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Editor's Note: Looking for angels among us

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 12:22 p.m. CDT

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It’s an accepted, albeit depressing, truth of the news business: people like bad news. Everyone says they don’t, but in today’s digital culture it’s pretty easy to see. Post a happy story and a tragic or infuriating story at the same time online and track which one gets the most views, the most comments, is shared the most times.

But our digital culture and 24/7 news cycle also means there’s no break from it. Last week, I spoke with a man who is concerned about what that’s doing to us.

“It’s been my observation that people have a tendency to become what they see,” John Shimer said. “This can affect a whole culture, even in a society as large as ours.”

Shimer said he was in Los Angeles recently during the manhunt for a former police officer who was exercising a vendetta against the department by picking off people from a hit list.

“Hundreds of emails were touting him as a hero,” Shimer said. “I was asked why I thought that was, and I said it’s because we have stopped telling the stories of real heroes. No one remembers what a real hero is anymore.”

Shimer wants to change that by telling the stories of real heroes again. A longtime fundraising consultant for nonprofit groups, he said he has seen the work of “human angels” countless times.

“Human angels are people who consciously choose to live their lives selflessly to help other people. They do it as a lifestyle, day in and day out,” he said. “I wanted to create a storytelling platform so these stories can be told and, in some way, uplift the human spirit.”

The Angels Among Us Project aims to honor “human angels” across the U.S. and Canada by sharing their stories. On its website, www.angelsamongusproject.org, Shimer and his team have posted a few stories and videos of human angels, and offer ways people can submit stories of their own encounters with these Good Samaritans, as well as other ways to get involved.

The site is less than two months old, and there are only a handful of stories on it now. Shimer said more are “in the pipeline,” but it takes time – stories are not posted immediately.

“We take the time to vet stories and properly prepare them to be told for the great stories they are,” Shimer said. “There’s a belief that goodness doesn’t sell, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think what doesn’t sell is bad storytelling. ...We have to take the time to tell these stories well.”

Part 2 of the project will be to recognize select nonprofit organizations and provide them with tools to raise funds more effectively.

“Fundraising is what I know, and charitable organizations are struggling,” he said. “The best way I can be an angel myself is to donate my time and to teach some of them how to organize for success and raise money.”

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