Get Caught Up: A roundup of feel-good stories for Christmas Day

Here are some positive stories that were featured this week

Detroit Lions surprise terminally ill man behind Giant Helmets

The news can be serious and heavy, and certainly isn’t always good -- but that just makes the good stories extra special when we come across them.

On this Saturday, a holiday for many, we want to highlight some of the goodness that was featured this week.

Get Caught Up” is ClickOnDetroit’s Saturday news review to help readers catch up on the biggest stories of the week.

Here are some positive stories to help put a smile on your face this Christmas.

Detroit Lions gift Super Bowl tickets to terminally ill man behind giant sports helmets

The Detroit Lions surprised a terminally ill Sterling Heights man with the gift of a lifetime in recognition of his work and mission.

Local entrepreneur Steven Strickland, 28, is behind Giant Helmet, a group that designs and creates massive, custom sports helmets for professional sports teams. They’ve made giant helmets for display for the Detroit Tigers and Lions, and a giant goalie mask for the Red Wings, among several others.

Strickland’s goal is to leave behind a legacy with his giant helmets before cystic fibrosis takes his life. With the help of his cousin, an artist, Strickland has been making helmets that will make memories, for others and for himself.

“These helmets are my way of staying alive,” Strickland said. “When I’m gone, I know that these helmets are not gonna be gone -- they’re gonna be there. So, if I can take the time that I’ve got left and use that to create something that’s timeless, I want to do that.”

A giant helmet is already in place at Ford Field, on display on the second floor of the concourse. But when the Detroit Lions heard the story behind the helmet, they asked Strickland to come back to the arena for a special fan appreciation event.

On game day, the Lions had Strickland walk out onto the field, where he could be recognized by the tens of thousands of people there.

“They’re going to let me go on the field and wave to the crowd,” Strickland said beforehand. “I could not be more excited to do this.”

But what the man didn’t know was that the appreciation was going to be so much more than a smile and a wave.

While on the field, the Detroit Lions presented Strickland with two all-expenses-paid tickets to the 56th Super Bowl scheduled for Feb. 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California.

Strickland couldn’t have been more excited, but he also recognized the gift as an opportunity for his work.

“This is incredible! I’m going to the Super Bowl!” Strickland said. “It’s overwhelming to have this kind of recognition. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and to have something like that happen, it really makes it worth it.”

“This gives me an opportunity, a bigger platform to spread a message of positivity,” he added.

While the man’s mission was to leave a lasting legacy with helmets and memories, what he has really done is write a new playbook for those leaving this world too soon.

“If you let your mind fight for you and you believe that you can do something, you absolutely can,” Strickland said. “So, for the Detroit Lions to give me this type of recognition and show appreciation for this art -- I’m more motivated than ever to keep sticking it to (cystic fibrosis) and bringing this art out there.”

The Detroit Lions surprised Steve Strickland -- a terminally ill man working to leave behind a legacy with Giant Helmets -- with a special gift.

Nurse who took wrong turn on Macomb Township road helps save victim of bicycle crash

A man involved in a bicycle crash is lucky to be alive after a nurse who took a wrong turn found him.

Chantel Hilgendorf is a traveling nurse who made a wrong turn on Tuesday morning and ended up on Fairchild Road in Macomb Township. That’s where she noticed the crash victim.

“I looked into my rearview mirror and I saw some movement and I saw it was a bike there. So I thought, ‘Let me go check on him,’” Hilgendorf said.

The man who is believed to have been the victim of some type of crash was shivering in freezing temperatures and was injured.

“He’s all pale and his eyes were rolling into the back of his head. He lifted up his leg and basically his foot stayed down on the ground. His leg came out of his boot and it was a lot of blood there,” Hilgendorf said.

Hilgendorf started administering aid while calling 911. A police officer happened to be passing by at the same time.

“He needed a tourniquet and actually, I’m a nurse, so I had some tourniquets in my car and the officer tied off his leg,” Hilgendorf said. “He could have froze to death or bled to death. I’m praying that he’s OK.”

People who live nearby said crashes happen all the time on that street.

“I feel terrible that we did not hear or see, but this stuff goes on on this street all the time. people are ran off the road. I’ve been ran off the road,” a woman said.

The man who was rescued is expected to be OK. He has a broken leg. The incident is still under investigation.

A local nurse helped rescue someone by the side of a road that she wasn’t even supposed to be on.

Toddler spends first Christmas at home after nearly 2 years hospitalized

At this time of year, holiday joy starts with the children -- but what if a young child has never known that joy at home?

At 2 years old, Valentina Garnetti is one of those children, having spent most of her life hospitalized.

“She’s definitely a miracle!” said Francesca, Garnetti’s mother.

“She ended up having open heart surgery -- her first one at just two days old. And then she had her second open heart surgery early at 3 1/2 months old,” she added. “After that, she was really sick, and they placed her on ECMO life support.”

Born with a so-called “half a heart,” which is actually just three heart chambers instead of four, Garnetti’s first 694 days on Earth were spent at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

After seven surgeries, four of them open heart, and even a stroke, the 2-year-old girl was finally able to leave the hospital in March. Now, after a summer of firsts and an emotional rollercoaster for single mom Francesca, Valentina Garnetti is taking in her new -- and very colorful -- Christmas surroundings.

“She loves the Christmas tree and it’s all new to her,” Francesca said. “She just had a little tree in the hospital, we made the most of it there, but everything is new: seeing the tree, going to look at Christmas lights outside, baking cookies, everything. It’s all a new, first experience for her.”

The toddler is not verbal yet, but the family says they’re working on that. Garnetti lost the use of her right hand fingers because of the stroke.

Still, she is spirited, a bit headstrong and loving the simpler and less intrusive environment that her home provides.

“We didn’t know if she would ever make it out of the hospital at all,” her mother said. “So, for her to be here -- not just out of the hospital, but happy and relatively healthy for everything she’s been through -- it means everything to me.”

Because of Garnetti’s underlying conditions, there won’t be a lot of family around for her first Christmas at home -- but, rest assured, it’s going to be a most memorable holiday season.

You can learn more about Valentina Garnetti’s life story on Facebook right here.

A toddler is going to be home for Christmas for the first time after spending nearly 2 years of her life hospitalized.

A deeper look at ‘Holiday Ride,’ Chevy’s emotional commercial

People are fighting back the tears thanks to the new TV ad produced by Chevrolet.

The car company’s latest commercial, “Holiday Ride,” has everyone feeling sentimental.

Holiday Ride shows a widower placing a Christmas wreath on his family pole barn. While doing so, the man, accompanied by his dog, sees his late wife’s 1966 Chevy Impala. As he and the dog take a seat, he notices his late wife’s picture hanging from the rearview mirror, which gets him to reminisce about the good times they once shared.

As the father wipes away the tears of joy, their daughter emerges from the barn and comes up with an inspirational plan.

“It’s been hard with dad these days, so I was thinking maybe,” said the daughter who gets answered by her father’s car buddies, “Your mom’s car?”

“She taught me to drive in that car,” said the daughter.

She gets the old pals to rebuild her mom’s convertible without her father noticing until he goes in for another wreath change a year later. The teary-eyed father and his dog sit in the car in disbelief. He stares at the picture of his late wife once again as he gets behind the wheel.

You can watch the ad below.

Habitat for Humanity helps Ypsilanti mother, Navy veteran get roof repaired ahead of the holidays

Homeowner Ashley Reyes became perplexed after discovering a leak in her home’s roof.

She said her search for repair options was disheartening as the quotes she was provided with were more than she could afford.

“$10,000? I was kind of like, ‘OK,’ said Reyes.

Reyes contacted her mother for assistance. Her mom suggested that she should not settle and pursue other options.

“My mother actually just was telling me to see what kind of resources that were available, and I happened to call Habitat for Humanity,” Reyes said. “They were able to help me find a program.”

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that helps families, including veterans, improve their homes using affordable housing.

“Last week, I found out I got approved, and they’re going to help me,” Reyes said.

Martha Davis is the senior director of home improvement with Habitat for Humanity.

“I came over and met with (Reyes) and she’s a single mom. Just two kids, and she was super overwhelmed with how to figure out how to get this done,” Davis said.

Reyes served her country as an Aviation Ordnanceman with the U.S. Navy. She dealt with weapons from 2010 to 2014. She said her time in the service changed her life.

“Life-changing,” Reyes said. “I’m a stronger person, a better person. I learned so much from being in the service.”

Habitat for Humanity connected her with Roof One and Owens Corning, who is replacing the roof at no cost to Reyes.

“They (Owens Corning) supply the materials to do the roof. We supply the labor,” Roof One owner Steve McCusker said.

Davis said a huge crew came out to fix her roof. “Taking it right down to the bare bones, replacing any of the wood that’s damaged,” Davis said.

McCusker believes the Reyes family deserves this good gesture.

“I grew up as part of a military brat family, so I know what they go through. I lived that life,” McCusker said.

“My children are thankful. This is very overwhelming and just the nicest thing I could imagine,” Reyes said .

Last year, Habitat for Humanity completed up to 200 home repairs during the pandemic while replacing 19 roofs for veterans and others in need.

Homeowner Ashley Reyes became perplexed after discovering a leak in the roof of her home. Her quest for a new roof became disheartening as quotes for repairs became astronomical. But thanks to Habitat for Humanity, help was on the way.

Local 4′s Rhonda Walker brings Christmas joy to homeless women, children in Detroit

There is nothing like seeing children happy and full of joy, like all kids should be when they wake up to find gifts that magically appeared under the tree on Christmas morning.

Except, for children waking up in homeless shelters, their Christmas Day and Christmas memories are nothing like that -- and for reasons often too complex for them to understand.

This is my “why.”

Twenty years ago, I hosted a charity fundraiser for the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM). After hearing the testimonial from a former resident who shared her journey into and out of homelessness thanks to the love, ministry and the programming support of DRMM, my life changed forever.

The former resident had a masters degree, a great job, a home and family, and lost it all, unable to take care of herself and her children. Her story gave me perspective that I never had about our homeless community, and a sensitivity for them that began decades of community service for the mission and other shelters throughout Detroit.

In 2003, I adopted DRMM’s Genesis House II Transitional Housing Shelter for Women and their Children, the same year I founded the Rhonda Walker Foundation (RWF) for inner city teen girls.

The foundation’s core program is called Girls into Women and caters to girls in their 8th-12th grade years. The program provides a safe oasis of friendship, adult mentorships and sisterhood support through career and personal development, college prep, mentoring, health and wellness and community service programs.

Through our RWF Cares’ community service programming, I wanted to expose the RWF teen girls to homelessness and the choices and circumstances that can lead anyone to this outcome in hopes of helping the teens make better choices, while also teaching them about giving back and helping others in need without judgement.

Our RWF Cares Christmas Party is a culmination of that service. Together, the RWF family of board members, staff, teens and volunteers -- along with many of my personal friends and WDIV colleagues -- adopt the Genesis House II children as their Secret Santas, fulfilling their wish lists for toys, clothing and necessities, along with various gifts for all the women (and now a few men) at the shelter, as well.

The RWF also provides a specially-curated bin of gifts that my sister Robin Gamble spends days shopping for and wrapping for all the adults. This year, nearly 100 people at the shelter received what Robin calls her “baskets of love.”

Throughout the RWF Cares Christmas Party, I tell the families that this is their Christmas Day, and that they are so special that Santa came to see them first, weeks ahead of Christmas Day for everyone else.

We host the Christmas party at the lovely DRMM Banquet facility on Detroit’s east side. And, even with the pandemic changing some of our plans the last two Christmas seasons, we have worked hard to create a safe opportunity for our generous Secret Santas and their families to give and create a fun, happy day for the shelter families. There are safety and testing protocols in place.

One thing about me: Cancelling is never an option. If there is a will, there will always be a way.

So, on Sunday, December 12, the RWF Cares Christmas Party went off without a hitch. We celebrated with Santa, a DJ, dancing, circus performers, arts and crafts and, yes, abundant toys and goodies. Kids received a wide array of gifts, from hover boards and Nintendo Switch games, to dolls, clothes, coats, boots and any and everything you could imagine opening under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

See more photos from the event here.

Rhonda Walker poses with women of Genesis House II at the 2021 RWF Cares Christmas Party (WDIV)

More: Good stories

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.