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The week's good news: May 11, 2017

Catherine Garcia
Sweet, Sweet Syria/Facebook
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1.

Syrian refugee uses family heirloom to build thriving cookie business

For one refugee, a family heirloom proved the key to the American Dream. Ruwaida G. fled Syria with her family in 2012, eventually settling in Georgia. She wasn't able to pack many belongings, but made sure to keep her mother's wooden cookie mold. Once settled, she began baking again, and her Syrian treats won over cookie-­loving local volunteers. Together, they launched Sweet, Sweet Syria — a growing cookie business that Ruwaida hopes will provide for her family for years to come. Ruwaida learned the recipe from her mother. In turn, she says, it could "help our children succeed in their life."

2.

NFL star pays adoption fees for 46 Baltimore shelter animals

There were 46 cats and dogs looking for new homes at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter's (BARCS) annual Pawject Runway fundraiser on Saturday, and every single one had their adoption fees paid for by football player Torrey Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles and his wife, Chanel. At the event, Smith reminded everyone that while they were there to enjoy themselves, the most important part was raising money and awareness for the homeless and abused animals. The Smiths are longtime animal advocates, and Torrey Smith revealed that before the show, they were discussing what more they could do for the city's animals in need. "Torrey and Chanel decided that they would cover the adoption fees for every single cat and dog at Pawject Runway — 46 animals," BARCS wrote on Facebook. "Wow! The Smith family went above and beyond."

3.

Texas fire department hires first female firefighter in its history

It took 105 years, but the Harlingen Fire Department finally has its first female firefighter. Bree Rios, 25, was 4 years old when she decided she was going to follow in her dad's footsteps and one day join the fire department in Harlingen, Texas. "Twenty years later, here she is and I couldn't be any prouder," Victor Rios told People. The station's assistant fire chief, Cirio Rodriguez, said women have applied to work for the department before, but did not pass the exam or decided to become border patrol or police officers. Bree Rios was working as an EMT when she found out she had passed the firefighter exam in April on her third try. "I'd like to tell other girls and young women to go after their dreams," she told People. "I'm proof that if you want something badly enough, it can happen."

4.

Former gang member inspired to turn life around, earn his master's degree

When he was in prison, Richard Gamarra vowed to change his life, and four years after his release, has earned his bachelor's degree and is about to receive his master's from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "When there's a will, there's a way," he told the New York Daily News. "This is historic for me. It's very humbling." After joining a gang and being convicted of assault and weapons charges at 19, Gamarra was sent to prison. In 2011, he started taking a public health class taught by Columbia Prof. Robert Fullilove, who inspired Gamarra to go to school after he was released in November 2013. Gamarra said he was nervous he wouldn't be accepted by his peers in graduate school, but "education rehabilitated me. I said, 'I'm going to take it and I'm going to run with it.'"

5.

Ohio foster family adopts 6 siblings so they won't be separated

In one day, the Sanders family of Forest Park, Ohio, went from being a party of seven to 13 strong. Christopher and Christina Sanders agreed when they became foster parents they would do everything in their power to keep the siblings they were fostering together. Last month, that's exactly what they did when they adopted brothers and sisters Coby, 16, Christian, 14, Caleb, 13, Caylee, 12, Carson, 10, and Chloe, 9. The kids had a "rough life" before meeting the Sanders family, Caleb told the presiding judge, and now, they feel safe. The children have already formed a tight bond, with Chloe and Caitlin Sanders wearing matching outfits to the adoption hearing.