2020 recap

10 Inspiring Stories to Remember the Good in 2020

Here's a look back at the Chicago area's hometown heroes making a challenging year more positive

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Watch in the player above for some of the best feel-good moments of 2020.

From people finding creative ways to show their love to family members, to cheering on frontline workers out their windows, to holding date nights outside hospital rooms - Chicagoans and Illinoisans made the most of an unprecedented year in the most heartfelt ways.

Throughout 2020, NBC 5 showcased inspiring stories of people and communities making a difference across the Chicago area. Here are some highlights:

1. Chicago Cheers on Health Care Workers Through COVID-19 Pandemic

Chicago-area residents found ways to cheer on and encourage health care workers over the last nine months of the coronavrirus pandemic.

In April, firefighters stopped by Chicago’s Weiss Memorial Hospital to show their appreciation for health care workers fighting on the front lines.

Firefighters stopped by Chicago's Weiss Memorial Hospital Saturday to show their appreciation for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was heartwarming," a Chicago nurse said. "I can't put into words what it feels like to have that type of appreciation."

Across Chicago and the suburbs, residents have also shown support for frontline workers by cheering, singing and displaying signs in front of their homes.

Both the Hyatt and Fairmont hotels joined the global "A World of Hearts" movement, showing health care workers appreciation as they led the fight against COVID-19.

2. Illinois Mom Makes Device to Let Kids Safely Hug Grandma

A Rockford mom found a creative way to safely spread hugs amid the pandemic in May.

Carly Marinaro fashioned a “Hug Time” device to let her kids safely hug their grandma during the coronavirus pandemic – and the result is sure to make you smile.

Carly Marinaro, of Rockford, fashioned a “Hug Time” device to let her kids safely hug their grandma during the coronavirus pandemic – and the result is sure to make you smile.

The grandma was able to reach her arms through the long gloves in the device to give each of her grandchildren a hug.

3. Chicagoans Unite to Clean City Streets Following Looting

Though many peaceful protesters took to the streets throughout Chicago in late May and early June, looting also caused significant damage to businesses.

Chicagoans joined together to clean various business facades, repair broken windows and clean city streets. Some came out with their families.

4. Husband Surprises Pregnant Wife With Date Nights Outside Hospital Where She is On Bed Rest

A father-to-be surprised his wife in May with elaborate date nights outside her suburban hospital window while she spent weeks on bed rest awaiting the birth of their baby boy.

Robert Conlin's wife Shona Moeller was hospitalized at AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center in Hinsdale for weeks with no visitors allowed due to the coronavirus crisis.

On top of a global pandemic, the pair were given news no expectant parent wants to hear. At 20 weeks, Moeller's water broke early and her baby was given a 1% chance of survival.

At 23 weeks, Moeller knew she could be admitted to the hospital for treatments that could help the baby develop, despite the lack of fluid. But that meant a weeks-long hospital stay without her husband by her side as the coronavirus outbreak worsened.

"I didn't sleep for like three days before I left for the hospital because I knew I wouldn't be with him," she said. "I was just so terrified to be going through this experience without him... we knew that [the hospital] was the best place to be but it was just so hard saying goodbye."

Conlin decided to surprise his wife with special dates outside her window.

A father-to-be has been surprising his wife with elaborate date nights outside her suburban hospital window as she spends weeks on bed rest awaiting the birth of their baby boy.

"I lost it the first time he sent up flowers and some of my favorite foods and then I saw him with his table and flowers and candles... I just lost it," Moeller said.

Aside from camping out outside her window with signs encouraging his wife and his baby to "grow Forest grow," Conlin has brought surprise guests and even maintained traditions.

For the full story, click here.

5. Chicago Animal Shelter Sees All Dogs Adopted For First Time

As more pets were adopted during the coronavirus outbreak, a Chicago shelter found itself out of dogs for the first time ever.

Chicago Animal Care and Control Adoptable Pets shared the news on their Facebook page.

“CACC has no dogs currently available for adoption,” the message read. “We’ve never typed those words before.”

“This will change and new dogs will be available depending on what comes in, but we just wanted to thank everyone who stepped up to adopt over the last few weeks,” the statement said. “We are amazed at the outpouring of people wanting to help during this time.”

6. Life-Changing Diagnosis Leads to Impromptu Wedding at Chicago Hospital

Friday, Dec. 11, was a day Shane Gerdes will never forget.

He had a seizure at work, was rushed to the hospital and was later informed he had a brain tumor that needed to be removed. In an ironic twist of fate, the coffee warehouse where the seizure happened was the same place that connected him and his fiancé 13 years prior.

"I love her more than anything in the world. She’s so smart," said Gerdes.

The pair got engaged in September, but the coronavirus pandemic put their wedding plans on hold. Then, an unimaginable diagnosis made the future even more unclear, especially because they couldn't be in the hospital together due to coronavirus restrictions.

"He was alone and I was alone. That was super hard. Both having to deal with that alone," said Darien Monk, Gerdes' wife.

Gerdes used his time alone to hatch a plan, leaning on his team of doctors and nurses for support, to create a day that would change their lives forever.

Less than 48 hours after he was told about the tumor, Gerdes and Monk were getting married in the very unit where emergency surgery may save his life.

7. 5-Year-Old Chicago Boy Gets Garbage Truck Parade for His Birthday

Because the coronavirus pandemic limited face-to-face interactions, many families celebrated major milestones and holidays with drive-by parades this year.

A 5-year-old boy received a special surprise from the City of Chicago on his birthday this May when a line of garbage trucks drove by his home in a parade.

The city workers sang to the boy and brought gifts and birthday cards. The 5-year-old received his very own City of Chicago vest from the drivers.

Birthdays look very different this year, but the city of Chicago decided to do something special for this 5-year-old and help him celebrate in a big way.

8. Touching Video Shows Man Announcing Son's Birth to Family Through Hospital Window

Drew Wolfe had always planned on announcing the birth of his baby to loved ones in the waiting room at Northwestern Medicine's Prentice Women's Hospital.

"But coronavirus changed everything," he told NBC 5.

Wolfe and his wife Brittany were surprised when Brittany went into labor nearly six weeks early, in the middle of a global pandemic and as Illinois remained under a stay-at-home order.

"When Brittany went into labor, [I] asked both families to drive in from the suburbs to be together after delivery," Wolfe said.

At 8 p.m. on a Friday, Brittany gave birth to the couple's new child, a 4-pound, 13-ounce baby boy.

"Family is very important to both mom and dad, and Asher is the first grandchild on either side of our family. We did not know the gender before birth, and chose not to even share our boy name and girl name with anyone else," Wolfe said.

So even though he couldn't have his grand hospital waiting room reveal, Wolfe improvised.

He went to a Walgreen's in the hospital and bought paper and a marker. He raced downstairs to meet their family at the hospital window as both his loved ones and a nurse inside the building filmed the reveal.

"Coming in at 4 lbs, 13 oz... in honor of.. Grammy and Poppy (Arleen and William)... Please Welcome... BOY... Asher Wyatt Wolfe," he wrote as family members cheered and celebrated.

"After the announcement, [I] raced back upstairs to FaceTime our families to celebrate," Wolfe said.

Watch the full video here.

9. Dad, Daughter Create Candy Chute for Socially-Distanced Trick-or-Treating

An Ohio dad and daughter created a way for trick-or-treaters to socially distance this Halloween amid the coronavirus: a homemade candy chute.

Andrew Beattie posted on Facebook a "completely touch-free experience for trick-or-treaters" using a long tube used to deliver candy.

"I want our youngins to be able to have some sense of normalcy and maybe a little bit of exercise in all this madness," Beattie said in a Facebook post.

The two decorated a six-by-four-inch cardboard tube, which they placed along their railing to slide candy through one of the openings into candy bags.

Cincinnati father Andrew Beattie couldn’t bear to miss out on Halloween this year, so he created a "candy chute" for safe trick-or-treating during the pandemic, using a 6-foot-long chute made from household materials.

"If this candy chute makes things easier or safer and gives those with mobility challenges more of a chance to participate, then what's the harm?" Beattie asked.

In another Facebook post, Beattie shows the candy chute at night, fully decorated with Halloween-colored lights and a ghost-shaped sign that reads, "place buckets here."

10. Teen Artist With Down Syndrome Auctions Painting to Raise Money for Charity

For 15-year-old Emmett Kyoshi Wilson, painting is much more than a passion. It’s a gift.

Emmett's parents discovered that gift while trying to teach him to write at age 4. His mom, Kathy Menighan Wilson, says, “With Down Syndrome, he had such a hard time holding a pencil and didn’t want to. Didn’t even want to hold a crayon.”

So she went out and bought some painting supplies.

"It was like eureka, and he starts making these motions. You can honestly see it in his art now,” Wilson said.

Emmett's parents knew they were on to something. So they just let him paint.

Chicago teenage artist with Down Syndrome will auction off paintings Saturday to raise money for charity. NBC 5's LeeAnn Trotter reports.

"It was such an impactful form of expression for him," said Paul Wilson, Emmett's dad, "because he had challenges drawing and writing and speaking, so when he painted it was just like a fluid, spontaneous form of expression.”

They started noticing Emmett's confidence building and decided to mount an exhibition to show off his paintings.

"We hung everything up, sent out the postcards and the emails, and we had over 225 people show up,” Wilson said.

They raised $8,000 to benefit the National Association for Down Syndrome. They have since mounted two other benefit shows, and in total, they raised more than $50,000 for charity. This year the pandemic forced them to think of a new way to give back. So they decided to auction off a painting to raise money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

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Want more feel-good stories? Check out NBC 5's Making a Difference page and nominate someone you know spreading positivity throughout their community.

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