It wasn't all bad
July 6, 2020

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed several adorable baby animals over the course of a month, with two red panda cubs, a Masai giraffe calf, two sea lion pups, and a siamang arriving between May 29 and June 30.

With the exception of the sea lion, all of the species are endangered, Doug Warmolts, vice president of animal care at the zoo, told Today. Their numbers are low for a multitude of reasons, including climate change and deforestation, and everyone at the zoo is "thrilled" and "optimistic" over the births.

The siamang, a species of gibbon, was born on May 29, and Warmolts said it has been spotted snuggling and swinging with its mother, Olga. The red panda cubs came next on June 13, and are still being nursed; they are expected to make their public debut in about four months. There are fewer than 10,000 red pandas in the wild, and Warmolts told Today the zoo worked "very hard to get pairings just right and introductions of males and females just right. They're a challenging species to breed in human care, so we're just thrilled that they were successful."

On June 25, a sea lion named Lovell welcomed her first pup — the first ever born at the Columbus Zoo — and on June 30, a sea lion named Baby also gave birth. Between those arrivals, a Masai giraffe calf was born on June 28. Warmolts said a wellness check will be conducted after the baby has time to bond with its mother, but it does appear healthy. Catherine Garcia

July 2, 2020

A history buff, school bus driver Clayton Ward would often find himself chatting with kids about their classes, sometimes sharing lessons he learned in high school.

The students enjoyed their discussions, and several told Ward they wanted him to be their teacher. After graduating from high school in Tennessee, he took some college classes, but then moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, to become a bus driver. Just having that bit of encouragement from students "stuck with me and gave me the motivation to complete a goal I had started years ago," Ward said.

In May 2019, Ward, 30, began taking classes at MassBay Community College. This spring, he earned his associate's degree in liberal arts, graduating on the Dean's List with a 4.0 GPA. He continued to drive the bus full time while attending school, which wasn't easy — he took classes between shifts, at night, and online. Through the tough times, Ward said, he would "think of those students and all the years I wanted to make this happen, and it helped me focus my energy."

This fall, he will attend Framingham State University to earn his bachelor's degree in history with a minor in secondary education. Catherine Garcia

July 1, 2020

Deirdre Taylor can't really recall the day Eugene Pugliese rescued her from a burning apartment, but he remembers everything.

In December 1983, Pugliese, then a firefighter in Manhattan, was inspecting water pipes when a man ran up to him and said there was a fire in a nearby building. He raced inside, rescuing a woman from her burning apartment. She told Pugliese her daughter was still inside, and he found 4-year-old Deirdre, unconscious. He revived the girl by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and although he "didn't see her ever again after that, I always wondered about her," Pugliese told CNN.

Today, Taylor is a 40-year-old emergency room nurse living in Virginia. She also wondered what happened to Pugliese, and tried to track him down online, to no avail. "I had a second chance at life, thanks to him," she said. During the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Taylor went to New York City to help treat patients, and asked a firefighter she met if he knew Eugene Pugliese. He didn't, but a friend did, and that man shared Pugliese's phone number with Taylor.

Pugliese, 75, told CNN he was "on cloud nine" when Taylor called. He was thrilled to hear from her, and to learn that she "turned out to be a remarkable woman with a magnificent life." They quickly realized they had a lot in common, including being major Yankees fans, and when it's safe to meet in person, they plan on going to a game together. Catherine Garcia

June 30, 2020

Jim Bachor has proven that anything can be turned into art — even potholes.

Since 2013, Bachor has filled almost 90 potholes in Chicago, then topped them off with mosaic art; it takes about eight to 10 hours to complete each project. Using glass and marble, he has crafted mosaics depicting everything from roses to ice cream sandwiches, but his focus now is on items that are more topical — since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he has made mosaics showing toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Bachor told CBS Sunday Morning that the mosaics can be considered "a souvenir of these times to look back on," and he is "trying to pull out the positive out of a negative." He knows that his mosaics won't last forever — cars will do damage driving over them, and the streets will be repaved — but Bachor still keeps going. "You know, when you love what you do and a lot of people like what you do," he said, "how could you not continue to do that as long as possible as an artist?" Catherine Garcia

June 28, 2020

Dr. Arveitta Edge will never forget the day she met her son, D.J.

Edge is a pediatrician in Noble, Oklahoma. Two years ago, D.J.'s foster parents brought him into Edge's office for a checkup. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, he's such a sweet-natured child,'" Edge told Good Morning America. "There was an instant bond, an instant click." Later, she met his biological sister, Briana, who is "incredibly smart and has a wicked sense of humor."

An older couple, D.J. and Briana's foster mom and dad were unable to permanently adopt them. During D.J.'s first appointment, Edge shared with the family that she hoped to one day adopt a child, and when they called her last year to see if she was interested in fostering D.J. and Briana, she jumped at the chance. In May — with their loved ones and former foster parents watching — Edge formally adopted D.J., 10, and Briana, 7, during a video conference.

Their new family traditions include watching a movie together on Fridays and playing games on Saturday nights, and D.J. and Briana both said they are excited at the idea of Edge adopting more kids. "They're ready now," she told GMA. Catherine Garcia

June 26, 2020

While grocery shopping for some neighbors during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Michelle Brenner noticed she was buying a lot of frozen lasagna — a realization that ended up changing her life.

Brenner, a resident of Gig Harbor, Washington, grew up eating her Italian grandmother's authentic lasagna. She still uses her recipe, and went on a community Facebook page to say that while she understands why people buy frozen lasagna, nothing can beat one that's homemade. Brenner offered to "gladly prepare" her lasagna for anyone who wanted it.

Brenner had been furloughed from her job, and thought this would be a nice, small project to take on. She used her $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients, and at first, fielded lasagna requests from neighbors and friends. Soon, strangers began asking for lasagna, and Brenner found herself making pan after pan for single parents, first responders, and people in need. Since starting three months ago, she has made at least 1,200 pans of lasagna, working eight hours a day, seven days a week.

"The world as we know it is falling apart, but my two little hands are capable of making a difference," she told The Washington Post. "I can't change the world, but I can make lasagna." A local club is now letting her use their commercial kitchen to prepare the lasagna, and she has received $22,000 in donations so she can keep buying ingredients. She expects to return to work soon, but Brenner has no plans on stopping her lasagna project. "I love creating in the kitchen, but more importantly, I love the people I've met," she said. Catherine Garcia

June 25, 2020

Margaret Payne scaled Scotland's Suilven mountain when she was 15, and now at 90, she climbed the equivalent 2,398 feet without having to leave her home.

Payne lives in Sutherland, Scotland, and while quarantined, she has been getting exercise by climbing up her stairs. Inspired by Capt. Tom Moore, the World War II vet who raised tens of millions of dollars for the National Health Service by walking 100 laps in his yard ahead of his 100th birthday, Payne decided to turn her daily trek into a fundraiser. She calculated that if she climbed up her stairs 282 times, it would be the same as if she reached the peak of Suilven.

It took 73 days, but she hit her goal on Tuesday, raising $521,000 for the NHS and three other charities in honor of the care her husband Jim received before he died last year. Payne has earned accolades from Prince Charles, who sent her a letter praising her "indomitable spirit" and "magnificent efforts in raising money for vital charities."

While Payne told The Associated Press she "can't imagine myself ever doing anything like this again," her indoor climb was an important reminder that "you don't sit back and think, 'I'm getting old, I can just relax.' If you want to keep going, you must keep active, and keep walking." Catherine Garcia

June 25, 2020

Ashanti Palmer ended her high school career on top.

The Mount Vernon, New York, resident graduated this month from Nellie A. Thornton High School and Performing & Visual Arts Magnet Program as valedictorian. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Palmer had a perfect attendance record, never missing a day of school from Pre-K to 12th grade.

Palmer told ABC 7 she "knew that showing up to school every day was important, because even missing one day can set you back. It wasn't until 10th grade that I realized I hadn't missed a day, and then I wanted to keep up the streak."

This fall, Palmer will begin studying biomedical engineering and medicine at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and she has received more than $430,000 in scholarships to cover the four-year program. All of her achievements have been "nothing short of remarkable," Mount Vernon City School District Superintendent Kenneth Hamilton said. Catherine Garcia

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