Elizabeth M. Stuart

When I started this job nearly two years ago, an experienced reporter stopped by my desk with some sage advice.

“Don’t read the online comments,” she said. “It will destroy your faith in humanity.”

Being the newbie reporter who needs to learn everything the hard way, I immediately got on the Deseret News website and started reading the comments on our stories.

Comment boards are meant to facilitate discussion. Disagreement about the presentation of issues is inevitable — even encouraged — and reader insights can clue reporters into issues yet to be examined.

The trouble is that sometimes comment boards get really nasty. There’s something about the anonymity of the Internet can bring out our less-than-civil sides. If my only metric for measuring the state of humanity was comment boards, I’d be concerned, to say the least.

Luckily, it’s not.

This year as I reported stories on those searching for solutions to the issue of intergenerational poverty, I received hundreds of letters from readers who, touched by something they read, felt inspired to act.

Ellen Rowley runs Solly Baby, a line of soft cotton baby carriers, from her home in San Diego. With her business booming and the holiday season just around the corner, Rowley was looking for ways for her company to give back.

She came across an article in the Deseret News about low-income families that struggle to afford diapers. She knew all about that pinch; not so many years ago she was herself a young mom with a husband in school and a tight budget.

Rowley put a note on her website pledging that for every baby wrap she sold during the holiday season, she would donate a package of diapers to a local diaper bank. The issue resonated with her customers, and last week she took her children to Costco to purchase 200 packages of diapers for donation. So many babies and parents are going to have a good start to the new year because Rowley read something and felt compelled to act.

Rowley’s story is impressive, but not all that unusual. Several months ago I got a note from the leader of a youth group for girls detailing a service project they’d done for a summer camp. The leader read a story in the Deseret News about the need for clean birth kits in the developing world. As a labor and delivery nurse working in rural Idaho, this person understood better than most the importance of sanitation during delivery.

The article included instructions on how to assemble birth kits. “My girls should do this,” she thought as she read the story. Using her medical connections, the leader collected supplies for her campers to put the kits together.

As her campers assembled baggies filled with gauze, razors and pieces of soap, the leader explained how these simple kits could save the lives of women and babies in the developing world. That afternoon, the world must have felt very small as the campers worked to fill the needs of women they’ve never met.

It is an honor to participate in the sacred work of sharing the good in the world. My conviction of the power of media to move people to do good, to serve in their communities, and to help and lift one another expanded this year, and for that I must thank you, readers. You inspire me.

--Mercedes White, Deseret News

Unique daddy-daughter dance reunites girls with incarcerated fathers
Elizabeth M. Stuart

It’s a Saturday morning in March, and Alexis Atkins isn't on the soccer field or watching cartoons or doing any of the other things 9-year-old girls typically do on weekends. Instead, she's sitting in a sterile and windowless visiting room at the Richmond City Jail in Richmond, Va., waiting to see her dad.

Alexis leans forward to survey the cramped room. Eleven other girls in frilly dresses and ringlets sit on the same row of plastic bucket chairs, also waiting to see their dads.

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How $2 can save the lives of mothers and babies
Anna Kari, c/o WaterAid

If there is one thing every mother knows, it is that babies arrive on their own schedule. And no mother knows this better than 30-year-old Tewabech Kutambo, who lives in a small village called Lahyte, 370 miles south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

There is no water in Lahyte. To get water to drink, cook with, clean themselves and do washing, women leave before the sun is up and walk for two hours to the banks of the Orbole River. Filling their containers with as much water as they can carry, they make the two-hour trek back to their homes under the blazing African sun.

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Working with gun owners to fight suicide
Kristin Murphy, Desert News

It wasn't just about a background check.

"A woman came into the shop asking about buying a gun because of some emotional problems. I told her she didn't need a gun, she needed spiritual help. So I took her to my pastor. She never did come back for a gun," wrote one New Hampshire gun shop owner, explaining the impact of a set of suicide awareness materials delivered to the shop.

"There was a guy I wouldn't sell a gun to because he just didn't seem right. I later got a letter from his attorney thanking me for saving his life," another gun shop reported.

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Everything you thought you knew about poverty is wrong
Darren Boyd, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Before Lant Pritchett even took the podium at the Wheatley International Affairs Conference in Sundance, Utah, observers might have sensed that the former World Bank economist and Harvard professor wasn’t going to give a conventional speech on global poverty. A pair of blazing yellow socks signalled to the crowd that Pritchett is a man who marches to the beat of his own drum.

Over the course of the next 40 minutes, he made the case to a crowd of international development academics and students from around the country that everything they knew about poverty was wrong.

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Study finds casinos deepen inequality
Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

State-sponsored casino gambling is a growing scourge masquerading as a harmless source of entertainment and government revenue, argues a new report by a group of scholars and community leaders.

The report entitled "Why Casino's Matter" was spearheaded by the Institute for American Values in New York City and vetted and endorsed by 33 scholars and civic leaders from across the political spectrum.

The study grew out of an earlier report that addressed predatory lending institutions, said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the researcher at the Institute for American values who spearheaded the report.

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Microcredit founder Yunus seeking more ways to fight poverty
Thomas Haley, Danone.Communities, Sipa Press

Many Americans may not recognize Muhammad Yunus' name but they have heard of his work. Yunus, who won the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, is considered the father of microcredit, a groundbreaking approach to fighting poverty that has dramatically changed developing nations around the world.

Yunus, a 72-year-old former economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh, has put a particular focus on helping impoverished women, who he said are often the biggest catalysts for change in their communities.

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Can the poor save money?
Mercedes White, Courtesy Opportunity Savings Fund

When Regina Berrios, a 34-year-old single mother of two girls and a boy, talks about her dreams for her family, her eyes sparkle and her smile gets wide. The Redwood City, Calif., resident would like to finish college and get a master's degree in social work, open up her own business and buy a home for her family.

Until recently, Berrios wasn’t optimistic she'd achieve any of these goals. Dreams cost money, something Berrios doesn't have much of. She supports her kids working full-time at a flower shop where she earns around $16,000/year ($1,200/month). To put in perspective how meager her income is, the Department of Health and Human Services pegs the poverty line at $23,500/year ($1,900 a month) for a family of four. Just buying groceries and paying her phone bill were tough.

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America's mental health challenges illustrated by Patrick Kennedy
Associated Press

Patrick Kennedy received several wake-up calls before he finally heard the bell.

Perhaps the most dramatic was at 2:45 a.m. on a May morning in 2006, when the five-term congressman from Rhode Island drove into a barricade at the U.S. Capitol, appearing incoherent as he told police he was late for a vote.

The next day at a press conference, Kennedy acknowledged that he suffered from long-standing drug and alcohol addiction combined with a bipolar disorder that often pairs with addiction.

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Afghani invents toy that could save lives from land mines
Provided by Massoud Hassani

Growing up in the mid-1980s on the outskirts of Soviet occupied Kabul, Massoud Hassani’s playground was the vast, barren land that lay just beyond his family’s front door. Neighborhood kids spent their days exploring and making toys out of scraps they found. The desert appeared empty, but danger lurked just beneath the surface.

Only a few years earlier, their desert playground served as the base camp for an anti-Soviet rebel group. The rebels planted land mines around their camp to protect themselves. By the time Hassani was old enough to go out to play, the rebels had moved on, but their land mines remained, invisible mementos of a violent history.

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Who are the real minimum wage workers?
David Zalubowski, Associated Press

Since President Barack Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 during his State of the Union message, there has been considerable debate about the economic impact of the wage increase. But this is not the only flashpoint between those who oppose and support the proposal.

There is also heated disagreement over who minimum-wage workers are. Are they teenage kids folding T-shirts at the Gap or single mothers working full-time at McDonald's to support their kids?

Who these workers are is important, experts say, because it gets to the heart of what Obama's proposal would accomplish.

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Don't miss the other editors' picks

Editors’ picks 2013: The family

Editors’ picks 2013: Faith in the community

Editors’ picks 2013: Excellence in education

Editors’ picks 2013: Financial responsibility

Editors’ picks 2013: Values in media