The beginning of a new year is typically when most of us take a look back at what we’ve accomplished during the past 12 months and try to think of ways to better ourselves during the next 12 months.

There can be no calling more worthy than lending a hand to someone who can use one, because helping others can’t help but spill over and makes us feel good about ourselves. And that, in my opinion, is the genesis of a happy life.

That’s why our annual Unsung Heroes feature is one of my favorites. It’s our chance to tell you about a few people in our neighborhood who are helping others for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do.

If you take the time to read about our five heroes this month, you’ll find an interesting cross-section of ages, experiences, motivations and interests. What we hope you’ll also find is a common thread among these people: Their lives seem better because of their volunteer involvement, and so do the lives of the people they are helping.

Doctors Hospital is supporting our efforts with its marketing dollars this year, allowing us to expand the Unsung Heroes section and provide a better look at our honorees. We thank Doctors for its interest in our community and for supporting this project, and we hope you’ll stop by its new facility and take a look at its $40 million investment in our neighborhood.

And if you know anyone who deserves consideration for next year’s story, give me a call.

Here Comes The Readers’ Restaurant Patrol

After months of research, countless focus groups and thousands of dollars in marketing and promotion…

Well, OK, our new Reader’s Restaurant Patrol didn’t exactly come together in this manner. Instead, the Patrol began taking life several months ago when I wrote in this column that we were looking for another restaurant reviewer.

More than 30 of you responded, and two things became clear: We don’t have room to run 30 restaurant reviews each month, and people are a lot more interested in eating out and telling others about it than we thought.

Since that column, we’ve been experimenting with different formats for our restaurant reviews while attempting to be mindful of the Advocate’s reviewing creed: Let’s find good restaurants to highlight rather than seeking out bad restaurants to skewer.

After all, a restaurant critic is only one person with only one opinion, and it doesn’t seem fair to allow one bad – or good – experience assume more weight with the rest of us than it deserves.

So we’ve come up with what we think will be an interesting, and certainly innovative, concept that encourages reader participation and allows us to let you know about more restaurants each month.

The Reader’s Restaurant Patrol requests that respondents fill out a form, on which they need to check a few boxes, list a few restaurant entrees and prices, and sum up the restaurant in a couple of sentences.

Each month, we’ll select a theme and solicit your completed forms. Then we’ll publish two or three of your reviews. Reviewers selected for publication will receive a specially designed Advocate T-shirt.

We’ll begin publishing this feature in February and, appropriately enough, our first category is Romantic Restaurants. If you’re interested, flip over to page 15 in this month’s paper to look at a copy of our reviewing form, fill it out and return it to us no later than January 15.

Our intent is to get away from restaurant “criticism” and embark on a more informational journey using our readers as guides. Hopefully, with the information provided by our peers, it will be easier for us to make accurate neighborhood dining-out decisions.

Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a member of the Reader’s Restaurant Patrol, look for this feature in our monthly Datebook entertainment and activities section in the center of our newspaper each month.

And if you think of a way we can improve this idea, give me a call and let me know. The number is 823-5885, ext. 212.

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