It wasn't all bad
January 18, 2019

During a 2005 trip to southern Africa with his mother, 10-year-old Winston Duncan was inspired to start a nonprofit that, 14 years later, is still going strong.

Duncan met kids with holes in their shoes who walked miles to school and saw old women who shuffled down the streets, and wanted to make it easier for them to get around. Along with his mother, Dixie Duncan, he launched Wheels for Africa. People from his hometown of Arlington, Virginia, and the surrounding area donate bicycles to the organization, and after they are fixed up, the bikes are sent to people in need. Over the last 14 years, more than 8,000 bikes have been donated, with most going to African countries.

Last weekend, Duncan, his mom, and a small group of volunteers went to Puerto Rico for the first time, where 400 bikes were given to people still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. On Friday, the team spruced up the bikes, and on Saturday, the bicycles — along with helmets — were distributed to recipients. Now 24, Duncan is a graduate of Bard College and working at a political consulting firm. He told The Washington Post he hopes that Wheels for Africa's young volunteers see how privileged they are, and "think about giving back." Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2019

After buying some lottery scratchers earlier this month, Tyler Heep found himself with a winning ticket. Sure, it was only for $1, but the Des Moines, Iowa, man still thought that was something worth celebrating.

It turns out, the Iowa Lottery agreed. Heep went to lottery headquarters to cash in his winning ticket, and asked for one of the large novelty checks that are given to people who win big. "They decided to treat me like a million dollar winner," Heep told WHO-TV. "The guy came down the stairs and they took me into the back room where the camera was with the Iowa Lottery logo. Sure enough they wrote me the $1 check and had me hold it up and took the picture."

Heep used his lottery win to pay for half a gallon of gas. Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2019

A new program in California is helping former inmates get back on their feet by pairing them up with people who have rooms to spare, NPR reports.

The Homecoming Project, run by nonprofit organization Impact Justice in Alameda County, California, gives subsidies to those who are willing to rent a room to a recently-released former inmate. The group covers the formerly incarcerated person's rent for six months and goes through a lengthy screening process to find a good home for them. Not only does the organization aim to help former inmates return to a normal life as quickly as possible rather going from prison into restricted communal living, but they also hope to fight misconceptions about ex-convicts in general, they told NPR.

"Project Homecoming says you're a person and we're going to treat you like a person and give you the footholds and the scaffolding to be able to come back home and to be a full member of society just like anybody else," said Alex Busansky, who runs Impact Justice.

Coordinator Terah Lawyer also told NPR that "most of our hosts are familiar with redemption and change and want to be a part of helping be the stepping stone for someone's second chance." There are currently only six former inmates participating in the program, but Impact Justice says it is looking to expand to 25 this year. Brendan Morrow

January 16, 2019

A new study shows that stem cell transplants could stop symptoms in some people with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects 2.3 million patients worldwide.

MS targets the central nervous system, with the immune system attacking the protective sheath covering nerves. During the clinical trial, patients were admitted to the hospital for two weeks, and they had their own stem cells collected and stored. They received high-dose chemotherapy treatments, which wiped out their immune systems. Their stem cells were then infused back into their bodies, giving their immune systems a reboot. Fewer than 10 percent of participants subsequently reported that their condition got worse, versus more than 75 percent of patients whose disease got worse after taking medications for MS over a five-year period.

Dr. Richard Burt, who led the trial at Northwestern School of Medicine, told CBS News: "Transplants ended up being markedly superior in all the perimeters we looked at. You have to select the right group of patients ... there's these really aggressive ones that are very relapsing and inflammatory that it works extremely well in." One of the patients who participated in the trial, Amanda Loy of Alaska, said before the transplant, her arms were numb, she had bladder issues, and her balance was off. Loy has relapsing-remitting MS, and said she can now run, something she couldn't do easily before, and plans on participating in the Chicago Marathon. Catherine Garcia

January 16, 2019

When Michael Nieves found out his favorite coffee shop was closing, he decided then and there that wasn't going to happen, because he was going to buy it and keep the doors open.

Nieves went to Yellow Mug Coffee in Fresno, California, five days a week, always ordering an Americano or espresso. When the owner told him last year that he was drinking his last cup of coffee because they were closing, "I said, 'No, you're not,'" Nieves told The Fresno Bee. The shop felt like home, which is why he was adamant about it staying open.

Three days later, Nieves and his wife, Belinda Bagwell, purchased Yellow Mug Coffee, and they officially took over on Jan. 1. This is new territory for the couple; Nieves is a software developer and Bagwell is a stay-at-home mom to their three teenage sons. Nieves and Bagwell are excited, though, and so are their customers: When they announced on Facebook the business was staying open, the comments ranged from "This really is good news" to "So freaking exciting." While they have the same baristas and aren't changing the coffee formulas, they've already expanded the menu to include additional drinks and snacks and plan on hosting more community events. Catherine Garcia

January 15, 2019

Being left behind in Hawaii wasn't so bad for Sutro, who extended his vacation with a trip to the spa and quality time in a cabana.

Sutro is a teddy bear, and he didn't make it into the luggage as Anna Pickard and her family packed their bags to go home to the Bay Area. As she emptied out the luggage, Pickard realized that her son's beloved bear wasn't anywhere to be found. She quickly called the Grand Hyatt Kauai and asked if anyone had seen Sutro, and she got the good news: He had been found in the laundry.

Before reuniting Sutro with his family, the staff at the Grand Hyatt Kauai decided to have a little fun. They took him all over the hotel property, letting him go down a water slide and get his nails done in the salon, and documented his adventures. Pickard tweeted that her son was "delighted" and "enthralled" by the photos, and even asked how Sutro was able to afford a cabana. All vacations must come to an end, though, and Sutro made it home safely last week. Catherine Garcia

January 15, 2019

Wanting her father to receive more than just bills in the mail, Sue Morse went online and asked friends if they would send him a card or quick note for his birthday.

Duane Sherman, a World War II veteran living in Southern California, turned 96 on Dec. 30, and the well-wishes started flooding in before his birthday, and have yet to let up. He's received more than 50,000 cards and letters, from 10 countries and every U.S. state. The Pittsburgh Steelers sent him a card, as did the Secretary of the Navy, and the band Foreigner mailed him a signed CD. Elementary school students and prison inmates have written Sherman letters thanking him for his service, and several Navy officers came by his house and took him out to lunch. Gift cards tucked inside cards have been donated by Sherman to people affected by the California wildfires.

Sherman told The Orange County Register he's "amazed, shocked, and appreciative. All the good comments people made, it just brightened my day." After Pearl Harbor, Sherman enlisted in the Navy, and he still has shrapnel in his back from an attack against his ship by a kamikaze plane. The Purple Heart recipient is legally blind, so his daughter is reading the cards to him, and she doesn't expect to finish any time soon — there are still bins filled to the brim with cards, waiting for Sherman at the post office. Catherine Garcia

January 14, 2019

AJ Montgomery's life changed in an instant.

While riding his motorcycle in 2015, the 31-year-old dancer was hit by a car. The accident took place just four days after he auditioned for the show Le Reve (The Dream) at the Wynn resort, and landed a spot in the cast. Over the course of nearly three weeks, Montgomery went through three surgeries, as doctors tried to save his left foot and lower leg. When it became apparent that he would have to go through more surgeries and live with daily pain, Montgomery chose to have his leg amputated below the knee.

Le Reve still wanted him to be part of the cast, and that "was a turning point," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "At that point I didn't know what my life would entail. But I had something to work toward." Montgomery now has three prosthesis that he wears during the show in order to do the routines, and is able to "perform just like everybody else," he said. There are still times when Montgomery is on stage and is in awe of what he's accomplished. "It's so ironic that the show is called Le Reve because this is something I still dream of doing, and now I get to do it every day," he said. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads