Participation Nation: People Pitching In To Help Communities
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sometimes it can feel like a lot of what we hear is bad news. Well, we're going to hear next about some stories that inspire. All month, we've been collecting stories on NPR.org about good things Americans are doing, how they're working together to improve their communities.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We call it Participation Nation. You've told us about a California doctor who turned a two-room free clinic into a community health center.
GREENE: A writing program to help young people in Maine become storytellers.
MONTAGNE: We've heard about a group of bakers in Boise who make birthday cakes for people who might not otherwise have one.
GREENE: NPR's Linton Weeks is curating the project, along with Tanya Ballard Brown.
MONTAGNE: And Linton brought us tape of some of your stories.
GREENE: Lin, good morning.
LINTON WEEKS, BYLINE: Good morning. Thank you.
GREENE: So, were you looking for feel good stories or any sorts of stories that came in, or what were you expecting?
WEEKS: Well, actually we weren't looking for feel good stories or good news stories. We were looking for what we think are underreported stories of every day people helping other people in all kinds of ways.
GREENE: And, you know, it's so interesting, because as I've been out doing political stories, so many people are complaining that the whole country right now feels so bitter and partisan and neighbors don't get along anymore. You've been seeing the other side of things, when people really come together.
WEEKS: Well, we have. And it seems to be scratching an itch, too. It is true that good news doesn't sell like bad news. But when you put it all together - which is what we're trying to do with this month-long blog. When you put the whole thing together and fashion a story in that way, it's pretty powerful, because there is a lot of good going on in the country.
GREENE: What's a story that really stood out to you?
WEEKS: Well, one that really struck is out of Baltimore, Maryland, where Heather Harvison runs a mentorship group called My Sister's Circle. And they pair at-risk girls going into Middle School with mentors and they try to keep those pairs together through college.
HEATHER HARVISON: And I just thought, you know, their phones get cut off, they move, they change schools. What if they just had one consistent person in their life during these, you know, often challenging and turbulent adolescent years?
GREENE: And has the program been successful so far?
WEEKS: It seems to be working. Ninty-seven percent of the program's graduates have gone on to college.
GREENE: And we should say, I mean, that's Baltimore, Maryland, but you've got a real cross-section of the whole country, I mean, from coast to coast.
WEEKS: Yeah. There's one from San Diego. A man named David Kuttnauer, he discovered a group called the Blind Stokers Club after going blind himself about three years ago. The group pairs sighted bike riders with visually impaired peddlers on tandem bikes.
GREENE: Who are the stokers?
WEEKS: So the stokers are he ones that provide the power. They sit on the back of the tandem bike and they pedal like hell.
GREENE: Well, let's listen to what David had to say about this program he started.
DAVID KUTTNAUER: For a blind person, especially somebody like me who had been riding motorcycles and surfing, and playing soccer, you know, one thing you don't do anymore as a visually impaired, blind person, is you don't sprint down the street, because you run into telephone poles and fire hydrants. And this is an opportunity to go fast and be free and, you know, do the things I used to do, just in a slightly different way.
GREENE: As I understand it, you've heard of several bike related stories from around the country.
WEEKS: Well, we've heard a couple. There's another one, actually, a group called Boulder Food Rescue. They collect tossed out food from grocery stores. They take it to shelters and housing projects. They transport about 700 pounds of food a day, and as volunteer Elliott Smith told us, sometimes, things can get a bit messy.
ELLIOTT SMITH: My second pickup with Boulder Food Rescue ever, takes you over down a little hill here in Boulder. And the trailer wasn't as tight as it should be and it began to wobble on the downhill, and I had about 130 pounds of, mostly, apples and oranges. And by the time I got to that bottom of the hill, the trailer had wobbled enough to tip. And in the four-way inters I had about, you know, 70 oranges, 50 or 60 apples, and a couple of limes rolling around.
GREENE: And so Lin, Elliott mentioned trailers right there but these trailers, what, are they attached to bicycles? I mean, they're on bikes with all this food?
WEEKS: Yeah. They pedal their bikes around and they have trailers attached. They stick a bunch of food in the trailers and they take them to people who need the food.
GREENE: Wow. As our listeners are hearing about these stories, how could they get involved if they'd like to?
WEEKS: Well, we really would like to hear from more listeners, a 100 words or less. Please include a good, crisp photo and tell us, in your own words, about good people doing good things.
GREENE: And I know you have an email address set up for people to send it to and that's ParticipationNation@npr.org. Linton, thanks so much for much for stopping by and telling us about the project.
WEEKS: Thank you very much, David.
GREENE: That's Linton Weeks. He is a national correspondent for Digital News here at NPR.
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