The images and stories pouring in from the 12-14-12 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut were heart wrenching. The damage a single person can inflict on so many others is staggering. The cherished family members gone in a blink of an eye, the young lives lost and the brilliant careers cut short, quickly became too much to handle. While moments like this are enough to make you feel defeated and lose your faith in humanity, we must remember all of the good that a single person can do to touch so many others’ lives in a beautiful way. Each of us has it in us to make our community and the world a better place; I have personally witnessed it time and time again in the past year. In February 2012 I set out to volunteer with 35 different nonprofits in the course of 12 months. The things that I have seen and done this year have changed my life forever.

AJ pours coffee for veterans and volunteers

I met Dave Bambeneck in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day. Dave is passionate about making sure World War II veterans from across the country have the opportunity to see their Washington, D.C. memorial. With 1,000 WWII veterans dying every day, you could call this a mission on a time limit. They call Dave the Oxygen Man. Every year he coordinates thousands of oxygen canisters, snacks, and bottles of water for every Honor Flight from across the country. Hundreds of veterans would have never been able to see the memorial dedicated to them without Dave’s tireless volunteer services.  Working with Dave, a volunteer named AJ makes sure that veterans and volunteers have hot coffee, breakfast and lunch during Honor Flights.

In Virginia Beach, I met Katie Lawson. She volunteers her time and skills by cutting hair for free at homeless shelters. I helped her out for a few hours as she snipped hair. Many of her clients that day already had jobs or were volunteering with national nonprofits while looking for work that would allow them to afford housing. Katie’s services allow them to maintain a groomed appearance despite their homelessness as they interview for jobs. She also collects and distributes grooming products for those living in transitional housing.

PJ the cat waits for adoption at Carol’s Ferals

Carol Manos started the cat rescue organization Carol’s Ferals from the back of her van in 2006 in the west Michigan community of Grand Rapids. Since then, her nonprofit has gone on to provide spay or neuter services to over 6,300 stray or feral cats. An unaltered pair of cats and their offspring left to breed can produce 677 cats in just 24 months. With thousands of unwanted pets being put to sleep across the country each week, Carol’s impact in reducing the misery caused by pet overpopulation has been significant. In addition, she has provided adoption services that have placed 550 more homeless cats with loving families.

From those devoting their weekends to harvesting produce for soup kitchens, to spending their evenings picking up litter on beaches, to helping homeless pets find new families, there are things all around us worthy of celebration. When in the face of daunting times you make a conscious choice to focus on what is right with our world, you will see amazing things happening. Make 2013 the year that you celebrate everything that is right about our community and our shared destiny.


Carrie Collins-Fadell

Taking Root: Innovation From the Nonprofit Community

January 1, 2013

A volunteer picks squash for distribution at a food pantry