While it’s fair to say that this year was a tumultuous one, not all news hit below the belt: For many people working for change in their communities, it was a year of hard-won progress, as well as continued hope for a brighter future. Here, we present our favorite solutions of 2018, and highlight the achievements of those working to make America a better place.
Thousands Are Missing or Dead Along the Border. Meet the People Trying to Find Them
NationSwell’s multimedia series Aid at the Border explores the impact of humanitarian efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border. In the fourth and final installment in the series, we meet some of the people determined to save lives or recover the bodies of would-be immigrants who vanish in the desert.
At This Prison, Puppies and Inmates Give Each Other Purpose
Puppies Behind Bars is a nonprofit with one mission: Providing the incarcerated with a sense of responsibility and self-worth by allowing them to train service dogs for veterans. A woman from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility explains how it helped give her life purpose.

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Hope House co-founders Vanee Sykes (left) and Topeka K. Sam at an open house celebrating the opening of their transitional housing unit.

A Vision of Healing, and Hope, for Formerly Incarcerated Women
Topeka K. Sam met Vanee Sykes while they were both incarcerated at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. Now out, they’ve dedicated their lives to helping other women reintegrate into society by providing them with shelter and food, in the form of “Hope Houses.”
How to Stop Human Trafficking, Through the Eyes of a Trucker
There are close to 2 million truckers on America’s roads and highways. One organization, Truckers Against Trafficking, is teaching some of them how to spot and stop sex trafficking in its tracks.
For Some Families of Murder Victims, Help Comes Only With a Fight
A 1984 law makes restitution available to anyone affected by violent crime…unless you are “responsible” for your own death. One organization, Every Murder Is Real (EMIR), is trying to shift the narrative around such homicide victims, by helping families file reimbursement claims and pushing the state to remove the denial barrier for families touched by homicide.
Views of Downtown Buffalo, with Lake Eerie in the background.
Views of Downtown Buffalo, with Lake Erie in the background.

Beyond Hot Wings: How Architecture Is Helping Buffalo Make Its Comeback
A century ago, Buffalo, New York, was known as The City of Light. Then the bottom fell out of the local economy. After decades of stagnation and urban blight, Buffalo’s architecture and cultural offerings are bringing people back in unprecedented numbers.
How to Build a Better Jail
A prison sentence used to mean inhumane treatment of inmates and subpar working conditions for both prisoners and guards. But these architects are reimagining prisons as community hubs, thus reducing the stigma of incarceration and easing the transition back into society.
Born Into Rehab: Giving Life to West Virginia’s Tiniest Opioid Victims
Huntington, West Virginia, has been called America’s opiate capital, and in 2016 the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) — a disease caused by exposure to opiates in utero — was 16 times the national average. Lily’s Place is dedicated to weaning babies off of opiates, as well as studying the long-term effects of NAS, so that all affected children can live healthy lives.
This Photographer Is Shining a Light on the Dignity of Indigenous Women
A shocking 84 percent of indigenous women will face physical violence in their lifetimes, and are 10 times more likely to get murdered. This photographer, a resident of the Yakama Tribe in Toppenish, Washington, hopes to encourage awareness of and action against the issue through her work.
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A young girl attends the Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival in San Antonio, Texas.

Butterflies Without Borders
The monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the last two decades. To help save them from extinction, places like San Antonio, Texas, have become “champion cities,” thanks to their efforts in eliminating pesticide use, planting pollinators and educating locals and visitors at the annual Butterfly and Pollinator Festival.