As 2009 fades and we look ahead to 2010, it’s natural to look back over the year and assess where we’ve been and what we’ve endured.

Not all of 2009 has been pleasant. In fact, for some, it’s been a year of sacrifice and struggle. For others, a year of sadness.

The Sun Journal’s Top 10 local stories of the year reflect struggle, from job losses to the more tragic losses of life. Churches have closed, and people have suffered through illness. Through it all, though, there have been shining moments of success. Of accomplishment. Of human kindness.

In the Bethel area, SAD 44 employee Sharon Hutchinson continues with her mission to raise $2,500 for every child who graduates from Telstar Regional High School and who plans to attend college.

Mary Howes and Tim DeMillo purchased the defunct Wausau paper mill in Jay, hoping to start a business there and create jobs in their community.

Patriotic Auburn citizens raised enough money to erect a flagpole in front of City Hall.

The Dempsey Challenge brought some 4,000 people together in October to exercise and raise money to help ease the very real suffering of cancer patients.

Ten-year-old Webelos Scout Alex Whitehouse of Turner saved his little brother, Drake Gibbert, from choking on a piece of Halloween candy.

Maine prepared to unveil its first state park in 25 years along the banks of the Androscoggin River in Turner.

Danica Hemond of Auburn asked guests attending her 10th-year birthday party to bring stocking stuffers or hats and mittens instead of gifts. Hemond then donated these items to St. Mary’s Food Pantry to give to children in need. It is the third year this Fairview School student has done so.

Oxford Hills School District employees all agreed to give up one day of pay to save the jobs of some of their peers. In Poland, employees gave up four days’ pay for the same reason.

Central Maine Community College graduated the largest class in its history.

Stylists at Gregory’s Hair Salon in Auburn, and other salons across the region, donated free haircuts to the unemployed and the homeless to give them a little boost of self-worth.

Robert Evans of Casco was pulled from his burning pickup truck, after a crash in Poland last May, by a pair of passersby. He never learned their names.

St. Dominic Regional High School graduate Kevin Grover was named Maine’s teacher of the year for his work with students in Falmouth.

Champion boarder Tony Hawk made a surprise visit to Lewiston’s Kennedy Park, thrilling youngsters with a spontaneous demo.

And, just this past week, Taylor Bynum and his wife, of New Haven, Conn., were traveling home after spending several days skiing in Rangeley. They were caught ill equipped to handle a Maine snowstorm in their Honda Fit.

While traveling south on Route 4, just miles from the Turnpike entrance in Auburn, they spun off the road into a snow bank.

A passing truck stopped almost immediately and the driver jumped out to help. Hooking the Honda to a tow strap he carries in his truck, the man was able to pull the Bynums out of the snow bank in minutes. He declined an offer of a dinner out and he declined money. In the panic, the Bynums didn’t even ask for the man’s name, but does it really matter?

This man is any man. He’s any Mainer who cares enough to help a neighbor in need.

So, while there are daily trials that can be tough to endure, we must celebrate the human spirit that exists all around us every day and acknowledge the good people who fill our lives with love and compassion.

We wish you all a very happy, healthy and joyous new year.

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