American Profile received more than 70 letters from readers this year describing the generous acts of friends, neighbors, family members and anonymous individuals who helped stranded motorists, collected money for charity and lent a helping hand to someone in need. Below are the stories of a few people whose thoughtful and selfless acts restore one’s faith in humanity.
Pat Daniels, 51, believes every little boy should have a new bicycle at least once in his life. “All kids, really, but especially boys,” says the mother of three boys herself. “It’s a boy thing.”
A special-education teacher’s aide in Bridgeport, W.Va., Daniels has anonymously given a new bike to an unsuspecting child each Christmas for 25 years (except for one year when, as a divorced mother, she just didn’t have the money.)
She was 25 and a social worker for the state when she bought her first Christmas bike for a needy youngster. Hooked by the gift of giving, she continued each year to seek out an 8- to 10-year-old boy who would appreciate a new bike.
“Every year, I find someone, and it just happens,” says Daniels, who works with the recipient’s parents or guardians to make the delivery. “I never see the child get the bike. I let their parents decide whether it’s from Santa or whatever they think best.”
Selfless class act
Since seventh grade, the Class of 2005 at Lima High School had organized bake sales, spaghetti dinners, car washes and cake raffles to raise money for its senior class trip. Living in the small mountainous town of Lima, Mont., the kids dreamed of traveling to the Pacific Coast to see the ocean. But upon learning a beloved teacher was diagnosed with advanced cancer, the eight-member senior class made a quick and unanimous decision last December—to forego the trip and give their $5,000 savings toward Karla McGraw’s medical expenses.
“It was something they decided on their own,” says McGraw, who had taught many of the students since the first grade. “I was so humbled, and it just blew this community away. The next day at school, the teachers couldn’t even look at each other without crying.”
The story did not end there. When The Associated Press ran a story nationwide about the selfless class act, checks poured in from readers wanting to resurrect the trip plans. In all, $10,000 was donated to the teens and, in March, they traveled to Seaside, Ore., for an adventure of a lifetime. Leftover trip money went to McGraw’s medical fund and, after months of treatments, she returned to her teaching job in September.
“Even though the kids have moved on with their own lives, they will always be remembered around our small town as heroes,” says Dianna Slater, the school’s secretary.
Cuts of kindness
Trish Dacanay understands the power of a good haircut. “It just makes you feel good about yourself when you know your hair looks good,” says Dacanay, a barber in Tulsa, Okla., for 27 years.
For the last five years, she has volunteered her day off to give free haircuts to low-income children in her neighborhood who attend Kendall-Whittier Elementary School. She gives about 20 haircuts each Monday.
“I’m a single mom, and I’ve been there,” she says. “I know that sometimes you choose between food or new shoes or a haircut. This just helps take some pressure off of some families.”
Why does she do it? “I don’t really know,” she says. “God blesses me. I love when the kids look in the mirror and say ‘Tight!’ That means it’s good.”
It had been a bad day for Amy Shinn. The Hoschton, Ga., mother had been up all night with her 3-year-old daughter, who was miserable with a high fever and body rash. The doctor diagnosed scarlet fever and wrote several prescriptions, including one for an expensive antibiotic.
“We were really tight on money that week,” recalls Shinn, who had missed two workdays because of Taylor’s illness.
Shinn spoke at length with her pharmacist, who said he’d try to get a reduced rate. “When I went back to pick up the prescription, he said it was free. I just stood there, shocked,” she says. “He told me a gentleman in line had overheard us talking and just paid for my prescription in full.”
Shinn began crying in the store and, even a year later, gets emotional recalling the act of kindness. “To this day, I don’t know who it was. But I want to thank that person from the bottom of my heart,” she says.
It was Christmas 1984 and Norma Perez had just surprised her husband with a new jacket to replace the raggedy one he’d outgrown. The newlyweds didn’t have much money, but as they drove their Ford Pinto home, they saw a homeless man walking the streets of Laredo, Texas. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s, and he was shivering.
Without hesitation, Tony Perez stopped the car, pulled off his new jacket and gave it to the stranger. “Tony gently patted him on the back as the man whispered, ‘Thank you,’” his wife recalls.
As the couple drove off, not a word was spoken but Tony wore a glowing smile while his wife’s eyes brimmed with tears. “That day, I learned the true meaning of love as the Lord intended,” says Norma of her husband, now a school bus driver, father of their four children and grandfather to two more. “To this day, he never ceases to amaze me. He sees things with his heart that others never notice.”
Touched by a prayer
Traveling by plane for the first time, the five-member Stieneke family of Cherokee, Iowa, was landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport when their 10-year-old son became upset and began to sob loudly.
“He was inconsolable,” recalls Elaine Stieneke of her son, who has expressive language disorder and wailed for nearly 25 minutes once they reached the terminal.
Some passengers offered “advice,” some sympathetic looks and others appeared disgusted and annoyed. However, one woman sat quietly watching, wiping away tears as she scribbled a note. She handed it to the flustered mom, who was too distraught to even acknowledge it.
Later on a connecting flight, Stieneke pulled out the note. It read: “I’ve been there—not this exact situation but close enough. I asked God to give you everything good that I was going to receive today. The very best to you.”
“I cried like a baby when I read it,” Stieneke says. “I was so overwhelmed by this message. It got me through that week and quite a few since then.”
She keeps the crumpled paper tucked in her journal to remind her “there are a lot of good people out there.”
Caring letter carrier
Walking his daily 10-mile route in Las Cruces, N.M., mail carrier Dave Woodwell, 50, gets to know his customers face to face. “It doesn’t take long to observe the habits of the neighborhood, both good and bad,” he says.
And the needs of the neighbors, as well. So in his off hours, he visits customers in the hospital, carries in groceries for the ill, fixes mailboxes and even pulls weeds for the elderly. And he always has a listening ear.
“None of it is really that big or takes that much time. But when you add it all up, I guess it’s a lot,” he says. “It’s just simple little things I can do that help me sleep easy at night.”
A special birthday
Eight-year-old Jacob Soncarty loves a birthday party.
Celebrating his dad’s 40th in May at a restaurant in Moscow, Idaho, he helped choose the cake, place the candles and sing the birthday song. But when the applause ended, a gentleman at the next table pointed to an elderly friend and said, “You can sing to her. Today is her birthday, too.”
Jacob, who has Prader Willi Syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that causes learning disabilities, immediately gave the stranger a hug and a kiss. He wished her a “very happy birthday” and asked how old she was. “I am 92,” she replied, “and this is the best hug and kiss I ever got for a birthday. And it’s from a little boy I have never met before!” Jacob then shared birthday cake with his new friends.
“That’s just Jacob,” says his grandmother, Virginia Soncarty. “He made their day special and he also made his parents and grandparents very proud of him.”