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Real Michiana: A look back at the unsung heroes

Real Michiana: A look back at the unsung heroes

Since June, ABC 57's Jess Arnold has shared stories of the unsung heroes of Michiana in a weekly series called Real Michiana.

As a capstone to her involvement in the project, Jess looks back at some of the highlights of the 18 people she's met since the series launched in June. 

Across Michiana--a hug between Indiana and Michigan--stories await.

Stories of the unsung heroes--the seemingly ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.

It all started in South Bend with Chris Dresbach, a self-proclaimed Studebaker fanatic. 

“If I can preserve this piece of history and pass it on, even though they’re rusty and grungy...It’s a part of a story that otherwise wouldn’t be told," said Chris.

Telling stories that otherwise wouldn't be told--the core promise of Real Michiana.

It's a mission that introduced the community to a homeless painter many pass every day.

“I’ll be 61 next year and I can take everything I own and pack it up and carry it on my back down the road...but what I’m living for is to...hopefully to keep kids out of the streets, out of the gangs, and off the drugs and ruining their lives like I did mine, that’s what I’m living for," said Danny Bright, the homeless painter.

It took us behind the desk of a center that's working to help people like Danny.

“I think how small it is for us to be kind to each other, to say hello, to meet each person as a person worth talking to," said Vicki Smucker, a front desk volunteer at Center for the Homeless.

Those "people worth talking to" could be helping your kid cross the street, like "Grandpa Larry."

“He’s the best crossing guard, and every morning he says good morning to us,...and he’s like my grandpa to me," said Nyah Humphrey, a student at Muessel Elementary.

"That’s kind of nice if you want to know the truth," said "Grandpa Larry" Dutoi, a crossing guard.

They could also be building a park with a purpose or just welcoming folks to a new community.

“I think it’s patriotic to care about immigrants, to try to make this a welcoming country...so this is my way of just trying to give back to our country," said Bob Hamma, a citizenship teacher with La Casa de Amistad.

Wherever the do-gooder, giving back was a staple.

“It’s not about what we actually build. It’s building character in them and showing them the right way," said Dave Orr, the construction training manager with YouthBuild in Benton Harbor.

Sometimes it seemed as though that person needs more than he can give.

“He’s living on a flat battery every single day of his life basically," said Kerrigan Davis, Broc Davis' mother.

“I figured some kids should also be happy if they come to that hospital, since I’m there constantly," said Broc, who is living with a rare heart condition that has caused him to have countless surgeries since he was born.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of being present with people and allowing yourself to fully listen--we know that there is light at the end of the tunnel," said Amanda Iliff, Family Services Coordinator at Lory's Place in St. Joe, MI.

At times, these folks became the only light in the darkness for some.

“I want the community to stop the not in my backyard philosophy, because you can’t judge somebody. It might be your neighbor. It might be your neighbor’s child. And you know what, one day, it might be you," said Lisa Pierzakowski, Center Township Trustee in La Porte. 

“I’m here to open the door for anyone," said Grandmaster Soon Pil Hong at Hong's USA Taekwondo.

“Just because I’m a blind guy don’t mean that I cannot do it. I put my mind to it, and I did it," said Ricky Gillis, a black belt who also happens to be blind and mentally handicapped.

"Doing it" can be as seemingly insignificant as just getting out of bed in the morning.

“You never think that’s going to happen in your life, so I would love to be a resource for people that are going through that sort of grief," said Julie Graham, Dr. Todd Graham's wife.

That grief is what a hospice nurse helps to ease.

“I just can’t picture myself doing anything else, because I just love it so much. I get to meet amazing people all the time and take care of them when they’re most in need I think," said RN case manager Abby Eicher.

At the end of the day, all you really need is kindness.

“You don’t have to have a lot of money. This is not hard. It takes thought, and it takes time, but it’s really easy to think of others and meet their needs," said Kristine Kuroski, who founded Angels in the Attic, which operates out of South Bend.

It could be as easy as a haircut.

“When I first started doing it, it was more of the haircut part...and I realized the conversations that were stemming from the haircut, so that’s when I realized, okay this is a way where I can get to know someone," said South Bend Cubs manager Jimmy Gonzalez.

For others, it's as easy as giving someone a ride, like a reverend turned Uber driver in South Bend.

Maybe live music is what creates that connection, like at Merrimann's Playhouse in South Bend

“Anybody can come here. Your baby can come here, your grandparents can come here and listen to great music that is not only curated by the Merrimann’s, but they also perform and have a natural love of jazz music," said Steven Perry, who grew up in Osceola and plays the drums.

Wherever we find them, these unsung heroes leave a mark.

"When what you share is important enough to continue to be shared...can’t ask for anything more than that," said Debra Stanley, the founder of Imani Unidad.

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