This past year will go down in the history books — and our memories — as one with joyful highs and challenging hardships.
Still, people throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia were going above and beyond to care for others.
NBC Washington is always looking out for people who are working for the community, excited to spread goodwill by sharing their stories.
Here are our top 12 most uplifting and heartwarming stories of 2021.
A group of high school students at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, won two international awards for inventing and designing a device enabling people in wheelchairs to push a baby stroller.
They came up with the design to help one of their teachers, whose husband uses a wheelchair.
The "WheeStroll" changed the lives of the young Northern Virginia family.
Cindy Samartino’s childhood dream came true when she received an unimaginable gift from her employers: her very own pet shop.
Nancy and Chris Guinn, the owners of Dog Krazy, gifted Samartino initially considered closing the Leesburg pet supply store, yet advice from a group of small business owners gave them a different idea.
“Somebody in my group said, 'Why don’t you gift it to somebody you love?'” said Nancy Guinn. “I looked at Chris and said, 'Oh my God, Cindy. She’s wanted to open a store since fifth grade.'”
Even her own family doubted Lisa Simba when she told them she was going to apply to join the Alexandria Fire Department three decades ago.
There were hugs and tears at the Alexandria Fire Department over the summer as Capt. Simba wrapped up her 33 years there.
She’s leaving behind a long list of firsts: first Black woman in a uniformed position, first woman on a hazmat team, first Black female EMS supervisor.
“Every time an opportunity came up, it wasn’t, 'I wonder if I can do it.' It was, 'I'm going to try to do that.''
After a photographer captured beautiful photos of an anonymous couple under the cherry blossoms, he turned to the internet for help finding them.
Jeffrey Boodman snapped beautiful photos of the couple, framed by a canopy of blossoms reflecting in the water at the Tidal Basin.
“Then I wandered off just going through my pictures, seeing what I had, and a few minutes passed. And then when I looked back, because I thought, 'Oh, I might as well just share this with them;' unfortunately they had moved on and I couldn't find them,” Boodman said.
And the public delivered.
News4 teamed up with Washington Football Team President Jason Wright to surprise a talented young sportscaster with a dream interview.
George Johnston was just 8 years old, but this third-grader already makes his own show “G4 Sports Talk!” right from his Brookeville, Maryland, home studio.
Johnston just made his television debut on NBC4 with Molette Green. He was excited for that, but had no idea that Wright — a big get even for a seasoned reporter — was standing by, ready to join their video call.
As vaccine eligibility expanded during winter and spring 2021, it felt like the cavalry had arrived in the fight against COVID-19. But at first, shots weren’t easy to find, and the eligibility rules could be confusing. That’s where the vaccine hunters came in.
"I was navigating the rules and process for getting a vaccine, ultimately seeking out help on the internet," Chris DeMay said.
He took what he found and created the NoVA Vaccine Hunters Facebook group where people shared stories and info about their ventures for vaccines.
A neighborhood in Olney, Maryland, was wondering if a wild lynx was on the loose — turns out, it was a tough-looking Maine Coon cat.
The giant feline, nicknamed “Ghost Cat” managed to bring the community together, bringing joy wherever he roamed.
Then, around the holidays one family learned “Ghost Cat” was ready for a loving home.
A D.C. mom who lost her job during the pandemic was forced to move into a shelter — but she is determined to use her skills as a pastry chef to pivot to entrepreneurship.
China Young wasn’t alone when she sought emergency housing for a short time at the nonprofit Community of Hope.
Ahead of the holidays, she was out of the shelter and working on perfecting a sweet potato cheesecake. She’s not giving up on her sweet pastry dreams.
“I just need the right people to guide me,” she said. “I’m basically on my own doing this. I just need the right person to guide me, so I can be more successful in the future.”
A good Samaritan came forward to recount jumping off a bridge and into the Assawoman Bay to save a 2-year-old thrown into the water after a five-car wreck.
Jonathan Bauer spoke publicly about the experience after initially asking to remain anonymous following the rescue.
He remembered seeing the girl floating in the water, and knew he had to act fast.
“I looked at my daughter and said, ‘grab the first firefighter or police officer you see,’ and then I pushed off,” he said.
Several other bystanders pitched in to help.
Medical illustrator Chidiebere Ibe’s images of Black patients went viral.
Ibe, an aspiring neurosurgeon from Nigeria, said he saw during years of medical school that most medical illustrations only show white skin. Representing other people became a “passion” of his, he said.
Often, a difficult health experience can give us a new outlook on life.
That’s exactly what happened to Carolyn Bullock, the sister of NBC4’s Molette Green, who received a new liver and kidney.
Amid her recovery, she’s encouraged others to become organ donors.
A young man who launched a new baseball league to prove there’s no limit to what people with autism can accomplish shared with News4’s Melissa Mollet why he started Alternative Baseball. The league expanded into Loudoun County this year.