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From unexpected generosity to the 'Rise Up' heard round the world, Baltimore loved an underdog in 2017

Strangers offering to pay a Baltimore woman’s water bills. City students pooling their pennies for hurricane victims. A Baltimore youth choir touching people around the world.

This year, a few stories of unexpected generosity and strangers going out of their way to bring a smile to people they’d never met found their way into the headlines.

In a year of grim news, these acts of kindness serve as a reminder that there are plenty of good people left in the world, many of them in our own backyard.

The kindness of strangers

When Dawn Tucker of Severn got her tax return in the spring, she thought about ways she could spend it: paying down debt or stashing it in her savings. She decided, instead, to give the $1,300 to save the home of a Baltimore woman she never met.

Tucker was one of several people who offered to help Evelyn Anderson pay an overdue water bill that had prompted the city to threaten to take her home. She had read a Baltimore Sun article on Anderson’s predicament.

"It's wonderful," Anderson said. "When I heard about it I said, 'Lord have mercy. God answered my prayer.' I am still shaking."

But Tucker wasn’t the only big-hearted Marylander to open her wallet to help a stranger. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas this summer, students at City Springs Elementary/Middle School began a fundraising effort for victims. The school is one of the city’s poorest, but that didn’t stop kids from giving.

“It’s oftentimes striking how we see those who have the least give the most,” said their teacher, Wyatt Oroke.

Oroke and his students were featured on The Ellen DeGeneres show: the host surprised kids with a giant check for $25,000 made out to the school.

And money came from Texas to help Baltimore, too. After watching a TV special on the West Baltimore youth center Kids Safe Zone, a wealthy Texas oilman named Chris Hicks began sending regular donations to help founder Ericka Alston-Buck that totaled $120,000 by July.

“He's the reason why we have a roof over our head,” Alston-Buck told The Sun. “We were paying November’s rent in December when we got his check.”

From lost to found

A former Navy officer named Bruce Campbell was perusing the racks of a thrift store in Spokane, Wash., when he found an olive green uniform jacket that originally belonged to a Baltimore man who served in both world wars and survived a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Campbell searched online and found the website of the man’s granddaughter, Heather Shreve, a Carroll County woman who has researched and documented the life of her late grandfather.

Campbell contacted her and offered to mail the jacket to her home in Hampstead, about 2,500 miles away.

That jacket wasn’t the only lost item returned this year. In June, Lou Catelli, the unofficial “mayor of Hampden,” was reunited with his trademark adult tricycle after it was stolen.

“I’ve been overwhelmed,” said Catelli, whose real name is Will Bauer, adding that the few weeks after the theft had been filled with a community outpouring, as residents sent tips and pictures of trike sightings, with the suspect brazenly riding it around the city, sometimes with a passenger on the back.

And in October, activist and barbecue cook Duane “Shorty” Davis recovered his grill just days after discovering it had been stolen from the site of a charity event.

“I can’t do the work … like a cabdriver without a car,” Davis, of Randallstown, had told The Sun.

But Davis put out calls on social media, and was soon back in business.

“We Love BALTIMORE and BALTIMORE loves Shorty's Bootleg BBQ...... THANKS for helping me get my GRILL Back. This GRILL saves LIVES AND BUILDS COMMUNITY,” Davis wrote on Facebook.

Baltimore kids get a boost

The “squeegee boys” — kids who wash car windshields for tips — found a new supporter in Mayor Catherine Pugh, after she launched a “pop-up” car wash program for Baltimore youth. Pugh said the boys show an entrepreneurial spirit, and the city could help them open their own car washes around the city.

In the fall, a choir practice led to a stint on ABC’s “Good Morning America” for a talented group of local students. After director Kenyatta Hardison uploaded a video of members of the Cardinal Shehan School choir rehearsing their rendition of Andra Day’s song “Rise Up,” the rousing performance was viewed tens of millions of times. The student choir was invited to perform on the popular morning show, as well as on “The View” and at a Ravens game.

Hardison said she’d received messages from people around the world about how the performance spoke to them.

“We got calls from people in the hospital with their cancer treatment about how the kids just gave them hope,” said Hardison, a 1991 Baltimore School for the Arts alumna and East Baltimore native. “You had people from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Texas, even from Baltimore City, all over — just heartwarming messages that the kids just inspire them.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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