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Archive for January, 2010

Do you believe in Karma?  I do.  I think that I have always been a generous person, however, since I have started the Year of Giving I have noticed more people being generous toward me.  Are people really more generous, or am I merely paying more attention?  Impossible to know, however, today was an excellent example of kindness coming back to me.

My brother is getting married February 13th.  He and his fiancée asked that I marry them.  By the way, I am not a minister, nor have I ever performed a wedding.  So I am venturing into uncharted territory.

In order to perform a wedding in the District of Columbia, there are a series of hoops that you must jump through.  First you must be ordained.  The Universal Life Church Monastery is an organization that has more liberal requirements to become ordained for the purposes of performing ceremonies.  So, I got ordained.

Then I gathered all the information that DC requires and went down to the Superior Court of DC only to be told that I was missing a copy of the founding documents for the ULC.  I told them that the ULC didn’t provide such information, and they replied, “That is not true.  We receive applications all the time from the ULC and the other applications have the founding documents attached.” So, I said, “well, if you already have copies of the founding documents, then why do you need me to provide you a copy?”  The women smiled and said that that was irrelevant.  Bureaucracy!  She said a simpler way was to find another ordained individual from the ULC who could endorse me.  The problem is that I don’t know anyone, much less someone in DC, who is ordained by the ULC.

The office courthouse was open for another hour, so I called the ULC and asked them to fax over the documentation.  They agreed, but I didn’t think they would get there in time.  Just about this time, another guy in the lobby said he overheard my conversation and told me that he was also ordained through the ULC and was going through the same process.  He introduces himself to me as Mac.  He didn’t need all the paperwork that I did, because he got endorsed.    Mac thought that I might be able to use some of his documentation.  Lucky for me, he is a little further along in the process (he arrived at 1pm, I arrived at 3:45pm).  Then the light bulb went off.  Once he is registered, he could then endorse me!  We were just minutes away in theory to them finalizing his process.  I say “in theory” because there is a lot of walking back and forth to other offices and statements like, “that’s up to the judge to decide.” 

While Mac goes up to talk to one of the clerks, I found myself talking to Mac’s two friends that are with him: Cyndi and Vanessa.  Cyndi flew in from Chicago to surprise Vanessa for her birthday on Saturday (Happy birthday Vanessa!)  Vanessa is the person that Mac is going to marry in the Spring.  All three met in high school in Oklahoma.  Phew, I feel like a family tree might be helpful here.  Anyway, we were talking about how good things were happening to me and I told them about my Year of Giving.

I decided to give Cyndi my $10 for the day.  The 29-year-old tells me that she is an accountant in the Windy City.  So I am thinking that she must have a good grasp on numbers and money.  I asked her what she was going to do with the $10 and she said that she was either going to give it to a homeless woman and her son who she sees every day near her office or buy some cocktails.  A smile comes across her face as she realizes how much her two answers are polar opposites.  After the day they have had at the DC court, I am leaning in the direction of the cocktails.  She says she will circle back with me and let me know what she ends up doing with it.

About this time Mac finds his way back over to the dozen chairs that sit along the perimeter of the room.  He says that he is now legally able to perform wedding ceremonies in DC.  Rather than me wait for my paperwork, since Mac is now “official” he is able to endorse my application.  This was a tremendous help to me.  Despite having spent most of his afternoon at the courthouse, he graciously agrees to remain there a little while longer to help me out.  We are finally called up to the clerk’s desk and she asks him to raise his right hand and swear that the information that he has supplied is true to the best of his knowledge.  He does so and she says he is free to go.  He leaves a dollar on the desk to pay for the notary fee.  I tell him to keep it, but he insists.  Mac, I owe you…more than a dollar.  Let me buy you a drink when you are back in DC (Mac lives in NYC).

I got most of the process done that day.  I just have to go back on Monday and stand before the judge and then I am told that the process should be complete.  If anyone has any good advice for me about performing the wedding ceremony, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

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I ran several errands on Day 45.  I ended up near the World Bank then hiked over to Franklin Square, where I found Ryan Z. on Day 42.  On my way over, I passed a lunch stand on the corner of 15th and K Street.  There was a line 25 people deep.  I peered into the stand and I saw a lone man deftly making burritos for the hungry crowd.  This place must be good, I thought.  I continued on another block to my next appointment.  I finished my meeting around 2pm and then crossed Franklin Square to get some paperwork from a friend of my brother’s fiancée.  I picked up the paperwork and then started heading back home.

John hard at work at his burrito stand

It was probably 2:30 and I spotted the lunch stand and thought that I ought to check out the place.  The line no longer there, the “burrito man” was packing up.  I walked up to John and asked him if he would participate in the Year of Giving.  He was very busy and agreed on the condition that I am quick.  I gave him the $10 and got his name and asked a question or two about his burrito stand, Pedro and Vinny’s.  He has been doing this for about 10 years he tells me. 

Although in a hurry, he takes time to tell me about the all- vegan bean product, the fresh ingredients, and that he doesn’t use any lard in his preparation.  He proudly tells me that his Mango Habanero sauce is now commercially available.  Although I had already had lunch, my stomach is screaming at me for a burrito! 

I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 and instead of replying he darted out of from behind his stand and looked around.  He explained that he was looking for one of the homeless guys who tend to hang out near his stand so that he could give the money to them.  I liked his immediate reaction to help someone else out.  He went on to say that he gives away 3 or 4 meals a day to those in need.  That’s awesome!  Good for you John.

“How’s business?” I ask John.  He smiles and says that last year was his best year ever!  On an average day he sells about 150 burritos.  On a good day he sells over 200.  At an average of $5-6 per burrito, his customers appreciate a good product at a reasonable price during these challenging economic times.  You do the math, and it sounds like John is doing ok too.  In fact, his daughter Kristin is opening up her own stand this spring.    

I am interested to taste a burrito.  I will go back and get one some day.  I can almost guarantee you that the food is good though.  You don’t get a line like he had on a cold day if you don’t have something tasty!  

Pedro and Vinny's Menu

I know that John is in a hurry.  He gives me a business card and agrees to follow up with me via email if I have any other questions.  I will definitely update you when I go and get my burrito!  By the way, I was curious as to why he choose “Pedro and Vinny’s” for the name…I have followed up with John via email and will let you know when I write my review of his burrito.

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First of all, today we reached some milestones.  Over 3,000 unique visitors to the site and over 6,000 hits.  The site is growing much faster than I thought it would…that is great…hopefully people are inspired to do something kind to others during their day.

John (right) and I visit a few days after I gave him my $10

I met up with John from day 40 today.  On Day 44 I ran into John from Day 40.  He was not the jovial South Carolina native that I met on Saturday.  He explained that his brother died on Sunday due to complications related to his diabetes.  He had refused to take his medications for an extended period of time and passed away as a result.  His sadness quickly dissolved into anger though as he told me about an upcoming court appearance. 

He explained that he had served 17 years in prison for murder.  I could hardly believe that this gentle giant could have killed another human being.  “It was self defense” he explained.  I didn’t have my notebook with me so I am relying on my recollection.  He said that one day in 1980 he and his father had gone to a store at the intersection of 14th and T in NW, DC.  His father, an off duty police officer, was shot in the head outside of the store.  Upon hearing the gunfire, he explained that he excited the store, removed his father’s revolver and shot and killed the man. 

As much as I want to believe everything that John has told me, I hope that some of this is not true.  I can not begin to imagine what it would be like to struggle with so much tragic personal loss.  He told me on Day 40 that he had lost two children and his wife as well.

I gave John a dollar from my pocket and walked to do some errands.  I told him I would be back by in a while, as I had to walk back the other way to get home.  He asked me to stop by on my way back, that he had a favor to ask of me. 

When I reached John on my way back, he greeted me with the familiar smile.  He asked if I had some more money so that he could get a shirt for his brother’s funeral.  I only had $11 on me…$10 of which I needed to give away to someone else.  I gave him another dollar and went on my way. 

Then I had to find a recipient for Day 44.  Would you believe I had a hard time?  I first went to a couple who were sitting on the sidewalk around 24th and M Street.  Both of them had a crazed look in their eyes.  I sensed I was dealing with some people who were on a significant amount of drugs.  I proceeded cautiously.  I explained what I was doing and asked if they would accept my $10.  They were so confused and paranoid that they declined.  I went on my way and asked a young lady named Liddy who was walking her dog.  She was nice, but said she didn’t feel worthy.  So I was off again.

I walked another 6-7 blocks.  I came across some potential people, but there was never the right moment to go up to someone and ask them. 

I found a woman who was walking next to me and I thought, what the heck, nothing else has worked I am just going to start asking everyone.

Sara initially refused as well.  When I explained that if she refused I would have to find someone else, I think I guilted her into it.  The 28-year-old Chicago native now lives in DC and is a landscape architect for the US Green Building Council.  Her position is an internship and she is actively seeking employment for a full-time position as a landscape architect.  I might have a connection or two for her, but if anyone out there knows of something, please post here.

Sara was on her way to watch the State of the Union Address.  I asked her what grade she would give President Obama after his first year, and she said an A-.  I hope she reads this and will tell us her perspective on his speech.

Sara said that she was a bit undecided on what she was going to do with my $10.  She was either going to use it to buy some food to take to her State of the Union party or try to donate it at Miriam’s Kitchen.  She is scheduled to volunteer there soon.  If you are not familiar with Miriam’s…you should check it out, they are an important organization for the poor and homeless communities in DC.  She said she would let me know for sure what she did with it later.  I hope she is better than Mark from Day 29…he never got back to me!

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I added a new element to the Year of Giving.  You will see a new tab that says “Lend A Hand.”  This is place where I will post things that could help the YoG recipients.  So if someone is looking for a job or a contact in a certain field, you will have the opportunity to directly help them.  Or maybe you want to help someone like Cleo from Day 41 who needs a new music stand which probably costs under $30.  You can leave a comment there about how you can help.  Be generous!
I went to my Tuesday networking group of professionals who are looking for new careers.  I really enjoy going to these sessions.  The cadre that we have assembled is dynamic and often offers thought provoking suggestions and ideas.  On top of the feedback I have gotten from the group, I have had several leads this week for work…so that is good.

Chilly day to be working outside

On my way home from my meeting, I saw a woman sitting by herself on a bench working on a laptop.  That was kind of crazy.  The bank clock/weather display showed that it was 46 degrees Fahrenheit.  So not freezing, but not exactly comfortable to sit outside and leisurely surf the net. 

I walked up to Danielle as she was typing away on her Apple laptop.  I asked her what she was doing there and she explained that she didn’t have wi-fi in her apartment yet so she was sitting there using the wi-fi she was picking up.  I told her that there was a Cosi close by that had free heat and wi-fi.  She smirked and grabbed a brown paper bag with a Cosi logo that appeared as if it contained a salad and showed to me.  “I went there.  Their wi-fi is down” she said.  

Danielle told me she had a Masters in Government Affairs.  I asked her where she worked and she gave me that face like, “hey, I’ve told you enough!”  She said she worked for “the government.”  You know what that means.  Spy.  Just kidding. 

I asked her what she was going to do with the money and she said she was going to go over to the CVS and give the $10 to the guy who stands outside opening the door for customers.  I knew who she was talking about.  I had even thought of giving him my $10 one day…but hadn’t yet. 

I was very sensitive to the fact that Danielle was probably working and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time.  I say that, but then again, what was she doing sitting on a bench at Dupont Circle.  Shouldn’t she have been at her “government” job office.  Ok, definitely a spy. 

We exchanged emails and said goodbye.  She said she would check out the blog and leave a comment on how she felt about the experience.

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I have some good news today.  I wrote WordPress and asked them if they would be so kind as to gift me an upgrade so that I would be able to post my videos here instead of forcing people to go to Facebook, and they said absolutely!  WordPress rocks!  Thank you.  So, soon you will have video on here too!

Franklin Square, Washington, DC

Yesterday I was walking near Franklin Square in downtown DC.  It’s a nice park to sit and take in a warm, sun-drenched day like we had yesterday.  

It was ironic to me at first that it is called Franklin Square since the only statue in the park is of John Barry and not of Benjamin Franklin.  Not that Barry is not worthy of it, history portrays him as an honorable Naval Office in the Continental Navy (he might have been the first official officer).  But if the park is called Franklin Square you expect to see something about Benjamin Franklin.  Well, after a little poking around I learned that the park is named after the founding father because of the building that is across the street, the Franklin School.  

Continental Navy Officer, John Barry

The roof of the Franklin School is the location where Alexander Graham Bell sent his first “photophone” transmission (sound transmitted by light waves) in 1880.  Now it seems unused.  It used to be a homeless shelter up until late 2008, but now I don’t believe it is being used for anything.

As I left the park, I saw a young guy crossing the street holding an artist’s large sketch portfolio.  I thought he would make an interesting recipient.  Maybe I would find a real, live starving artist.

Art Institute student, Ryan Z.

Ryan stops to talk to me.  His longish hair protruding some from his hat.  The 18-year-old seemed a bit confused about my mission, but readily agreed to participate.  He lives in Arlington right now and attends the Art Institute in Rosslyn where he studies graphic design.  What he really wants to do is design items for the music industry.  So, merchandising, cd covers, etc.  The Erie, PA native says he plays guitar and would enjoy playing in a band here in DC. 

I asked him what he would do with my $10 and he gave me back the most common response I get: eat.  I don’t think he was truly a starving artist, but it seemed that my $10 would definitely help him out.

So if anyone knows of any good connections or advice for Ryan to help him out in his graphic design pursuits or to get him hooked up with a band, please comment here.

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As of today I have given a total of $410 of my savings to 41 people that I didn’t know.  More importantly, I have met 41 people and learned their story.  I can still say that it has been worth every dollar.  Also, I have “met” so many of you through the blog…people from all over the world.  To date almost every state in the US and 30+ countries visited the Year of Giving.  I have enjoyed interacting with all of you.  I have also received a lot of great suggestions about things I should do with my project.  Here are some of your ideas/suggestions:

  • Write a book
  • Have a celebration at the end of the year for the recipients and blog readers
  • Accept donations from others and use that money to give additional $10 each day or to extend the Year of Giving
  • Write to Oprah and tell her what I am doing
  • Start my own nonprofit
  • Get an airline or travel agency to sponsor travel for me to all 50 states during the Year of Giving and give $10 to someone in each state
  • Incorporate twitter into the site (done)
  • Add video blogs to the website (I just found out that this is a premium feature.  I have asked WordPress to sponsor this capability for me in the spirit of my project.  For now you can see my videos on the Year of Giving’s Facebook page)
  • Have guest bloggers
  • Organize a “day of giving” where everyone who is following online will be encouraged to give $10 on that specific day and then write in on the blog about their experience

The list goes on.  I love to receive your suggestions.  I am already in the planning stage of some of the suggestions, others are more complex and I have to see how I would go about doing them.  What do you think?  What ideas do you like?  What other ideas do you have?  Let me know if you can help make any of these ideas turn into reality.

On Day 41 I found myself in Chinatown in DC.  I was walking along the street near the Verizon Center and found Cleo playing the trumpet.  The 50-year-old native of the DC stood playing his heart out with his back to the street and his trumpet case open on the sidewalk.  The case was peppered with coins.  As we talk he answers all of my questions in a melodic verse.  I will try to get some video up on Facebook so that you can see for yourself what an amazing man Cleo is.

He has been playing trumpet since the age of 8.  Born and raised in DC, he grew up playing in the school band and later in a drum and bugle corps.  He has been busking for some 20 years.

I ask him what he is going to do with the $10 and he said he was going to use it to buy some valve oil for his trumpet.  He said he also needed to collect $25 right to get a good music stand; his old one broke.

He said that you can find him at Gallery Place when there are games at the Verizon Center (I found him at 7th and G, right next to Clydes).  He also plays in Adams Morgan at night from time to time…he laughed and shook his head and said that Adams Morgan was a wild and crazy place!

I asked him if he had a practice of doing things for others and he sang back something to me like, “I might find someone….and buy them a hamburger….”

Cleo is the real deal.  I think it might be impossible to speak with him and not smile.  He is a must see if you catch Wizards, Capitals, or Hoyas game!  

If anyone wants to help Cleo or any of the other recipients, let me know and I can try to make arrangements.

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I found myself in the picturesque neighborhood of Georgetown.  As I walked along M Street, I notice a man on the corner of M and Wisconsin sitting in front of the Banana Republic store.  

I cross the street and make my way to where he is sitting.  John has on a pink foam hat that says Vintage Virginia (I have been to this wine festival and was not impressed), a heavy wool blanket wrapped around him and a mini disco ball on a chain that hangs from his neck.  I stopped to talk to the 52-year-old homeless man and walked away with a smile on my face.

A clever phrase, a warm smile, or just a wave seems to work for John as he is successful in getting the attention of those who walk past him.  His kindness and free-flowing smile seem to almost warm the crisp winter air.  

John has been homeless for about 5 years he explained.  His life took a dramatic turn after he lost his wife and child in an auto accident.  He also said that he lost his other son due to heart failure at the age of 17 while playing basketball.  Too much personal tragedy for one person.

Now, he has become somewhat of a regular at this intersection I found out from a neighborhood local.  I asked John about his hat and disco ball.  He said they were gifts and he has worn them for over a year and that people remember him by his crazy pink hat.  That may be partly true, but I will remember him not for his hat, but for how friendly and optimistic he was despite his situation.

On top of being homeless, John suffers from heart disease and is an insulin dependent diabetic.  He recently lived through a difficult situation when he was denied benefits to get his insulin.  He doesn’t appear angry though.  He seemed to just take everything in stride.  We chatted for a while about all kinds of things; from his health stories to a meeting he had with Mayor Adrian Fenty to his fondness for really tall women!  Hey, if there are any 6’ or taller women out there who want to meet a really nice man, let me know and I will hook you up with John!

I asked South Carolina native about the hat.  He says that everyone knows him now by the pink hat.  He has other hats too.  A turkey hat for Thanksgiving, a complete Santa Outfit for Christmas, a red, white, and blue hat for the 4th of July, etc.  He doesn’t have an Easter Bunny hat, so if anyone has one that they would like to give to him, let me know! 

I asked John what he was going to do with the $10 and he replied with a big smile that revealed some missing teeth that he would get himself a big vegetable dinner.  He was very thankful of my donation.  I asked him how much he collects on  a good day and he said about $30-$40.  I think he might have lowballed me on this, as I saw at least $5 make its way to his bucket while I was standing there and a few more as I jotted down some notes from across the street after I spoke to him.  I bet a good day for him is at least double what he stated.  He explained that people do a lot of nice things for him and I asked him what has been the best “gift” so far.  “Conversation,” he said without hesitation.  I was touched by this.  A man who desperately needs financial resources valued the conversation of others much more than the money that they were giving him.

If you are in Georgetown, keep an eye out for the pink hat and stop and say hello to John.  It will be worth your time, trust me.

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I got a little behind in my posts and I will try to catch up.  Day 39 was my birthday.  It was a rather calm and peaceful day.  I had the opening of the play that I am in, The Foreigner

After lunch I was walking down Connecticut Avenue and got cornered by some folks trying to get people to donate to C.A.R.E.  I patiently listened to “Sandra” talk about the importance of donating, especially now given the crisis in Haiti.  In fact she says she is from Haiti…well, her parents are from Haiti and she studied some in High School there.  I asked how her family was and she said that everyone that she knew was thankfully ok. 

I let her finish her pitch and then threw my curveball.  I explained to her the Year of Giving and told her that I would like to give my $10 to her, and then she could do anything she wanted to with the money.     

Sandra is not her real name, but she was very concerned that her name might get on the Internet…so we agreed to use this pseudonym.  She goes on to explain that she was born in Canada and moved to DC about 18 months ago.  “I didn’t do much for a little more than a year, then I got this job about two months ago” she explained. 

Since the 27-year-old interacts with the public every day about so many important causes I was interested in some of her experiences, however, she said that nothing really stood out.  I couldn’t believe it…how could you spend two months interacting every day with the public and not have a list of stories.  I have been doing my Year of Giving for 39 days and when I get asked what interesting experiences I have had, I can hardly wait to tell people about Anthony, Kevin, Jenny, Gilles, David, etc… the list goes on.  I pressed her a little more and she did recall seeing Robin Williams on the streets of Georgetown recently.  No, she didn’t ask him to donate if you were wondering.

I circled back around to the $10 and asked her what she planned to do with it.  I was wondering if she would donate it to C.A.R.E. since she was so passionate about me contributing to the organization.  She said she didn’t want to do anything with it today.  She was just going to put it in her pocket and think about it.  Later, she said she would use it to buy lunch one day next week. 

A parking enforcement officer walks by and she recalls that earlier that day she had given a man 50 cents to put in his meter and he said to her, “Thank you.  Something great is going to you today!”  She looks at me and says, “He was right!”

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So today is my birthday!  I am 36 today.  No big plans…since opening night of my play is tonight.

Yesterday was another busy day filled with last minute errands for the play, resolving unemployment issues, job searching and interviewing, updating the Year of Giving, etc. 

I found myself again close to midnight and still holding on to my $10.

I dropped off a friend from the theatre and then decided to head over to the area around 14th and U Street and find someone.  I had NPR on my radio hoping to hear some more of a report that I heard earlier in the day by Laura Sullivan  on our prison systems.  I really like her journalistic style.  When you hear one of her reports you feel like you are there with her.  Maybe I can get her to check out my blog and give me some tips on writing :)

It was raining and I thought I would find a place indoors to give away the $10.  I found myself in front of Bus Boys and Poets, a hip urban joint that I have frequented a few times.  It was open and there was a parking space out front. 

The place is pretty cool.  It is part book store, part coffee-house, part restaurant, part bar, part… meeting place.  I think the poet for which it is named, Langston Hughes, would be proud of the place.  My eyes scanned the bar and saw two young women working on a computer together, a female bartender wiping down the liquor bottles, and a guy who looked like he could line up against the Steelers’ James Harrison and hold his own.  Hmm…I could easily go chat with the girls, but I am more intrigued by the linebacker-like individual.  I mean what’s the worse that could happen?  He could crush me with his forearm?

Allen turns out to be a soft-spoken guy.  He does love his football though.  He stammers a little as he tells me that he is a Redskins fan.  There is that look that a sports fan gives you when they open up and tell you that they love a losing team.  You have to respect that.  That doesn’t happen much in other areas.  I mean you never find someone saying, “I love that mutual fund that is losing me lots of money” or “Even though Dr. Wilson has killed many of his patients, I still love’em!”  Sports is different.  A fan is a fan is a fan, it doesn’t matter what their record is, they are still going to show up and cheer them on.

The 22-year-old from Montgomery County, MD was in DC to film a band.  You can see some of his video work on YouTube searching for abseven4.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he said he was going to put it toward gasoline.  Allen will be using quite a bit of gas as he plans to go back to college.  He has about two years left to finish a Sports Management degree at Bowie State University.

Allen dropped out of school a couple years ago but after struggling for a couple years he realized he really wanted to go back to school and get his degree.  He may be starting as soon as Monday, but that depends largely on the financial aid he hopes to receive.  If he doesn’t have everything he needs, then he will have to wait until the fall semester most likely.  I hope he finishes his degree.  It will be an amazing gift for him.

I chat a little more with Allen and realize that I need to get home and get to bed.  When I walked in the door, I discovered my place was cleaned up and there was birthday gift from Daniela waiting on the counter.  Thank you!  That was so nice.

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I had a great day today.  I was so busy that I ended up not giving away my $10 until the very last minute, literally.  I got home from my theatre rehearsal at 11:35 and walked up near the Metro to see if I could find a recipient.  I asked a woman who I passed on the way, but she said, “I think I am going to keep walking.”

I spotted three people who looked a little lost just outside the Metro entrance.  I asked them if they needed help…they said they thought they were ok, but were a little turned around.  The trio said that they were headed to the Carlyle Suites Hotel – I had no idea where that was so I wouldn’t have been much help anyway. 

Since I was chatting with them and they seemed friendly, I thought I would ask them if one of them would like to participate in the Year of Giving.  The two men and one woman talked internally a little and said they were up for it if I was willing to walk and talk. 

The two men graciously said that their female colleague should be the recipient.  Suzanna, a young sophisticated woman from Oakland, is a web graphic designer for the company where the three work. Who knows, maybe she could help me develop a better website for the Year of Giving.  She also says that she is a jazz singer…although apparently for now the IT job will have to pay the bills.

I asked her how she was going to spend the money and she said that she had been thinking about that since I gave her the money.  “I am going to buy a knish in NYC.  How many knishes can I get for $10?”  Her two colleagues determine that she can probably buy three for $10.  “So, I will buy three knishes in New York.  One for me, one for my friend, and one for someone on the street.”  I thought that was a cool that she planned to use part of the money to do something nice for someone that she didn’t know. 

Although Suzanna was weary of giving me her email address, she promised to take a photo of the Yiddish dumplings and send it to me.  I hope she makes good on her promise.  It would be nice to post it here. 

We were getting close to their hotel and I asked her what her reaction was when I approached them with my project.  Suzanna first said, “Well, I wasn’t too skeptical because you seemed normal.”  Phew, someone thinks I am normal.  Yes!  That however quickly turned into, “Actually, I wasn’t really worried, I mean, I was pretty sure that I could take you.”  What?!  Do I look that meager and weak?  That doesn’t bode well for how convincing I will be as a villain in the play that I am performing in. 

Well, we got to the hotel and I was surprised that I didn’t know it, it is not too far from my condo.  I asked them what they thought of it.  Suzanna and her boss both said that it was very nice.  The other gentleman seemed a bit bitter.  It turns out that he got screwed on his room. (I bet he is not getting one of those knishes in NYC either!)  But all in all they said it was a decent place.  They quoted a price of roughly $120/night which is an excellent rate, so might be an option for those of you who travel to DC.

I shook their hands…said goodbye and was on my way home.  I checked my phone and saw that the time was 12:02 am, so I made it just in time!

Let’s hope Suzzana is a woman of her word and follows up!

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I have been so impressed with how many people I know who have opened up their wallets and hearts to help those in Haiti.  Maybe it is because technology has made it easier for us to make contributions, maybe it is because many of us remember our own times of need and how much it means when someone offers to help.  Regardless of the reason, I am impressed.  I have also seen the generous side of many people after they have learned about the Year of Giving.  Thanks to all of you who have offered me support and encouragement.

Today I struck out three times before finding a willing recipient of my $10.  I first approached a city worker.  There is an area of DC called the Golden Triangle.  That district has workers dawned in bright yellow vests whose job it is to help people find where they are going and keep the area clean and safe.  I doubt they get paid very well and they offer a great service.  The first person I approached said he was not able to accept money while he was working.  So, I went on my way and saw a Latino man leaving a bank with a chef’s outfit on.  I approached him and he seemed very skeptical of my intentions.  He said he was working and could not talk to me.  I gave him my card and kept on walking.  Then I saw another Golden Triangle employee and thought I would see if I got the same answer as his colleague.  Sure enough, he toted the company line.

Three refusals…wow.  One more and I will have a new single day record.  I walked by a man sitting on a park bench next to a guitar case.  Bill was dressed all in black and sporting dark sunglasses.  He looked cool and relaxed as he enjoyed his coffee on this warmer than average Tuesday.  I sat down next to him and explained what I was doing.  He smiled easily and said he really liked my project. 

Bill playing a few songs at Dupont Circle

Bill has been playing guitar for 45 years.  He tells me that he has played and worked with all kinds of people in all kinds of places.  From street corners to now mega-star Alicia Keys.  Yep, Bill did some work for Alicia Keys when she was a young teenager.  He says he likes any kind of music, “from the 50’s to Smashing Pumpkins.”  He credits the Ink Spots, the Platters, and all of Motown as influencing factors.

In recent years, Bill has not been so fortunate.  Playing some gigs here and there and getting some extra cash on the street.  He entertains the public in front of the Starbucks at Dupont Circle and the North and South Dupont Metro entrances.  On a good day he says he brings in over $100.  On a bad day $15. 

If you want to check out some of Bill’s music, you can find him on MySpace.  The site is outdated and doesn’t look like it has been updated in a few years.  I asked Bill if he had family and he mentioned 7 brothers and sisters.  On the MySpace page you will also find what looks to be a blog post by Bill in 2007 asking for help finding his two children that he apparently has lost touch with.  Sad.  He is such a nice guy.

So I asked Bill what he was going to do with the money and he said it would go to food and utilities.  I get the feeling he is not paying rent right now and tries to give as much as possible to his roommate, a fellow musician. 

Bill pulled his guitar out and tuned it.  His fingertips tell the whole story; the hardened skin from years of sliding his fingers up and down the guitar.  He plays a couple tunes and even breaks into some vocals as well.  It would have been a beautifully serene moment had it not been for a certifiably crazy man screaming on the next bench over.

Before I left I asked Bill what his all-time favorite song was…Moonlight Serenade.  For those who live/work/play near Dupont Circle, keep an eye out for Bill and say hello.

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This morning I went down to the Washington Post’s office to volunteer with Greater DC CARES to prepare food for Martha’s Table, an organization that helps at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in the community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities.  I was part of a team of youth and adults from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  I used to work for the Alliance, a terrific organization started by the American Heart Association and former President Clinton’s Foundation.

We spent the morning working as a team to do several service projects.  Our group prepared over 2,000 sandwiches to be handed out by McKenna’s Wagon.  The youth that were part of our team were part of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Board, 25 amazing kids from across the country who inspire their peers to make healthy behavior changes and to become leaders and advocates for healthy eating and physical activity.  They quickly figured out good systems that allowed them to work more productively as a team.  Despite some minor help from us adults trying minimize the amount of jelly on the carpet, they pretty much handled it all.  What an amazing group of young people.  Thanks to my friend Kim for inviting me to be a part of this special day.

In addition to the food we prepared, the other teams participating produced 600 burn kits, 1,000 first aid kits for search and rescue teams, 500 basic toiletry kits for the homeless, and hundreds of cards and letters to be sent to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Great work by everyone!

While I was volunteering I heard about a wonderful woman named Gwen who drove the bus for the Alliance’s group.  As we left the building, I found Gwen and asked her if she would accept my $10!  Her face lit up and she gladly accepted.  The 54-year-old has a face that glows with energy.  I don’t think I saw her not smiling the whole time.  Born near the RFK stadium, she now lives in Largo, MD with her mother.  She has a 32-year-old son who works for Metro and four grandchildren.  

Me giving Gwen $10. Check out the video of this on the YoG Facebook Page. Photo Credit: John Wilson

My friend Daniel told me that yesterday he had asked Gwen if she knew where they could get some food.  She didn’t hesitate and opened her bag and offered a pear that she had brought for herself.  What a nice person to offer up her own food to someone else.

So I asked Gwen what she was going to do with the $10.  “I am going to put gas in my car!” she quickly replied.

Almost everyone had loaded up on the bus at this point and I didn’t want to hold the group up, so I quickly said goodbye and headed back home to write about the experience.   I am planning to go to the Embassy of Haiti at 5pm tonight for a candlelight vigil.  If you are in the DC area and would like to attend, go to 2311 Massachusetts. Ave., N.W. or check out the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee’s page on Facebook.

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Day 34 – Aminta

Today was one of those days that I waited until the end of the day to give away my $10.  I got home from my theatre rehearsal and headed out around 10:15pm to find someone.

I saw many people, but didn’t feel compelled to give anyone the money.  I don’t know why.  I am often asked to explain how I pick people.  There is really no secret formula.  It is more spontaneous than thought-out.  Some people think that I only look for homeless individuals.  That is not the case.  In fact, I think it is just as interesting to learn what someone who makes a six-figure salary is going to do with the money as it is someone who is homeless.  Granted, I feel better about giving the money when I know that it gets used for something that has value to someone else. 

Tonight I found Aminta sitting alone on a bench at a bus stop waiting for the D6 bus.  She was eating a slice of pizza from a big slice pizza joint.  I felt bad interrupting her, but I figured if she had time to eat a slice of pizza she probably had time to chat with me for a few minutes.  I explained what I was doing to the 27-year-old and she accepted my $10.  Usually the people I approach, especially late at night, appear a bit nervous or uncomfortable but she was very calm and relaxed. 

Originally from Puerto Rico, Aminta works at Target and has been in DC for about three months.  Her mother, who was living here in DC, got the swine flu and she moved her to take care of her.  In a weird twist of events, she arrived here on her two-year wedding anniversary and ended up separating from her husband on precisely that day.  “We are still great friends,” she told me.

I asked her what she planned to do with the $10.  She said, “I am going to save it for one year and then we can get together and figure out what to do with it then.”  Interesting answer.  I scribble my John Hancock on the bill and date it in some attempt to mark the bill as the one that I gave her. 

I see the D6 pulling up and tell her that I think her bus has arrived.  She gathers her things, accidentally dropping her to go box of pizza on the ground.  Thankfully, the pizza stayed inside the box.  We shook hands and went our separate ways into the night.

It would be interesting to meet up with the recipients at the end of the year.  Maybe we can throw a little party or something?  Would be interesting to see who would come.  Perhaps some people who have followed the blog would come as well as some recipients.  I will keep that idea in mind.

By the way, I have not forgotten about Mark from Day 29!  I am going to follow up with him tonight to see what he has decided to do with the $10.

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I was on my way to help construct the stage for the theatre production that I will be performing in starting January 22nd.  [For those of you in the DC area, come see the Foreigner at Rockville Little Theatre.  Details can be found here!] 

I was heading up to Rockville, MD on Georgia Avenue where you turn off to Veirs Mill Road and saw a woman standing on the median with a sign that said, “Not homeless yet.”  I made a u-turn and parked at a Baptist church, crossed to the median and went to speak with her.

As I walked up to her, she crossed her arms in an “X” shape and said, “Oh no!” as if she was trying to keep me away from her.  What the heck?  This has never happened.  Was I wearing my Montgomery County Police Department hat?  I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Your shirt….you a Redskins fan?”  I was wearing a Washington Redskins shirt.  It was then I noticed her Dallas Cowboys hat.  Oh lord…my second Cowboys fan here in DC that I have encountered in my Year of Giving.  I explain that I am actually a Steelers fan and we form a truce.

Dana, a 47-year-old single woman living in Maryland, says she is at the Georgia Ave. / Veirs Mill Rd. location almost every day from 9am to at least noon.  She claims to have hit financial turbulence two years ago when her mother passed away and left her with a house that still owed more than $60,000.  She says that she was unable to make the mortgage payments and the house entered into foreclosure.  She offers to show me the foreclosure papers that she has in her bag, but I didn’t think that was necessary. 

She says she is looking for work.  “I will scrub floors, clean toilets, whatever!” she says.  She gets by with the money she collects at this intersection now.  A Wonder® Bread truck rolls past and she hollers out, “Hi honey!”  She goes on to say, “Sometimes the driver gives me some leftover bread and pastries.”

This got me thinking.  I asked her what was the best thing she had received from someone driving by.  Her answer intrigued me.  Instead of saying a dollar amount or some material good, she said that the most valuable thing that she had received was encouragement from those that speak with her. 

She says she will use the $10 for food. 

Dana is very likeable.  She has been hardened considerably by her life experiences, but that doesn’t keep her down.  She is very positive and optimistic and smiles often; revealing that she has almost no teeth left.  We chat for a few more minutes as cars wiz by us on both sides.  She probably notices my slight fear of standing only 3 feet away on both sides from cars traveling 40 miles an hour.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her with her sign.  She agrees, but the camera on my phone doesn’t work.  I told her I would try to see her some day next week.  I thanked her for her time, wished her good luck, and said goodbye.

If anyone would like to reach Dana or help her, please let me know.

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So today my brother Ryan invited me to go with him to see the Washington Capitals hockey match against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The game was a lot of fun.  The Caps won easily 6-1.  Even though I was happy to see the Caps win, I felt sorry for the Maple Leafs’ goalie, Vesa Toskala.  He is from Finland and I have a soft spot for Finns having worked for a Finnish company for 7 years and seeing how passionate they are about their hockey.

After the game, Ryan and I walked toward Metro Center and passed a guy who had several buckets set up as a drum set.  He was jamming pretty good.  I thought, I ought to give this man my $10! 

Garland keeping the beat in front of the National Portrait Gallery

His name is Garland although many people know him as the “DC Street Drummer.” He is 33 and actually lives in Baltimore, not DC.  Garland and I chatted for a while.  He told me that he had been drumming on buckets since he was 13.  He comes down to DC because street musicians do not need a license here and you can make a decent amount of money according to him.  “Here at Gallery Place, I make about $100 a night, but over in Georgetown on 19th & M I can bring in $150 easily.” Not bad for doing a little drumming on equipment that he says cost him about $20.

An interesting tidbit is that while we were waiting to talk with Garland we saw a young drunk guy dancing in front of the drummer trying to impress some girls.  He threw a dollar in the drummer’s bucket and continued to dance.  Then he pulled his phone or something out of his pocket and we saw some money fall to the ground.  My brother and I both tried several times to tell the whacked-out dancer that he had dropped some money, but in his highly inebriated state he motioned for us to go away and stop bothering him.  After he left, my brother picked up the money that had fallen and discovered almost $50 in cash.  He put it in the Garland’s bucket.

Garland has one large industrial size trash can and then an array of buckets.  All are on top of those orange-colored pylons that police use.  He uses sawed off mop handles for drum sticks.  The rudimentary set up doesn’t hold him back as he methodically keeps the beat for those who are passing by.

Garland said that he doesn’t drink or do any drugs.  You would think that he was on something given the tremendous amount of energy he has.  He proudly tells me about a movie opportunity that he might have and some other gigs that he has been offered.  He talks about all the kind people that visit him every day.  It’s clear that he has carved a niche for himself here in DC.  If you would like to see him, you can check him out here.  If you want to see him live, keep an eye out (or maybe your ear open) for him around: Georgetown (19th/M), Downtown (9th/Constitution), Dupont Circle (South Metro entrance), and Gallery Place (in front of the National Portrait Gallery.)  Garland gave me his contact details if anyone would like to contact him for work or to do a story on him.

He says that he will use the $10 to pay for food for him, his wife, and two-year-old son.  I note this in my small black notebook and start to wrap up the conversation.  I see my brother talking to one of Garland’s friends, Gary.  I try to eavesdrop on what they are talking about all awhile listening to Garland.  I am not successful.  I can’t understand either of them.  So I decide to finish up and thank Garland.

By the way…I enjoy street drumming.  I think my favorite street drummers are Jermaine Carter (Boston), some street drummers from Chicago (don’t know their name, but there are like 4 or 5 of them that play together outside the baseball stadiums and around some of the L stations, and the Brazilian carnival drummers.  There’s something about the way Jermaine Carter contorts his mouth when he plays that is reminiscent of Sammy Davis Jr.

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The end of my first month.  I have invested $310 to date in random acts of kindness.  It has been worth every penny!

Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC

I decided to go to the Haitian Embassy to see if there was something I could do to help in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.  I arrived at the embassy to see it blanketed in camera crews and news trucks.  There was a small candle memorial in front of the embassy as well.  Apart from the news personnel, I did not see many people outside.  I saw two gentlemen walking toward the embassy and I thought I would offer them my $10.

Gilles’ mind was clearly elsewhere and I sensed that he has suffered greatly from this earthquake.  Despite this, he kindly responded to me, “You can give me money, but any money you give me is going to go directly to the efforts to help those in Haiti.”  He invited me into the embassy and said he would be with me in a minute.  I figured he worked for the embassy at this point, but I later found out that he was from Philadelphia and worked for Church & Dwight, the company that makes Arm & Hammer and several other household and personal care products.  

I waited in the lobby of the embassy for Gilles for a few minutes.  There were about 20 in the lobby.  Some looked almost lifeless, paralyzed by the tragedy and loss of this week’s earthquake.  Others were bustling around trying to resolve a myriad of questions.

Gilles appeared and explained to me that he was born and raised in Port au Prince and had left his homeland five years ago to move to Philadelphia, PA.  He had driven down from the city of brotherly love to try to get his passport in order so that he could fly to Port au Prince to help in the relief efforts.  His plan was to get a satellite phone and then help the people of Haiti get in contact with their friends and families.  “Communication is limited there right now.” He paused and continued, “There are lots of deaths.” I asked him about his family and he said he was able to contact his family to find out if everyone was ok.  I heard a tremor in his voice and saw him holding back a tidal wave of emotion.  There was a split second where I had to decide whether I push on and ask about his family or avoid the potentially painful subject.  I gathered the courage and tried to respectfully push further.

“I lost my mother,” he said.

Gilles didn’t cry, but the tears were flowing inside him.  I found it hard to swallow and really wanted to just give him a hug.  I understood that she died at home when their building collapsed.  He says the rest of his immediate family appears to be ok.

Where do I go from here?  There are so many things I want to ask him, but I also know

Earthquake devastation in Haiti

 that he has much more important things to be doing now.  I asked him how readers of my blog could help.  “They need food, water, and medicine,” he told me.  They really need on the ground volunteers he explains.  He says he will introduce me to someone from the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee who can give me more details on how you can help.    

But first he says, “Come with me and we are going to donate the $10 right now.”  We walk to a desk with a woman speaking on the phone.  When she hangs up, she explains that she can not accept cash.  Gilles holds the $10 out in front of him and says, “You keep it man.  Find another way to donate.” I encouraged him to hold on to the money and put it to good use while he was in Haiti.  He agreed.  I gave him a hug and said I was sorry about his mother and wished him good luck.  I wish I would have asked for his email address so that I could follow up with him later.  It was such an emotional moment that I simply forgot.  Maybe someone reading this blog can help me find him.  I did some searches but haven’t had any luck so far.

I later spoke to Fermin from the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Group.  He said the best place for information on how to help can be found at their Facebook page.  Type “Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee” in the search field and it should come up.  There they give this information about donations:

Make checks payable to “GWHRC” and mail to:
Greater Washington Haitian Relief Committee
Embassy of Haiti
2311 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007

Needless to say it was a very powerful scene to witness first hand. I gave my name and contact details to them and offered to help in any way possible.  I even offered to go to Haiti one month from now to help in reconstruction efforts.  Hopefully I can help in some way.

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Today was a busy day!

I had an informative meeting with a friend of a friend on how to effectively incorporate twitter into my Year of Giving.  Look for this being added to the site soon.  Then I had a meeting with World Neighbors, a very impressive international development organization whose focus is to eliminate hunger, poverty, and disease in the poorest, most isolated rural villages in the developing world.  I urge you to check out their website and support their fantastic work.  Then I met up with Jenny from Day 13 to follow up on her thoughts about being a recipient of the Year of Giving and

Jenny from Day 13 in front of Kramerbooks where I met her

how her job search is going.  As you might remember, several YoG blog readers commented on suggestions for her to find work in the international public health sector.  Thanks to all that helped!  I should have a short video posted on Facebook soon where Jenny talks about her reaction to the Year of Giving as well as her own altruistic pledge!

Finally I went to the Embassy of Haiti to volunteer my time and resources to any efforts that they may have.  As I approached the embassy I was greeted by news trucks and a small memorial of candles and paintings.  Inside the embassy there was a very uncomfortable vibe.  Somber yet frantic if you can imagine.   The hustle and bustle of people was occasionally broken up by tears and desperation.  While I was there, I gave away my $10 to Gilles, a Haitian-American who lost his mother in the earthquake.  It was a very moving experience.  I will give a full report on Gilles tomorrow. 

I have been so busy, that I have not updated the blog on yesterday’s recipient…so here goes.

On day 30 I found Kenneth selling Street Sense at the Dupont Circle Metro entrance.  I bought a paper for $1.00 from the 43-year-old and asked if I could talk to him about a project I was doing.  He agreed and grabbed his personal items and suggested we have a seat nearby on a bench.  Kenneth is cheerful and full of energy. 

Kenneth selling Street Sense at the Dupont Circle Metro entrance

Before I finish telling you about my gift to Kenneth, let me say a few more words about Street Sense.  Street Sense is a great paper produced twice a month that is mostly run and written by those who are homeless or below the poverty level in DC.  You might recall David from Day 5 who was also selling Street Sense.  I have seen the Street Sense sales people for years, but never bought the paper.  Since I bought my first copy from David, I have really become a fan.  The paper is short and can be read in one sitting.  The stories are great and really give you insight into the DC homeless and poverty issues.  Sixty-five cents goes to the vendor and thirty-five cents goes to the paper.  The next time you see a sales person, stop, say hello, and buy an issue.  It’s a dollar!  These people are making an honest buck and the paper is great.  Here’s a little bit of trivia too.  Check out their vendor ID number and you can tell how long they have been at Street Sense.  They go sequentially from when they started so you might meet someone who has been there since the early days back in 2003 when it was started if they have a number under 20 for example.

Back to Kenneth.  He shared with me that he suffered from various conditions (bipolar, schizoaffective, and post traumatic stress) and as a result was living in a community residence facility (CRF), which is like an assisted living situation.  Although he said he wished that he could live on his own, I sensed that he understood that living in the CRF would help him get the most out of life.  

He enjoys selling the paper.  On good days, he sells his 20 papers within 2-3 hours.  Occasionally he gets the opportunity to mentor young professionals who want to experience what it is like to work for a nonprofit organization – he says he really enjoys that. 

I am mindful that my time with Kenneth is keeping him from selling his papers and wrap up our conversation.  He says he will spend the money on food this week.  I asked him if I could take his picture and he smiled and happily said that was fine.  He quickly went back to work hawking the remaining papers.  I encourage everyone who uses the Dupont Circle Metro to keep and eye out for Kenneth.  He is usually at the corner of 20th and Q.  Say hello, get a paper, and tell him that I sent you!  If you don’t live in the DC area, check to see if your city has a newspaper dedicated to the poor and homeless, lots of urban areas have them!

One final note, I heard back from Zazzle.com about sponsoring business cards for the Year of Giving.  They were delighted to help and will be shipping me 500 cards shortly!  THANK YOU!!!  Check out there site.  They have an interesting business model and do all kinds of other personalized items (clothes, mugs, etc.).

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Well, still no news from the DC Unemployment Office, I will have to give them a call tomorrow.

Today’s give turned out to be a new experience.  I must admit that I kind of like when things do not go as planned as long as it doesn’t involve me getting mugged or pooped on by a bird.

My day started out quite interesting.  I had a variety of phone calls in the morning related to potential work opportunities and connected with a few old colleagues.  Then on my way to my Tuesday networking group, I saw Ron from Day 24 outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill.  I was on my cell phone and quickly shouted hello and hoped to speak to him when I came out.  I met my friend Levi for lunch and thought I would take Ron something, but when I walked outside he was gone.  That is the first time I have seen a past recipient again.  But that wasn’t the only first of the day.

So later, I hopped into a coffee bar to get warm and attempt to give my $10 away.  I walked up to a man sitting by himself working on the exact same (or very similar) laptop that I have, a Lenovo X60.  By the way, it is a very small portable laptop if anyone is looking for something like that.

Anyway, it looked like Mark was entrenched in some spreadsheets.  The 51-year-old economist made a slightly wry face when I asked him if he could help me with my project.  I ensured it would only take a few minutes and he said alright as long as it didn’t take too long as he needed to finish some work.  I explained what I was doing and handed over one of the cards with the web address on it.  He seemed taken aback a bit when I asked him to accept my $10.  He left it sitting on the table in between us as if he still hadn’t completely made up his mind if he was going to take it.  In fact at one point he said, “You can have your $10 back.”  I explained that if he didn’t want to accept it, then I would have to find someone else.  So the money stayed on the table.

I commented on the convenience of him being able to work comfortably from the coffee bar.  We swapped some ideas on technology and he smiled as he remembered a story.  About 20 years ago Mark had told a boss of his that, “One day, I will be able to do my work from the top of a mountain!”  Little did he know how much the Internet would change our lives and how correct his statement would prove to be. 

Well, here is where Mark threw me a curve ball.  When I asked him what he intended on using the money for, he took a long pause and then peered back at me from behind his rectangular spectacles and said, “I don’t know yet.  Could I get back to you on that?”

Nobody has asked me for time to think about it…sure some people take a minute or two to think about it but nobody has wanted to sleep on it.  At first I didn’t know what to say.  A “condition” for receiving the money up until now has been that people had to tell me what they were going to use it for.  He had my email and said he would let me know when he had thought it through (another great benefit of technology).  The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.  Here was someone who really wanted to think about it.  He wanted to make the right choice.  He didn’t want to just give me any old answer, but he wanted to give it proper consideration and then decide.  Well, I said sure.  I got his email as well, just in case Mark loses my card or forgets, I will hunt him down :).

I would love to hear Mark’s version of our encounter.  What was going through his head?  And I look forward to finding out what he plans to do with it.  I will update you when I hear from him, or maybe Mark will post something directly here in the comments.

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Well, just when I thought I had resolved the problems with my unemployment situation, I found another hurdle.  You might recall I went in person a few weeks ago and met with the facility manager at the Rhode Island Ave. location, Ms. Bonham.  When I logged into the website to check to see if my payments had been processed I saw that it had the same error as before.  I called Ms. Bonham and she remembered me right away and said she would try to resolve this once and for all.  Despite the headaches I have had getting this to work, the people at the unemployment office have been extremely friendly and professional.

I am fortunate to have a small savings that can carry me over until I find new employment.  I have a college degree, solid professional experience, car, internet access, phone, etc.  I am sure that many people who are filing for unemployment do not have these things.  What would they do if they went three months without being able to get a resolution from the unemployment office?  How would they logistically or financially get themselves to the unemployment office?  Would they be able to access all the forms that they refer to online?  Ok, I will be quiet now.

So yesterday I got home from my theatre rehearsal around 11pm.  I still needed to give away my $10 so I went out to quickly find someone before midnight.  I found Larry sitting against a bank on a busy street.  As I approached him he asked if I could spare some change.  I asked him if $10 would help and he replied, “Hell yeah!” I kneeled down beside him and gave the 54-year-old lifelong resident of DC a crisp $10 bill.  He looked at it almost as if he was checking to see if it was counterfeit and then it disappeared into his coat.

Larry has been homeless in DC for more than 10 years.  He used to be a food and beverage supervisor at the Hyatt Regency.  When he lost his job he said that things just snowballed and he ended up on the streets.  Now he spends his days and evenings panhandling.  Larry laughs easily and grins revealing that half of his upper teeth are missing.  His eyes are glassy and the alcohol on his breath smells almost medicinal.  He says his eyes are really bad.  He needs prescriptive lenses and has cataracts.  His parents have passed away, but he has three siblings, a sister with whom he has contact, another sister that he has lost contact with and a brother that he is not in touch with since he was hospitalized for mental illness.  Needless to say, Larry has a handful of issues.

He is not shy to ask me questions.  Larry investigates why I am doing the Year of Giving, what others have done with the money, etc.  He says that he will spend the $10 to get some food this week.

I stood for a second to stretch my legs.  It was uncomfortable talking to him while standing though so I returned to my squatting position.  How do baseball catchers do it…my knees are killing me.  Our conversation sailed back and forth jumping all over the map.  He proudly told me that he met Dr. Martin Luther King when he was 9 years old when the great leader was giving a speech at a DC school.  He later goes on to ask what I was going to do on Martin Luther King Day.  Interesting that he asked, as my friend Kim just invited me to participate in a day of service preparing food next Monday for Martha’s Table, an organization that helps at-risk children, youth, families, and individuals in the community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and other support.  We will be preparing food for them.  Thanks for including me Kim!

I started to cough and am reminded that I need to get indoors and get some rest.  I have been battling a cold for some time.  I wish Larry well, shake his hand, and head home.

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Day 27 – Brittany

I have almost completed my first month.  The time has really flown by.  I have already met so many new people and learned a great deal.  Not just about the individuals with whom I come in contact, but also about myself.  For example I have learned that I enjoy writing.  I guess that is a good thing since I have 338 days left!  Every day I am excited about the giving adventure that I will have.  No two days are the same, no two experiences are the same.  Somebody told me last week that this project will certainly change my life forever.  I think he was right.

I was in McLean, VA  this morning when I met Brittany.  The 25-year-old from Baltimore is a dental hygienist.  She stops what she is doing and asks me to repeat what the Year of Giving is all about.  I take a breath and restart my 30 second elevator speech.  I have probably explained this a hundred times by now, so I try to focus and deliver it more succinctly.  You have to connect with the person quickly or you run the risk of losing their attention and getting a quick response of, “uh, I’m not really interested.  Thanks.”

Brittany says that she really likes my idea and agrees to accept my $10.  

She tucks the bill away with a warm smile.  Brittany says that she will put the money toward paying some bills.  Times have been tough and she has found herself picking up some odd jobs to help make ends meet.  She hopes to one day be able to open her own spa.  I think you could make an argument that someone like Brittany who wants to have her own spa has an inner drive to make others feel good about themselves.  Your customers come there because they want to feel or look better.  Those who work there get a sort of satisfaction knowing that they have helped their customers look and feel better.  I definitely can relate to this.  I don’t know if I look better since I have started the Year of Giving, but I certainly feel better.

Brittany said she had to get going.  We exchanged thank-yous and went our separate ways.

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Day 26 – Christine

On Saturday night I found myself out in Chinatown in DC with my brother and several friends.  

Fado's Irish Pub

I had not given my $10 away yet and it was getting close to midnight, so I thought I better find someone quick.  Inside Fado’s Irish Pub, I spotted Christine who was talking to some of our friends and I found myself inserted in some random conversation.  I decided to see if the 25-year-old would be open to receiving my $10.  You might laugh when I say that, but often people say that they don’t want to receive it.  They think there is some sort of catch or it is all part of some sort of scam.

Originally from Maryland, she now lives in DC where she keeps a busy schedule.  She teaches chemistry, is enrolled in a doctoral program for physical therapy, and is a massage therapist.  Her long-term goal is to work in the field of neurological rehabilitation.  If all this wasn’t enough, she somehow finds time to practice tai chi chuan.  Suddenly my mind wanders to images of an early morning park setting where a group of people perform precise movements at a painfully slow rate.  She says that tai chi helps provide for a solid base of self-defense as you learn how to put your entire body into your movements thereby creating more power.  Thankfully it turns out that she has never been put into a situation where she had to defend herself, well, except for a fight that she was in in the second grade.

I asked her how she would use the $10.  She said that she was going to put it toward her rent.  She shares an apartment and for some reason her roommate has not been paying his portion.  Although she doesn’t come right out and tell me this, it sounds like she is helping him out financially while he doesn’t have the money.  That is extremely generous of her.

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Yesterday was a pretty busy day.  My father was in town, I had several errands to run, and I had some admin work to do on the blog.

My father came down to go to a Capitals hockey game with my brother on Thursday evening.  So Friday morning we met up around 10:30.  I arrived at Ryan’s house and was presented with a gift.  My birthday is January 22nd, however, my dad gave me my gift early as he thought it could help with the blog.  He got me a Flip Mino HD handheld video camera.  It’s idiot proof and shoots excellent quality from what I have seen so far.  I will try to start adding some video to the blog.

So last night I ended up at the Russia House in DC.  I hadn’t given away my $10 yet and I decided that perhaps I would meet someone interesting there to give to.  I was talking to Mike, DC’s greatest bartender, when I met Kent and Jessica.  The engaged couple have known each other since middle school.

Jessica starts telling me the entire story of their lives, and let me tell you, she didn’t leave out any details.  My goal is to keep this blog PG or PG-13 at the most…so I have had to exercise some editorial privileges.  Best friends since about 12 or 13, they used to dream that they would end up together.  That didn’t happen though when Kent dated one of Jessica’s friends in high school.  But they remained close friends up through the beginning of college when she went to George Mason and he went to James Madison.

That’s when they lost touch.

After college Jessica had spent some time in Puerto Rico (where her mother is from) and Ft. Lauderdale.  Fast forward about 8 years and Jessica decided to search for Kent on Facebook and found him.  Kent proudly informed me, “She found me around noon on a Wednesday.  I bought my ticket to Ft. Lauderdale by 7pm and flew there two days later to see her!”  Kent is the type of guy that you don’t want to dare to do something…I gotta feeling he’s got a healthy amount of craziness in him.

They got engaged and plan to get married later this year. 

So, I ask Kent if he will accept my $10.  Being the gentleman that he is, he said he would have to pass and let his fiancée receive it.  She said she was going to give it to someone else.  The time came for the young couple to leave.  They left the $10 sitting in front of them for Mike the bartender.  That was only the second time I have actually seen a recipient using the $10.  The other time, on Day 8, was when James gave me the money back!

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This one is a long one… go get yourself a cup of tea.   

I met up with some former work colleagues today.  It’s great to reconnect and hear how things are going for them.  On my way home, I came across a heavily bearded gentlemen sporting a hiking style backpack.   

Ron, a 40-year-old California native, says he has been in DC for almost 3 months.  He had hitchhiked his way from Phoenix to DC and hopes to continue on to Massachusetts after brunt of winter passes.   

After a long period of not finding work he found himself on the streets two years ago.  Ron says he is a good skilled laborer and has experience operating various types of equipment.   

Ron holds his $10 citation for possession of an open container of alcohol in public

 

We stood talking in the sub-zero temperatures for nearly 40 minutes.  Ron is easy to talk to and opens up to me very quickly.  He said it’s harder to get work as he gets older.  I told him that 40 wasn’t that old.  He shifted his weight from one side to the other and paused a little before speaking.  “I always want to know, how old do you really want to be? I don’t think I really want to be past 60.  A lot of people say they do, I just don’t.”  This was so sad to hear.  I found myself wishing I had some background in psychology and started to ask him some questions about his upbringing.      

At the age of three, Ron’s natural parents, whose names he does not know, gave him up.  He bounced around five different foster homes throughout his younger years. He does not have a solid relationship with his last foster family.  He even says that he doesn’t truly have a legal last name that he knows of.  He uses the last name of his last foster family; however, he was never legally adopted by them.   

There is a lot of pain deep inside him some place.  I decide to change the subject.   

In DC he supports himself by performing day labor and panhandling.  He usually goes to the Home Depot off Rhode Island Ave. and hopes to get picked up by work crews.  On days he panhandles he brings in about $30 per day.  “DC is tough,” he tells me as he mentions cities where one can receive a lot more money panhandling.  Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are much better according to Ron.  He says that a $100 day is not uncommon in Las Vegas, although he explains that panhandling on the strip is prohibited.   

Although Ron is living on the streets, he is a part owner of a house in California.  He and some of his foster brothers went in together on a house years ago, however, right now given the housing market lull, he doesn’t believe he will see any of that money for some years.  Although he doesn’t have a roof over his head, Ron is not bitter about his situation.  He points out that he often sleeps very comfortably in a little covered area just off of Dupont Circle.  As he describes the place, I realize he is describing the place where I found Ayalew.  I start to describe him to Ron and he immediately confirms that it is my friend from Day 20.   

So what is Ron going to do with my $10?  “I’ll probably get a little bit of food and maybe do some laundry,” he replies.  Then he changes his mind as he recalls that it is supposed to snow later in the evening.  He avoids laundry before snow/rain storms that end up getting him wet and dirty.  He then says, he might spend part of it on some alcohol.   

Despite Ron being extremely lucid, there was the distinct scent of alcohol on his breath.  He admits that he has an alcohol addiction and says that he was drinking earlier in the day.  In fact, he goes on to share that his drinking that afternoon resulted in him receiving a citation for having an open container of alcohol in public.  He unfolds the citation and shares it with me.  Would you believe how much the fine was for?  $10!  I said, “Hey, now you have money to pay the fine.”  He smiles and says that he fully intends on paying the fine because if he fails to do so and gets a subsequent ticket he potentially could be arrested.   

His entire encounter with the police department was quite interesting.  They asked him for ID and he showed them his DC ID card.  He showed me as well.  On the ID is a clean-shaven version of Ron.  His address is listed at 309 E Street.  “Is that where you live?” I asked.  He explained it was a Day Center where he sometimes goes.  “What should I put on the card?” he fired back.  “Bench next to Fountain, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC?”  He went on to explain that the confrontation with the police department went on for more than an hour.  Two additional units were called in for back-up since they could not find his name in the system.  He offered to leave the area many times, but they insisted on giving him a ticket.  He felt that this was unfair based on the fact that on New Year’s Eve he said there were some youths that were setting off illegal fireworks at Dupont Circle and the police came and didn’t even write them a citation.  “I wasn’t doing anyone any harm, those fireworks could have actually hurt someone.”   

Ron had been very generous with his time and I felt that I should let him get on his way.  I had one last question for him.  “What would you like the general public to know about people who are in your situation?”  He thought for a while and said that he hoped that people would understand that many people get to be homeless.  Many more, he goes on to say, are 1-2 pay checks away from being homeless.  As I was getting ready to leave he reminded me of the Day Center at 309 E Street where he says I will see first hand some of the struggles people are having.  “Take a body-guard though, it’s pretty rough there.”  Hmmm, I will have to think about that.  He also mentions  that he goes to Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization that offers homemade meals and high-quality support services to more than 4,000 homeless men and women each year.  I checked them out and they seem to be a good operation.  I asked him if he had ever received meals from S.O.M.E.?  He said he had in the past.  I brought it up because I have volunteered there and also started a corporate social responsibility program for a former employer that involved donating our time at S.O.M.E.   

I put my notebook away and asked if I could take a picture of Ron.  He said sure, and I got a picture of him holing his $10 police citation!  I couldn’t hold back my grin from the serendipitous timing of me giving him $10.

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Today I had a job interview.  I think it went well.  You never know though.  I met with some really talented people, so hopefully I measure up.

Before I forget, thanks to all the Facebook users who have visited the Year of Giving.  Also, for those of you who have not became a “fan”, check out the Facebook page.   Take a look, I will be putting up some video there which I have not been able to add so far to my blog.  Also, become a fan…who knows who will see that you have become a fan and be inspired to incorporate more giving into their life.

On my way home from the interview, I saw a Parking Enforcement Officer walking along one of DC’s downtown streets.  I knew immediately that I had to give my $10 to him.  I walked up to the 23-year-old who was typing away on his handheld parking enforcement device.  Stephén wins the prize for the recipient who was best prepared for winter weather.  The DC native had on some serious winter gear.  He had a total of about 5 square inches of skin exposed, that’s it.  Perhaps that helps keep his identity hidden as well in case somebody gets really angry with a ticket he writes!  Anyway, I was intrigued to speak to someone with a job that puts them in a high degree of direct contact with the public…and often the interaction is not civil. 

With an average of 50 tickets written each day, Stephén says that every day is an adventure.  He has been doing this for over a year and says that he loves it.  Even upset vehicle owners don’t deter him.  “If someone is wrong, then they’re wrong.  It’s that simple.” He understands people get upset, but, he wishes they would understand that he is only doing his job of enforcing the rules.  If you break the rules, then you get a ticket he says.  Despite plenty of irate confrontations, he says nobody has physically threatened him.  I would not have been surprised to hear that he had been assaulted.  People can go a little wacko. 

So what is Stephén going to do with his $10.  He said he would buy some lunch with it.  He thanked me for calling him a parking enforcement officer and not a “meter maid.”  “You’re probably the first person I have come into contact with on the street who has got that correct.”  He is a likeable guy.  The only thing I could possibly fault him with is his love for the Dallas Cowboys!  I can’t believe we have a lifelong DC resident that is a Dallas Cowboys fan.  Unbelievable!  “There’s more Cowboys fans here in DC than Redskins fans,” he said.  Given the ‘Skins performance this year, he might be right.

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Today’s giving experience will not disappoint.  I promise.

 On Tuesday’s I meet with a group of recently laid off professionals.  We openly discuss our career situation and try to leverage one another’s experience, ideas, and contacts to help one another out.  I left our meeting around 4pm and ran some errands.  On my way home I saw two women in front of a Starbucks asking passersby for a few minutes of their time.  This was interesting because lately it has been me asking strangers to stop and talk to me.

Interested and excited to see how this goes from the other side of the table, I stop and meet Theresa.  She is a 24-year-old Maryland transplant from Wisconsin.  It is bitter cold out and she says that her Wisconsin heritage prepared her well for just such a day.

She explains to me that she is working for Save the Children, an “independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world,” according to their website.  She typically works nine-hour days, 5 of which are spent directly engaging with potential donors.  With an educational background in International Studies and a one year stint with AmeriCorps, she is well poised to be working in this field.

In only 22 days I have had some interesting encounters.  So I figured with her experience engaging citizens face to face to help the organizations that she has worked for, she probably has had some experiences that stand out.  She recalls one day that she was working for Amnesty International and asked a woman to become a donor.  The woman explained that she was a survivor of the Darfur genocide and in a witness protection program and therefore could not divulge her name or be put on any type of mailing list (personally, if I was on such a list, I think rule number one would be not to divulge that to anyone).  Another time she met one of the lost boys of Sudan who had actually been a recipient of Save the Children aid when he was a child.  He received soup and vitamin supplements from the organization.  He was a student when Theresa met him and not able to become a monthly donor, but he gave her $10 (sounds like I have a copy cat J).

So, speaking of that $10.  I asked her what she was going to do with the money.  Part of me was curious if someone who pleads with strangers all day, everyday to donate to a cause would give their own money as well to the cause when given the chance.  She didn’t hesitate at all and said she was going to donate it to Save the Children.

Theresa is a very energetic individual with a talent for her field of work.  I think I need to connect Jenny (Day 13) and Theresa somehow.  Theresa said she was going to check in with the blog…so if she does, I will connect the dots.

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Today got off to an interesting start.  Just after midnight this morning, the blog received its 1,000th visitor!  I was sleeping when it happened, but I had a little celebration this morning.  Then when I checked the news this morning, I read that a train had somehow crashed into a Holiday Inn hotel in Helsinki, Finland.  Shivers went down my spine (not just because my apartment was freezing this morning) when I realized I stayed in this very hotel the last time I was in Finland.  Weird.

Early this afternoon I was walking on U Street when I spotted Almena.  Almena is a beautiful 76-year-old woman.  She was braving the cold today as she walked slowly down the North side of U Street, using her cane to help her along.  

I stopped her and asked if she would be able to help me with a project that I was working on.  “Well, I don’t have any money” she gently replied.  I laughed and told her about the irony of what was about to happen.  She gladly accepted my $10.

It was so cold out and Almena’s neck was not well covered by her coat.  I almost recommended that she buy a scarf with the $10 to keep her warm on blustery days like today.  But, I didn’t want to influence her decision of what to spend the money on.  And although she might have been cold, I am telling you that she emanates a personal warmth that is just beautiful.  She thought for a moment and said she would buy some food with it.

Her soft words were orchestrated with a soothing albeit slight accent.  I am not sure from where, but it was the kind of accent that just radiates goodness.  We talked a little and I learned of some of the generous things she does regularly.  Just about then two women passed us on the street and said hello to her.  She lifted her head and shot back a pleasantry.  They lived in the area she said.  I bet Almena is quite the social butterfly. 

I explained to her more about what I was doing and then I said goodbye.  We only spoke for a few minutes, but she seemed like someone who I had known for many years.  I felt like I should have given her a hug when I said goodbye.

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Today was bitter cold and windy.  The temperatures will approach 0 Fahrenheit over night with the wind-chill factor.  I went out around 9pm to look for a recipient of today’s $10.  With the weather so cold, I thought I would look for someone who was spending the night out in the cold.  They could probably use the $10 and I could let them know about the shelters.

From a distance, I saw Peter very methodically laying some blankets down on a wooden bench.  As I got closer, I could see that he was well prepared for the cold.  He had on several layers and I could only see from his eyes to the tip of his nose, the rest was protected from the frigid air.  The eyes, ivory with dark pupils, contrasted against the rich dark skin of his face.  Peter and I talked for a while. 

Originally from Sudan, I wondered how he could manage outside on a night like tonight, but he said he would be fine.  This was his first night he said in the cold, the other nights he had been staying in the shelters but he said people were bothering him there so he decided to sleep outside.  I urged him to consider going to a shelter, but he resisted. 

Peter never fully understood what I was doing.  And I never fully understood why he refused to take my $10, but he did.  We continued to talk and he finally conceded that if he and I were to meet again, then he would accept my $10.  I asked where he was during the day or if he would be back there to sleep again, but didn’t get a solid answer.  I went on my way to look for someone else.  All the while thinking about the conversation I just had.  I will keep my eyes open for Peter in the coming days.  After all, he and I made a promise.

Not far away, I saw someone in a cove-like area off of one of Washington’s many traffic circles.  They appeared to be settling in as well.  They had on so much clothing that I could not tell if it was a man or a woman until I got closer.  When I got about 15 feet away, I saw that there was another person sleeping nearby, completely covered by a gray blanket. 

Ayalew had his back to me, so I approached with caution as to not startle him.  I called out a friendly greeting and he looked over his left shoulder.  He too was very well covered.  His head was almost lost in the three layers of colorful hats and hoods he had on.  The 52-year-old said he has been here in DC for about a year.  He is a gentle man with a warm smile.  His soft words hide behind his beard.  I asked him where he was from originally as I detected an accent and experienced some minor challenges understanding one another.  “I am American”, he said.  I would have guessed he was from the Middle East.  A quick Google of the name Ayalew lead me to believe he is Ethiopian. 

I speak softly so that we don’t disturb the person sleeping a few feet away.  I ask my new friend if he would consider going to a shelter tonight to avoid potential frostbite.  He smiles and says that he is fine.  “I have so much clothes and personal items, that I prefer not to go to the shelter because I can not look after my things” he adds. 

I explain the Year of Giving and ask him if he will accept my $10.  He readily accepts and I hand him over two five dollar bills.  He says he will use the money to buy some breakfast tomorrow morning and some more food later this week. 

I am not quite ready to leave despite the pain I feel in my almost numb fingers.  I am somewhat intrigued by Ayalew.  Our conversation is comfortable, going back and forth like calm ocean waves reaching the shore.  He tells me a little about his family and that several family members, including his mother, are living in Texas and will be coming to DC soon.  He and his family hope to get a job some place in exchange for the rent of a room.  In the mean time, he says he spends most of his time reading and studying. 

As I started to leave, I told him about Adam’s Place, the emergency shelter that I had heard of yesterday.  He smiled, but said nothing.  I shook his hand and wished him a safe and warm night.

My walk home took about 10 minutes.  Despite my multiple layers of clothing, my body was cold and stiff.  I covered my face and picked up the pace.  I am so fortunate for what I have.  I take for granted the roof over my head and the “endless” supply of heat that keeps me warm inside.  When I am hungry, I need only to open the refrigerator or the cupboard and I am greeted by a myriad of delicious options.  Meeting and talking to Peter and Ayalew made me appreciate this.  They gave me something far more valuable than $10.

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If I had to use one word to sum up today, it would be frigid. 

I hopped on the Metro and headed down to Union Station.  David, a journalist from CNN, had asked to meet with me and do a story on the Year of Giving.

It was really cold.  The 45+ mph wind gusts didn’t help either. 

I love Union Station.  For those of you who are not from DC, you should definitely check it out if you come to town.  The 101 year-old building’s 96-foot barrel-vaulted, coffered ceilings are bathed in 22-karat gold leaf.  The beautiful white granite takes you back in time to when Union Station was the largest train station in the world.  With its majestic ceilings and definitive architectural lines, Union Station seems right at home among the many monuments and classic governmental buildings that surround the transportation hub.  

I saw David crossing the main hall toward the enormous Christmas tree (I think they may be calling it a Holiday Tree this year to be politically correct) that looks much smaller than it actually is given the large cavernous space that now serves as its home.  I wonder how long they will leave the tree up, today is January 2nd.

We sit down and David asks me some questions and shoots a little video.  Then I invite him to follow me as I give out my $10 for the day.  He has a very discreet hand-held camera that he fires up and trails behind me.  I urge him to go outside with me, despite the frigid temperature.  We walk outside and the cold stark wind greets my skin with noticeable chill.  We wander away from the historic building like two people inching their way out into the ocean, ever mindful not to get too far from shore.  It isn’t long before we start heading back toward the warmth of Union Station.  I don’t want to surrender just yet though and I decide to walk around to the side of the building where the Metro entrance is located.  About 15 feet away tuck in a corner sat the recipient of Day 19′s $10.

John was sitting on a piece of cardboard with a sign that read, “Help me get a bus ticket to New Orleans” or something to that nature.  He had a plastic cup cradled between his feet with a few dollars inside.  His face was fairly well protected from the cold but he didn’t have any gloves on and I was seriously worried about him.  I walked up to him and asked how he was doing.

He responded in a slow semi-dazed voice that he was ok but that he needed money for a bus ticket to New Orleans.  The 25-year-old said that he recently broke up with his boyfriend in Vermont and was trying to get to New Orleans where his father had a place.  He said he didn’t have enough money for the entire trip, so he made it to DC and now needed to gather some more money for the remainder of the journey.

You want to believe John, but part of me wonders if I am getting the real story.  A woman interrupts us and tells John he should really get in a shelter and that he can go to nearby Adam’s Place, an emergency shelter for single men ages 18 and older run by Catholic Charities.  She shoves a few dollars into his cup and makes a final plea for him to get inside.  I urge him as well.  Today is the kind of day that hypothermia ceases to be something you read about and turns into something that you experience first hand.  He thanks her and also says that he has the Shelter Hotline number with him.  Last night he slept at a shelter but said that it was a terrible experience. 

John accepts my $10 and says he will put it toward the bus ticket to New Orleans.  Part of me wants to help more.  I offer to go with him to Adam’s Place and get him checked in for the night, but he says he will go later.   

Most of my time with John was somber.  I was concerned for his well being.  I feared how he fair should he not get out of these conditions.  Despite his dire straits, he finds it in him to let his mind wander away from reality and tells me how he really enjoys REO Speedwagon, Meatloaf, and the Scorpions.  I smiled and laughed a little.  He is probably the only 25-year-old that I know that is a huge fan of that genre of music.  It reminds me of a friend of mine, John Wilson, who is a huge music enthusiast in his mid twenties.  He could tell you almost anything you wanted to know about music recorded years before he was born.  Then again, my friend JW could talk solidly on just about any topic you could think up.

So I left John.  It was hard to walk away.  I invited David from CNN to come over and introduce himself to John.  I hadn’t told John that I was wearing a microphone and being filmed. I didn’t want to affect the experience.  David asked if he would allow the footage of him to be used in the story about the Year of Giving and he agreed.  It’s an awkward moment because as decent people we want to ask permission prior to the fact, however, in this case asking permission would certainly have changed the way the recipient would have acted.  David’s set-up is really minimalist and goes virtually unnoticed, so he is able to capture the events in a way that helps preserve the genuineness of the experience. 

David and I go inside to talk some more over coffee.  I can’t stop thinking about John and if he is still sitting on the frozen cement.  When we were finished, I walked by the spot where we met John.  He was gone.  I hope he sought out a warmer environment.

For those of you interested in the story that David is doing for CNN.com, I will follow up with some details when they become available…but it will probably be a few weeks.

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01/01/2010.

The first day of a new year.  There are probably so many interesting angles to examine on the first day of the year.  What does this year have in store for us?  Will the economy improve?  Is there peace in the future for Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, etc.?  Will world leaders make climate change a top priority of their administration?  Will Bill Cowher accept a job to return to coaching in the NFL?  (ok, that one is not probably on the minds of so many people, but I personally vote that he come to Washington and coach the Redskins!)

It’s an odd feeling on the first day of a new year.  It’s like the first day of a new job or the first day of high school.  You don’t feel any different, but things are somehow different.  For me, the biggest thing I notice when a year comes and goes is that I keep writing the old year by mistake on forms, checks, etc.  

That awkward feeling could perhaps describe the interaction that I had with today’s recipient.  I got a late start today.  I recovered from my evening of celebration and tried to get my condo cleaned up.  I decided to cook up a tray of lasagna.  I know my friends and family in Central Pennsylvania are probably horrified…there is a strong tradition there of cooking pork and sauerkraut on January 1st to ensure a year of good luck. After enjoying some lasagna and a glass of wine, I decided to head out to give my $10 away before midnight.  

I walked a little ways and came across a Rite Aid pharmacy.  I underestimated how cold it was tonight and was not dressed properly, so I thought that I would find someone inside to give the money to.  As I crossed the street and approached the pharmacy, I thought, I am going to give the $10 to the first person I see when I get inside. 

I didn’t a bit more walk through the door before I saw Melvin carefully studying the shelves in the first aisle.  I walked right up and asked him if he could help me out with a project.  He seemed a bit reluctant and started to try to get rid of me I think.  I quickly countered with, “it will probably only take 2 minutes and you get $10.”

That was all it took…and cash had exchanged hands.

Melvin has lived in DC for five years although he is originally from Honduras.  I asked if he was from Tegucigalpa and he replied that he was from a place about 6 hours from there by car.  I guess it is probably like if I was in Honduras and told someone that I was from the US and them asking if I was from Washington, DC.  Well, I guess that is a bad example since I in fact live here in DC, but anyway, imagine someone else…say from Oconomowoc, WI and them saying that they were from the US.  It would be kind of ridiculous to assume they were from our nation’s capital.

Anyway back to Melvin.  He seemed very nervous.  Perhaps that is a result of my rather hasty approach.  I exchanged a few words in Spanish to see if that might make him more comfortable, but he still seemed a bit on edge.  He said he was going to use the $10 to buy his 2 year-old son a toy.  That seemed to be a thoughtful use of my money and I bet it will make his boy happy.  He seemed eager to end the awkwardness and turned his attention back to his shopping.  I wished him a happy new year, shook his hand, and walked out of the store.

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