Even though 2020 did not go quite the way any of us envisioned when it started, we can’t help but be impressed by the ways that people have spent time connecting, forging friendships, and helping each other out — even if most of us learned to do it virtually rather than face to face. This year was a challenge, but there’s definitely been some good in there, as these 20 uplifting stories prove.
1. Sam White, the “‘You Can Be’ ABCs” kid, reminded us of our career opportunities.
Memphis first-grader (and amateur rapper) Sam White went viral in October with this inspirational video he wrote and filmed with the help of his dad. For the record, Sam currently wants to be an A, architect.
2. A friendship formed from a wrong-number text is still going strong.
Arizona natives Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton first made the feel-good news rounds back in 2016, when Dench accidentally invited Hinton to Thanksgiving, thinking she had texted her grandson. Hinton, then 17, let her know she had the wrong number — but wondered if he could have a plate anyway. “Of course you can! That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone!” Dench replied. Hinton drove from Phoenix to Mesa to take her up on the offer, and they have continued the tradition ever since. They celebrated their fourth Thanksgiving together this year, although it was bittersweet; Dench’s husband, Lonnie, passed away from coronavirus in April. “One thing Wanda and I know for sure [is that] Lonnie would have been very angry if we didn't have Thanksgiving together," Hinton said.
3. A 10-year-old girl held her own in an epic rock battle against Dave Grohl.
In August, Nandi Bushell, a 10-year-old musical prodigy from Ipswitch, UK, posted videos of herself covering several Foo Fighters hits, then challenged frontman Dave Grohl to a drumming duel. Word quickly got back to Grohl, who accepted, took her on using his daughter’s drum set, and then challenged her to try another tune. Nandi didn’t back down, playing a flawless version of Them Crooked Vultures’ song “Dead End Friends'' while donning a Grohl-esque red flannel shirt. Grohl responded by writing a song called “Nandi,” which he performed with a backing band made up of his own young daughters. The epic battle is now on pause until concerts start touring again — Grohl asked Nandi to perform onstage with the Foo Fighters the next time they’re in the UK. Stay tuned!
4. A little boy protected his sister from a dog attack — and became a hero to superheroes.
Six-year-old Bridger Walker had to get 90 stitches in his face after he threw himself between his 4-year-old little sister and an attacking dog. Word of the little boy’s selflessness quickly spread, and before long, big-screen superheroes were reaching out to commend him. Avengers star Chris Evans sent Bridger an authentic Captain America shield, and he also heard from Spider-Man Tom Holland, Incredible Hulk Mark Ruffalo and more. Bridger is doing great and recovering well from his facial surgeries.
5. A highway overpass built specifically for wildlife is saving animal lives.
Near Parleys Canyon, Utah, wandering wildlife attempting to cross six lanes of traffic across I-80 posed a danger to both themselves and drivers. In late 2018, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources built an overpass based on migratory patterns and outfitted it with logs, boulders, and other natural elements to encourage animal use — but they didn’t expect it to work so soon or so well. It can take wildlife years to adapt to change such as this, but in 2020, the Utah Department of Transportation released video showing the overpass bustling with animal activity — including moose, deer, porcupines, and even bears.
6. NASA named its headquarters after its first Black female engineer.
Mary W. Jackson joined NASA as a research mathematician in 1951 — you might recognize her as one of the “human computers” featured in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures. After two years as a mathematician, Jackson broke race and gender barriers by receiving special permission to attend a then-segregated training program to become an engineer. In June, NASA announced that it would honor Jackson, who died in 2005, by naming its Washington, D.C. headquarters after her.
7. An elementary school teacher donated a kidney to her school’s custodian.
Erin Durga, a third-grade teacher at Kimball Elementary School in Kimball, Minnesota, knew that custodian Pat Mertens had some health problems — he regularly left work for dialysis appointments — but she didn’t know the extent of it until she saw his daughter’s plea on Facebook for a kidney donor. Durga realized she was a blood type match and immediately contacted the Mertens family to let them know she was all in. She was confirmed as a match on June 12, and they went through successful surgery on July 3. Recovery went well for both Durga and Mertens, who said he’s feeling much better and doesn’t have words to describe Durga’s selfless act. “All we can say is that she’s an angel.”
8. A record number of endangered turtles hatched in Mexico.
Internationally, one of the positive byproducts of the pandemic is that less hustle and bustle from humans has allowed for some big breakthroughs by Mother Nature. One of these successes is the Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings in Mexico — typically, 500 to 1,000 are released into the ocean each fall. This year, as a result of both community effort and reduced fishing boat and tourist traffic, more than 2,250 were released.
9. A 93-year-old woman’s wish for beer is granted.
Olive Veronesi of Seminole, Pennsylvania, had one message for friends and family who checked on her as she stayed at home during the pandemic: “I need more beer!” Veronesi was down to her last pack of Coors Light, and she was starting to get concerned. “I have a beer every night," she told a local news station. "You know what, beer has vitamins in it, it's good for you, as long as you don't overdo it." Veronesi needn’t have worried about her stash getting low — when Molson Coors heard her plea, they sent her 10 cases.
10. After a couple canceled their big wedding due to COVID restrictions, they fed 200 people in need instead.
Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis had to cancel the big fall wedding they had planned for more than a year, and exchanged vows at Chicago’s City Hall in October instead. But rather than lose out on the $5,000 deposit they had put down with their caterer, the couple got creative: they used it to provide more than 200 people struggling with mental illness with a hot meal on Thanksgiving. They were also able to get their reception venue to put their deposit money toward a charity event to be held at a later date.
11. An easy and efficient solution to wind turbine-related bird death is underway.
After the Smøla wind farm opened in Norway in 2002, a concerning problem emerged: white-tailed eagles kept flying into the blades and dying. To find out why, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research spent five years studying the issue. They concluded that the birds have trouble perceiving the turbine blades because of how they move, a phenomenon called “motion smear” that’s similar to why it’s hard for human eyes to see hummingbird wings fluttering. To make the blades more visible, researchers painted one blade on each turbine black. Then, they monitored the situation for more than 10 years. This July, the published study revealed that bird deaths declined by 70% after the simple paint job. Although the study isn’t definitive, it’s promising — and other countries have expressed interest in replicating its results.
12. A German grandma comes up with an easy solution to improve accessibility for wheelchair users: LEGO.
Wheelchair-bound since a car accident 25 years ago, Rita Ebel recently discovered an easy way for shop owners to make their stores more easily accessible for those on wheels: LEGO ramps. Ebel and her husband spend 2 to 3 hours per day creating made-to-order ramps made of hundreds of LEGO bricks. “It is about trying to sensitize the world to barrier-free travel,” she said.
13. A man sheltered 300 animals during a hurricane.
As Hurricane Delta turned its destructive path toward an animal shelter on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in October, owner Ricardo Pimental rounded up the cats, dogs, rabbits, chicks, sheep, and even a hedgehog and harbored them all in his home to ride out the storm.“It doesn’t matter if the house is dirty, it can be cleaned,” he said. “The things they broke can be fixed or bought again, but what’s beautiful is to see them happy, healthy and safe, without wounds and with the possibility of being adopted.” Afterward, Pimental received donations from around the world to help with the animals and the damage to the shelter.
14. Cher saved an elephant.
When concerned animal lovers worried about the welfare of Kaavan, an elephant at the Islamabad Zoo, they knew just where to turn: Cher. After his enclosure-mate died in 2012, the lonely elephant started to become aggressive after years of abuse, chains, and forced performances in a too-small enclosure. Pakistani citizens began tweeting at Cher (the beloved entertainer is a longtime animal rights activist) using the hashtags #freekaavan and #savekaavan — and she sprang into action. It took several years to accomplish, but with the help of her nonprofit Free the Wild, they found a new 25,000-acre home for Kaavan at an animal sanctuary in Cambodia. Cher also paid for his relocation, which was a tricky feat of logistics amid a pandemic. When Kaavan finally arrived in Cambodia in early December, Cher was there waiting to greet her friend with a song and a snack.
15. This Georgia bar took the cash off of its walls to give to staff.
You’ve probably been to an establishment like The Sand Bar in Tybee Island, Georgia: Located in a touristy hotspot, it’s become tradition for visitors to affix a dollar bill to the wall, scrawled with their names or doodles. When the going got tough due to the pandemic earlier this year, five volunteers spent more than three days painstakingly removing each dollar bill from the wall, being careful not to rip them and ensuring every staple was gone. The end result was nearly $4,000 in cash, which bar owner Jennifer Knox split among her six out-of-work employees.
16. The Barcelona orchestra performed for plants — and then gave them to healthcare workers.
After months of being unable to perform for their usual crowd, a string quartet from the Barcelona orchestra assembled at the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house for a rapt audience: house plants. The auditorium’s 2,292 seats were filled with plants, which were then donated to healthcare workers. The concept was the brainchild of artist Eugenie Ampudia, who was inspired by the way nature took center stage during Spain’s lockdown. “I heard many more birds singing," he said, "and the plants in my garden and outside growing faster. And, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature."
17. Want to scream in frustration? Iceland can help.
Record yourself letting out all of your 2020 anxiety, fear, and anger, and Iceland will release it into their beautiful, wide-open spaces such as scenic waterfalls and glaciers — doesn’t that sound therapeutic? The idea was created for Promote Iceland, which aims to promote tourism to Iceland’s remote, relatively safe great outdoors. But for those who cannot travel, screaming into the icy void might just be the next best thing.
18. Sesame Street came through for children (and adults) like it always does.
Knowing that children would be feeling apprehensive and confused about the huge shift in the world around them, Sesame Street aired a virtual “playdate” with Elmo and friends in April. Elmo and pals such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anne Hathaway, and Tracee Ellis Ross celebrated healthcare workers and showed families that they could embrace this time at home by simply being together, while also learning new ways to connect with loved ones.
19. Scotland became the first country to make pads and tampons free in public facilities.
In a landmark moment, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in November to provide free and universal access to pads and tampons in public facilities, ending “period poverty” and making a basic human need available for all people who menstruate. "Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation … An important policy for women and girls," Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on her official Twitter page after the vote.
20. A 12-year-old boy made 115 baseball bats for disaster relief.
In August, a derecho (a land hurricane, essentially) ripped through the midwest, damaging 10 million acres of crops and leaving 300,000 people without power. Tommy Rhomberg of Mount Vernon, Iowa, spent 10 hours sanding and shaping a fallen tree limb from his yard into a bat for a friend’s birthday — and when people caught wind of the unique gift, Tommy started taking orders. The 6th-grader donated $20 from each bat purchase to disaster relief efforts, ultimately raising more than $2,500 for his community.