbs.
Atlanta officials funded the initiative using a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. The goal is to reduce food poverty in the area, ensuring as many Atlantans have access to fresh produce as possible. The area was once classified as a “food desert,” meaning local residents had limited access to affordable fruit and vegetables. Carla Smith, one of the councilors who oversaw the project’s ordinance, recently spoke about what the forest means to the community: “More than just getting food there, and maybe helping with the food-desert situation, it’s actually a place where people are making friends.”