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2012 Angels Among Us: Ordinary People Make a Difference

“When you’re looking at the faces, you don’t know who was innocent and who was known to police,” Chéry says, “or who was rich and who was poor. You just know that that someone is dead and someone else is suffering.”

By the end of the 1994 school year, Chéry and a small team of volunteers had started working with several Boston schools. They told Louis’s story and consulted educators on how to work with students to discuss difficult themes such as grief, death, and murder. Eventually, a collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health led to a $5 million federal grant, letting Chéry expand the Institute’s programs.

Today, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute is a fixture in the Dorchester neighborhood. Bereavement groups, victims’ advocates, even law enforcement officials use the nonprofit’s home, a sprawling office set right in the heart of the community on Dorchester Avenue, as a comforting place to meet with people who have recently lost a loved one to murder. In addition, the Institute has partnered with the Boston public-school system to teach educators how to help students heal from a trauma. There’s support for families navigating the emotional task of making funeral arrangements, and each May, Chéry and her staff lead an annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace.

Though she was late to discover it about herself, Chéry is a born leader. The Institute’s ability to survive speaks to the power of her message. Her life these past 19 years has been constructed around peace and healing, for herself and for her community. It’s why she can come to work each day and sit in an office that’s just a block from where her son was killed.

“This is my revenge,” Chéry says, sweeping her eyes around her office, past the stacks of paper lining her desk, past a wall calendar, past rows and rows of family photos. “Louis didn’t fulfill his dreams and goals and passions. And yet, they’re being fulfilled because we’re trying to give young people a sense of hope. Louis dared to dream big. You can dream that way only when you have a sense of worth inside you.”

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Janet Wendle | Lucky Pups

There are dog lovers, and then there are people like Janet Wendle. In 2007 the Kennebunkport, Maine, resident–a teacher and the owner of three dogs at that time–launched Lucky Pup, a rescue service that places shelter canines with new owners. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” Wendle quips.

After connecting with a large animal shelter in Arkansas, Wendle soon found herself shuttling back and forth between the South and home and meeting with prospective dog owners in New England. Much of her work stems from her mission to be as thorough as possible. In considering a new home for one of its dogs, Lucky Pup requires a detailed application. There are veterinarian and personal references to review and, of course, home visits. “It’s important to us that the dog’s needs are met,” Wendle says.

That’s because the animals come from a mix of stressful circumstances: Some are strays; others have been abandoned; and some have been turned in by short-tempered owners who’ve seen their cute untrained puppy morph into a full-grown untrained dog. Since its start, Lucky Pup–which includes a core team of 10 volunteers and operates through a network of foster families (it’s not a physical shelter)–has found new homes for more than 1,000 dogs, making it one of the biggest dog-rescue services in New England.

“I just love the stories, and I’m just such a sucker for these dogs,” says Wendle, now the owner of five dogs herself. “Seeing these dogs go to a wonderful home with a new owner–it’s really neat to see.”

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Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

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