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Online tales of everyday heroes

New website seeks to inspire kindness by promoting past good deeds.

By Huma YusufContributor for The Christian Science Monitor / July 17, 2008

Good news: Alyssa Wright interviews construction worker Salem Shahed in New York City. Her online student project pulls together stories from users, the media, and the blogosphere.

Courtesy of Pimpila Thanaporn

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Natalia Paruz, who performs in New York subway stations, couldn’t help but notice a blind couple getting off a train at the Lexington and 59th Street stop. The pair was clearly unfamiliar with the station and asked a young man rushing by where the exit was located. Rather than merely point them in the right direction, he offered to escort the couple to the door.

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“He was obviously in a hurry,” recalls Ms. Paruz. “But he decided to put his life on hold for a moment and help these people.”

Playing music around the city, Paruz has witnessed countless “smaller acts of heroism.” She has long wanted to share with others the kind deeds of New Yorkers, who she says have been unfairly stereotyped as scary and unhelpful.

Now, she sends these anecdotes to Hero Reports. Launched last month as a student project, the website asks for feel-good stories from across New York and other cities.

Hero Reports aggregates, arranges, and archives brief narratives about everyday good deeds in different mediums – words, pictures, audio, and video.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad student Alyssa Wright designed the website in response to the New York subway safety slogan: “If you see something, say something.”

This counterterrorism campaign, rolled out after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “brought suspicion into our everyday spaces,” says Ms. Wright. “Our awareness of body and space has shifted since 9/11.”

Feeling manipulated by the subway ads, Wright started Hero Reports to balance what she saw as a message of fear with her own online message of hope.

New York-based writer and blogger Nubia Duvall, whose observations of city-dwellers at their best have been featured on the website, believes that Wright’s project is timely.

“Since 9/11, there’s been a negative emphasis on observing what’s going on around you,” she says. “You’re on the lookout because something bad might happen. But conversely, good things happen, too.”

Hero Reports started as a tool of action as well as observation. Wright labels her project as a “technology of empathy,” because it acknowledges the little deeds of others – giving up a seat for a pregnant woman, helping an old man with his groceries – while encouraging people to perform their own small acts of kindness.

Tikva Morowathi, a designer who has contributed several audio reports to the website, says Hero Reports provides the rare opportunity to acknowledge others.

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