Reviewing a year's worth of columns reminds me of what we already know: The world is filled with goodness -- and heartache. We move into 2013 with especially heavy hearts as we think of the families in Newtown, Conn., and those closer to home who have suffered losses this year.
So this is a good time to thank you, readers, for your consistent willingness to lighten the burden of others. Here are a few updates from 2012.
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The Can-Do Girls Club was founded this year by Sophia Rayson and Shanae Hill, offering neighborhood girls ages 3 to 11 four afternoons a week of art projects, self-esteem exercises, volunteering and hearty dinners at Rayson's north Minneapolis home. After reading about their effort, your gifts poured in: $3,621 in donations, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, theater tickets, home-cooked meals and e-mails offering creative lesson plans. Reader Sara Barrow, who was "just moved by their story," used social networking to raise $700 for art supplies. A neighborhood teen group threw the girls a Halloween party with a haunted garage, and in November each girl received a holiday dress from a 7-year-old named Allie who wanted to make sure each felt like a princess for Christmas. The Can-Do Girls paid it forward immediately. Leveraging their rock-star status, they spoke at churches, adopted a family from the Aliveness Project and held a book drive, collecting 2,816 books for community kids and local shelters. "I am still amazed!" Hill wrote. "We are so thankful for everyone's support!"
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A show-stopping community pool will be a reality for residents of the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. The pool, championed by Minneapolis Swims (www.mplsswims.org), a nonprofit providing swimming lessons and recreation for inner-city kids, was in peril until October, when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board authorized application of a $325,000 youth sports grant. Hannah Lieder, Minneapolis Swims' tireless leader, is working on a conceptual design and business plan. Said Lieder: "We live to fight another day."
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I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sandy Kluessendorf, the Wisconsin mother who fought for five years to prove her son's innocence. Sandy died Dec. 16 of cancer. Her son, Kurt Kluessendorf, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2005 for first-degree sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl. His mother is among many who question his conviction, including a veteran attorney, an internationally known sex-offender expert and me. Kurt will be working with Twin Cities lawyer Kyle White to craft an application for pardon in 2013. "She was my rock, my role model and my angel," Kurt wrote in a recent letter about Sandy: "I'm sure I'll never experience the kind of unwavering and unconditional love and support she gave to me."
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Dorothy Dunning's battle may now be precedent-setting. The Mississippi grandmother was in the process of adopting her two Minnesota granddaughters when bureaucratic screw-ups in the two states derailed her. Now the equally loving foster parents say the girls are too attached to be moved, and they want to adopt them. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dunning's appeal on Jan. 8. Supreme Court expert Peter Knapp said it is rare for the state's highest court to hear family-law cases but likely saw this as "exceptionally unusual and likely to be one of its last pronouncements in this area of law for many years." "These are heartbreaking cases," Knapp added, "because everybody wants what's best for the child, but there are different visions of what that is."
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Seventeen-year-old Blake Anderson had battled acute myelogenous leukemia since 2008. His diagnosis was doubly cruel because Blake and his mother, Michelle, were homeless, living out of tote bags and sleeping on couches and floors. Blake died three days after we met at Children's Hospital of Minneapolis. Donations poured in to Hearts and Hands, a nonprofit organization providing non-medical-related financial support to low-income families with a seriously ill child (www.heartsandhandsmn.org). The gifts allowed Michelle, also the mother of a grown daughter, to live a full year rent-free in her own one-bedroom apartment with her two cats. Michelle, now relying on county assistance, is recovering from foot surgery and eager to return to work in 2013. "I miss him so much," she said of Blake. "He always made people laugh."
Stay-C Kent, too, fell on hard times in 2012 but has made giant leaps. The former high-end hair stylist became homeless due to a tough economy and health issues. Spending time in coffee shops, he envisioned the grand potential of turning handsome burlap coffee bags into stylish purses. Since March, he's sold 300 bags, moved into his own apartment and has been given work space through Urban Ventures. He's also enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to study business. His bags are sold at the Art Shoppe in the Midtown Global Market and at www.stayckent.com. He's grateful to readers, including members of Minneapolis' First Universalist Church, who donated loads of material and sewing supplies. "Every day, I feel blessed by the incredible people I have met via my repurposed coffee-bean bags!" an enthusiastic Stay-C writes. "The opportunities for growth that I encounter keep knocking on my door."