In my teens, I heard a radio commentator explain why our airwaves and periodicals are so filled with stories of failure and tragedy. News, he observed, is that which is unusual. In the United States, conditions are so salutary, relative to much of the world and even to our past, that advances in, say, air transportation and financial markets are far more commonplace than crashes. By contrast, I recall the commentator arguing, in China and Russia life is so tough that newspapers lead their front pages with headlines along the lines of “Heroic Bootmakers Exceed Quotas.” We should, he concluded, be grateful to live in a country that trumpets its shortcomings. 

I’ve pondered that observation the past few months, and I wonder whether something has shifted in the public mood. I hear often from readers who are good citizens, curious about current events, but who feel exhausted by the drumbeat of reports on the threats facing everything from democracy to the natural world. They appreciate the change of pace that this magazine offers in its Best Things in Texas stories and in our coverage of artists and entrepreneurs and scientific innovators. But they encourage us to publish more articles on inspiring Texans who are doing something positive for the state.

In response, we’re proud to feature, during this season when we’re mindful of our blessings, a cover package on a dozen Texans who have found innovative and effective ways to give back to their communities—and who impart hope to those who hear their stories. Our focus was not on wealthy residents who give generously to good causes, as praiseworthy as that might be. We’ve instead sought out everyday folks who’ve seen a need and, rather than waiting for the government, have stepped up to address it themselves, an approach that embodies Texas at its best. Some of these Good Samaritans have felt the sting that they seek to salve—say, being unable to pay for repairs to the vehicle they rely upon to get to work, or struggling to find affordable and convenient childcare.

The volunteers we’ve highlighted are of course just a sampling of those doing exemplary work all across the state. We intend to keep profiling such Texans, so please tell us about the ones you know, with an email to the address at the end of this article.

The organizer of this collection of stories, senior editor Josh Alvarez, is himself an avid volunteer. An accomplished soccer player since his youth, Josh coaches seven-year-old girls on fields near his home in Georgetown, thirty miles north of Austin. He also joins a group of scuba divers in helping to clean submerged trash out of Lake Travis. Such activities, he finds, “give you back a lot more energy than you put into them.” 

When planning this package, Josh solicited ideas from TM staffers, contributors, and sources. “We wanted to identify ordinary people doing extraordinary work tackling thorny problems, but not in a way that waves some flag of victory, because these problems aren’t going to get solved overnight. There’s plenty of room for the ideas and efforts of others.” Josh was surprised to learn that Texas ranks thirty-ninth among the states in the proportion of residents who perform volunteer work through an organization. Our hope at TM, in the spirit of lighting a candle, is that increased coverage of “giving back” will help boost participation.

Josh not only assigned and edited five of the stories in our cover package but also wrote another five of them. Readers can look forward to seeing more of his prose as he transitions from his current editing role to one focused on writing. His interests include everything from arts and entertainment to outdoor pursuits and Texas history. For one possible story, Josh has his eye on a scuba diving spot in a Texas lake that includes an underwater forest. “It looks terrifying,” he says. “I can’t wait!”

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “First, the Good News.” Subscribe today.