December 24, 2019
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7 ways ‘regular folks’ wowed us in 2019

Real-life heroes are the folks on the ground creating kinder, safer, and more inclusive communities.

Actor Neil Patrick Harris is wowed by teen Zeke Sumpter Ibarra at WE Day 2019 in California. Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day

This past year, we met artists, teachers, social entrepreneurs, small business owners, and volunteers young and old who each brought a little sunshine into their communities. Here are seven ways they inspired us in 2019.

1. They taught us how to argue better. Ryan Werenka, a government teacher in suburban Detroit, turned his classroom into “a laboratory for democracy,” using the five tenets of a better argument.

2. They made their communities more inclusive for kids and teens with disabilities. Allstate agency owner Danielle Lammon helped her Colorado community build a $1.2 million inclusive playground.

3. They created safe spaces for everyone to eat, drink, and be merry. Bar owner Ashley Cake and nonprofit founder Lauren Taylor are changing nightlife culture by promoting bystander training for bars and restaurants.

4. They welcomed refugees and gave them a space in which to thrive. Kitti Murray and her husband, Bill, founded Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston, Georgia, to provide job training, mentorship, and a network of support for refugees and immigrants in the suburban Atlanta region.

5. They created connections that saved lives. Kevin Adler created Miracle Messages to help people who are experiencing homelessness find and connect with loved ones. The nonprofit recently made its 300th connection!

6. They empowered kids to dream big. Acta Non Verba youth farm founder Kelly Carlisle teaches kids to grow, harvest, and then sell fruits and vegetables. Bonus: The money that the kids earn from sales of the produce goes into their own personal savings accounts. (Acta Non Verba was also a 2019 Renewal Award winner!)

7. They spread the message of positivity and self-acceptance. Zeke Sumpter Ibarra was vice president of his school’s WE Club. After experiencing bullying, Ibarra helped to organize a “positivity takeover” at his school to help improve mental health and self-acceptance among his classmates.

The Renewal Project

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