A Texas family’s Christmas light display raised just over $80,000 for the Make-A-Wish foundation. Jordan Maywald has been in charge of his family’s Christmas decorations since he was nine. Jordan said the display started very small, just a few things in their front yard but over the years he expanded across much of our property and now it covers about 3.5 acres.
For the past seven years, the Maywalds have used their famous light display to raise money for Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas. The Maywald Christmas Light Display won on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2019. The family won $50,000 and expanded the display to include a snowman made out of truck tires, vintage-glass carolers, a specially-built lighthouse and a whole lot of decorations.
“At the time I was the youngest champion in the show’s history, and currently still am,” Jordan said. Each year, Jordan, now 23, has added more to the light display that has turned their Austin property into a holiday destination. This year, the bigger than ever display had over 200,000 Christmas lights and welcomed more than 15,000 visitors- raising more than $80,000 to fund 10 wishes. To date, the display has raised nearly $200,000 and granted 27 wishes.
Each time a wish is granted, Jordan adds a glass reindeer to the mix, all hovering above a Christmas light-filled “Wish Lake.” He prefers to build most of the displays himself and spends the months leading up to Christmas scouring the country for old décor via Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. The highlight of this past year’s spectacle was a 17-foot-tall fiberglass Santa Claus.
Jordan, a student at Texas A&M University said there was no doubt that Christmas is his favorite holiday. “Helping these children is what Christmas is all about for us. We will continue to put up our display yearly to help grant life changing wishes!” he added. The Maywald Christmas Light Display begins in November and lasts through New Year’s Eve. The entrance is free for the public to walk through the display with donations appreciated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This year, the family’s goal was to raise $40,000.
Fans do all kinds of strange things at sporting events but one exchange ended up being life saving for Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton. He said a fan, Nadia Popovici, pressed her cell phone against the glass separating fans from players. The message on the screen read “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!”
Hamilton said it was a strange thing to read at a game but he decided to have it checked out. As it turns out, Hamilton had the mole removed which was subsequently confirmed to be a melanoma tumor. At a press conference Hamilton said “She saved my life. The words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years I wouldn’t be here. How she saw it boggles my mind. It wasn’t very big, I wear a jacket, I wear a radio on the back of my jacket. She’s a hero.”
The team wanted to reach out to Popovici somehow to thank her so they set up a social media campaign to reunite the two before the Canucks played Seattle Kraken on January 1st. As a way of saying thank you, during the second commercial break it was revealed for everyone in the Seattle Climate Fund Arena that both teams had raised $10,000 for Popovici toward medical school.
Nadia Popovici said she was just following her medical training when she noticed that the dark spot on the back of Hamilton’s neck was discolored, raised, and had irregular borders: all potential signs of the skin cancer melanoma. Popovici’s diagnosis of the melanoma was a method of identification called the “ABCDE Rule, an acronym for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Dark, and Evolving, five signs that anyone’s mole might be a common yet dangerous skin cancer.
She said “After that moment I kind of regretted it. I thought, ‘you know, that was inappropriate. I shouldn’t have brought it up, maybe he already knows about it and it’s a sensitive topic. To not know for so many months what happened to this man and to finally put a name to the face and a story, it’s been incredible and truly life-changing.”
Thanks to the kindness and determination of one woman, Christmas came early at Happy Valley Elementary School in Johnson City, Tn. Mariah Walker moved to Tennessee three months ago and jumped headfirst into helping the community. Walker, who moved from California, had asked her Tik Tok followers last year to help sponsor foster kids for Christmas. “We came from California and last year, we helped some kids in foster care, like 10 of them at a local foster agency,” said Walker. “When I came here, I knew I wanted to do the same thing.”
She was already working with The Rise Up program when a chance conversation with their Amazon driver, Donnie, led her to Happy Valley Elementary. Walker’s husband told Donnie they were looking for more children to sponsor. Donnie suggested there was some need at Happy Valley Elementary, where his wife Becky works as a secretary. She once again turned to her 144,000 Tik Tok followers for help and raised $20,000 for Christmas gifts.
“I put videos out on TikTok and all my followers just bought gifts for all the kids or donated money,” said Walker. “They donated like $20,000.” Local businesses also pitched in. Walker said she got 400 gift cards from Owl’s Nest, and they donated another 50 for free and that Open Doors gave her a discount on the gift card. Walker raised enough not only to give each Happy Valley Elementary schooler a toy, book or coloring book, and candy. She also gave each and every Happy Valley Middle and High schooler a gift card. Almost 700 gift cards in total. Walker incorporated the help of a local youth group to wrap the hundreds of presents before the big day.
The gifts weren’t Walker’s only gift to the school. According to Greer, Walker and her followers bought $2,000 in books for the Happy Valley Elementary School library during their book fair earlier this fall. Happy Valley Elementary School Principal Mandy Greer said they managed to keep this a secret from the students. Greer said they are thankful for not only the gifts, but the outpouring of love from Walker, her followers, and the local community.
Before Walker “went viral,” last year she had around 8,000 followers, accrued through content meant to uplift and connect those in relatable situations. Walker said she enjoys watching and creating content related to parenting because it provides opportunities for human connection as well as escape from chaotic reality. Walker said when she asked for help sponsoring foster kids last year she realized the community building potential of Tik Tok.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation aims to honor first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives in the line of duty for their communities. Since it was founded in 2001, the foundation has developed programs to honor fallen heroes. This year they delivered 135 mortgage-free homes across the country. The Foundation will have paid off or dedicated 65 mortgage-free homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve as part of this year’s Season of Hope-bringing the total to 200.
Based in Staten Island, Tunnel to Towers was founded in December 2001 by Frank Siller to honor his younger brother Stephen, who died trying to save others on 9/11 even after he had already gone home from his shift as a firefighter in Brooklyn. On December 7th, the 80th commemoration of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they announced the latest round of heroes they are honoring.
Department of Justice Marshals Service Senior Inspector Jared Keyworth – U.S. Army Veteran – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Vice Commander Montana Search and Rescue Tyler Weir – Master Sergeant Montana Air National Guard – Great Falls, Montana
Police Corporal James Chapman – U.S. Marine Corps Veteran – Johnston, South Carolina
Virginia State Police Trooper II Chad Dermyer – U.S. Marine Corps Veteran – Richmond, Virginia
Sergeant Joseph Deccio – U.S. Army National Guard E5 – Yakima, Washington
The five mortgage pay-offs are part of the Tunnel to Towers’ Season of Hope, which celebrates the holiday season by delivering mortgage-free homes or mortgage payoffs to families of fallen first responders, Gold Star families, and catastrophically injured veterans around the country.
Chairman and CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation Frank Siller said “These selfless heroes answered the call to serve their country and their community. I call them superheroes, brave men and women who stepped up to keep us safe at home and abroad. I am honored to support the families who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms and safety we all enjoy.”
Through donations and fundraising, they have also helped families of fallen heroes like Chris Hixon and Aaron Feis, the two coaches who lost their lives confronting the gunmen at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Long after names stop being mentioned in the news, the foundation continues to help the families of fallen heroes nationwide. A few of the families they’ve helped include DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Clark, killed in a crash on June 3, 2020; Toledo Ohio Police Officer Anthony Dia, 26, killed in the line of duty on July 4, 2020; Lieutenant Bradford “Brad” Clark, killed in a crash on October 11, 2018 and Raleigh Fire Department Brent Upton, who lost his life in the line of duty on March 17, 2021.
Terence Crowster, a development worker in South Africa, has been helping disadvantaged youth in the crime-ridden Cape Town neighborhood of Scottsville for years. He helped develop anti-bullying and leadership programs at various high schools in the community. In 2017, he solicited donations and second-hand books and created new libraries he built out of repurposed shipping containers. These were dubbed the Hot-Spot Libraries because the location of the first one is at the border of an area fought over by two rival gangs.
It’s aim is to be a helpful resource to youth in the area and it has transformed the neighborhood.
Despite the dangerous postal code, the library has flourished, becoming as much a safe space as an academic one. The neighborhood residents, once torn apart by drug abuse and gang violence, have found an escape from the harsh realities of daily life and now explore different worlds in the pages of thousands of donated second-hand books.
In its first year, its membership grew to 750 young people. Its shelves are now stocked with more than 2,000 books, and educational programming is offered six days a week. Last July, Crowster opened an additional branch in the adjoining Scottsdene neighborhood, with future branches and libraries-on-wheels planned for elsewhere in Cape Town. While the libraries’ presence hasn’t stopped all the violence, it has given many youth, who typically join gangs as young as 12 years old, a source of knowledge about the world outside their neighborhoods.
“The power of reading is that it increases your understanding of who you are and where you come from” says Sabelo Ngxola, a former gangster and Crowster’s partner on the new library project. “It opens up your imagination.” During his gang days, Ngxola was shot on four separate occasions and stabbed twice before turning his life around, largely, he says, thanks to books. Once the library opens, he’ll be responsible for managing the place when Crowster isn’t around.
Crowster said he hopes the libraries will help improve the worrying trend of children with very low reading comprehension. While visiting schools he witnessed a high rate of kids that could recognize words but not effectively understand the meaning. “I have a lot of leadership, soft skills and anti-bullying programs at the schools. So the initiative basically started … when I saw most 7th, 8th, and 9th grade kids are actually illiterate” he said. A requirement of the library is reviewing each book afterwards to show if the kids are actually understanding the books they’ve read. Crowster hopes to continue building the libraries in hard hit low income neighborhoods to give impoverished youth a
USA TODAY’s Best of Humankind Awards honor everyday people who have showcased the highest level of kindness, compassion, and perseverance in 2021. Each Humankind award celebrates an everyday person who is making a difference in their community. Winner of this award, Pastor Heather Boone, has shown a dedication to helping those who need it most in the Monroe community and her efforts are well-documented.
Boone moved to Monroe from Detroit and immediately went to work. She and her husband decided they wanted to stay in Monroe and start their own church, Oaks of Righteousness.
She made the Miracle on E. Second Street a reality by convincing the Detroit Archdiocese to sell her the historic St. Joseph Catholic Church at far below the asking price. It started as a homeless shelter and learning center known as Oaks Village.
She then further developed Oaks Village and formed a nonprofit grocery store, a clothes closet, soup kitchen, free childcare center and a free medical clinic. Her ministry serves as a village in the community. “I’m an unpaid pastor. We’re not a wealthy church and so we just wanted to change our community,” says Boone.
When the winner was announced, Boone was quick to point out none of it would be possible without the efforts of their volunteers. Boone, who lived in the homeless shelter for 2 years until they could afford to expand, said “There is no one road to homelessness. These are people just like you. We are all just a few paychecks away from being in this same predicament.”
When asked about winning the award Boone said “I mean it’s still surreal. When you think about it, across the whole United States, it’s all over the country. And so to be the person of the year… out of the whole country. It feels amazing.” But she says things are really just getting started. Next, Pastor Boone wants to build a tiny house village for those who are ready for permanent housing. This award puts her on the map, which is what she’s been praying for. “I had a lady call me from Chicago who saw it and she was asking me questions because she wants to do something similar in her community and that’s what we’re here for,” said Boone.
Marty Rogers, from Bronx, NY, has been feeding the homeless for 44 years. And in those four decades, the dad from Bronx, New York, has organized a Thanksgiving dinner for those in need through his church, Immaculate Conception. Every year, his three kids help him serve up the holiday meal. He said even though they’re all grown now, he can count on them to return to the Bronx and help him each Thanksgiving.
Marty was inspired to do even more a few years ago. Marty came up with what are now called “Hope Walks.” A few times a year, Marty and volunteers from the church and school would get together to make sandwiches and then walk around their South Bronx neighborhood and ask people if they’d like some food. Marty and his group try to make each person feel comfortable, and they also ask each person their name.
When the pandemic hit and many things shut down, Marty decided to ramp up his efforts. “No one was out. Everyone was quarantining. But, who is out, is more and more people who are homeless,” he said. “Now, it’s staring us really in the face. And we had the conversation and we started going out once a week with our supplies, and then we said, ‘This has to be more.’ And we went three times a week.”
Each week, they pack up bags with homemade sandwiches, snacks and water. The supplies are bought with donations from the community, including donations from businesses. Volunteers for the walks include kids from Immaculate Conception. Each volunteer grabs a bag filled with sandwiches, cookies, water, and gloves, and walks the neighborhood to look for people who might be in need. The students witness people on the street looking out for their friends, at times leading the walkers to another person “who could use” a sandwich or a bottle of water that the group was giving out.
“Our neighborhood has a lot of people who are homeless. Some of the people are seniors, some of the people might have addiction issues. We don’t ask, it’s none of our business, it’s non judgemental.” Each person they encounter is gracious for the food and the prayer. Marty has gotten to know many people in the neighborhood and is happy it’s making an impact. Rogers said he hopes other parishes, schools and church organizations replicate what the Hope Walk is doing so more people can be helped.
Two Ohio siblings have donated nearly 50,000 toys over the past six years to one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country through their annual holiday toy drive. It all started when the Slaven siblings teamed up in 2015 with one mission: to help children who are in the hospital on Christmas. This holiday season, Tyler and Monica Slaven are hoping to bring another 11,500 toys for the children at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The siblings began utilizing their school’s expansive network of students and staff to get volunteers and donations. The Ohio Virtual Academy, an online public school for K–12 students, serves more than 18,000 kids from across the state, according to Tyler Slaven. Tyler said “The school does a tremendous job of helping us get the word out every year and reach new people, since we are a statewide school.”
With the help of the students and faculty, the Slaven siblings would start placing toy donation boxes in different towns across the state. They also stop by droves of businesses that are “very eager” to help them out with monetary donations as well as donating actual toys. Every year, the Slavens collect donations until Dec. 10th and then they and their team of volunteers use the donations to buy toys at local stores.
In 2015, they were able to donate 800 toys to the hospital. One year later, that number more than doubled, amounting to 1,700 donations. In 2017, they donated 3,000 toys and in 2018 and 2019, the toy drive broke the hospital’s record for the single largest donation with 9,200 and 20,300 toys, respectively. Every year, the toys are packed in a U-Haul vehicle and various cars and taken directly to the children.
Not only do these toys bring holiday cheer to the children and their families, but they also take their focus off of being in the hospital, Tyler said. “Seeing a child who truly understands … the joy of Christmas is priceless.” Tyler said they just wanted to help the kids still have that joy, for those who are in the hospital during Christmas and it quickly became an annual drive. “Once you get on the hospital property, it is just phenomenal. They’re so friendly and welcoming … and spirited. It’s a true joy to be around” Slaven said.
A GoFundMe set up for Kevin Strickland, the Missouri man freed after serving 43 years in prison for a triple murder he did not commit, has raised over $1.6 million dollars. Missouri law states that only DNA evidence can lead to someone wrongfully imprisoned receiving $50 per day of post-conviction confinement but Kevin Strickland was not freed through DNA evidence so a GoFundMe was launched.
Strickland was sent to prison in 1979 but has maintained his innocence for four decades stating he was home watching television at the time. No physical evidence ever linked him to the crime scene and Cynthia Douglas, the sole witness to the crime, said detectives pressured her to pick Strickland out of a lineup. Two suspects, Kim Adkins and Vincent Bell, were later arrested. Bell was a childhood friend of Strickland’s, and lived at a house nearby. Police found a fingerprint belonging to Strickland on Bell’s car; Strickland says this was because he had driven the car before, but the last time he had seen Adkins and Bell was at 5 or 6 p.m. on the night of the murders. Both Adkins and Bell confessed to the murders and said Strickland was not involved.
Cynthia Douglas attempted several times to recant her testimony before her death in 2015. In 2009, she emailed the Midwest Innocence Project, saying, “I am seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused. I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can.” Douglas said police told her, “Just pick Strickland out of the lineup and we’ll be done, it will all go away, you can go on and you don’t have to worry about these guys no more.”
The Kansas City Star did an investigation into Strickland’s case in September 2020 which prompted prosecutors to review the case. Former prosecutors in Strickland’s case then said they thought he was innocent as well, along with federal prosecutors for the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the Mayor of Kansas City Quinton Lucas and more than a dozen state lawmakers.
On November 23, 2021, Judge James Welsh overturned Strickland’s conviction “since it was not based on physical evidence but on eye-witness testimony, who later recanted her account”. Strickland was released on the same day and exonerated after more than 42 years in prison, making his case the longest confirmed wrongful-conviction case in Missouri’s history.
Strickland, now 62 and confined to a wheelchair, said the first thing he did when released was visit his mother’s grave, who passed away in August 2021. Strickland said he plans to find a place to live where he can be alone, have some pets and make arrangements to try to unite his family who he says are spread out in Florida, California and Michigan. “I’d like to spend my final days trying to get everybody together and have a big family get-together where we all get together and see who’s who.”
Thursday marked the sixth Thanksgiving for Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench – the pair who met after a Thanksgiving Day invite was accidentally sent to the wrong number over text message. The two first met in 2016 when Dench, from Mesa, Az., sent a text inviting Hinton over for dinner. It was meant for her grandson, who had changed his phone number. Instead, Hinton, who was 17 at the time, got the message while sitting in class at Desert Vista High School.
Hinton replied” You’re not my grandma,” with a laughing emoji. He then sent back a selfie so Dench knew he was not her grandson and asked if he could stop by for dinner anyway. Dench welcomed him with open arms. “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone” Dench texted. The former strangers have been sharing the holiday ever since with Hinton documenting the holiday each year on his social media.
Hinton had told his social media followers last week that the two would be celebrating the day together again. “We are all set for year 6!” he wrote, alongside a picture of a text message from Dench inviting him, his girlfriend Mikaela and his family over. He also included a photo of himself, Dench, Mikaela and Dench’s late husband Lonnie, who died in April 2020 after a battle with Covid-19.
Last year, Hinton posted a video on YouTube documenting the 2020 dinner he and Mikaela shared with Dench – months after Dench’s husband Lonnie died. “I want to say thank you to all of the people that sent their blessings and their condolences and their well wishes for me,” Dench said in the video. It’s still going to take a lot of time…but when I get visits from these guys, it really perks me up,” she said.
Since their story went viral in 2016 Dench gets recognized as “Thanksgiving Grandma.” The two have celebrated more than just Thanksgiving together; Christmas, birthdays, and exciting new opportunities have come their way. They also shared their losses together. Wanda credits social media for helping her through the loss of her husband as well. “I get so many people giving condolences, and they’re so genuine and so uplifting,” she said.
Dench said it’s been an amazing journey. “I would have missed out on a wonderful relationship,” Dench said, when asked what would have happened if she hadn’t invited Hinton over years ago. “I’ve changed my view so much on the younger generation, and now that I’ve reflected back on all these years, I didn’t change their life; they changed mine.”
Hinton said Dench is an amazing person and he is blessed to have met her.