27 Profoundly Inspiring Quotes from Everyday Americans Making the Best of a Tough Year
A year of pandemics, police shootings, and racial protests didn’t get their spirits down. These notable folks rose to the occasion in the most remarkable way—and inspired others to do the same.
This year Reader’s Digest Nicest Places in America 2020 honorees have something remarkable in common—they are 50 communities that responded to a chaotic year of pandemic and protests by uniting around acts of kindness. The folks who make these ordinary places extraordinary aren’t famous, but their words have a lot to teach us all about optimism. About passion and compassion. And about the giving spirit.
On Finding the Silver Lining
“When the pandemic hit, it didn’t care what color you were, and so we were all in this together. That should roll over to the racial thing.” —Linda Gifford of the Augusta non-profit the Dream Center, the Nicest Place in Georgia, which gives blankets and much more to those in need.
On Making a Joyful Noise
“The community is unbeatable.” —Emily Aborn of Temple, pop. 1,300, the Nicest Place in New Hampshire, which responded to COVID-19 with a parade.
On Connecting Strangers with a Common Purpose
“I don’t want my rabbi to know I’m running around with hams!” —“Ham Lady” Sandy Miliefsky on the unlikely campaign in Springfield, the Nicest Place in Massachusetts, to make sure everyone who needed a ham for Easter got one.
On the Power of Pizza to Feed Multitudes
“As someone special in my life once said‚ ‘No one should go hungry.’” —Mother Selma Raven of the community-wide effort to get pizza and fresh vegetables to hungry neighbors because, well, in Riverdale, the Nicest Place in both the Bronx and New York, you’re going to get fed!
On Transforming Hate with Love
“I treat it as if that’s my child and I can’t let it go.” —Community activist Alisha Lucy Meggett after a hate crime against a young Black man galvanizes hundreds of neighbors to march peacefully for justice in Bloomfield, the Nicest Place in Connecticut.
On the Ripple Effect of Giving
“They are what a small business in the community should be all about.” —Resident Deb Tanner about her local Belmont Market in Wakefield, the Nicest Place in Rhode Island, which scaled mightily to meet the needs of the elderly sheltering in place.
On Reviving the “Victory Garden”
“Forty percent of America’s produce in World War II came from victory gardens in backyards and at churches. I thought, What if we did that here?” — Reverend Hilary Greer of St. Andrew’s Parish in Yardley, the Nicest Place in Pennsylvania, where growing hunger mobilized soup brigades of serious scope.
On Inspiring the Next Generation
“I wanted him to know that his mom was one of the helpers.” —Denise Cherry of Gaithersburg, the Nicest Place in Maryland, to the four-year-old son of the complete stranger who came to her aid as she struggled to survive quarantine.
On the Kindness of Strangers
“The love and hope that gave me is indescribable and that means more to me than money.”
—Waiter Jessica Jordan to the woman who started the Virtual Tip Jar, the Nicest Place in Virginia, after the pandemic left thousands of local restaurant workers with real-world problems.
On Rallying the Troops
“What better way to boost morale?” —Shannon Loper of Dirtbag Ales Brewery and Tap Room, the Nicest Place in North Carolina, about the brewery’s decision to console troops quarantined away from their families at Fort Bragg by sending them 40 cases of their finest local beer.
On the Power of Saying “Thanks”
“My biggest stance is that law enforcement talks too much. We just do. And we don’t listen. And that’s what we have been trying to do since this has happened.” —Sheriff TK Weaver of Pawleys Island, the Nicest Place in South Carolina, on the unlikely common ground that led him to join a march organized by resident Eileen Carter, all of 15 years old.
On Loving Thy Neighbor
“This is what the Bible teaches: God created all men equal. Nobody is better than anybody else.” —Italian-American Marianne Fasolo about what she re-learned from the generosity of her African-America neighbors as a new resident of Pine Hills, the Nicest Place in Florida, once coronavirus hit.
On Responding with Compassion
“Life often changes its direction without notice or any advanced warning. If you have lived long enough, you know this to be true. One must be prepared for but not fearful of these events. It is heartbreaking to see all the suffering, agony, and loss that is currently all around us. And yet, I am finding also that there is great goodness, compassion, and love encircling the planet. I am finding the goodness in the simplest of ways.” —Jeanne Hall, 76, about her experience the last five months in Nashville, the Nicest Place in Tennessee, where kindly post office workers and motivated teens have left her inspired about the future.
On the Closeness of “Sheltering in Place”
“People say, ‘I don’t see color.’ But we have to see color. Being seen is what’s going to move us forward. It says, ‘We’re here.’ We’re part of this fabric. And for this country, we’ve got to take care of all of us.” —Black resident Wilmara Manuel after being photographed on her front porch with her family in Zionsville, the Nicest Place in Indiana, by At Our Doorstep—a project to portray the family togetherness created by COVID-19.
On the Gift of Giving
“We know when things are tough or tight or a little uncertain or if someone is struggling, there’s nothing better than having milk in the fridge.” —James Baerwolf of the Sassy Cow Creamery, the Nicest Place in Wisconsin, a dairy farm that responded to the pandemic with a refrigerator full of free milk for the taking.
On Kindness Begetting Kindness
“‘Where are we going to get the money to do that? And I said, ‘God is gonna find a way.’” —Melissa Gilmore about her conversation with her husband when she proposed that their Red Top Barbecue & Chili in Collinsville, the Nicest Place in Illinois, offer free meals during the pandemic.
On Choosing Love Over Hatred
“You see the world differently in desperate times. You start asking ‘is this person loving or hateful? Draining or inspiring?’ Everything else falls to the side.” —Owner Micah Harold of Red Handed Tattoo, the Nicest Place in Louisiana, explaining his Shreveport shop’s passion to supply hungry residents and marchers with whatever assistance they needed.
On Pulling Together
“Amazing what can be done when a community pulls together.” —Elaine Pardi about what happened inside Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar, the Nicest Place in Minnesota, as its staff and Rochester residents came together to feed hungry local kids meal after meal of pasta.
On the Power of Listening
“Don’t make it complicated. Just think of us as one. God is one, and we are one. And God is watching us.” —Neelam Singhal on why she joined 1,000 other locals who volunteered to help kids in quarantine, many suffering from trauma, at KidsTLC in Olathe, the Nicest Place in Kansas.
On Neighbors Helping Neighbors
“Be a light in the middle of the darkness.” —Tulsa resident Bong Kang—Master Kang to his taekwondo students—about his students’ and sons’ assistance of neighbors in need in the Colefax Hill neighborhood, the Nicest Place in Oklahoma.
On the Virtuous Cycle of Kindness
“Not all angels have halos. Some wear cowboy hats.” —Elaine Hankins about her neighbors in Highland Village, pop. 16,000, the Nicest Place in Texas, where once again the people have stepped up for each other.
On Opening Your Heart—And Your Home
“These students know themselves a bit better and a bit earlier than we did. They see the world more clearly, and they will call it out.” — Farmer Jeanette Iskat describing the inspiring foreign exchange students she and her 300 neighbors have cared for since March in the remote town of Villanueva, the Nicest Place in New Mexico, where they’ve been stranded by coronavirus.
On Neighbors Helping Neighbors
“The only way you beat something like this, you get together as a team and kick its butt.” —Painter Mitch Fickel on how the artist community and other residents of Casper, the Nicest Place in Wyoming, worked every angle to supply healthcare workers desperately sought-after N95 masks.
On Giving the “Needful Thing”
“That’s what we need to do—to find ways to add joy to the world when there isn’t any right now.” —Resident Ga Neille Posey Hostvedt on the sparkly windmills and huge flower decorations she’s seen in Meridien, the Nicest Place in Idaho, since the pandemic.
On Lending a Hand
“It’s amazing what one hug can do.” —Resident Max Ryan describing the embrace between him and a Black Lives Matter protester that defused tension and led to a “civilized conversation” during a protest and counter-protest in Sparks, the Nicest Place in Nevada.
On Walking the Walk
“This is a solidarity walk—not a walk of anger. It’s a celebration of the beginning of the death of racism.” — Black resident Rich Lynn on the morning walks he takes with his White neighbors in Rio Vista, pop. 7,000, the Nicest Place in California.
On Paying It Forward
“People are so incredibly kind—you just have to give them an opportunity to show it.”
—Kamaka Dias on the neighbors and strangers who invest in his good works to get him out of student debt in Kamiloiki Valley on Oahu, the Nicest Place in Hawaii.