December 18, 2019
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7 stories that brightened our 2019

This past year, we met artists, teachers, business owners, and volunteers who each brought a little sunshine into their communities. Here's what they accomplished.

One of our favorite moments from 2019 was meeting and listening to the Urban Voices Project choir at the Renewal Summit in Los Angeles in November.

As we reflect on our favorite stories of 2019, we’ve noticed a common theme that seems to run through each—inclusivity. Behind these seven stories, you will meet folks who are all committed to lifting up those who have been traditionally marginalized, giving voice to those who have been shouted over, and empowering everyone to feel safe and welcome in their communities.

Here are seven stories that give us hope as we look to start a new decade:

1. High schoolers learned how to argue

A Government teacher in suburban Detroit turned his classroom into “a laboratory for democracy,” using the five tenets of a Better Argument. In 2018, Ryan Werenka attended a learning session about The Better Arguments Project, which is a partnership between Facing History, the Aspen Institute, and The Allstate Corporation. Ever since then, he’s been teaching his kids how to exercise their opinions in a productive, inclusive way. “America’s schools are the proving grounds for democracy and play an important role in improving our civic discourse,” he wrote back in May.

2. A community gave kids of all abilities the chance to play

Allstate Agency Owner Danielle Lammon wrote about the inclusive playground she and fellow community leaders in Aurora, Colorado, helped to build. Several groups—from the city of Aurora, to local nonprofit organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation and The Rotary Club, to organizations such as The Allstate Foundation, which provided a $10,000 grant—raised funds to build the $1.2 million park. “Every community should have access to an inclusive playground,” Lammon wrote. Now that this park is up and running, Lammon hopes to help other communities across the country build their own!

3. Bar owners created safe spaces for the community to enjoy

The Watershed in Ithaca, New York, happens to be one of the favorite spots of the town’s mayor. And he has good reason to endorse the place: it’s become a model for nightlife safety. The pub, which opened in 2016, trains its staff in bystander intervention—known as Barstander training—which helps make both patrons and staff safe. For example, co-owner Ashley Cake said that the bar does not allow patrons to buy rounds for anyone who is not enthusiastic about wanting that alcohol. It’s a practice centered around informed and enthusiastic consent. “We strive to be a social asset to our community and the Barstander training is an important part of that,” she wrote.

4. Teachers showed kids how to get out on the open water

We met Adam Green, founder of the nonprofit Rocking the Boat, at this year’s Renewal Summit in New York City. Green spoke of the transformative experience of learning how to build and sail your own boat. He’s helping kids in the Bronx feel that same sense of accomplishment and joy. The nonprofit’s motto is: “Kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids.”

5. Volunteers helped families connect with lost members

Kevin Adler created Miracle Messages in honor of his Uncle Mark, who suffered with mental illness and lived on-and-off the streets for 30 years. Kevin knew there were a lot of Uncle Marks out there whose family probably didn’t know their whereabouts. The small staff and many volunteers at Miracle Messages helps people who are experiencing homelessness find and connect with loved ones. The nonprofit recently made its 300th connection. Here’s to the next 300!

6. Neighbors helped each other grow food and opportunities for kids

Acta Non Verba youth farm empowers kids and their families in Oakland, California. Founded and led mainly by women of color from the surrounding neighborhood, the nonprofit, a 2019 Renewal Award winner, teaches kids to grow, harvest, and then sell fruits and vegetables. Bonus: the money that the kids from sales of the produce go into their own personal savings accounts. Acta Non Verba’s founder Kelly Carlisle says the kids in this low-income community deserve the chance to achieve their dreams: “They deserve clean air. They deserve to be outside and to be told that they have within them the potential to be anything.”

7. Local artists inspired us to get up and sing!

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? Last month, The Renewal Project traveled to Los Angeles to listen to local leaders, artists, and activists discuss the city’s most pressing challenges—and potential solutions. But the highlight of the day came when members of the Urban Voices Project choir led us all in song. These talented singers have all experienced homelessness. The love and inspiration they conveyed through their voices was a special way to mark our event. You can watch for yourself.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.