18 Little Things That Make — and Keep — America Great

Donald Trump has built his entire presidential campaign on the motto "Make America Great Again," but many people are wondering, when did it stop being great? The truth is, despite all our issues, we're still a pretty awesome country — and there's no sign of that stopping anytime soon. Thus, this Independence Day, put politics aside to appreciate all the freedoms, freebies, and fun stuff this country has to offer — without asking for too much in return.

1. Take a Penny, Leave a Penny

We've all been a cent or two short at the convenience store, and the little take a penny, leave a penny dish by the cash register helps keep us from breaking another bill or having to put everything back because we don't have the extra few cents. If you've ever taken advantage of this uniquely American concept (they were common in Canada, too, until the country eliminated the penny from their currency in 2013), be sure to do you part by leaving a Lincoln or two the next time you see one.

2. Paying It Forward

You've heard tales on social media about somebody who started a trend at, say, a coffee shop or tollbooth to pay for the person behind them. Sometimes these random acts of kindness stop after a few customers, but every once in a while, Americans let their generous spirit really shine, like the time over 700 people paid it forward at a Starbucks in Florida. Paying it forward doesn't always have to be in a financial capacity. You can pay acts of kind forward any way you see fit, so long as you're doing something nice for somebody — which the world needs much more of.

3. Our Commitment to Global Health Initiatives in Developing Countries

The American government isn't just concerned that you're healthy at home. It has a stake in the health of the world's people, too — especially those in developing countries that are more prone to diseases. It recognizes the importance of providing those in need a better quality of life and lessening the ripple effects within our own borders by reducing the chance of devastating epidemics and pandemics. Hallmarks of U.S. leadership in global health include The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, The President's Malaria Initiative, and Feed the Future.

4. Free Dry Cleaning for Job Interviews

Not every dry cleaner offers free cleaning services to those in need, but there are a few good men and women out there who happily open their doors to the homeless and unemployed to have their interview garments professionally cleaned and pressed.

5. Free Soft Drink Refills

As a general courtesy to patrons, most restaurants in the United States offer free refills, as do other establishments, like movie theaters. They don't have to, but they do — because they appreciate your business.

6. Free Breakfast and Lunch Programs in Public Schools

There is room for improvement in our school's lunches — especially compared to other countries like France and Italy (have you seen the gourmet meals those kids eat!?) — but we at least get an A grade for offering students in need free meals when they may otherwise not eat anything healthy (or at all) at home. In some places, those free meals are extended throughout the summer (in my neighborhood in New York City they're available), which makes this program above average in my book.

7. Holding Doors for Each Other

Holding the door for someone behind you is a custom in many places around the world, granted, but it's still worth recognizing because it's an important aspect of our own social culture. We've passed the habit down through generations, and it's still alive and well today.

8. Letting Someone With Fewer Items Go Ahead of You at the Grocery Store

I'm particularly impressed when there's someone in front of me at the grocery store with a cart full of items who invites me to go ahead of them since I'll be quick with the five or so items I have. Thanks to those who do this; if you haven't, try it the next time you're out.

9. Stopping Your Vehicle at Crosswalks to Let People Pass

I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore where you waited for the walk sign to change or you didn't go. When I moved to southwest Virginia for college, I remember being at a crosswalk once that didn't have a walk sign and the traffic stopped completely to allow me to cross. I was hesitant at first — I thought it was some kind of joke — but it turned out to be one of those totally mundane experiences that I'll never forget.

10. Asking Strangers to Watch Your Stuff When You Run to the Bathroom

Have to potty while you're working at a café or hanging out on the beach? Because Americans are pretty great, all you have to do is ask your neighbor to watch your personal items for a few minutes while you're gone and they'll usually oblige. Just don't try this at airport; it's a "see something, say something" culture around those parts, and asking a stranger to watch your luggage will make them feel very uncomfortable.

11. Safe Havens Where Minority Groups Can Feel Comfortable Among Their Own

While I wholly condemn segregation, I do think it's important for minority groups who feel oppressed by another group (whether that assessment is accurate or not) to have places they can go to be themselves. I speak from experience as a gay man who has found solace, security, and friendship in establishments primarily frequented by other LGBT people. In other parts of the world, these places don't exist, and that's a real shame, but here at home they're abundant and well attended.

12. Neighborly Courtesies, Like Bringing in Your Garbage Cans

One of my neighbors is always super helpful, especially when I'm away from home, by taking out my garbage and returning the cans, shoveling my sidewalk if he gets out there first, and mowing my front lawn when he's feeling particularly energetic. That kind of neighborly attitude makes the neighborhood — and my own experience in it — better, and I try to return those favors whenever I can.

13. Interracial and Same-Sex Marriages

Yeah, we have a long history of denying rights to minority groups, but we're blazing trails this century to end all that. We've come a long way, even though we have a ways to go for full equality for all, and that alone makes this a good time to be alive in America.

14. America's Public Libraries

Attendance at libraries has dwindled over the past two decades, thanks in large part to the Internet, but America's free library system is still thriving and striving to provide those without access to technology the means to continue educating themselves.

15. Free STD Testing

If you can't afford to visit your doctor to get an STD test — or you're just embarrassed — there's likely a clinic in your area that provides anonymous, free testing so you stay up-to-date on your health status. As my own little PSA, if you haven't been tested lately, do so; you owe it to yourself.

16. Little Free Library

I love this idea of these little boxes, most of the time shaped like tiny houses, erected in neighborhoods where bookworms can add a book or take a book without charge. The program was popularized in Wisconsin in 2009, and today it includes more than 15,000 locations worldwide.

17. The Honor System

The honor system applies to many things — like Halloween candy left on porches by folks who are out for the night, and in my neighborhood, a free garden where residents can pick an amount of veggies that they'll eat. Even as we get more and more disconnected, it's nice that we still have values and morals and a small, neighborly trade system that helps hold ourselves and each other accountable without much effort.

18. Free Outdoor Movies

I'm always talking up free outdoor movies. I think it's one of the best summer date nights ever, and I'm so excited that the concept has spread like wildfire across the country. You'll likely find outdoor screenings near the place you call home during the warmer months — seriously, it's like every town in America is doing it these days (and that's awesome!) — and all you have to do is show up with a blanket or chair and a few snacks and settle in for an evening under the stars in the greatest country on earth.

What are some of the little things that you think help make and keep America great? Let me know in the comments below.

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