No one RSVP'd to this kid's birthday. Then some strangers showed up and made his day.

Joel Restuccia was turning 8, and he wasn't sure how he wanted to celebrate.

He’s a quiet boy, and he told his stepmom, Nicole Restuccia, that all he wanted for his birthday on May 14 was to go hiking.

Nicole had to stay home with their 13-month-old, Clementine, but Joel got his wish and headed out for a long hike with his dad and grandma in New York’s Minnewaska State Park.


Meanwhile, his stepmom was plotting a surprise party.

“I always make birthdays a big deal,” Nicole says. “It’s the one day a year that is exclusively all about celebrating you.”

Joel and his stepmom have been close from day one, and she couldn’t stand the thought of not throwing a party for him. “The first time I ever met him, he came right over and snuggled up with me on the couch,” Nicole recalls. “From then on, he had my heart.”

Michael, Joel, Clementine, and Nicole Restuccia. Photo by Shannon Fisher, used with permission.

Nicole decided to throw a SWAT-themed surprise party for Joel so he could celebrate with his friends.

“All he talks about is SWAT and cops and anything related,” Nicole says. “He actually dressed up as a SWAT team member for halloween."

The party was set for a week later, and Nicole started inviting friends — in stealth mode, of course.

Joel on Halloween 2015. Photo by Nicole Restuccia, used with permission.

But as the party’s date grew closer, she started to worry that very few of the invitees had RSVP'd to the last-minute celebration.

So Nicole took to Facebook, asking parents in a local moms’ group to bring their kids and join in.

Shannon Fisher, who works at the Emergency Services Center, saw Nicole’s post and called for backup to rescue this birthday party in distress.

Shannon walked into the police department the next day and told them about Joel’s party. “It’s a SWAT-themed birthday party, but no one’s coming,” she said. The response was instant: “We are.”

Photo by Shannon Fisher, used with permission.

On the day of the party, 15 officers from the State Police, the NYPD, and the Sheriff's Office showed up for Joel’s party.

Almost 50 people — parents, kids, officers, and even a K-9 — gathered to celebrate Joel’s eighth birthday. The New Windsor community rallied to make sure one little boy knew how loved he is.

Photo by Shannon Fisher, used with permission.

“He was definitely surprised,” Nicole laughs, “and a little overwhelmed ... he didn’t say much at first.”

She says seeing the big crowd knocked the wind out of her, since she initially worried that no one would show up.

Before long, Joel took off to play with the 20 kids who showed up to what ended up being the coolest birthday party ever.

That night, Joel wouldn’t let go of all the patches and cards his surprise visitors had given him. The police squad even brought real SWAT gear for him to try on.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he slept with them under his pillow,” laughs Nicole.

There are few things in life more magical than a child’s birthday party, but seeing a community show up like they did for Joel? You can’t beat that.

You’d better start planning his ninth birthday party now, Nicole, because this one will be hard to beat!

Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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