The week's good news: December 23, 2021
Christmas lights spark a new tradition in Maryland neighborhood
A Christmas tradition was born in Rodgers Forge, Maryland, last winter, thanks to a string of lights and an act of kindness. Matt Riggs knew his neighbor across the street, Kim Morton, was dealing with anxiety and depression amid the pandemic, and in November 2020, he decided to hang a simple strand of white lights from his home to hers. "I was reaching out to Kim to literally brighten her world," Riggs told The Washington Post. While this was meant to lift Morton's spirits, it ended up inspiring several other people as well. "Little by little, the whole neighborhood starting doing it," Morton said. Soon, the street was transformed, with lights gracefully stretching across the road from house to house, including one strand that spelled out "Love Lives Here." At least 75 percent of the neighborhood participated, and it was decided this would be a new annual tradition. They kept their word, and late last month, the neighbors started decorating. "From such a humble beginning, a tiny little act, it became this event," Riggs said.
To keep treasured Vermont general store open, customers become employees
At Dan & Whit's general store in Norwich, Vermont, it's not unusual to see a doctor working at the register, a psychology professor sweeping and stocking shelves, and a nurse slicing meat in the deli. When word spread around town that the store's owner, Dan Fraser, didn't have enough workers to keep the place open, his loyal customers didn't want to see him shut his doors, and started turning in applications. Almost 24 people stepped up to help, and one of those new employees, Dianne Miller, told CBS News she knows why so many didn't hesitate to submit their resumes. "Dan & Whit's is the heartbeat of this community," she said. Dan & Whit's has been around for more than 100 years, and Fraser's grandfather and father ran the store before him. Fraser is in awe of the generosity of his new workers, telling CBS News that "sometimes it takes sort of a crisis, if you will, to appreciate what you have."
Scientists testing vaccine that could protect against Omicron, future variants
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research spent nearly two years developing a COVID-19 vaccine that should protect people against the new Omicron variant, past SARS-origin viruses, and presumably future coronavirus strains as well, Defense One reports. The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine showed promising results in animal trials and Phase 1 human trials that ended this month; it still must undergo Phase 2 and Phase 3 human trials. Unlike other vaccines, Defense One reports, "Walter Reed's SpFN uses a soccer ball-shaped protein with 24 faces for its vaccine, which allows scientists to attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains on different faces of the protein." Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed's infectious diseases branch, told Defense One his team looked at "the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of SARS," adding that since "viruses mutate, there will be variants that emerge, future viruses that may emerge in terms of new species. Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that."
High schoolers work together to build wheelchair-accessible bus stop for boy
Whether it's snow, rain, or wind, Ryder Kilam will be protected from the elements while waiting for the bus, thanks to several Rhode Island high schoolers. Ryder, 5, uses a wheelchair, and his family recently asked on social media if anyone had a structure they no longer needed that could be converted into a bus shelter for Ryder. Dan McKena, a construction technology teacher at Westerly High School, heard about the request and offered to help. "I think it's very important for my students to learn not only the aspects of construction but of being involved in the community dealing with people outside of the school environment," he told WJAR. One student drew up the blueprints for a structure, and over several weeks, three classes worked on creating the shelter, picking up new skills along the way. Ryder "loves" his bus stop, his dad Tim told WJAR, adding that after school, Ryder "makes us stay out here and hang out now, it's his fort."
Teen working at McDonald's jumps out of drive-thru window to help choking customer
When Sydney Raley started her shift at the McDonald's in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, on Saturday, she had no idea it would end with her saving the life of a customer in the drive-thru. After Raley, 15, gave the woman the first part of her order, she briefly walked away from the window. When she returned, Raley saw that the woman was choking on a chicken nugget. Raley jumped into action — literally. She told her manager and a passenger in the car to call 911, and then leaped out of the drive-thru window so she could perform the Heimlich maneuver. Raley learned the Heimlich maneuver during a Red Cross first aid class four years ago, and "all that training immediately kicked in," she told CNN. With the help of a bystander she called over, Raley was able to dislodge the food from the woman's throat. Paul Ostergaard, the owner-operator of the McDonald's, told CNN Raley is "courageous" and "truly personifies what it is to be a hero."