Sharing Their Stories Can Make Us a Better Society, He Says
It’s easy to spot the largely unsung heroes in these three recent news stories:
• Fifteen National Guardsmen run 26 miles carrying full backpacks to raise money for the families of fallen soldiers.
• An off-duty firefighter rushes to a dangerous chemical blaze because he knows the local volunteer force may not be equipped to handle it.
• A middle school student in Georgia rallies youngsters and businesses to collect comfort items for troops deployed in Afghanistan.
“But each of these stories also has a surprising twist – one that underscores just why it’s so important to share them,” says philanthropist John Shimer, founder of the Angels Among Us project (www.angelsamongusproject.org).
“If we want people to be their best, we need to shine a light on what that looks like.”
Shimer notes that in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Americans took comfort in seeing and hearing about the many acts of selflessness.
“We were horrified by the fact that there’s someone evil enough to place a ticking bomb next to children. But, thank goodness, we were also heartened by the bravery of the civilians who rushed into danger to help the injured, and the many area residents who opened their homes to stranded race participants.”
In January, Shimer launched Angels Among Us to recognize just such people. Community “human angels” are selected from among nominations and, in addition to receiving an Earthly Angel Award and a donation to their charity of choice, Angels Among Us produces professional, high-quality videos that tell their story.
“The video productions are top quality, so any broadcast outlet can use them, and they’re compelling, so people will watch them,” Shimer says. “And that’s how we spread the word, inspire others, and even create a society where everyone is an Earthly Angel.”
Angels Among Us, which accepts nominations at its website, has no shortage of amazing stories, Shimer says.
Consider these recent examples:
• National Guard ‘Tough Ruckers’: Fifteen Massachusetts National Guardsmen donned full gear, including backpacks weighing 40 pounds or more, to run the Boston Marathon in memory of fallen soldiers. The “Tough Ruck” also raised money for the families of deceased soldiers through the Military Friends Foundation.
But that’s not the end of the story.
The men were near the finish line when the bombs exploded April 15. They’re the guys in fatigues seen on countless videos rushing to pull down barricades to get to the injured.
• An off-duty, volunteer firefighter: Capt. Kenny “Luckey” Harris, 52, worked for the Dallas Fire Department but lived 80 miles away in West, Texas, where he also served with the all-volunteer station. He was off duty on April 17 when fire erupted at a fertilizer plant in West. He rushed to the plant.
"He was worried the volunteer guys wouldn't be safe on a chemical fire," his friend and fellow firefighter Ronnie Janek said. "He said he had to help them stay safe."
Harris was among the 14 people who died when the fertilizer plant exploded – 11 of them were first responders.
Volunteer firefighters, who put their lives on the line for their communities for no pay, make up 69 percent of U.S. firefighters.
• A boy with a heart for soldiers: As a 10-year-old fifth-grader, Remington Youngblood understood the hardships facing troops in Afghanistan and wanted to do something both to help them and to express his appreciation for their sacrifices. So he created a nonprofit, Change4Georgia, partnered with a Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and hit the speaking circuit to rally other schools, businesses and communities to the cause.
Today, the middle school student’s charity not only regularly fills troops’ wish lists for items like chewing gum and chapstick, last Christmas it delivered hundreds of gifts and foods to the children of active-duty soldiers. It also provides school supplies to those children, and even makes an annual scholarship donation to one student veteran.
As these stories demonstrate, angels surround us in many forms, Shimer says.
“If we look for them and follow their example,” he says, “who knows how we can change the world?”
About John Shimer
John Shimer is a director of Fortune Family Foundation, a charitable corporation that provides assistance to non-profits focused on fostering self-sufficiency. For 33 years, Shimer was a fundraising manager and consultant for hospitals, human welfare agencies, and similar organizations. He is the author of “Turn Right at the Dancing Cow,” the story of a “human angel” from Seattle and the vocational school she established in Uganda. He’s the founder of the new Angels Among Us Project, which seeks to spotlight the best and most inspiring of human behavior.