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So yesterday I started the Year of Giving. My first day of a year-long journey into exploring the act of giving and the meaning of altruism.  I chose December 15th as the starting date.  It marked three years since my mother died from heart disease.  She was one of the most generous people that I have ever known; rarely ever doing things for herself…with the exception of getting her hair done, which she really liked.  She always thought of others first and certainly serves as an inspiration to me.

I had a rather busy day yesterday, ironic for someone who is unemployed right now.  In the morning I went to the gym, tried unsuccessfully to get an actual human being from the unemployment office on the phone, and did some job searching.  Before I knew it it was noon.  I grabbed a quick lunch and hustled down to a meeting.  As I navigated my way down Connecticut, I wondered if I would see someone that I would feel compelled to give my first $10 to.  I was running late and decided to do it afterwards.

After the meeting I had about a half hour to find the first person of my Year of Giving!  I decided to check out Dupont Circle…I met a guy there named Jerry once (more on him some other day) and thought he would be a good recipient of my first $10.  He wasn’t there, but I did see a man sitting by himself who looked really lonely…so I approached him.  Now I had to figure out what I was going to say.  I think I said something like, “Hi…can I sit down here.  [long uncomfortable pause then while I figured out what the heck to say next] Then I just kind of blurted out, “I would like to know if I could give you $10.” He asked me to repeat what I had said.  I did, then he looked at me funny and got up and left.  Strike one.

I then started walking South where I spotted a man standing by the bus stop on Connecticut Ave.  He appeared to be in his 60s.  I don’t know what drew me to him, but I thought I would make my second attempt.  I was a bit nervous and asked him which bus came by that stop.  Then I explained that I was starting a year-long project to give $10 to someone every day and that I wanted to give my $10 for today to him.  The gentleman, I later found out that his name was Ed, responded without hesitation that he could not accept my offer and that there were many people more deserving of the money than him.  This was precisely one of the things that I hoped would happen.  That people would think of others before themselves!  And although I was thrilled that this happened, I still needed to find someone and I was running out of time before I needed to go and pick some friends up and give them a ride to Silver Spring.  So strike two!

Knox braves the cold to make a few dollars shining shoes.

Then I spotted a man on the corner of 21st and P with a small bench and some shoe shine equipment.  I approached Knox, a black gentleman bundled in winter clothes with just the knot of his neck-tie sticking out of his jacket.  He later told me he was 50 years old, he looked much younger.  I asked him if he would accept my $10.  He hesitated and then agreed.  He struggled to come up with an answer when I asked him what he was going to do with my $10.  The alcohol that enveloped each of his words gave me a hint though of where it might go.  I explained that I was not going to judge him on what he chose to do with the money, that it was his and up to him what he wanted to do with it.

We chatted for a while…he spoke of the struggles that he has had and his attempts at staying sober.  “I’m about 50/50,” he said when I asked how his sobriety was.  He said he occasionally goes to AA meetings, but admitted that there had been times he had got himself some eggnog before the meetings.  Eggnog!  What?!  The last thing I would think of that a guy who wanted to get his alcohol fix for the day would want is eggnog!  I laughed…and he assured me that the eggnog was good.  He told me that he was probably going to buy some eggnog with the money.  Oh well.

I explained what I was doing.  He smiled at one moment and said, “maybe some of your readers want a shoe shine!”  Please visit Knox at the corner of 21st and P if you need a good shoe shine or want to know anything about eggnog.

I had to get going.  Before I left, I took a picture of Knox in front of his shoe shine stool and wished him well.  I told him to stay healthy and he said he would try…and warned me of the dangers of eating chocolate bars and “peanut chews.”

UPDATE: February 23, 2011

I caught up with Knox in 2011 – click here to read the update with him and see how he is doing.

Back in 2010, at the midway point of my yearlong journey of giving away $10 a day to strangers while I was unemployed, I named June 15th the Worldwide Day of Giving. It’s a day I encourage others to try what I did day in and day out for my Year of Giving: give a stranger ten bucks! Now, I later broadened the scope of the day to include making a $10 donation to a nonprofit or volunteering for part of the day. Some people just aren’t comfortable going up to strangers and giving them money – much less taking a little time to get to know them.

William Jeffrey's Tavern. Photo: arlnow.com

William Jeffrey’s Tavern. Photo: arlnow.com

Well today I found myself over off of Columbia Pike in Arlington. I was having lunch with my friend Patricia. You may remember Patricia was the rock star who put my year-end celebration together on December 14th, 2010. It was an amazing night where I brought as many of the $10 recipients and followers of the blog together to celebrate the 365 day journey. Everything that night ran so smoothly thanks to Patricia who managed all the logistics.

So…back to the sunny sidewalks of Arlington. Patricia and I walked up to William Jeffrey’s Tavern for lunch. On the way up there, we passed an adorable young boy out playing in front of his house. The scene took me back to my own childhood and I was jealous of his day of playing with Transformers on the cool shaded front steps of what I assumed was his home.

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Patricia, Alfonso, his son Aaron and me.

After lunch we walked up to the Columbia Pike Blues Festival. When we got there we ran into Alfonso Lopez, a charming and charismatic 42-year-old who I learn is running for reelection as the Representative of the 49th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. We chat a bit and I shared with him that today was the Worldwide Day of Giving and explained a bit about the Year of Giving. “You’re THAT guy?” he blurted out. “I totally remember your story!” He then grabs the attention of the other half-dozen people who were nearby working the Democrat tent at the fair, “Hey guys, this is the guy who was unemployed and went around every day giving strangers ten dollars, remember him?” I wish I had a photograph of his colleagues and the quizzical looks that came over them. It was as if Alfonso had just spoke to them in Klingon. One guy looked down a bit and murmured sheepishly something like he was sorry that he didn’t know what he was talking about. The others, frozen in the confusion, kind of shrugged and then went back to their conversations. It’s no big deal…I don’t expect people to have heard of my project. But it is fun when they do!

At about this time his son Aaron shows up. It was the same youngster I had seen earlier that day playing. Something just seemed right at that moment and I handed Alfonso my ten spot for the day. “I’ll put five toward my campaign and give the other five to the democratic party of Virginia to help other delegates,” he said. I thought it was pretty cool that he wanted part of the money to go to help someone other than himself.

Alfonso was in high demand at the event. A constituent had stopped by to speak to him about an issue and I didn’t want to take more of his time. He gave me a firm handshake and shot me a smile and thanked me again. “Move to my district,” he said half kidding but half serious as we walked away. Let me tell you, if I moved to Virgina I’d be honored to have Alfonso represent me. Good luck in the election this fall!

If you also participated in the Worldwide Day of Giving today – go to the Facebook Page and share your story.

My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

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Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

Dale B.

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The cast of A Year of Giving: Patrick Miller, Devon DuPay, Reed Sandridge, Steve Langley. Photo: Timothy Sharpe

It was the fifth and final night of A Year of Giving at the 2012 Fringe Festival. We sold out the day before and had several people trying to get tickets at the door – unfortunately they were turned away.

The performance went very well. I was really happy to that my friend Anthony from Day 67 was in the audience! That being said, the evening was a bit sad in that the show was coming to an end. A lot of hard work, time, energy and heart went into bringing this production to the stage and I am very thankful for all of those who were a part of that.

On this final evening, I gave my $10 to a woman seated near the back of the audience. I picked her because she kept looking straight ahead when I went into the audience…you know the type that is saying, “Please don’t pick me.” I actually like to choose them! Well, instead of me telling you how it happened, I am going to let Dale S. Brown, my $10 recipient that evening, tell you through her words that she so kindly sent to me via email. Here you go.

Continue Reading »

Jeff M.

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Jeff displaying his $10 after the show. And yes, I know. My camera phone sucks. Photo: Reed Sandridge

So last Sunday we did a matinée show. It went really well and we had a good crowd for a Sunday afternoon. Celia Wren from the Washington Post was there and did a very nice review on A Year of Giving – check it out!

So at the show…I gave my $10 away to Jeff M. He’s a program analyst with the government – he told me which Continue Reading »

Josh N.

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A Year of Giving cast: Patrick Miller, Devon DuPay, Reed Sandridge, Steve Langley. Photo courtesy of Tim Sharpe

Friday night was a great show! We sold all but 5 or 6 tickets. It was the first show I did without forgetting some portion of the play…thankfully the way the play was created it makes it quite easy to go on if you forget something without letting the audience know.

As I had done the previous two shows, I gave my daily $10 to an audience member. I handed it to a tall guy (ok, a lot of people seem tall compared to me!) seated on the left side of the audience. He told me his name was Josh.

Normally after the show I find the $10 recipient and take a few minutes to grab a photo and ask a few questions – just as I did every day during my year-long journey in 2010. Unfortunately this one got away!

Well, I looked at the ticket list and found someone named Josh and Googled him, found someone in DC with his name and I sent him a tweet hoping that he was in fact the same Josh who was at my show.

Josh plays softball in DC’s Capital Alumni Network league. Photo courtesy of Joshua Novikoff

It was, and as it turns out, he is a critic for DCist and was reviewing our show! Oh no. I hope the fact that I gave him $10 didn’t make him feel like he couldn’t do a fair review…I mean after all it is just $10 and I had no idea who he was.

Yesterday, his review was published. “A Year of Giving is among the best shows I’ve ever seen at the Capital Fringe Festival,” he said. Wow…what a compliment!

Today I traded some emails with Josh to find out a little bit about him and what he planned to do with my ten spot! Josh, who moved her from Brooklyn, NY, has settled in Columbia Heights. He’s a busy guy. In addition to being a contributor for DCist, he works on environmental policy issues. And when he is not hard at work, you might find him playing softball or football, checking out some authentic Asian cuisine at Eden Center in Fall’s Church, or making some final arrangements for his wedding this fall. Congratulations Josh!

As for the $10, Josh said he plans on giving it to, “someone on the street that seems like they need it, like someone who is homeless but is not panhandling.” Hopefully he will leave a comment here and share how it goes once he has passed it on.

Also in attendance this evening were two other friends of the Year of Giving: Brad D. from Day 101 and Robert E. from Day 225. Both their stories are woven into the stage version of the project. Thanks for coming out to support the show! Oh, and as always, Knox, from Day 1, was outside shinning shoes!

Only one show left and based on current ticket sales, it should sell out, so get your tickets in advance.

Sabrina S.

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Reed handing Sabrina $10 during Tuesday night’s performance of A Year of Giving.

So my unsuspecting $10 recipient on Tuesday night was Sabrina S. from Washington, DC. I picked her out of the crowd – about 5 rows deep. She was seated next to a woman who I later found out to be her mother, Patty.

Trained as an attorney, she told me that she only uses her legal prowess for good. She’s worked for a variety of international agencies and been stationed in places where most of us would think twice about accepting a post; Iraq for example. “I might be headed to Kabul later this year,” she said in the same tone as you might expect someone heading off to the beach for a long weekend.

“It’s like an early birthday gift she said,” referring that her birthday was the following day. “I’m not sure how I am going to use the $10, but I will promise you this, whatever I do with it it will get leveraged to do even more good.” – something she said she learned while working for USAID.

We snapped a photo and said our goodbyes. Happy birthday Sabrina.

Three remaining shows….

Friday July 20 7:00pm

Sunday July 22 3:00pm

Saturday July 28 6:00pm

Click here for ticket information

Also check out the reviews the show has received so far…

5/5 stars - “A Year of Giving is an extraordinary story and it makes for an extraordinary play.” – DC Metro Theatre Arts

4/5 stars - “A Year of Giving is a play you can’t not like or at least appreciate for its warm-hearted intention…This is the kind of show Oprah would love.”
-DC Theater Scene

“REAL.HONEST.TO.GOD.HUMAN.EMOTIONS.” – BrightestYoungThings.com

Last night was the opening night of A Year of Giving - the theatrical version of my year-long journey of giving $10 away every day to strangers while unemployed back in 2010.

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Holger D. (left) was my $10 recipient on July 14th. Photo: Dave Levin

The nearly sold out show was a culmination of a lot of hard work. Melanie Papasian provided us with a terrific script. Pat Miller of Rockville Little Theatre produced the show and got the very talented Sasha Brätt to direct the production. We had some serious setbacks in the last two weeks….losing two actors to injuries (not related to the show…there’s no circus moves or acrobatics in the in the play – it is part of the Fringe Festival so you never know!), but we managed to combine those two roles into one and find the amazing Devon DuPay who took on the daunting challenge of learning the entire piece in one week. You would never believe that she hadn’t seen the script before last week! In addition to her, Pat Miller and Steve Langley were phenomenal.

Miller shines as he portrays DC Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger who I gave my $10 to on Day 225. Langley did an amazing job portraying Ivory, a Street Sense vendor who I met on Day 49. He also portrays Knox, my first $10 recipient, who by total coincidence was shinning shoes outside the theatre – a special treat for the audience and Langley who portrays Knox in the show.

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The real Knox (left) from Day 1 poses for a photo with Steve Langley who portrays Knox in A Year of Giving. Photo: Reed Sandridge

For me, seeing Knox outside was amazing. I’ve seen him a few times since our first encounter on December 15, 2010, but to run into him on the day that the show opened, that made my day! I’ve invited him to be my guest at any of the forthcoming shows….but it seems theatre is not his thing. He says he may try to show up and shine shoes outside the theatre though to make a few extra bucks.

The other highlight was giving my $10 away to an audience member. Yep, you come see the show and you might just get ten bucks! Holger, originally from Germany, helps develop environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions with the goal of improving the quality of life of city dwellers.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the $10 – but promised to follow up with me once he decided.

Four more shows to go! If you’d like to attend you can purchase tickets for the following days:

Jul 17th 9:00 PM
Jul 20th 7:00 PM
Jul 22nd 3:00 PM
Jul 28th 6:00 PM

All shows are at the Goethe Institut – a block from the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro stop.

For more information on the show, visit our Facebook Page.

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