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2020 Top 8: #FloridaMan doing good, brightening world during pandemic

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(Courtesy: The Gator Crusader)

(WFLA) – It’s been a tough time for us all in 2020 during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But 8 On Your Side has covered numerous stories of good within our community and Florida as a whole throughout the year.

We’ve compiled a list of 8 “feel-good” stories we’ve covered throughout the year, though we are aware there are so many more – some of which you can check out on WFLA.com. Let us know what we missed on Facebook and Twitter!

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1. Florida woman takes job as nursing home dishwasher to be closer to husband with Alzheimer’s

July 10

When a Jacksonville woman went 114 days without seeing her husband, she decided to ask the nursing home he lives in for a job.

“I sent them a letter and said ‘what can I do?’ I’m desperate, I need to get in and see him. He needs me, can I volunteer,” said Mary Daniel. “Last Wednesday, I get a phone call out of the blue from the corporate office out of North Carolina saying, ‘you still want a job?’ And I said, ‘yes, I still want a job.’”

Daniel happily accepted a part-time position as a dishwasher and seeing her husband was worth it.

2. Florida man sings to relax anxious gators during pandemic

July 14

A man who makes his living performing with alligators in Orlando is finding himself trying to calm the animals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The “Gator Crusader” has been singing and reading to his alligators to help them relax.

To make people smile during the pandemic and show off the impressive animals, the “Crusader” posted a video montage of himself singing some of his favorite tunes to gators, both big and small.

3. Tampa family wins ‘Today Show’ Halloween costume contest

Oct. 30

A Tampa family won big for their creative Halloween costumes this year.

Jacqui Joyner was a “Quarantine homeschooling mom Barbie,” Brian, her husband who is a pilot in real life, was “Essential worker Ken” and their daughter, Olivia, was “E-learner Chelsea.”

The family won the Today Show’s costume contest Friday morning and a $500 prize! Jacqui says dressing up together has been a family tradition for years.

4. Florida man becomes first person with Down syndrome to finish Ironman triathlon

Nov. 8

A 21-year-old Florida man made history as the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in a single day.

The Special Olympics connected Chris Nikic with Ironman competitor Dan Grieb, who helped train him.  

Nikic crossed the finish line in 16.46.09, according to Ironman.

5. Florida COVID nurses surprised with island vacation

Nov. 11

Respiratory therapist Andre Lopez, center, celebrates after learning he was one of 50 healthcare workers at Jackson Health System to receive a gift certificate for a two-night stay at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key in the Florida Keys, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Miami. The workers, who were chosen by their supervisors for going above and beyond during the pandemic, were told that they were scheduled for mandatory training, but instead were greeted by gift boxes containing the gift certificates that were donated as part of Hawk’s Cay Heroes Salute program. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Over a dozen Miami nurses and front line health care workers received a well-deserved break.

The group was scheduled for an upcoming  mandatory, aka boring, 48-hour training, but were instead surprised with certificates to a vacation in the Florida Keys.

6. Disabled Manatee County rescue dog walking again after owner builds wheelchair

Nov. 17

A Manatee Technical College student built a wheelchair for her 10-year-old rescue dog so he can walk again.

Samantha Sokolis’ dog Chaos is a 10-year-old German Shepard with Arthritis in his back knees so bad, it doesn’t allow him to walk.

Sokolis and co-developer Tom Moser came up with the idea of a wheelchair design in a Manatee Technical College class. They built the design for under $50, which is impressive considering Sokolis said their alternative was a $450 commercial one.

7. VIDEO: Florida man saves dog from alligator’s jaws

Nov. 22

A Florida man rescued his puppy from the jaws of an alligator and it was all caught on video.

Richard Wilbanks said he was enjoying a beautiful fall day outside at the end of October with his dog Gunner when all of the sudden he heard a cry for help from the young puppy.

An alligator in their backyard pond had Gunner in its grasp.

Video from the Florida Wildlife Federation’s Sharing the Landscape project shows Wilbanks jump into action to rescue the puppy.

8. Beloved employee nicknamed Taco Bell Joe gifted huge tip for holidays

Dec. 19

An employee of a fast-food restaurant in South Daytona, Florida, got the tip of a lifetime.

When Joe DeCicco showed up for work at a Taco Bell in South Daytona he was greeted by strangers who consider themselves friends.

DeCicco, who is 70 years old, has been at the restaurant for 20 years. Those who know him fondly call him Taco Bell Joe in the drive-thru lane.

He’s so loved that a group handed him a check for over $6,000.

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