Year in Review

San Diego's 10 Most Memorable Feel-Good Moments of 2021

We searched this year’s archives and narrowed down some of San Diego’s best and brightest stories of 2021. Here's a look back as we approach the start of a new year

Natalia Sova

San Diego Woman Finds Cherished High School Ring at East Coast Antique Shop Decades Later

Maria Aviles graduated from San Diego’s Madison High School in 1978. Her class ring, fitted with a blue-colored stone and an engraving of her name, disappeared in the summer of 1988. More than three decades later, she tracked it down at an antique story thousands of miles away. 

“If this ring could talk — you know, if I had a magic lamp right now, I'd ask the genie: 'Let the ring talk and tell me its adventure across these last 32 years, across the country,” Aviles told NBC 7.

Talk about a great way to ring in the new year. A San Diego woman whose high school class ring disappeared 32 years ago was reunited with the piece of her past through a series of truly miraculous events. NBC 7 News Today anchor Marianne Kushi reports.

San Diego-Based Starbucks Barista Who Refused Service to Maskless Woman Now Hopes to Lift Others Up

A barista at a San Diego County Starbucks went viral in 2020 for refusing to serve a maskless customer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. After sharing a photo of the customer on Facebook, someone created a GoFundMe campaign in support of the Starbucks employee. The fundraiser raised more than $100,000 in tips for Lenin Gutierrez. 

“I’ve been saving it for my future; I haven’t touched it,” he told NBC7. “I still work at Starbucks, so I’m pretending that money doesn’t exist, so when the time comes for school – or to start my own business – then I can use that. Let it grow and use it when I need to.”

NBC 7's Artie Ojeda caught up with a Starbuck barista who had a fundraiser started for him after he was berated for not serving a customer who refused to wear a mask.

Breaking Barriers: How a Padres Pitcher is Helping a Challenged Athlete Live His Baseball Dreams

This might be the sweetest story of 2021.

San Diego native Landis Sims was born without feet and most of his legs, though that hasn’t stopped him from playing his favorite sport – baseball. 

He planned to try out for his high school’s baseball team and received some help from Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove. 

“That kid is the best possible example of someone who has mental toughness and fortitude to be able to get over any obstacle,” said Musgrove. “He’s faced so many different things and issues in his life and he’s found ways to make them work. He just adapts to whatever situation he’s in. I feel like I took more away from that day than he did. I left there feeling like a different person.”

Amanda Sims

San Diego Woman Writes 10,000+ Love Letters to Veterans, Front Line Workers in Honor of Her Late Mother

San Diego resident Natalie Reilly began writing letters to veterans five years ago, alongside her mother who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. The letter-writing was a way to channel their focus on something other than the cancer diagnosis. 

Before Reilly’s mother passed away, she promised to keep writing the letters — and over the years, she’s written more than 10,000.

“This mission: getting up every morning and having a purpose and going out into the community and giving back and seeing what these notes did for our veterans, our police officers, those people who are out on the frontlines, putting everything out on the line,” she told NBC 7. 

NBC 7's Ashley Matthews shares the story of Natalie Reilly, a San Diego woman who started a project to write thousands of letters of hope, support, and love to military veterans and first responders. Reilly was recently invited to "The Kelly Clarkson Show" to talk about why this is important to her.

One Man, 2,600 Buttons and One Simple Message

Ron Newell didn’t exactly enjoy 2020 — the rhetoric, the political debates and racial injustice. In 2016 someone gave the 84-year-old San Diego man a button that said “Be Kind.” Since then, he’s made it his mission to share the same message with others, and as of May, he’d given out more than 2,000 buttons.

“I get all elated every time I’m able to give one,” he told NBC 7. “I’d like to cover the world with these.”

A University City man is trying to make the world a better place one person at a time, reports NBC 7's Joe Little.

Remember the Last Time Someone Was Kind? San Diegans Share Uplifting Stories

In September, NBC 7 reached out to San Diegans to hear about the last time someone was kind to them. The stories highlighted the compassion and kindness of others in the community.

“Actually, yesterday I was having a rough day at work — working a 12-hour shift and I had a lot of admissions and patients — and my coworker just bought me coffee. It made my day,” Pacific Beach resident Michelle Clark shared with NBC 7. “It makes me happy. Encourages me to keep going.”

NBC 7 went out Friday to talk to San Diegans about the last time someone was kind to them. On the street, there were plenty of stories of friends, loved ones and even strangers making a difference, reports NBC 7's Dana Griffin.

‘I Want to Help Afghanistan': Carlsbad 4th Grader Hosts Neighborhood Bake Sale to Help Refugees

As Americans watched the U.S. end the war in Afghanistan this year, a 4th grader in Carlsbad was worried about families and children stuck in the Middle East.

Maryam Mehr organized a bake sale alongside her friends to raise money for Afghanistan refugees.

“The women and children – especially the girls – can’t get an education,” she told NBC 7. “They can’t get out of their house; they can’t work right now. So, I just want to support them.”

Maryam Mehr, a 4th grade student from north San Diego County, spent Labor Day alongside her friends doing something incredibly sweet; they hosted a neighborhood bake sale to help families in Afghanistan. NBC 7's Allie Raffa reports.

Humane Society Employees Rescue More Than 70 Pets Stranded in Evacuated Homes During Caldor Fire

Californians are all too familiar with wildfires — and this year, crews from the San Diego Humane Society traveled north to help stranded pets affected by the Caldor Fire.

“Many animals were left behind either because their owners thought they were going to be gone for a very short time and left them at home or because the owners were away during the evacuation orders and could not return,” said Nina Thompson, Director of Public Relations San Diego Humane Society.

In total, at least 70 animals were rescued during the San Diego crews' time in Lake Tahoe.

Employees from the San Diego Humane Society have returned after an extended deployment in Northern California to assist in the Caldor Fire. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford speaks to the brave animal lovers.

Navy Veteran Thanks Sharp Memorial Hospital Staff for Saving His Life

In August of 2020, Navy veteran Maurice Orange suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken bones, a collapsed lung and an amputated arm after a car cut in front of his motorcycle in El Cajon. 

More than a year later, he was able to say "thank you" to the hospital staff he credit with saving his life.

“I was constantly reminded that I was someone special,” he said. “It’s because of you that my dreams have been saved.”

Maurice Orange doesn't know where he'd be if it weren't for the hospital staff, and his wife who never left his side, reports NBC 7's Joe Little

Birria Taco Shop's Opening in San Diego's Old Town a Pandemic Positive

A San Diego chef was forced to shut down her Michelin-recognized taqueria during the pandemic — but came out on the other side, opening two new restaurants just this month.

Tuetano Taqueria in San Ysidro shut down earlier this year — but Chef Priscilla Curiel is now looking on the bright side after opening her new restaurants.

“I wouldn't be here if the pandemic wouldn't have happened. I mean, I wish the pandemic never happened. But I mean, you want to look and take something positive out of something negative,” she told NBC’s Rebound. “Like [from] the storm comes the rainbow afterwards.”

After nearly two years of shutdowns, border closures and supply challenges, chef Priscilla Curiel decided to move her popular Michelin-recognized taco shop to the heart of San Diego. “I wish the pandemic never happened. But I mean, you want to look and take something positive out of something negative,” Curiel said. “Like [from] the storm comes the rainbow afterwards.”
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