In terms of the news, 2016 wasn't exactly the most uplifting year. Between the violence and the political debates, many people turned off the television and stopped watching their social media news feeds. If it wasn't for cat videos, we might have done so as well. Luckily, though, we tuned in and were greeted by some of the most amazing, uplifting stories about kids and parents.
The kindness of strangers, the sweet heart of youngsters, the small moments that meant so much struck a chord in all of us, and they warmed our hearts and brought us a renewed strength in tough situation and a sense that there is still so much good in the world.
Not all of the kids' stories were so awesome either — like the death of Harambe, a beloved gorilla, when a child fell into his enclosure, the photo of a child in the back of a car where two overdose victims are passed out in the front seats or all of the creepy clown sightings across the country. They were scary or downright sad depictions of life in America these days.
But there were some incredible moments that made our hearts melt and showed us the amazing blessings that abound in our world. There were so many, so we hope we didn't leave your favorite out.
Here are the 15 most heartwarming kids news stories of 2016.
15 Target Teen
Our first viral sensation happened in January, when a woman showed us the compassionate side of what could have been a really annoying situation at a store. At the check-out counter, an elderly woman wanted to pay for her items individually, and all in coins. She became flustered with the transactions, but the patient cashier treated the woman will such sweetness. He dismissed her apologies and helped her count out her change.
The teen, Ishmael Gilbert, was praised in a social media post from another woman in the line, who used the occasion to teach her children about patience and kindness, and we all melted. "I just treated her, really, like she was my grandma, to be honest," Gilbert said in an interview.
Several months later, we learned that the sweet kid was offered a job at a dialysis center for his incredible care, and he is now on his way to becoming a registered nurse. Way to go, young man!
14 Brotherly Love
In the midst of a political battle that had adults divided, a sweet 6-year-old helped us all remember the most important thing for humanity. Alex, who lived in New York, saw news reports about the air strikes in Aleppo, Syria, and he wrote a letter offering to do what so many states were worried about doing — give a home to a suffering child.
We understand both sides of the debate for the Syrian refugee crisis, but Alex saw a 5-year-0ld on a report who was dirty and bloody and he reached out with a heart of compassion. He wrote a letter to President Obama that went viral in September. "We will give him a family, and he will be our brother," Alex wrote asking the president about bringing the child to his home. "Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together."
Did your hearts just melt? Obama's did. "Those are the words of a six-year-old boy — a young child who has not learned to be cynical or suspicious or fearful of other people because of where they come from, how they look, or how they pray," the president wrote on the White House Facebook page. "We should all be more like Alex. Imagine what the world would look like if we were. Imagine the suffering we could ease and the lives we could save."
13 Twin Triumph
The amazing story of the McDonald twin captivated the nation in 2016, and just in time for Christmas, the boy left the hospital for a rehab center this week.
Jadon and Anias McDonald were born joined at the top of the head. The little boys defied odds to make it past their first birthday, and not long after that, the boys faced a very extensive series of surgeries to separate them. Their parents moved to New York for the best treatment for their little ones, and when the surgery day arrived CNN's Sanjay Gupta was there to document the medical milestone.
The boys were in surgery for hours, and they were successfully separated. Both have faced complications, including infections that lead to them having to return to the operating room. But their mother has posted videos of the boys starting to babble, and now that they can lay side by side, they often touch each other and hold hands, the parents say.
The boys' story has gone viral, and it is so awesome to watch the miracle going on in their lives as they improve.
12 Lunch Buddy
A football hero's lunch buddy helped us remember that being a hero is about more than scoring touchdowns this year. Travis Rudolph visited a school with the Florida State University football team, and he found the one kid in the lunchroom who really needed a friend.
A photo of Travis with Bo Paske, a middle schooler with autism who usually ate alone, went viral before the football season began, and it gave us all the feels. Bo's mom's social media post went viral. She wrote, in part, "I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!"
11 Shoes Off His Feet
Good kids abound in this country, and one Louisville teen proved that during a Labor Day weekend outing to fee the homeless in his community. Fourteen-year-old LaRon Tunstill didn't stop with the soup and hamburgers when he realized what people needed.
LaRon made headlines when he noticed one man's tattered shoes. So he took off his brand new Nike Air Jordans — the expensive sneakers he got just the day before — and gave them to the man in need. The man didn't want to take them, but the boy insisted, and the two prayed together.
That encounter changed both people's lives, as the inspirational teen, who was given a new pair of shoes by another generous donor, helped the organization he was with raise thousands of dollars to help kids in the community.
“I always tell the kids one simple act is all it takes,” said Jason Reynolds, the founder of the youth organization that LaRon was volunteering with that day. “Maybe you can’t change the world but you can change someone’s world.”
10 Prayers For Police
Police officers had a tough 2016, as the number of officers shot on duty surged, and all too many lost their lives. More than 60 were killed in the line of duty, and many of those were victims of targeted killings that came in the backlash of other high-profile incidents of violence. But many of our hearts swelled at a photo in July of kids doing all they can to try to get cops home safely — and unfortunately in some situations "all they can" simply means saying a prayer.
The image of two kids dressed up like their heroes and kneeling in prayer beside their father's police cruiser helped as a reminder that even though some police officers have made decisions in the line of duty, they all have families who love them that just want them to come home safely. This particular photo came in the wake of an ambush on officers in Baton Rouge, and these kids helped inspire us to say our own prayers that the violence would end.
For years now, lots of amazing kids have taken inspiration from a friend or loved one's cancer battle and decided to donate their hair to help. And even though thousands of kids have done it, it doesn't make it any less special. In 2016, one inspiring kid took social media by storm for his hair donation.
Eight-year-old Thomas Moore's proud aunt posted about the Maryland boy's sweet sacrifice, which came after two years of growing out his hair when he was touched by a video of a stranger. To manage all that hair, Thomas's aunt helped him keep them styled in cornrows, and when they were taken out for the before picture, the hair feel to his mid-back. A few snips later, and Thomas had collected enough hair to make not one, not two, but three wigs for a child in need.
Thomas's smile when he held his chopped locks brought a smile to all of our faces, and he didn't just make his aunt proud. He made all of us proud.
8 College Bound
It takes dedication to get into college, but Fred Barley's dedication went even farther. The Georgia teen's tale went viral before fall classes started when a stranger spotted the kid pitching a tent to sleep on campus weeks before the dorms opened.
The teen wanted to get an early start on finding near Gordon State College in Georgia, so he rode his bicycle to campus to register and start out his new journey. It was a six-hour bike ride with his duffel bag and two gallons of water. But Fred's early arrival meant he was homeless for a few weeks. The police officer who spotted Fred on campus found a local motel for him and paid for a couple of nights' stay.
When news of Fred's dedication spread, a GoFundMe account raised tens of thousands of dollars for Fred, and he got a job at a local restaurant. His college expenses have been paid for by the thousands of people across the country who were inspired by this dedicated student — and our hearts were warmed once again.
7 Top Model
Meagan Nash knew she had a beautiful baby boy, but when her little one was rejected by a modeling agent due to his Down syndrome diagnosis, Meagan's pleas went viral. The boy with a smile you can see all the way in his eyes received national attention, and before long the blond-haired beau won a contract with a national campaign.
It was easy for America to fall in love with Asher Nash, a 15-month-old from metro Atlanta who is currently in his first Christmas campaign. His smile is infectious, and we can't resist his chubby cheeks. But this viral story also has another hero — Asher's mom. Meagan deserves all the praise for refusing to let her son's disability stand in the way and for educating others about inclusion. She's an inspiration, and we're excited that she and Asher got their happy ending in 2016.
6 Sweet Stranger
Ever been so scared of something you just can't move? That's what happened to Leah Kerr's grandmother one September day. Leah was juggling the packages and her kids at the mall when she noticed that her grandmother hadn't followed her onto the escalator. She had frozen at the top, afraid to take a step on the moving staircase, and now a floor separated the two.
Luckily, a sweet young man was there to save the elderly woman, who was quickly getting shoved by impatient passers-by. The young man, Alujwyon Williams, asked the lady if she wanted help, and he held her hand all the way down the escalator, helping keep her calm, and touching all of our hearts.
“I didn’t think me being myself would get so much recognition thank you all for that and it really was my pleasure I’m happy to be a part of a touching story,” the young man wrote on Facebook when he recognized himself on the viral post. Thanks, Alujwyon, for being the incredible young man that you are.
5 Family Goals
Parents who adopt children often have to wade through an arduous and hard-fought journey, and that was true for one Utah couple who had to wait four years to bring home two boys that they adopted from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jennifer and James Grover met the boys and fell in love, but when their adoption became final, the government at DRC halted all foreign adoptions, and even though their paperwork was complete, the boys were not allowed to leave the country.
Finally, in February, the family received word that the boys would finally be allowed to come to their new home. The reunion video from April was amazing. The boys, now 7 and 14, were enveloped in hugs at the airport, and all of our hearts were touched by the viral video. We are all so happy that the family is finally together this holiday season.
4 Police Escort
In one Texas town, a police force showed all kids everywhere what the brotherhood means. After the death of officer Justin Scherlin in a traffic accident, his kids were left without a father to take them to the first day of school. But his fellow officers made sure that wasn't the case at all.
Dozens of officers showed up at the Amarillo school to escort the kids to class, and the youngest of the school-aged kids, 4-year-old Jackson, gave every single one of the them a hug. That was Jackson's very first day of school, and instead of feeling alone, he realized that he had an entire community to support him.
That made all of us feel a lot better about the world we live in — to know that there are people who will show up when a kid needs them makes it easier to get through the rough stuff. And what better way to show up at the first day of school?
3 Education Goals
Jordin Phipps knows what her goal is, and now, thanks to her passion, she has a path there. The 8-year-old became a viral sensation when she starred in a video reciting all of her goals, which include being positive and studying hard. She's wearing a T-shirt from the University of North Texas and even gives a shout-out to the college, her mom's alma mater.
Little Jordin's dedication pulled at our heart strings, and it also got the notice of North Texas. The school actually offered Jordin early admission — early, early early admission, as she is still in third grade. The school also gave her a $10,000 scholarship for when she is ready to step onto campus.
Jordin has the right attitude about education and about life. She's an inspiration to set goals and achieve them, and we're so happy she shared that passion with the world.
2 Turkey Dinner
A wayward text helped a teenager connect with a sweet grandma this Thanksgiving — although she isn't any blood relation. The Arizona teenager received a text invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, but he didn't recognize the sender's invitation. When he asked who it was, she replied "Your grandma." But the boy, 17-year-old Jamal Hinton, asked for a photo.
After he got it, he sent back his own picture with the phrase "You not my grandma." But he jokingly added if he could still get a plate of turkey dinner. That's when we learned that one person's grandma has enough love — and room at the dinner table — for all of us. "Of course you can, that's what grandmas do ... feed everyone," the sweet lady replied.
Jamal did end up meeting his surrogate grandmother for a meal, and all of our hearts were warmed by the reminder that you don't have to be related to share the love.
1 Chewbacca Mom
OK, we know this isn't about a great kid, but we couldn't end this list without mentioning Chewbacca mom, the viral sensation that gave us all #momgoals in 2016. Candace Payne's amazing video where she shared the simple pleasure of donning a Chewbacca mask — complete with sound effects — was the most-watched Facebook Live video of 2016.
More than 150 million people watched and laughed along at the simple pleasures in life, and parents relished in the joy that a toy brought the mom of two. She promised she wouldn't share with her kids, but her video brought her so much fame that Kohl's department store gave her a few extra for her kids, plus some other prizes.
Candace recently got a new gig as a TLC blogger, and we had to give her props in this list. After all, behind every good kid is a good parent.
We hope that our list has helped you remember the amazing, heartwarming moments of 2016. Here's to many more in the new year.