The spirit of kindness is alive and well in America, based on dozens of letters from American Profile readers describing the compassionate and generous acts of friends, neighbors, family members and anonymous individuals. Here are a few stories of people whose thoughtful and selfless deeds restore one's faith in humanity.
When Wes Orr, 67, was ordered to stay off his feet for eight weeks after double-knee surgery last year, his neighbors made him an offer that gives new meaning to the expression "my house is your house."
Bill and Kim Reynolds own the only single-level ranch house on Hardtack Court in Gahanna, Ohio (pop. 32,636), while Wes and his wife, Bobbi, 67, live in a two-story home with no downstairs bathroom for bathing. Convalescing would be difficult for Wes in his own home, and the cost of building a wheelchair ramp to the front door was estimated at $5,000.
One day, Bill, 49, and Kim, 50, walked across the street to offer a solution.
"They needed to come here, and we needed to go over there," says Bill, whose wife attends a neighborhood Bible study led by Bobbi. "God definitely had a hand in this—to put them in a position to be willing to accept help and us in a position where we could make that offer."
A wheelchair ramp built in the Reynolds' garage cost only $118, and the couples traded houses for what ended up to be 12 weeks during Wes' recovery.
"It's a good story about looking out for your fellow man," says Wes, now walking and sleeping in his own home. "That's what we're on this good earth to do."
Peggy Arrington, 55, doesn't like shots or needles. So when the Jacksonville, Fla., woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, the treatment and tests terrified her almost as much as the disease.
That was before friend Dorian Eng, 55, unveiled her hat trick.
While Peggy's husband, Steve, accompanied her to chemotherapy treatments, Dorian volunteered to take her friend to follow-up visits for blood tests and shots.
"What nobody knew is that I have an extreme fear of doctors, needles, hospitals and anything in connection with them," Peggy says. "When I finally let out my deep, dark secret, Dorian devised a plan to distract me every time I had to face an injection or a blood test."
On their first visit, as an anxious Peggy sat down to wait for her blood to be drawn, Dorian pulled a hat out of her handbag and plopped it onto her head.
"It was the silliest thing I had ever seen—kind of like a black aviator hat with big, blue spikes coming out all over it," Peggy recalls. "Before I knew it, the blood test was over, and I had laughed through it."
About a dozen different hats—from Mickey Mouse ears to a pink-feathered tiara—were unveiled at subsequent visits, just before the needles pierced Peggy.
Dorian says it was a privilege to use the fine art of distraction to help her friend during a challenging period. "It was a gift to me, really," Dorian says. "I really got to love Peggy during that time."
From Peggy's point of view, Dorian wears a constant halo. "If there are truly angels on Earth, Dorian is one of them," she says.
The tearful family of Senior Airman Adam J. Hicks, 24, gazed through the terminal window at Raleigh-Durham (N.C.) International Airport to watch his jet leave the gate, knowing that they wouldn't see the Kuwait-bound serviceman for the next six months.
Only minutes earlier inside the terminal, Adam had hugged his wife, Charla, 24, and their daughters, Gracie, 3, Emma, 2, and 5-month-old Ava, along with his parents, grandmother and Charla's parents.
"The girls were crying. We all were crying," recalls the airman's mother, Susan Hicks, 47, of Sidney, Ohio, describing how they watched Adam disappear down the terminal ramp into the Delta Air Lines aircraft.
They rushed to a large airport window in hopes of catching one more peek. But with no dad in sight, the children began to wave instead to the crew in the cockpit, who waved back. Minutes later, the cockpit window opened to reveal their dad, smiling and extending his head and right arm out of the window with one more memorable farewell. Turns out that the pilot had summoned the uniformed passenger to the front of the aircraft on the intercom.
"We had tears in our hearts," says the airman's mom, recalling the unexpected act of kindness by the crew of Delta Flight 1591, en route to Atlanta on Oct. 13, 2009.
Adam says initially he was confused when the pilot ordered him to step into the cockpit. Then he saw his family waving and rushed to the cockpit window.
"I must have blown at least 50 kisses," says Adam, now based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. (pop. 39,043). "I thought of it at least once a day while I was in Kuwait."
Giving a lift
As she does most every afternoon, Nancy Pease, 53, met the school bus along a busy two-lane highway in Grass Valley, Calif. (pop. 10,922), to pick up her daughter Johanna, 14, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Pease was aware that her daughter was getting both older and bigger, but on this particular spring day, she felt desperate as she struggled to lift Johanna into her Chevrolet Tahoe.
"The bus had left and I was trying to get her into the back seat. Instead, she missed the seat and started to fall to the ground," Pease remembers.
Just then, a passing motorist turned her car around on the highway and pulled up beside Pease's SUV. A smiling woman emerged and offered to help. "The two of us then lifted my daughter into the Tahoe," Pease says. "I discovered she is a home health care worker, and she said she works with people like my daughter every day."
Pease never got the woman's name, but she's grateful every day for her help and that of other Good Samaritans. "Sometimes I tell people there are little angels out there who help families like us," she says.
Humanity on the highway
Ann Marie Rezelman, 53, felt helpless—and a bit embarrassed—when her turquoise Mercury Tracer, nicknamed "Grasshopper," died in steamy rush hour traffic one hot summer afternoon in Springfield, Va. (pop. 30,417).
"I stood under a puny umbrella on the concrete median strip and waited for the tow truck," recalls Rezelman, a government contract worker who lives in Warrenton, Va., about 40 miles from where her vehicle stalled. "Each time the light changed, I was face-to-face with a total stranger. A few asked if help had been called, and others were emphatic about how I had inconvenienced them."
The first act of kindness came from a truckload of construction workers who pulled up behind her car and, like a pit crew at a racing track, moved her disabled vehicle out of the line of traffic. "They piled out, pushed my car out of the travel lane, then jumped back in and roared away when the light changed," she says.
The second kind gesture came from "a beautiful woman who smiled at me and simply handed me a bottle of cold water." The bottle had the name "BETSY" written on it in a blue marker, and Rezelman quickly downed the water in the sweltering heat.
Rezelman's car could not be repaired, but her faith in humanity was renewed that day through two simple deeds from complete strangers. She donated Grasshopper to a program that teaches high school students how to repair cars and sells the restored vehicles at affordable prices to low-income workers.
"We're all in this together," she says.
Phone a friend
Neil Starke, 90, of Wautoma, Wis. (pop. 1,312), says he isn't fooled.
Every morning, the phone rings at the retired Oshkosh fire captain's house, and one of his neighbors or friends is calling with a question or some bit of local news of the day.
"They'll ask things like 'What did you have for breakfast?' Or they'll call when they are on their way to work to say 'just wanting to make sure you didn't oversleep.' In reality, they are making sure I'm all right. It's a wonderful feeling that they care," Starke says of the daily calls from Randy and Becky Gramse, Jon Barthel and others that began after the death of Gladys, his wife of 57 years, in 2002.
Starke describes himself as "a widower, living alone in a rural area, not in the best of health, but independent." He loves daily interaction and visits nursing home residents to cheer them up.
"People are always talking about how good heaven is," says Starke, preparing to sample a strawberry pie delivered by neighbor Donna Goldsmith. "I feel like I've had a little heaven here on Earth."
Beth Holovach doesn't know who turned Christmas 1979 from her bleakest into her best, but she's been "paying it forward" ever since.
A 30-year-old divorced mother of two boys, Holovach scraped out a living by working 70 hours a week as a machinist in Windom, Kan. (pop. 137). Her holiday bonus that year was a turkey and $50, which she spent on groceries on her way home on Christmas Eve.
"I had no money for Christmas gifts for my 2- and 6-year-old sons, but the grocery store had marked down Christmas votive candles for 10 cents. I bought two of them. That was Christmas for my sons," Holovach says.
Her blue Christmas ended when she found five grocery-filled bags—one including a $100 bill—at her door. There was no note.
On Christmas morning, Joshua and Justin were disappointed to find only votive candles in their stockings from Santa Claus. But their frowns turned to smiles when the postmaster, on a special holiday run, delivered a package of clothes, toys and goodies from out-of-town friends. Holovach calls that Christmas "the day that Santa made us his last stop."
"We had Christmas," she says. "My boys wore those clothes down to threads."
Two years later, when her finances had improved, Holovach began a tradition of working with local churches and charities to identify families in need and to deliver toys and supplies anonymously. She always includes a $100 gift card from a grocery and a $100 bill. "It's my 'pay it forward,'" says Halovach, now 61, happily remarried to Jay Holovach and living in Scott City, Kan. (pop. 3,855).
She estimates she's anonymously given away $8,000 to down-on-their-luck families over the holidays. "I can't live long enough to pay it back," she says.
As for Joshua and Justin, now ages 37 and 34, they've never forgotten the year when they became the grateful recipients of the spirit of Christmas giving. Every holiday, they light their votive candles that say "Christmas 1979."
Tell us about those good deeds
Has someone performed an unexpected act of kindness for you lately? American Profile would like to hear stories about the compassionate acts that readers have experienced in the last year. Mail a brief letter describing the event, along with your full name, address and tele-phone number, to: Acts of Kindness, c/o American Profile, 341 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067.