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How one family is spending their lotto winnings is one of many good Philly stories we’re thankful for

From a surprise $4.7 million donation to families scattering their loved ones ashes during the Super Bowl parade, here are a few tales from 2018 that will warm your heart.

The Smith family leaving New Jersey lottery headquarters back in 2016 after winning $429.6 million on Powerball. What they've decided to do with the money is nothing short of inspiring.
The Smith family leaving New Jersey lottery headquarters back in 2016 after winning $429.6 million on Powerball. What they've decided to do with the money is nothing short of inspiring.Read moreMelanie Burney / Staff

When you're grateful for what you are and what you have, Thanksgiving is perpetual, Henry David Thoreau once wrote.

Here in Philadelphia, we have a lot to be thankful for this year.

No, Philly isn't a perfect city, but this isn't a story about our all of our imperfections. This is about those moments in 2018 that restored our faith in the Philly region and in humanity, moments that reminded us why this is the place we call home and these are the people we call our neighbors.

Now this was money

Back in 2016, when Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven grown children won the 18th largest Powerball jackpot in history — $429.6 million — the Trenton, N.J., family promised to do good with their winnings.

Two years later, they've delivered in a big way. Instead of fleeing their hometown for greener pastures, the family is reinvesting in Trenton to make greener pastures right there.

While South Jersey substitute teacher Ruth Reed hasn't won the lottery, she has resolved to help out fellow customers at Wawa who appear down on their luck. So when she noticed a man who was short a few bucks at the Medford Wawa in August, she stepped up and paid his bill.

Turned out, it was country star and millionaire Keith Urban.

Jane H. Kesson also decided to support music with her money, but in a very different way. This month it was revealed that when Kesson, an Abington music teacher, died in 2017, she left $4.7 million in her will to the Philadelphia Orchestra, leaving even those who knew her "flabbergasted."

Other stories about giving that inspired us this year include:

  1. Howard Brown, 36, a former executive at Goldman Sachs, was earning big money in high finance but gave it all up to become a teacher at Northeast High School.

  2. Ryan Harris vowed to camp out at a North Philly traffic median this month until he raised $30,000 for his mentoring program, As I Plant This Seed. And he succeeded.

  3. Christine Soder's Frankford house was falling apart. When her plight was detailed in the Inquirer and Daily News three companies stepped up to provide $6,000 in repairs to her home — pro bono.

The Eagles shower the city with love

If it's possible for fans to forget the past two weeks, the most uplifting story in Philadelphia for many this year was the Eagles finally clinching a Super Bowl win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.

The victory and parade paved the way for several feel-good stories among Birds' fans.

Louis DePaul was a life-long Eagles fan who died in February, not long after the team's Super Bowl win. DePaul's son, Stephen, wanted to spread his father's ashes on the field following the Eagles Week 1 win against the Falcons this season, but security officials at The Link stopped him. So Ryan Banks, a fan who was seated a row in front of DePaul, took the ashes and dumped them onto the field when the security guards turned away.

"It's great for my dad, because he'll always be here now," DePaul said.

Haley Parks, a 21-year-old fan, thought she'd missed the Super Bowl when she awoke from anesthesia after having her wisdom teeth removed before the big game. Her hilarious reaction, captured on video and shared on Facebook, quickly went viral.

Among those who saw the video were the Eagles, who rewarded Parks' suffering with two tickets to the Super Bowl.

Other inspirational stories made possible by the Eagles' Super Bowl victory include:

  1. Fans from as far away as Florida brought their relatives' remains to scatter during the Eagles' Super Bowl parade in February.

  2. The Eagles' Super Bowl inspired a lot of love among fans accustomed to gridiron heartbreak. The newfound affection took many forms, ranging from Birds-inspired marriage proposals (which included Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz) to random make out sessions on Broad Street.

  3. Even the story of the Eagles fan who went viral for running into a subway pillar at Ellsworth-Federal Station had a happy ending. The NFL awarded Jigar Desai and his family tickets to see the Eagles 24-18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

Bright futures

This year there certainly wasn't any shortage of inspiration to draw on from some of Philly's youngest citizens.

Seven-year-old Alivia Whitaker of Fishtown raised money through a lemonade stand to buy SEPTA Key cards for students who needed them and Anea B. Moore, a Philly native and University of Pennsylvania senior, won a Rhodes Scholarship to continue her education at the prestigious University of Oxford in England.

Local students also fought against gun violence following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. High school and college students worked together to organize Philly's March for Our Lives, while students from Parkway Center City Middle College took on internet trolls who attacked their views on the issue.

And Yuva Gambhir, a 17-year-old Masterman School student, studied Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a disease he was diagnosed with as a toddler that cost him his ability to walk.

"I often used to think about 'Why me?' " Yuva told an audience at a fundraiser. "I realized that true disability is just giving up on what's important and just not trying anymore."

Here are a few more inspirational stories born from some of the city's younger residents:


When Kahlif Snowden was Tasered by police in 2011 and left in a vegetative state, his father, John Snowden, stuck by his side. Literally.

Readers touched by his story wanted to do more. One anonymous couple, in a small but profound gesture, donated a new chair to Snowden to replace the old one that was worn down by the hours he spent next to his son.

"We hope you find a little comfort in this recliner while you spend time with Kahlif," read the accompanying card.

Also offering comfort to strangers is Carol Rostucher, or "everyone's mom," whose search for her own son on Kensington Avenue led her to help others she came across. She started a volunteer organization, Angels in Motion, whose mission is to better the lives of those in addiction.

Then there's Amina Aliako, a Syrian refugee who made it her mission to go from cleaning toilets at the Reading Terminal Market to owning her own business there. Now, you can visit her at Amina's Foods in the Market on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

"To get from that point [where she started] to where she is today is remarkable," said Anuj Gupta, general manager of the Reading Terminal.

Can't get enough? Here are a few more tales that'll tug at your heartstrings:

Warm and furry

Every day the four-legged inhabitants of this world make it a little better place for all of us to be, without ever saying word.

Sometimes our bonds with the animals we love are hard to explain and can only be felt. The relationship between prison guard Kevin Wernik and his horse, Joe N Trouble, in Cape May, N.J., is one some people get and some people don't, but the path that led them together is truly remarkable.

At the Free Library of Philadelphia's Read With a Dog! program, pooches are giving new meaning to the phrase dog-eared books by serving as attentive listening audiences for children who want to practice reading aloud.

And in a corner of Northeast Philly, Charlie the Philly Miracle Dog – who was found tied up and abandoned among piles of garbage behind the Cobbs Creek Recreation Center last year – is now living his best life with his new furever dad.

Other animal stories we're thankful for this year include:

  1. Gritty. Listen, we don't know what kind of animal or beast Gritty is, but we've never been so thankful for the distraction he has brought us from the reality that is 2018.

  2. Giraffes. Being born, having birthday parties. Need we say more?

  3. The Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center treats injured and sick animals from Philadelphia and the suburbs in a King of Prussia apartment.