While 2021 proved to be another difficult year with a worldwide pandemic, it wasn’t all bad.
From small acts of kindness to awe-inspiring events, below is a list of some of the better things that happened in 2021, so we can all leave the year behind with a glimmer of optimism.
Maine veteran builds temporary housing for homeless vets
In January, a veteran in Maine gave back to other veterans who were struggling with homelessness amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ed Harmon, a service officer with the American Legion post in Boothbay, Maine, retrofits trailers into living spaces through a project he calls the Veterans Emergency Temporary Shelter, or VETS.
The housing units are one-room living spaces equipped with a bed, microwave and refrigerator, and provide safe and secure housing for veterans for a couple of days to a couple of weeks, or even longer as necessary.
Harmon, 72, served in Vietnam.
"They [the veterans] can’t say they don’t understand, because I do," Harmon said. "The whole idea is to show them I’ve been there. I understand, and I fight for them."
5-year-old dresses as Bernie Sanders inauguration meme for school party
Also in January, 5-year-old Harrison Streetman dressed as Bernie Sanders for a school party for the 100th Day celebration at Pinebrook Elementary in North Carolina.
He chose Sanders' outfit from President Joe Biden's inauguration that went viral, generating countless memes.
"His teacher encouraged them [students] to dress up as 100-year-old people, and so, then the idea of just dressing up as an old person was kind of going through our heads," Harrison’s mother, Amanda, told FOX Television Stations. "And the ‘Bernie meme’ was so popular."
Harrison donned the dark coat, the glasses, and yes, the signature mittens that took on an identity of their own and sparked a fashion trend. He even posed like Sanders, sitting socially-distant in a chair with his legs crossed and arms folded, mimicking the now-viral picture.
MacDill AFB helps 5-year-old girl's spirits soar amid cancer battle
A beaming Ever sits at the controls of a KC-135. (MacDill AFB photo)
Ever Young, 5, donned a custom green flight suit for her big day, which included a tour of MacDill’s air traffic control tower and a chance to sharpen her skills in a flight simulator before taking a seat in the real thing.
In photos shared by the base, Ever can be seen sitting at the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker – her wide smile clearly visible from behind her COVID mask.
United Airlines colleagues stitch teddy bears out of man’s uniforms for his 2 sons after his death
Laza Katanic, a 39-year-old father, was killed in a car accident in late 2019 close to his family’s home in Laguna Hills, California.
A year later, Katanic’s coworkers at United Airlines came up with the idea to take his old uniforms and stitch together teddy bears — and to provide a gift card — for his two children: Logan, 6, and toddler Luka.
"I had no idea. It was a surprise," Katanic’s widow, Bernadette Terzich-Katanic, told FOX Television Stations in March. "It was honestly the most thoughtful, heartfelt gift we’ve ever received."
Laza’s colleagues took pieces of his old shirts, vests and jackets to outfit the stuffed animals. They also included logos from United and Continental Airlines, where Laza worked.
Each bear contains a picture of Laza in its pocket. Bernadette also sprayed the bears with Laza’s cologne to help her sons remember his scent.
Bernadette said her sons call the gifts "Tata bears," the name Logan gave to his stepfather before his death.
Southwest employees send lost Buzz Lightyear toy on epic adventure before returning him to family
Southwest Airlines employees went "to infinity and beyond" to return a Buzz Lightyear toy to a California family that was accidentally left behind on a plane.
The airline posted on Facebook that Ashley Davis’ family landed at Dallas Love Field Airport in Texas in late January and picked up their rental car before noticing that they left Buzz back on the plane. The toy belongs to their 2-year-old son, Hagen.
With the help of an employee, the company tracked down the family through its passenger list.
The company not only shipped the "Toy Story" character back to the family, but placed Buzz in a hand-decorated box with a letter and pictures describing his "journey."
"I am very excited to return to you upon completing my mission," the letter read. "I was able to explore the airport and spaceport in Little Rock, Arkansas."
Caseworker becomes mother to 19-year-old who spent years in foster care
As 19-year-old Monyay Paskalides aged out of foster care without a mom, Leah Paskalides learned she could still adopt her as an adult.
"With my signature, it is official," Judge Teri Dees said amidst applause and cheers via Zoom. "Happy adoption day."
Caseworker becomes mother to 19-year-old who spent years in foster care.
Before taking on the title of Mom, Paskalides worked as Monyay's caseworker and mentor with the Safe Children Coalition. She remained the young woman's support line but couldn't adopt her due to a conflict of interest with her job.
"It was important to me that she knew that she was wanted by somebody, that somebody loved her," Leah explained. "I could say that as many times as I want, but actions speak louder than words."
Class pools money to buy teacher 1st pair of Air Jordans
One group of students from a northern Kentucky high school found the perfect way to express gratitude for their teacher — and the surprise was a slam dunk.
Kyle Holbrook is an AP U.S. history teacher at Conner High School, and according to his students, he works tirelessly to make his class fun, make them laugh and help them learn.
"The day of our AP exam, we were all in Mr. Holbrook’s room, and that’s when I handed him the gift," Griffin Morris, a student in Mr. Holbrook’s class, told FOX Television Stations.
A video shows Holbrook opening up the gift, followed by his priceless surprised reaction to receiving the shoes.
"My first reaction was disbelief as I have never received a gift of this magnitude from students," Holbrook revealed. "As a person, it shows how the youth can think above themselves and act in a selfless manner. As a teacher, it was a huge positive end to a tough year."
Rare diagnosis inspires Florida graduate to become a pediatric nurse
A Riverview High School senior, Ashley Kersey, missed most of her high school days. Her time was spent at the Mayo Clinic instead.
Senior year came with a rare diagnosis: gastroparesis or stomach paralysis. It will be something she manages for the rest of her life.
(Photo Credit: Ashley Kersey)
Kersey graduated with honors, and her diagnosis ignited her dream to become a pediatric nurse.
"When I'm admitted, there was never a doctor or nurse who can say they know how certain things feel," she said. "They don't know what it feels like getting a feeding tube put in. I do. I feel like I would be able to help kids because I know exactly how it feels."
Kersey was awarded a merit scholarship worth $100,000 to become a pediatric nurse at Mayo Clinic one day, courtesy of Jacksonville University.
Dad, son with autism collaborate on comic book series to help son better understand the world
While growing up in Brooklyn, Led Bradshaw said his peers talked about becoming firefighters, police officers and astronauts — but he just wanted to draw cartoons.
As fate would have it, he would do just that once his son Jake was diagnosed with autism — a condition on a spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by challenges in verbal and non-verbal communication, impaired social skills, speech and repetitive behaviors.
That’s where art therapy came into the picture. His research taught him that autistic children can learn to communicate and understand their emotions through art therapy exercises.
Jetpulse Comics take place in the Jetpulse Universe and follow the adventures of Jake Jetpulse, a young boy drawn in the likeness of Jake Bradshaw who uses autism as his superpower.
"The Jetpulse Universe is entirely Jake's imagination," Led said. "So, the wonderful thing about the story is that it all comes from him."
Teacher gives student his own shoes so he can walk in graduation
A high school senior in Louisiana was almost banned from walking in his graduation ceremony after he didn’t follow the school’s shoe policy until a teacher stepped in to help.
When Daverius Peters arrived at the local convention center for the event on May 19, he was blocked from entering the building. A school representative told him he had violated the ceremony’s dress code shoe policy.
In a panic, Peters decided to ask John Butler, a paraeducator and student mentor at the school, for help. The teacher immediately took his shoes off and gave them to the student.
Butler said Peters looked relieved at the gesture, despite the shoes being two sizes too big for the high school student.
"When Mr. John said I can wear his shoes, my joy came back," Peters said.
Man rents movie theater, surprises wife with lost wedding footage
An Oregon husband planned a special surprise for his wife on their 14th wedding anniversary: a private screening of their never-before-seen wedding video at a local movie theater.
Drew and Kayla Gottfried had never seen the footage of their special day, as their wedding video came up blank.
But in July, a friend reached out to Drew with good news: The video had been found.
"Initially I was completely surprised," Drew told FOX Television Stations. "As soon as I saw his message, I knew I had to plan a surprise for Kayla and that she would be blown away."
Footage shared on TikTok shows the pair settling in with snacks and drinks at the theater, with Kayla believing she was there to watch a movie.
When the previews finish and the footage begins to play, a tearful Kayla can be seen grabbing her husband in shock.
"She was completely blindsided. We seem to reminisce about the footage every anniversary and even that evening at dinner, Kayla had mentioned she was bummed we didn't have the footage," Drew said. "As soon as the actual picture started playing she lost it and was overcome with happiness, joy, disbelief and excitement."
Teacher has students say positive affirmations in mirror in viral video
In a video, which quickly gained national attention in August, Neffiteria Acker, a fourth-grade teacher, is shown holding a mirror while her students say positive affirmations to themselves.
In the video, students are seen lining up saying affirmations including, "I am smart," "I am a good person" and "I am strong and independent."
"I practice positive affirmations with myself in the morning. I practice them with my daughter who’s 5 years old, and, I’ve seen just a tremendous amount of confidence and self-value increase with her," Acker told FOX Television Stations. "So, I decided to do it with our students."
Rescue dog tests out new wheelchair ramp in heartwarming video
A wheelchair-using dog showed off his bravery after a new ramp was installed in his home.
The video, uploaded to Facebook on July 3, shows a paralyzed rescue dog, named Benny, barking with excitement over his present before courageously testing out the ramp.
His owner, Elizabeth LaBauve of the Tucker Farm, can be heard in the video praising Benny as a "good boy" and giving him some treats.
"Benny is so excited about his new ramp! Now to master it!" Tucker Farm wrote on social media.
SoCal couple adopts 7 siblings after their parents die in car crash
Pamela Willis was scrolling through her Facebook feed in 2019 when she came upon a news story about seven siblings in need of a home. It was a post that would forever change her and her husband’s life.
The children had been in foster care for more than one year after losing their parents in a deadly car crash
"I really felt at that moment that those were supposed to be my children," Willis told FOX Television Stations. "It’s hard to explain, but I just have this really deep feeling like that."
While Willis said it was a fairly long process, they officially became a family in August 2020.
"From the day we met them, they were ours," Willis shared. "This was a forever commitment."
Soldiers welcomed back to US from Afghanistan with cheers, applause
Soldiers who helped during evacuations in Kabul, Afghanistan returned home to a thunderous welcome ceremony on Sept. 6 at Fort Drum, New York.
Video shared of the ceremony shows the "Polar Bears" of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, filing into a building as friends and family applaud and cheer.
The commander of the 10th Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle commended the soldiers’ leadership and thanked them for their service in Afghanistan.
"Thank you for doing your duty, which your nation asked you to do. Thank you all for making every single one of us proud of every one of you standing in this formation," he said.
Betty Reid Soskin: Oldest active National Park Service ranger turns 100
Betty Reid Soskin, who is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service, turned 100 on Sept. 22.
Soskin started working for the NPS well into her 80s and is known for telling her own story of being a young Black woman growing up in the Bay Area during World War II.
She is currently assigned to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, according to the National Park Service website.
ICU nurse helps young COVID-19 widowed dad fill newborn’s nursery with donations
Eric Robison, 23, of Fort Smith, Arkansas lost his wife to COVID-19 and became a single father within the span of two months.
Ashlee Schwartz, an ICU nurse, decided she wanted to help the young family.
Schwartz said the hospital’s nurses were a part of a private Facebook group and she posed a question in the forum asking if anyone would like to help donate some necessities for Eric and Emily. Many said yes.
Schwartz approached Eric and asked him if he had a baby registry that they could take and start making donations, but since Eric was a first-time dad, he had no idea what a baby registry was, nor was he even contemplating life after his wife’s passing.
Donations started slowly trickling in and a GoFundMe that was set up by Schwartz started gaining some attention. According to Eric, the GoFundMe raised over $12,000, even though the goal was just $1,000 — and he was getting all sorts of donations to fill up Carmen’s nursery.
"I did not expect this, I honestly expected a couple of gifts, $50 dollars, that’s it, but it’s taken off to a point that I am grateful forever, I’m eternally grateful, I'm just blown away, mostly, I’m almost bittersweet," Eric said.
Florida woman rescues more than 300 poodles in 16 years
Constanza Bryant is part of Florida Poodle Rescue, a group that provides foster homes for dogs.
Woman rescues more than 300 poodles in 16 years
"We're just a group of volunteers," she explained. "We don't get any money from anybody. We just collect adoption fees, do fundraisers, sell calendars, sell T-shirts, you know, just to make ends meet."
The group has been around since 1994 and has rescued more than 9,000 abandoned dogs. They hope to find them all permanent homes.
Bryant has fostered more than 300 dogs over the past 16 years.
"I have taken dogs that are handicapped or dogs that are seniors," she said. "I love the seniors. They're easy, they're sweet. And you know, you just give them the best life you can for the few years that they have left."
South Carolina animal sanctuary transforms into ‘real-life unicorn farm’
A South Carolina woman who bought a farm nearly five years ago unintentionally turned it into a unicorn farm.
Kate Nichols owns Hidden Pasture Unicorn Farm, also known as the "Unicorn Farm," located in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.
The idea to turn her sanctuary into a unicorn farm did not happen until her partner gifted her with a handmade unicorn horn to put on one of the horses.
Nichols decided to capitalize on the idea to have people pay to get a "real-live" unicorn to visit them for an event. The money earned from the visits to the farm and events would be optimal for paying for the care her animals needed at the sanctuary.
"It is a sanctuary for them. They can live here forever," she said. "This is their home and I will always care for them and provide love and do everything I can to make sure that they’re provided for and they have happy lives and they get to be happy equines like they deserve."
Wyoming girl, teddy bear reunited after year-long separation during Glacier National Park trip
Six-year-old Naomi Pascal was crushed when she lost her teddy bear in October 2020 during a family hike at Glacier National Park in Montana.
Thanks to a sharp-eyed, compassionate ranger, Pascal and her teddy bear, aptly named "Teddy," were reunited a year later.
Teddy is now safe and secure at the family’s home and under the watchful eye of Pascal.
77-year-old dad battling 2 forms of cancer nails ice skating routine in viral video
A Washington state woman posted an inspiring video of her father, who is battling two forms of cancer, performing an ice skating routine that took him months to learn.
According to him, it’s never too late to learn something new.
Richard Epstein, 77, was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2020 and had been battling chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL) for the past two and a half years, according to his daughter, Rebekah Bastian.
Bastian was brought to (happy) tears after her mother shared a video of her father performing an ice skating routine with his instructor, which she decided to share on her Twitter because she felt everyone "could use a little bit of optimism."
The FOX TV digital team contributed to this story.