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21 People Reveal the Random Acts of Kindness That Changed Their Lives

Even when nothing seems to go right, the universe will surprise you. Here, 21 strangers share the simple, random act of kindness that altered their universe.

01-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Avi-Loren-FoxCourtesy Avi Loren Fox

When a friend inspired her to launch her own business

We all need that little nudge to take a big risk, and for Avi Loren Fox, the now-founder of clothing line Wild Mantle, that push came from a well-intended friend.

“A few years ago, I was in a coffee shop with some friends talking about how I really wanted a hooded scarf. I had seen a few around but could never find one to buy in stores. We all mused about how you could totally make the shape by cutting up and sewing together some old sweaters. I guess I kept going on about it, because after a while one of my friends was like ‘Come on, let’s go!’ and marched me to a thrift store down the street and bought me a bag of cashmere and wool sweaters. I went home that night and made a hooded-scarf. It turned out really well, and when I wore it out into the world, people noticed and said, ‘What is that? I want one!’ I started making and selling them, and now two kickstarter campaigns and a Tory Burch Foundation loan later, that first hooded scarf that turned into the company that is now my passion and work: Wild Mantle. I still think back to how that random act of kindness changed everything, and without it, Wild Mantle probably never would have happened. Thank you, Roni!” Here are 10 random acts of kindness you can do today.

02-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Fatima-M-WoodsCourtesy Fatima Meadows Wood

When a young singer was praised for her work

Fatima Meadows Wood loves to sing, but when she was 18, she was short on cash. A stranger who appreciated her voice thanked her for her talent in an unconventional way.

“Ten years ago, when I was 18, I had to sing for a conference. I did it for free even though I was secretly struggling financially. When I had finished, this older guy came up to me, kissed me on the cheek, told me I was such a blessing, and placed something in my hand. I got to my seat and opened my hand. It was a $100 bill wrapped around a little red heart.” Don’t miss these other 17 stories about ordinary people showing extraordinary generosity.

03-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Rachel-EliasCourtesy Rachel Elias

When a gift helped someone in her darkest hour

Rachel Elias has been part of an online community for 14 years, but it was a random Secret Santa exchange that helped her help someone going through a difficult ordeal.

“I received such a nice gift, which included several makeup palettes, water colors, and cute little magnets (which went well over the $20 budget). I was surprised when I found out who it was, because I’m not close with her at all. I messaged her to thank her for her generosity and thoughtfulness. She told me how excited she was when she found out I was going be her recipient because when her best friend died in 2006. Apparently I helped talk her off the ledge and was a source of comfort for her. I was astonished because I had absolutely no recollection of this, but it affirmed how important kindness is. Your words and actions stick with people long after you’ve forgotten them, and it’s up to you what kind of impact you want to have.” Check out these other 8 true stories that prove good karma is real.

04-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Nikki-MartinezCourtesy Nikki Martinez

When a doctor cared to uncover what no one else could

Nikki Martinez, a psychologist, has dedicated her life to helping others heal, but it was a doctor who was dedicated to finding a tricky solution that would return the favor to her, ultimately saving her life.

“Around Mother’s Day four years ago, I went into anaphylaxis—my throat collapsed, and my husband had to sit helplessly by and watch me be intubated. This would have been bad enough once, but extremely similar incidents happened weekly for the next 7 to 8 weeks, and we had no idea why. I was taken from home and work by ambulance on a number of occasions, and had more experience with the ER and hospital stays than anyone would wish in a lifetime in their brief time. We were scared, and we had no answers, even from professionals. Then, one of the doctors that I worked with thought he knew what might be happening. He asked if I would mind if he reviewed my records. Within an hour, he was back in my office and told me to clear my schedule for the week because I had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic, which was a six-hour drive away, in 36 hours. When this Mayo doctor took my hand and assured me she knew what she was looking at, and knew how to diagnose and treat it, my husband and I both broke into tears. True to her word, and after two weeks staying there, I had a diagnosis, a plan, and a way forward. The same doctor connected me with the most amazing doctor back home who took over my ongoing care at home. This extra effort, this genuine act of concern and kindness that could have been left to others not only changed my life—it saved it.” Here are 12 more heartwarming stories that will restore your faith in humanity.

07-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Masami-satiCourtesy Masami sato

When a language barrier was broken

Masami Sato, the founder of B1G1, was visiting Costa Rica when she found herself in a bad situation: her credit cards and bank cards weren’t working abroad, and she only had $5 to her name. It was strangers who came to her rescue to get her home.

“I had no money, no way to get money, I didn’t know anybody in the country, I only knew basic Spanish, and the only possession I had was a return ticket to Guatemala in two weeks. Back then, there were no such thing as mobile phones, and even email was very limited at some Internet cafe that charged heaps for a very slow connection.

I thought to myself, staying in the city of San Jose would be dangerous. If I went to a countryside, maybe I would find kind people. With my remaining coins, I headed to the bus terminal and found a countryside that cost almost the exact amount. About 4 to 5 hours later, I arrived at Santa Rosa. It was pitch black in the middle of the night. There were no streetlights as it was very rural. You could see some houses in the distance, so I walked toward the houses.

I went knocking door to door, explaining with my very poor Spanish that I was Japanese, and I was in Costa Rica with no money but I needed to stay here for two more weeks before I can go back. I can cook and clean and look after your kids, I can do anything, can you give me a job? Everybody replied saying ‘Oh my gosh, but we are so poor. We have no space and no extra food. Maybe you can try the next family,’ and they’d point me to another house.

Finally, I arrived at a Chinese restaurant. The owner of the restaurant was incredibly kind. She heard my story and really empathized. She said that her son went to Europe many years ago and had a similar experience. At that time, some other people were very kind to him, and she remembered how warm that made her feel. She invited me in, gave me food, and called the Red Cross to come rescue me. I spent my remaining days in Costa Rica with the head of Red Cross.

I’ve travelled all over the world and been to over 50 countries. But this was one of the best trips, the best two weeks, I ever had in my traveling life.

At first I felt guilty and stupid for not traveling with a clear plan. But then I realized that when you’re in a position to be able to receive, it actually makes people feel happier. Another thing I learned was that even when people didn’t have much, they could still lead a happy life, they could still smile and be kind. Being able to receive kindness is a gift for other people as well. And kindness inspires more kindness in small ripples.” Read these 19 powerful quotes about compassion for more inspiration.

06-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-JodiCourtesy Jodi O'Donnell-Ames

When her brother wanted to make her day

In 2000, Jodi O’Donnell-Ames had a lot going on: Not only was she working, but she was taking care of her daughter and her husband, Kevin, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Being a caretaker is never easy, and on a random afternoon after Labor Day, her brother decided to carve her a slice of optimism. (Don’t miss these 10 easy ways to be more optimistic.)

“While a day at the beach sounded blissful, it was too much to ask from Kevin. A day at the beach was like running a marathon—an extraordinary event. It would mean having help with us, having medical equipment, keeping the wheelchair and medical equipment free of water and sand, it would mean keeping Kevin cool and comfortable, and it would mean a tough day for everyone involved. After running errands, I got to our home and I saw my brother’s car. After asking me to wait before coming in, he covered my eyes with a scarf and took my hand. Once inside, he asked me to sit down and then took off my shoes and socks. My foot did not land on a brick patio, but rather, something cool and scratchy. I soon realized that my toes were sinking into sand. It was a beautiful morning and the sand felt cool and welcoming under my feet. Still blindfolded, Jamie then guided me to sit down on a towel. Then he sat behind me and held me in his arms. Seagulls screeched in front of me. Mists of water speckled my face.

‘Here you go,’ said my brother, handing me a hot latte and biscotti. We sat there, not needing to say anything. He embraced me while I sipped my coffee and nibbled my biscotti. I was in awe. What a miracle of love! I hadn’t made it to the beach that summer but my brother had brought the beach to me! It was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for me. It was perfect. For 15 minutes, until Kevin woke and needed care, I was at the beach. When my basking was over, my brother gently removed my blindfold. Now I could see where I really was. The patio was covered in sand. A CD player sat on the brick wall, inside were sounds of the ocean. He had supported the hose on a bucket and the water was set to sporadically mist.

With my eyes open, the beach was gone. But that memory, that sincere gesture of love and hope, kept me basking in happiness for a long time.” Check out these other 10 photos that prove there’s still good in the world.

09-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Carol-GeeCourtesy Carol Gee

When one door closing opened another

Carol Gee, now a writer, had been laid off from her job after 12 years of working. Though she looked for 17 months, she couldn’t land another job. A coincidental turn-of-events led her to the path she didn’t know she needed.

“I hoped to remain at Emory University so I could soon retire, so I told everyone I knew that I was looking, and to let me know if they heard of anything. One day an co-worker emailed me about a position at the business school where she worked. She even sent me the job description. Even after reading the description I wasn’t sure it was right for me. But she thought it was and told me to apply. I did and I got the position, which included copy-editing scientific journals and researching and writing case studies which I loved and—a skill I didn’t realize I had, although I had recently realized a lifelong dream of writing. This position game me the time and service I needed to retire. The moral of this story is that sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves.”

08-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Cheryl-RiceCourtesy Cheryl Rice

When a few words made all the difference

Last November, Cheryl Rice listened to that little voice that sometimes calls when you see someone in need, but you’re not sure what to do. Instead of ignoring it out of fear, she took a leap of faith that helped lead her down an important path. (Check out these 10 “dream big” quotes if you need an extra nudge.)

“I was standing in the checkout line behind a woman who looked to be in her 60s. When it was her turn to pay, the cashier greeted her by name and asked her how she was doing. The woman looked down, shook her head and said, ‘Not so good. My husband just lost his job and my son is up to his old tricks again. The truth is, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays.’ Then she gave the cashier food stamps.

My heart ached. I wanted to help but didn’t know how. Should I offer to pay for her groceries, ask for her husband’s resume? I did nothing—yet. And the woman left the store. As I walked into the parking lot, I spotted the woman returning her shopping cart, and I remembered something in my purse that could help her in a different but hopefully profound way. It wasn’t a handful of cash or a lead on a job for her husband, but maybe—just maybe—it would make her life better.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, my voice trembling a bit. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing what you said to the cashier. It sounds like you’re going through a really hard time right now. I’m so sorry. I’d like to give you something.’

And I handed her a business-sized card. When the woman read the card’s only two words, she began to cry. And through her tears, she said, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me.’

I was a little startled by her reply. Having never done anything like this before, I hadn’t anticipated the reaction I might receive. All I could think to respond was, ‘Oh my. Would it be OK to give you a hug?’ After we embraced, I walked back to my car and began to cry too. The words on the card: You Matter.

A few weeks earlier, a colleague gave me the same card as encouragement for a project I was working on. When I read the card, I felt a warm glow spread inside of me. Deeply touched, I came home and ordered my own box of You Matter cards and started sharing them too.” (Loved this story? Don’t miss these 24 touching tales about the kindness of strangers.)

09-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Elizabeth-CampCourtesy Elizabeth Campanello

When a nurse was recognized for her work

Elizabeth Campanello was speeding to get home on New Year’s Day, after putting in a long shift as a nurse. She couldn’t believe what happened when she was pulled over.

“When the police officer asked why I was going 20 mph over the limit, I told him I had no excuse except that I was a nurse who had a tough day, and just wanted to get home. He came back to my car and told me ‘Everyone deserves a warning.’ In the midst of an ugly cry, I told him ‘You don’t know how much this means to me’, to which he replied ‘I think I’ve got a pretty good idea.'” Don’t miss this sweet story about a cop who set a prisoner free—and why the man came back.

10-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-LiaCourtesy Lia Picard

When a free coffee changed her day

Lia Picard, a writer, was having one of those difficult days when a good samaritan gave her some java to give her a little pep in her step.

“I stopped by my local coffee shop on the way to work and happened to be feeling really rundown, tired, and a little sad. The barista must have noticed this because when I went to take out my wallet she smiled and said it was on her. It was a really nice boost to my morning and lifted my mood a bit. Nothing tastes better than free coffee!” Don’t miss these other 23 ways to instantly boost your mood.

11-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Susan-B-BarnesCourtesy Susan Buzby Barnes

When dinner was on the house

While on assignment for a story, writer Susan Buzby Barnes took an early dinner in South Florida. She sat next down to a stranger, helped him out when an accident happened, and then he did something unexpected to repay her.

“A man sitting next to me spilled red wine on his shirt, and asked if he could use some of my water to help blot out the stain because the bartender was preoccupied. As he was leaving, he asked the bartender to add my dinner to his tab, to thank me for helping him out. Absolutely unnecessary and a total random act of kindness that made my trip.” Check out this uplifting story about a restaurant owner who gives hundreds of dollars to stranded travelers.

12-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-ShonCourtesy Shon Ramone Barnwell
When an uncle saved me from becoming a child bride

Shon Ramone Barnwell always wanted more for her life than to get married and have children. Her family’s traditions and religion though, didn’t suggest more for her. That is, until an uncle came to her rescue.

“When my sister and I were 12 and 13 years old, our mother made arrangements for us to follow religious protocol and be married. We lived in a major midwestern U.S. city and in a flash, my dreams of becoming a teacher or architect vanished; the opportunity to travel the world—gone; and our ability to see other family members—greatly impaired. We remained helpless, hapless, and hopeless for an entire summer break, detained in a two-story home, unable to go out, watching children play from the windows and wondering if we would ever be free.

One day, I asked our mother if we could visit our dad in a nearby convalescent home. She would only allow me to make the trip and I had to promise to return by sunset. As the hours passed, I felt compelled to stay longer and longer—because I didn’t want to go home and be forced into marriage. When the staff informed me that the facility was closing, it was nearly 9 p.m. As I walked toward the gate guard, he told me that the bus line had stopped running two hours ago. I immediately burst into tears, worried about the situation I had placed my sister in as well as my own safety. The guard told me to call someone I trusted, and in about 30 minutes, one of my uncles arrived.

We drove to the house where my sister and mother were. He demanded that our mother release my sister and me—and she did. We stayed with our uncle and aunt (she’s my mother’s second oldest sister) for a few days. Our mother’s youngest sister (and her husband) petitioned the court for guardianship and we remained in their care until we graduated from high school.

The love of my family members taught me two valuable life lessons: Everyone has a story and when a person is in need, you can never look the other way!”

13-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Amber-HCourtesy Amber Hagler

When Facebook brought happiness

Amber Hagler’s father was due to have brain surgery and her nerves were getting the best of her. (Don’t miss these 8 silent signs of brain tumors.) When she asked strangers to cheer her up, she didn’t expected the outpour.

“I had been having really bad anxiety for a few weeks, and as the surgery got closer, it became even worse. I posted on Facebook, randomly, asking for people to send me lighthearted, fun things to make me smile. A few responses came from people I’ve never met and others from those I didn’t really get along with well. Even so, they helped in my time of need, and those small acts of kindness lifted my mood. Every little thing counts!” If you need a boost, reach for these 8 foods proven to put you in a good mood.

14-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Amy-F-AlmquistCourtesy Amy Ferguson Almquist

When a teacher took over for parents who couldn’t

When Amy Ferguson Almquist’s family moved to Texas her junior year in high school, budgets were tight. Struggling for money, this talented singer (who would one day become a choir teacher), didn’t think she could travel to the state competition. Her new teacher had a different plan.

“My dad had taken on a new job in Texas, but we never had sold our house in Kentucky. So, paying rent and a house payment with three kids at home was tough for my parents. My high school choir was headed to a state competition that year in the spring, and my parents told me they couldn’t afford that $600 trip. When my choir director found out, she paid for my trip. I was completely blown away.” Here are 8 more stories of teachers who went above and beyond for their students.

15-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Kelly-FrostCourtesy Kelly Frost

When a stranger shielded her from danger

Kelly Frost lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where moose aren’t a cute thing to look at, but rather, dangerous beasts that could harm you badly if you cross paths with them. In a dicey situation, a stranger stepped in to save her life.

“I was walking my dog in the neighborhood and a moose was walking down the sidewalk. I went across the street to the top of the snow bank but that doesn’t make much of a difference when a 7-foot, 900-pound creature decides to charge at you, and you have no trees to hide behind with your dog who is very interested in barking. Luckily for me, a car was passing and stopped. They offered to be my shield between me and the moose and they drove in reverse, ‘escorting’ me past the moose and onto the other side of the sidewalk in the opposite direction the moose was going. It was so thoughtful.” For another rescue story, find out how one 13-year-old needed to save his dad’s life when they were hiking.

17-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Lauren-HunterCourtesy Lauren Hunter

When a flight attendant provided comfort

When Lauren Hunter’s father died unexpectantly, she had to get from New York City, where she lived, to Michigan in a hurry. Still stunned from the news, and without anyone to travel with, she found herself crying on an airplane. (Don’t miss these 13 things airlines won’t tell you.)

“The flight was practically empty, especially at the back where I was seated. I was inconsolable in the airport and they kindly let me through the faster first-class security as a convenience, but on the plane I was crawling up the sides of the interior in emotional and physical agony. What got me through the flight though was this amazingly kind stewardess. After bringing me the whiskey I’d asked for and seeing the state I was in, came and sat with me for the rest of the flight. Not saying anything, just holding me while I cried. She didn’t leave me until we had to prepare for landing. I really hope, wherever she is, she knows how much that truly meant to me.” Check out this story of an airline worker who saved two lives within minutes.

18-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Ms.-Riddick-PhotoCourtesy Fatima Riddick

When a routine smoke detector check saved a life

When Red Cross volunteer and fireman Matt Ronan began checking fire alarms to help keep communities safe, he didn’t know that he would ultimately save someone’s life. Fatima Riddick will forever be thankful for his act of service.

“I told him I only needed one alarm to replace a broken existing unit, but upon inspection, Matt encouraged me to install a total of three, especially one in my bedroom. Just a month later, Matt responded to a home fire in the middle of the night at my home. My son and I were asleep at the time and we were only able to escape because of the alarm in the bedroom he had installed. He is my angel.” Find out what firefighters nationwide say is the “most hospitable” town they’ve served.

19-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-TonyaFleetwoodConnieFleetwoodCourtesy Tonya Fleetwood

When her mother granted her wish

Tonya Fleetwood’s mother battled cancer for 24 years, but when she was given the opportunity to do something on her bucket list, she passed it along to her daughter in a final act of kindness.

“It had gotten pretty dire, so one of her chemo nurses submitted a wish for her to the Dream Foundation (comparable to Make A Wish, but for adults). My mom and I were best friends, and my dream had always been to see country superstar Garth Brooks in concert. My mom also loved him, but she made that her dying wish so that my dreams could come true. She ended up getting floor seats to one of Garth’s concerts in Omaha, Nebraska, which coincidentally was on Mother’s Day in May 2015. My mother passed away a few months later, so it turned out to be the last Mother’s Day I’d spend with her. I’m forever grateful to my mom’s chemo nurse, Chimene, for making all of that happen! So very magical!” Find out how the mother of a 2-year-old is learning to find happiness after the death of her daughter.

20-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-ShellyCourtesy Shelly

When a store manager is recognized for her dedication

Shelly, a store manager at Ashley Stewart in East Orange, New Jersey, was surprised with a ‘Citizenship Award’ from her CEO, letting her know that her colleagues nominated her to be honored. Taken aback, she not only was thanked for her hard work, but she used the funds she was given to help others.

“I was shocked to learn that the inaugural award was going to me and not to my boss Chary, who is also my mentor! I was in complete disbelief, but obviously also thrilled. I love what I do and feel like I’m part of a family, but when that family recognizes that you’re doing well, you somehow want to do even better for them. Everyone likes to be told they are doing something well! It’s a great feeling to be noticed and appreciated for what you are already doing right! I’m donating my reward to my son’s school in Orange, New Jersey. The school was there for me when times were tough and I couldn’t think of a better way to show my appreciation than by paying it forward.” Here are stories of the 11 nicest things CEOs have done for their employees.

21-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-Jennifer-Vang-1Courtesy Jennifer Vang

When a kidney donor saved a mom

Jennifer Vang, a 31-year-old mom of three, received the ultimate act of kindness: a kidney. The experience has not only saved her life, but inspired her to greatness too.

“I had a dire health situation that escalated quickly: one minute I was healthy and the next I was on death’s doors, going to dialysis treatments multiple times a week and badly in need of a new kidney, but without a compatible match.

I know I wouldn’t have survived if I had been placed on the donor registry where people tend to wait for years, but luckily I was referred to the kidney transplant program at Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco where they used a program called MatchGrid to match me with a 20-year-old college student who had a compatible kidney and was willing to donate it in order to save her cousin who also needed a new kidney.

Since the surgery, I’ve fully recovered and feel like I have been given a second chance at life. I’m so grateful to the brave young woman who gave her kidney to me, and thankful that my husband, was also willing to return the favor for another individual through the program. I still keep in touch with my donor regularly, and I encourage everyone to be a donor in one shape or form—you will impact more people’s lives than you could ever imagine. And even if you think you may not be a match for your loved one, you may be able to help them through another similar program.” Find out how one woman’s kidney donor matchmaking campaign has saved 23 lives and counting.

22-People-Share-the-Random-Act-of-Kindness-That-Changed-Their-Life-PollyCourtesy Polly Rodriguez

When female entrepreneurs helped one another

When Polly Rodriguez first started her company, Unbound, she was anxious about getting help. Though men turned her away, it was successful female executives who jumped onboard.

“When we were first starting our company, we were nervous about creating a company that focused on female sexual health and wellness. We were worried it would be controversial and weren’t sure how investors would react. During our first pitch competition, we presented before a manure company—I’m not kidding, literally a company that was ‘disrupting’ the manure industry, and we were so nervous. We presented well, but the room was full of predominantly older men who were squeamish, to say the least. Then, afterwards, one of the very few female investors walked up to us and said she wanted to write us a check immediately. She was our first believer, and her one gesture changed the trajectory of our company. As a female investor, it meant the world to have her support.” Here’s more of the best advice from 10 female CEOs.