Stories of hope shining all around | Don Brunell

With a bad economy, political bickering in our nation’s capital and daily news coverage of raucous protests here at home, it may seem harder to get into the Christmas spirit this year.

With a bad economy, political bickering in our nation’s capital and daily news coverage of raucous protests here at home, it may seem harder to get into the Christmas spirit this year.

But if you look closely, you will see countless examples of generosity, courage and hope.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 18,000 motorcycles rumbled down I-5 for the 33rd Annual Olympia Toy Run. A tougher band of softies was hard to find, as the state’s capitol filled with leather-clad motorcyclists carrying toys and stuffed animals for children in need.

Event coordinator Joe Sullivan told The Olympian the run brought in about $85,000 worth of toys and $7,200 in cash donations for the Salvation Army.

That same week, Gov. Gregoire, with the help of a military family from Joint Base-Lewis McChord, joined the Association of Washington Business for the lighting of the state’s holiday tree. For more than 20 years, AWB has had the honor of donating the holiday tree on display in the rotunda. The state now oversees the tree, but its symbolism continues on in the form of AWB’s annual Holiday Kids’ Tree Project.

Since 1989, AWB member companies and individuals have contributed more than $320,000 to help needy children and families in rural areas of the state have a merrier Christmas. The culmination of this project is the tree lighting ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

This year, attendance at the event was a bit down, likely due to a week of demonstrations by Occupy Olympia protesters. In the end, the spirit of the season prevailed. Standing in that grand rotunda, as the voices of a children’s choir filled the air, all the uncertainty, rancor and discord melted away. The glittering tree and the generosity it represents was reflected in the eyes of all who had gathered there.

At that moment, the spirit of Christmas was very real indeed. And it continues to shine in countless other ways this season.

KOMO’s Travis Mayfield found another example in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. Asha and Omar Ahmed were born in war-torn Mogadishu in the early 1990s. To build a better future for her family, their single mother traveled to Saudi Arabia where she worked as a maid, sending home money whenever she could.

In 1999, the family came to the United States as refugees, and in 2008, they settled in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. When his stepfather bought a new computer, Omar asked if he could take the old one apart. Fascinated with its workings, Omar showed a real aptitude for knowing how computers work — and how to fix them.

He and his sister began fixing computers for friends, initially for free, then later for a fee. Their mother encouraged them but warned that they would succeed only if they were willing to grow and stretch as entrepreneurs.

Eventually, the family renovated a rundown empty storefront on Rainier Avenue and opened Rainier Computer Service and Sales.  After a couple of tough years, the shop now seems solidly on the road to success.

Ironically, the recession has helped drive customers to the store as people seek more affordable repair and purchase options. But Asha believes people will continue to spend more wisely and shop at small neighborhood businesses even after the economy recovers.

“I would like to see my small business grow so we can employ people and expand our services,” says Asha.

It has been a long, bitter and difficult struggle for the Ahmed family, a struggle that is not yet over.

But perhaps Asha put it best when she said it has all been worth it because they were able to trade war, violence and death in Somalia for peace, freedom and business prosperity in America.

These stories should remind us that, whatever the bleak news of the day, the remarkable spirit that makes this a great nation — for those of us who were born here and those who come here — still survives.

It is all around us.