12 feel-good stories that prove some positivity came out of 2016

This year served as a reminder that the news isn’t always good. But sometimes it is. In a year that brought us countless acts of senseless violence, horrible natural disasters, the deaths of celebrities and American legends near and dear to our hearts and one of the most caustic elections in memory, quiet stories of human goodness often got overlooked. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t important.

Clifton Hayes, 51, who was homeless, gets a hug and housewarming gifts from friend Courtney Saxton, at his house blessing ceremony at Community First Village June 25, 2016, a few days after moving into one of the microhouses. The village is a familial community where formerly homeless people mingle with those who have never experienced homelessness and slowly gain back their dignity and their will and ability to live normal lives. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Clifton Hayes, 51, who was homeless, gets a hug and housewarming gifts from friend Courtney Saxton, at his house blessing ceremony at Community First Village June 25, 2016, a few days after moving into one of the microhouses. The village is a familial community where formerly homeless people mingle with those who have never experienced homelessness and slowly gain back their dignity and their will and ability to live normal lives. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Now, more than ever, it seems we need happy news. And on that note, we rounded up 12 stories that reminded us of the good in the world in 2016.

Rapper turned teacher: Ten years ago, Bavu Blakes was the most prominent rapper on the Austin scene. Today, he’s a middle school teacher working toward a master’s degree at UT, but the power behind rap music hasn’t left him. He uses the language of hip-hop and modern rap music to better relate to his students and bridge the gap between education and the music community.

Dog forgotten in floods saved: In 2016, Texas experienced severe flooding that damaged countless homes and endangered residents. One dog’s luck changed quickly, however, when it was spotted chained to a porch and forgotten in neck-high floodwaters by a team of rescuers. A warm bath and half a ham sandwich later, the pup was up for adoption at the Humane Society.

Community gives another chance to those in need: Community First Village in East Austin is a master-planned community where homeless people can find shelter, regain dignity and reconnect with family. The village works to connect them to the general public, thereby reducing stereotypes, and also helps teach them ways to make money. The sense of community throughout the community aims to help residents grow re-accustomed to daily life and re-establish the feelings of family.

Laurie Allen celebrates moments after she removed her cervical collar at the NeuroTexas Institute on Wednesday April 29, 2015. At the appointment more than two months after her accident, she was able to remove and stop wearing her cervical collar. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Laurie Allen celebrates moments after she removed her cervical collar at the NeuroTexas Institute on Wednesday April 29, 2015. At the appointment more than two months after her accident, she was able to remove and stop wearing her cervical collar. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A new normal: Before her debilitating accident, which left her paralyzed from the waist down, Laurie Allen was a lifelong athlete who completed nine triathlons. Adjusting to her new lifestyle has proved difficult, but with her husband at her side, Allen continues to make progress and vows to return to triathlon.

Bevo sends sympathies: If anyone knows what a mascot can mean to a school, it’s the Texas Longhorns. That’s why when young Bevo XV sent a bouquet of “get well” flowers to Louisiana State University’s Mike the Tiger after a cancerous tumor resumed growth, we were happily not surprised. The tiger has since passed, but Bevo’s gesture reminds us that no matter the team, we’re all in this together.

Austin’s homeless find escape in writing: A formerly homeless 55-year-old man who now studies English at UT, Barry Maxwell was moved to expand the book donation program Street Lit after he realized that writing offered him a unique escape from his situation. He now runs a regular writing workshop at the ARCH where members of the homeless community can share poems and other pieces of original work.

Veteran and service dog get job at Lowe’sCharlotte the Golden Retriever is a service dog for veteran Clay Luthy, who injured his leg while in the  Air Force. When Luthy got a job at an Abilene Lowe’s, Charlotte tagged along and even got her very own employee vest. The two quickly experienced viral fame, showcasing a bit of good cheer at the beginning of December.

Kacee Jackson paid for the presents ordered at Toys R Us by 83 families who found themselves unable to afford them.

Kacee Jackson paid for the presents ordered at Toys R Us by 83 families who found themselves unable to afford them.

Man pays for families’ Christmas layaways: Speaking of December, an Austin man recently made the oft-stressful month of present-giving a lot easier for 83 local families when he and some buddies paid off more than $11,000 in layaway fees at three different Austin Toys R Us locations. Kacee Jackson works as a financial advisor for people who are trying to avoid foreclosure, and when he encountered a client who couldn’t afford to pay for her children’s Christmas presents, he decided to step in. And then, he paid the debts of dozens of other local families, too. “I’ve had a fortunate couple of years, and it just felt good to give back,” Jackson, 41, told the American-Statesman.

BookPeople orders more Jen Hatmaker booksIn other local news, Austin standby BookPeople decided to support a local author in the heat of controversy. Jen Hatmaker, noted Christian author, speaker, I-35 ranter and HGTV star, had her books pulled from the shelves at LifeWay Christian Stores (also one of her publishers) after she stated in an October interview with the Religion News Service that “any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love.” BookPeople’s response was to order even more of Hatmaker’s books to counteract the boycott.

Dolly Parton helps victims of Smoky Mountain firesWhen a brushfire in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains quickly turned into an out-of-control wildfire that killed at least 14 people, injured dozens more, burned at least 500 acres of property to the ground and caused at least $500 million in damages in early December, nobody acted quicker to help victims and their families than firefighters and other rescue personnel. But the person who was the quickest to use their celebrity to help raise money for those who lost everything was country music icon Dolly Parton. She established her “My People” fund shortly after the damage was assessed, and pledged to donate $1,000 a month from her Smoky Mountain-area Dollywood Theme Park to every family affected by the disaster until they could get back on their feet. A telethon arranged by Parton helped raise more than $9 million for the families, and people are still donating.

Man holds ‘You belong’ sign outside mosqueThis year’s election brought out the worst in some people and the best in others. Justin Normand of Dallas falls into the latter category. Normand was photographed outside of a mosque in Irving in November holding a sign that read, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.” “This happened because I needed to do something, and I had nothing else that I could do,” he told the Dallas Morning News when they asked about the photo. He later said in a Facebook post that he was inspired to make the sign to “share peace” following this year’s election. “This was about my religion, not theirs.”

‘I love you so much’ honors Orlando victimsThe “I love you so much” mural at Jo’s Coffee has long been a popular photo opportunity for Austinites and guests. On one Friday in June, the popular South Congress coffee spot was turned into a way to spread love to the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando. The photos quickly went viral, showcasing a popular mural’s tribute to the victims of a senseless tragedy.

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