2017’s 12 Nicest Places in America Will Tug at Your Heartstrings
If you haven't heard of them yet, you will soon.
The Doaks’ House in Waterford, Ohio
In the small town of Waterford, Ohio, one household stands out. One fall Saturday every other year or so, Roger and Shirley Doak open their doors for family, friends, and strangers. Since the 1960s, they’ve turned a day devoted to making apple butter into an all-day event. They start the fire at dawn, then take turns stirring, socialize, and nosh on a buffet spread until sunset. By the end of the day, they’ve created hundreds of jars of apple butter together. Don’t miss these other stories of extraordinary generosity.
Pflugerville High School, Texas
In a school of 2,300, you’d expect some cliques and bullying. Not so in Pflugerville High School, Texas, where students embrace each other, regardless of race, ethnicity, or ability. Perhaps the Panthers’ unifying school spirit comes from events like Pay It Forward day, which rewards students for kindness; the Pink Panther Pep Rally that raises money for breast cancer; or the Coats for Kids drive, a regional competition challenging schools to donate the most coats—which Pflugerville has won for the past six years. But even on an everyday basis, the school is a refreshingly nice place to grow up in those tough teen years.
Oriole Park in Baltimore, Maryland
Sure, Oriole Park in Baltimore, Maryland, is a fun place to watch a baseball game with a family. But this stadium goes beyond rooting for the home team; it also roots for acts of kindness. During weekend games, the Birdland Community Heroes program honors a community member for good deeds. One of the nicest honorees to catch our eye was a middle school boy named Thomas Moore who grew his hair long enough to donate three wigs worth of hair to donate to children with cancer. Read more details about Thomas Moore and the other boy the Orioles honored that day.
Rock Hall, Maryland
The sign to Rock Hall, Maryland, should be your first clue that you’ll be welcomed; it boasts the town’s motto, “Nice People Live Here.” And they aren’t just empty words. Take a stroll around the town and you’ll see so many friendly waves that locals joke out-of-towners must think they’ve been mistaken for someone else. And for fellow residents, the niceness goes even further. Case in point: When a local trucker died in an accident 1,400 miles away, the town raised money to bring back his dog who miraculously survived the crash. Now, Holly the Chesapeake Bay retriever is Rock Hall’s mascot and leads the town’s Thanksgiving parade every year. Check out the full story about how the dog got home.
KidsCycle: NS in Shorewood, Wisconsin
The KidsCycle: NS Facebook group from Shorewood, Wisconsin, isn’t just any buy-sell-trade page. Even though it started as a way for families to earn a little cash selling used items for cheap, a tragedy changed that. One page member donated her earnings to another member whose son had leukemia. From there, others offered their own money, plus clothes, food, beds, emotional support, and more. Now the KidsCycle: NS members are continuing their generosity, using the page not just as a way to make a buck but to give food to shelters, write Valentine’s Day cards to nursing home residents, and more.
Providence, Rhode Island
Kindness is like a light in the world, and Providence, Rhode Island, takes that literally. Hasbro Children’s Hospital resident cartoonist Steve Brosnihan started flickering his bicycle lights up at the kids as he left to show them he was saying goodbye. Eventually, he got local businesses to flicker at bedtime, too, and Good Night Lights grew into a city-wide movement. Local restaurants, police cruisers, apartment residents, and more show their support for the children in the hospital by flickering flashlights and neon signs at 8:30 every night—and the kids inside blink flashlights in response. “It is all I look forward to basically all day,” said Abigail Waldron, a 10 year old who’s been in the hospital for leukemia treatment. Check out the full story behind Good Night Lights.
Even though a population boom brought it from 8,000 to nearly 40,000 residents, Gallatin, Tennessee, still keeps its small-town niceties intact. Neighbors always wave at each other and are quick to lend a helping hand. The town even keeps its good cheer in the darkest times. In 2016, a white police officer fatally shot an African American woman who was wielding an ax. Instead of responding with violent protests, the town held a prayer vigil for the Gallatin woman and other victims of violence around the United States.
If you thought a small town could never make a big impact, Franklin, Nebraska, will prove you wrong. When resident Michelle Bruce moved back to her 1,000-person hometown with her family, she, her husband, and one of her sons were all battling cancer. The son, Holden, had to go to Boston for treatment because the Nebraska hospital couldn’t operate, but the family couldn’t afford it. The town put on a fundraiser and raised a whopping $45,000—enough to cover both medical and travel costs. (Check out the full story of how Franklin raised the funds.) That kind of generosity isn’t uncommon for Franklin. The local grocery store owner sends gift cards to families in need at Christmas, and the local theater puts on free screenings on holidays.
Hayesville, North Carolina
With wildfires threatening the area near Hayesville, North Carolina, federal “Hotshot” firefighters arrived to fight the blaze. Instead of fearing for their own homes and lives, the town residents banded together to welcome the firefighters. They gave home-cooked meals, lip balm, more than 2,000 thank-you notes, and more. The firefighters were so gracious of the town’s generosity that they filmed a YouTube video to give their own thank-you in return. (Read more about how Hayesville thanked its firefighters.) Even when there isn’t a local safety threat, though, the town is a hotspot for goodwill. Neighbors pull over to give gas to stranded cars. When a woman’s husband passed away unexpectedly, neighbors pitched in with laundry, yard work, grocery runs, and more.
South Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, Washington
Acts of kindness and generosity are the norm in South Whidbey Island, Washington. The community doesn’t need to ask twice to get volunteers to drive abused horses to safety from another county, clean up a park, or provide money for vet service and gasoline for neighbors in need. In fact, no one even has to ask. When one South Whidbey family lost its home to a fire, residents covered a year’s worth of rent for the next year and helped fill the home with new supplies.
Coon Rapids High School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota
At many schools, getting kids to pay attention to the morning announcements is nearly impossible. But at Coon Rapids High School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, they are a can’t-miss part of the day. The suburban school has managed to enlist a series of famous folks—professional athletes, singers, and television personalities—in a noble project: recording short videos about the importance of kindness.
The school’s yearlong Kindness Matters campaign is led by special education teacher and designated “kindness coordinator” Jamie Weisz. Weisz is also a networker extraordinaire, and he has sweet-talked celebrities, such as Tom Brady, Alex Trebek, and Robin Roberts, into appearing in the school’s announcements, which are broadcast on the SMART Boards in each classroom.
“The videos have been a huge hit with students and even staff,” Weisz says. “I have had students come up to me to see if I can get a favorite actor or rapper to do a kindness message.”
But the videos are only one part of the campaign. Students also participate in kindness contests, charity drives, and kindness-themed pep fests throughout the year. “We need to challenge kids to make kindness a priority,” Principal Annette Ziegler told the Star Tribune.
For most of her life, Kelyn Nightengale of Lincoln, Nebraska, says she was more likely to donate her money than her time. But after watching the social ruptures that emerged from the 2016 presidential election, that changed. “I knew that while I couldn’t fix the world, I could affect what was around me, my family, and our city,” she says.
So she launched a Facebook group called Make Lincoln Kind Again. Members have made cards for seniors, assembled hygiene bags for women in need, and gathered supplies for an incoming refugee family. There’s some karma at play, too: When Nightengale had a stroke in January, members rallied to make hospital visits and look after her kids. “It’s amazing to see people you barely know come out of the woodwork to support you,” she says. “Being nice isn’t hard—and it doesn’t have to cost a thing.”