I read a story recently about a married couple in Brazil who spent 20 years planting trees. After being abroad, the husband returned home to his native area of Brazil and found that the once-tropical rainforest had been completely wiped out. Pictures from that time show the hills were completely barren, with no wildlife.

The couple decided to replant the forest. Over a couple decades and with others pitching in to help, they planted about 4 million trees and restored the forest. With the growth of the trees came the return of 172 bird species, 33 mammal species, 293 plant species, and reptiles and amphibians. The 1,502 acres are once again a beautiful and thriving tropical forest.

It was an inspiring story and demonstrated how two people with a mission can make a huge difference. They didn’t sit at home and say, “Somebody needs to replant the forest,” and expect someone else to do it. They did it themselves.

A quick Google search turned up numerous stories about one or two people taking action and making a big difference in their communities, countries, and even the world. It’s encouraging to read some of the articles. We certainly see enough negative stories about people making poor choices that lead to unpleasant outcomes, so it’s refreshing to come across articles about people who are being the proverbial light in the darkness.

I tend to believe that the vast majority of people want to make the world a better place and want to make a positive contribution to help others. The challenge is that most of us either don’t know how to go about it or don’t think that a single person can truly make a difference.

From what I’ve read, the way to overcome that barrier is to be realistic. We don’t have to plant a forest or change the planet to have a positive impact. We can volunteer our time locally, help people we know are in need, be positive in our behaviors to encourage others, or be active in causes we believe in. Ideally, doing good has a ripple effect that inspires others to do good also, which enables a broader and more impactful change.

I’m a fan of inspirational quotes that motivate me to be a better person or keep my priorities in order. A quote that seems appropriate here is from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who said, “One person of integrity can make a difference.” After what Wiesel witnessed in his life, I think he knows what he’s talking about and makes me believe in the power of a single individual to make at least a small part of the world a better place.

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.