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Angels don't just sit atop Christmas trees or help George Bailey appreciate his "Wonderful Life" or visit those about to give birth to a messiah.

Some actually flit around on two legs, not wings, making the world a better place. Some perform monumental acts that demand attention. Most go about their work unnoticed by all, save for those touched by their care.

Today, The Salt Lake Tribune salutes several of the angels among us.

As a child, Chrystal Butterfield remembers her mother helping out the neighbors ­— in secret.

She'd buy gifts and make blankets, but she wouldn't take credit.

"She would have us leave it on the porch and run," Butterfield recalled, laughing at the memory.

It's a recollection that brings a lighthearted smile to Butterfield's face now, but it was part of what inspired her to a lifetime of service.

The Kearns woman, now 40, stuffs stockings for soldiers, heads a free chaplain service, is working to start a Kearns community garden, volunteers at senior centers and serves on several community boards and councils — and that's just in her free time.

She also works full time for a cemetery and mortuary and has three teenagers. Relaxing at home is not part of her repertoire.

"I have no idea how she fits it all in along with raising really great kids," said Sheryl Ivey, director of volunteer services for Salt Lake County, noting that whenever she needs help, Butterfield is always willing and ready. "She isn't just there on paper. She's there."

Like her mother, Butterfield has inspired her teens to help out as well. They often volunteer alongside her.

"They know what it means to go out and serve your community," Butterfield said. "I think that's what it's all about, is making sure your neighbors are taken care of. There's so many other people out there other than yourself that are struggling and if you put your resources together, just think how much better life would be for everybody."

Butterfield ardently believes that one altruistic act can spark a chain reaction of kindness.

It's something of which she's reminded when she sees drivers helping to change a fellow motorist's flat tires, neighbors shoveling walkways, or even in her own life — such as the time a stranger filled her tank when she forgot to bring cash to the gas station.

"It doesn't have to be because it's a holiday," Butterfield said. "It's just because somebody wants to."

It's not unusual for Chelsea Phillips to hold up two or three fingers as she walks past her coordinator's office — her way of showing how many pet adoptions she helped arrange that day.

"It is a lot of work in one day to get them adopted and stuff," said Phillips, "but it's well worth it."

Phillips, 21, and her best friend, Andy Finnegan, 22, are fixtures at Salt Lake County Animal Services. The two began volunteering there more than a year ago as part of Granite School District's GIFTS Program (Gaining Independence For Transition Success). The program aims to help special-education students such as Phillips, who has a learning disability, and Finnegan, who was born with brain damage, gain the job and life skills necessary for adulthood.

The two have stayed on at the center far past the program's requirements. Why? Because they love the critters.

"I would never stop coming," said Finnegan, whose lifelong ambition has been to work with animals. "It makes me happy. These animals need a home."

Finnegan volunteers there about 40 hours a week, on top of school and his part-time job as a movie theater ticket-taker. Phillips lends a hand five days a week, each afternoon after class.

They arrive each day via public transportation (neither one has a car). There, they help arrange adoptions, clean, walk dogs and feed the animals. They've both won President's Volunteer Service Awards for their commitment.

"These two young people are so dedicated," said Jenny Bloom, Salt Lake County Animal Services volunteer coordinator. "I don't think we could really do it without our volunteers, especially these two."

Finnegan is particularly attached to the dogs, and Phillips has an affinity for the cats, especially when it comes to matching felines with families.

"Seeing all their faces and getting to know them, making sure they're getting attention," Phillips said, "just makes me feel good."

Her record is nine adoptions in one day.

When Sanford Rosenthal returned from serving in the Vietnam War, people at the airport spat on him and other soldiers, calling them baby killers.

It's an experience he wants to ensure no soldier again endures. It's part of the reason he's dedicated the past 30 years of his life to helping veterans, to showing them that he and others are grateful for their sacrifice.

"It's nice to tell somebody, 'Thank you for your service,' and to look at them and mean it," said Rosenthal, 80, of Murray. "That's what makes me feel good … the feeling that they get."

Rosenthal, who served in the Army for more than 20 years before retiring, often picks up patients from the airport who fly to Salt Lake City for treatment, driving them to the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center or the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

He also is known to drive a golf cart through the VA medical center, transporting patients throughout the hospital. And he helps coordinate annual Stand Downs, VA events for homeless vets featuring haircuts, dental treatments and food, among other things.

Jill Atwood, director of public affairs for the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, said Rosenthal is an institution there. She said he's always smiling, and, this time of year, he's known to travel the hallways wearing antlers or a Santa hat.

"Our hospital could not exist without people like Sanford," Atwood said. "Sanford is probably one of the more dedicated volunteers we have here at the hospital. Basically, he eats, sleeps and breathes veterans."

Rosenthal works with a number of other veterans service organizations as well.

Rosenthal said he's watched services for veterans improve dramatically between the time he left the Army and now. He hopes those services and his volunteer work help show veterans their importance.

"If it wasn't for the veterans, we wouldn't have a country," Rosenthal said. "Freedom is not free."

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