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Archive for August, 2010

Those who have followed my blog for a while know that I give to all kinds of people.  Well, today’s post is proof of that.  It was an evening full of interesting characters.

I saw tall lanky African American man wearing a hat, sweatshirt, jacket and suit trousers who was randomly walking up to people and saying things to them and then walking away.  His unpredictable behavior and use of a sweatshirt and jacket in near 90+ degree temperatures peaked my interest.  As I walked up to him I was greeted by him saying, “Did the good old boys send you from Texas or Tennessee?”  I tried to make sense of his question but couldn’t and responded, “My name is Reed and I was wondering if you would like to be part of my project…”  He put his hand on my shoulder, something he most have done twenty or thirty times throughout our conversation, and said, “I bet you don’t know where to find you some Japanese ninjas do you?”  Before I could tell him that he was right about that he continued, “I trust the Japanese more than I trust my own people, and that’s the end of that now.”

A homeless man rests his head on a briefcase on the streets of DC (photo: Reed)

This was the beginning of a 30 minute bizarre conversation that was impossible to follow.  It was like taking a Quentin Tarantino flick, translating into another language and then watching it backwards.  I don’t have any pictures or video of Frederick because he was completely paranoid about his image being captured.  I did however manage to rather stealthily turn on my audio recorder that was in my backpack at one point and captured some of the tirades.  If anyone knows a simple way to upload an audio file on WordPress, let me know, I tried and it only seems to accept video.  I know there are some conversion products, but I have not had good luck with some of them.

Few pieces of Frederick’s discourse were coherent.  He rarely answered my questions, preferring to jump to a completely different subject.  Here are a sample of items that I did manage to comprehend.  He claims to:

- be a direct descendent of our 14th president, Franklin Pierce

- have served in the 18th Military Police Criminal Investigation Division for six years

- have worked for the US Postal Service

- be protected by ninjas

- know about secret German laboratories located through a system of tunnels under NYC

- be homeless and live near the Russian embassy (for security reasons)

Surprisingly I did manage to get a clear answer about what he would do with the $10.  “I’m going to buy lottery tickets.  It’s a tax write-off,” he explains.  Hmmm, not sure I agree with him on the tax write-off, but by this time I was not surprised at all by anything he said.

The rest of my time with Frederick was spent tangentially jumping from subject to subject.  It was difficult to make any sense of it, but I did start writing down topics that he spoke about.  Here is a sample of the items (in order as he mentioned them) that he talked about: Manuel Noriega, Marion Barry, Vietnam war, drugs, race, Philippines, Spanish, Obama, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Christmas cards, South Carolina, Castro, KGB, Charlie Rangel, plagiarism, Mozambique, Florida, Turkestan, Jews and Alexander Pushkin.  On top of all this he fist bumped me at least two dozen times throughout his ramblings.  If you can make a coherent statement weaving all of these items together in that order, please send it to me!

He stopped at one point and I decided this was my time to make an exit.  I thanked him for his time and got my things together.  “So, when are you going to deploy?” he asked.  I assured him that I wasn’t deploying anywhere, shook his hand and went on my way…but my interesting evening wasn’t over yet.  As I said goodbye I heard someone imitating the sound of a cat.  They were meowing really loud.  I spotted a twenty or thirty-something white guy with really unkempt hair slowly making his way along the sidewalk.  He was about 15 feet away from me screaming his lungs out.  People began changing their path just to avoid getting close to him.  If this wasn’t weird enough, another white guy, about sixty years old, ran past both me and the crazy cat man shooting at us with a water gun.  I looked up at the moon, but it wasn’t full.

Nonetheless, it was really late and walking home was probably not a good idea so I found a cab, jumped in the back and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Abraham sits in the background near his flower stand (photo: Reed)

I wandered over to the benches near the Dupont Circle North entrance/exit…hoping to maybe find Johnnie, but he wasn’t there.  Near the benches I saw some guys selling flowers, I walked over and met Abraham and Moses.  Nice guys, but they both refused the $10.  

Larry shows his $10 at the north entrance of Dupont Circle's Metro stop (photo: Reed)

Then I spotted Larry back over on the bench where I had met Johnnie.  I walked over and handed him one of my cards and asked him to be recipient number 244.  After a little discussion he said, “I will accept the $10 but I will not keep it, I will find someone else to give it to who needs it more than I do.”   

Larry, a 55-year-old resident of DC, was enjoying a Starbucks coffee before catching the Metro home.  He has worked in housekeeping at a nearby hotel for the past 17 years.  “It’s a very good place to work,” he says.  But as you can imagine, as someone who goes into guests rooms, he has seen some crazy things over the years.  “I’ve seen grown men fist-fighting.  I have seen rooms completely destroyed.  I’ve probably seen it all.”  

One of twelve children, Larry has grown up in this city.  All twelve of the children and his parents still live here.  He is married and has a daughter.  

Larry was very committed to giving the $10 away.  He tried several times while I was there with him, but was not successful.  Some teenagers walked by and he tried to give it to them but they kept walking.  A father walked by with his child and Larry jumped up to try to give it to them, but they didn’t even stop to talk to Larry…they just kept walking.  Here he explains his rationale about his decision to pass the $10 along to someone else.  

Finally I thought Larry was going to find someone.  He found a student, Mike, who was sitting nearby on a bench.  Mike said that as a student he didn’t have much money himself but that he was sure there were people more deserving than him, so he politely refused.  Larry was struggling and becoming very anxious to give it to someone.  When we parted ways, he said, “Call me tomorrow and I will tell you what happened to the money because I guarantee you that I am going to find someone to give it to today, I ain’t going to keep it.”  

(photo: Reed)

The next day I called Larry and said that he found a guy and took him to Subway and bought him a sandwich.  “I still have $5 left though.”  I am going to give Larry a call this week and meet him for coffee and see if he did something with the other $5.  

By the way, I was able to deliver some clothes and other items to Garrett that Deb from Illinois sent.  You can see the video of him receiving the items here.

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After leaving the Black Cat on Day 242, we got some pizza on U Street and I offered to walk a friend of mine home.  On the way we noticed some bright lights in the CVS parking lot. At first I thought maybe they were filming something. As we got closer we noticed that there were five cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them, some portrait studio type lighting and two color printers.

You can find Carlton every weekend until October at the CVS parking lot near Florida and 7th (photo: Reed)

Carlton was holding a Canon Rebel camera. I asked what was going on and he explained that during the warm months he and his brothers set up in the parking lot there at the CVS and take people’s photos in front of the backdrops. “It’s ten dollars for a picture,” the 31-year-old tells me. I looked at my watch, it was about 12:30am…it’s a new day. Game on! I reached in and grabbed $10 and gave it to Carlton. “I’ll take your guys picture for you if you want,” he offers but I explain that I can’t receive anything in return for the $10.

Carlton’s uncle negotiated a deal with the CVS people to use their parking lot from 11pm to around 3am on the weekends. Then he and his brother’s got a friend named GQ to design all the back drops. There were five backdrops lined up: one that said “Wasted” and had some alcohol bottles on it, another with a Cuervo 1800 bottle, a third with a Mercedes, the fourth one had a Cadillac truck and the last one showed a beach with waves crashing under the moon. “My favorite is one that is not up tonight, but it’s one with two bottles of Moet champagne,” Carlton says.

Carlton at work (photo: Reed)

As we are chatting a group of nine presumably inebriated young people show up to get their picture taken in front of the “Wasted” backdrop. He takes their photo about four times until they are happy with it and then pulls the memory stick out of the camera and slips it into the printer and hits print. About 90 seconds later, their picture was ready.

“We print about 70 pictures a night,” Carlton says. “We got a lot of regulars too.” No sooner did he mention that he had regulars than a guy shows up who must have taken 30 photos of himself. He was wearing sunglasses and had his car stereo system pumping hard. He took photos in front of several of the backdrops but then he took some of him in his car too. Carlton printed what looked to be about two dozen photos and handed them to the customer. “He’s a regular,” Carlton says nodding toward the man as he pulled out of the parking lot. I hope he didn’t pay $10 per picture!

Carlton poses for a picture (photo: Reed)

Carlton and his brothers, DC natives who attended Roosevelt High School, have been doing this for four years. Sometimes they also set up in clubs and other places, especially in the winter when they are not out at this location.  Things get a little out of control from time to time too. “Sometimes ladies get naked, it’s crazy,” Carlton admits.

Some ladies strike a pose for Carlton (photo: Reed)

Two young ladies approach us and ask to get their picture taken. I now had my camera out and I guess they thought I was working there…reasonable assumption. I directed them to Carlton and they struck a pose in front of the Cuervo bottle. I captured Carlton taking their photo.

“I’m going use the $10 to put gas in my car,” he says as he slides the ladies’ photo into a sleeve.

Before leaving, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get my photo taken as well.  I chose the beach scene. You can find the photo on the Facebook Page.

If you want to get your photo taken by Carlton, you’ll find him or one of his brothers in the CVS parking lot at Florida and 7th Street, NW any weekend from 11pm to around 3am until October.

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The NRIs with Melanie on violin (photo: Reed)

On Day 242 I made my way over to the Black Cat to see my friend Melanie’s band, the NRIs.  You might recall that Melanie is also in a band called Machines on Vacation (see Day 80 and 128).  I had not seen the NRIs before so I was excited to check them out and they didn’t disappoint.  My friend Melanie, who plays the violin, is a great addition to the band giving some of the songs a very genuine sound. 

Before going in to see the show, I spotted some people having a cigarette outside.  I thought I would see if one of them would be my 242nd recipient.  After a brief discussion they agreed that Gabrielle should be one. 

Chris and Gabrielle outside the Black Cat (photo: Reed)

“Today I live in Virginia…I guess,” she tells me as I collect some basic information from her.  It turns out this 28-year-old left Seattle a week earlier and drove 2,800 miles with her boyfriend Chris to Washington, DC.  “It was a long drive.  It was a hot drive,” she told me. 

Gabrielle moved her for a job in the video gaming field as an environmental graphic designer.  She’s the one that puts the trees and landscapes in your favorite games!  You’re welcome!  She likes working on next generation games and wants to make cool monsters (I think that is what my notes say…my writing is particularly bad this day.)  She recently completed some work on the racing simulator Forza Motorsport 3. 

As I recall she initially was staying outside of DC in Virginia as a house-sitter for some people who her father met in Idaho!  Totally random I know. 

 “Wow, that’s cool,” she says as I hand her the $10.  “I need it, I’m pretty much out of money.”  She thought for a while about what she was going to do with it and finally said that it would probably get spent on two beers that evening: one for her and one for Chris.  

Here is a short video of Gabrielle talking about the highs and lows of her trip back east as well as her initial impressions of Washington, DC.  Take a look:

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On Day 241 I met up with the Russian Channel One team again.  They came to my apartment and filmed a little and then we headed over to Dupont Circle to find a recipient.  The first person I stopped was a young guy named Oliver.  He said “no” originally and then he said something that was very interesting.  After we spoke for a few minutes he made me an offer.  “I’ll take your ten-dollar bill if you take my twenty-dollar bill.”  I thought that was a really cool idea.  He was pushing my concept to the next level.  Unfortunately as you may know, I can not receive anything in return for my $10 so I couldn’t do that.  That was his condition on taking my money and unfortunately things didn’t work out, but I loved his creativity.  I didn’t get his information, but hopefully he will check this out and drop me a line!  I liked his style!

I then approached another person who said they were running late and didn’t have time.

Eric at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

They say that the third time is a charm.  Well, Eric helped make that statement come to fruition.  He looks to be a twenty-something who works for an IT company where you can dress how you want and the hours are flexible.  Well, I was pretty much right-on.  He works as a software developer for a non-profit that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.  Basically it seems like they try to improve transparency and help the public connect with the government.  And since it was close to 10am, I think I am right about the flexible hours too. 

Eric is originally from the Catskills of New York but has also lived in Boston and NYC before coming to DC.  “I really like it here,” he says.  That might be largely as a result of his job as it turns out.  Either he really likes it or hopes that his boss reads this because he told me, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been working where I am now.  There’s just 35 of us, it’s pretty cool.” 

Eric talking to Andrey from Russian Channel One (photo: Reed)

He keeps himself busy outside of the office as well.  “I like to do improv comedy and ride my unicycle.”  That’s right, Eric rides a unicycle.  He told me that one day when he was in Boston he saw a guy riding to work on a unicycle and he asked him if he could borrow it some time and the guy agreed.  Apparently it’s a small trusting community.  I mean, it would be easy to spot them if they don’t bring it back, right!  I assume he has his own now and didn’t keep the other guy’s unicycle and flee to Washington.  Hmmm…anyone missing a unicycle up in Boston?

Eric has “a few brothers” and is the proud father of a cat.  He also has a girlfriend – sorry ladies.  Speaking of which, he said that my $10 would help him take his girlfriend to dinner.

I finished and then the guys from Channel One had a chat with Eric for a while and we parted ways.  Cool guy.

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Every time I approach someone there is a crucial couple of seconds or minutes where I have to establish credibility and a rapport with the person that I speak with.  Here in Washington, we have lots of people who come up to strangers asking for things whether it be money or their support on a petition, etc.  So, many people get conditioned to just saying “no” to everyone who approaches them. 

A critical element of my success in getting so many people to hear me out is the fact that I have a business card that I give them.  It somehow gives me credibility and the impression that what I am doing is legitimate.  Well, I recently ran out of cards and thankfully the same company that helped me out with the original batch of cards came to my rescue again!  You may recall that when Zazzle.com heard about my project back in January they were so excited about it that they let me design my own card and then donated 500 of them to me to help me out.  It’s great to see companies that step up and help others out. 

I designed these cards and then Zazzle.com gave them to me for free! (photo: Reed)

If you like to design things (anything, from business cards to mugs to t-shirts) go online and you can design your products and then put your design in the public domain so that others can see your work.  Then if someone wants to purchase your design you get paid!  How cool is that?!  They are called “Skinny Cards” because of their smaller (3” x 1”) than normal size.  Here’s a link to my template.  People constantly comment on how much the love my cards.  Thanks Zazzle!!! 

Today’s giving story is a bit enigmatic.  I met Johnnie as he sat on a bench near the Dupont Metro North entrance/exit.  At first he said that he couldn’t accept the $10.  He liked the idea and said that he wouldn’t keep the money but he thought that I would probably do a better job of finding a person who “deserved it.”  Johnnie, who works for Metro, encouraged me to find someone else, but after I explained to him that if everyone did that my “reach” would only be as far as the area which I travel each day.  But since he and others live in different communities and travel to other parts of the city and world that he could broaden the pool of potential people that my project touches. 

We went back and forth on this for a while, maybe 20 minutes.  I figured I wasn’t going to convince the 46-year-old DC resident but finally he said, “You know what, give me that $10, I think I know what I am going to do with it.”  He said he had to go catch his bus and I didn’t have time to get a picture or anything of Johnnie.  I did get his phone number quickly as he left and have tried calling it the last two days but I get a message saying that the person is “not accepting phone calls at this time.”  Maybe he needs to use the $10 to pay his phone bill!

Hopefully I can reach him and then update this post.

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I have been contacted by some interesting news organizations about my year-long commitment.  From local news here in Washington, DC to morning shows to CNN.  Even a handful of international news organizations have reached out for interviews.  Recently I was contacted by Russia Channel 1, the leading broadcasting network in Russia.  They asked if they could interview me and follow me around for a couple of days.  Today is the first of two days that they joined me finding my daily recipient.

Carolyn in front of Union Station in DC (photo: Reed)


We met at Union Station and talked for a little while and then set out looking for someone to give my $10 to.  The first person I asked said that they were in a hurry, but the second person I approached agreed to receive my ten bucks.  Carolyn is in DC visiting her daughter who lives here and is a DC school principal.  

Although originally from Little Rock, AR, she now lives in Los Angeles.  In addition to raising five children, this 75-year-old found time to lead a career as a police officer, a nurse and later a pastor. 

Giving is nothing foreign to Carolyn.  She shared with me that she went to Haiti on  missionary tour and fed 2,000 people per day.  “It was such a site to see,” she said describing countless children as old as six that didn’t have clothes.  Back stateside she helped at men’s shelter for many years.  Just then she takes out a piece of paper in her bag that has contact information for free legal services for those living below the poverty line.  “Right now I was planning on going over to this McDonald’s and see if there is anyone who might need this information,” she explains to me motioning toward Union Station.  I’ll probably use your $10 to get me something to drink there too.  Here is a video of her explaining how she shares the legal information.

Carolyn says that she tries to help at least one person every day.  She credits her faith with fueling her service to others.  “I grew up in a Christian home,” she told me.  “I know that Jesus Christ is my personal savior and he has always opened doors for me.”

I asked her if there was anything that anyone reading her story could do to help her.  She reluctantly told me about a hospital bill that has gotten out of hand.  “I still owe about $1,300,” she says.  She tries to make monthly payments of $100, but the interest keeps building up.  She said that she could use some help getting that paid off.  “If anyone would be so kind as to help I can give them the payment information and they can directly pay the hospital.”  So many of my readers are very generous themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone offered to help this kind woman.

After I was done speaking with her, Andrey from Russia Channel 1 interviewed her some as well.  You can see that here:

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This made me laugh today.  Apparently I have made the top 10 list of weirdest hobbies!  My daily gifting landed me in third place behind a guy who takes photos of himself pretending to be dead and another guy who tries to get in the background of various newscasts.  Here’s the part that shocked me though, I managed to beat the 84-year-old English woman who knits woolen boobs.  Now that is really something!

Paul holding Kiko who turns one year old next Wednesday! (photo: Reed)

Anyway, after four days of dog sitting you would think that I had my fill of dogs, but it seems that was not the case as I gave my $10 to a guy with a dog on Day 238.

I walked by the Cosi on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street in DC and saw Paul sitting at a table outside with Kiko, a black mixed lab.  It turns out that he was just waiting there for his girlfriend, Kristen, who had gone into Five Guys to get their dinner.  “Their burgers are good, not as good as Ray’s Hellburger over in Rosslyn, but they’re good.”  He also said he likes the Vietnamese Pho 75 that is next to Ray’s.  I have to agree, I like both of those spots too.

Kiko, whose name was inspired by the Kikkoman brand of soy sauce, is a rambunctious young pup.  They found her abandoned on the side of the road in Fayette County, West Virginia.  Although they don’t know exactly how old Kiko is, they guess that she is about a year.  In fact they have made September 1 her birthday so she will be celebrating her first birthday next week!  As she was a rescue dog Paul said that she came with some challenging habits to break.  “She’s a cross between a piranha and a beaver – I mean other than a Kevlar vest, she will chew up just about anything.”

Paul picked Kiko up and posed for some photos.  The 35 pound dog hammed it up pretty good and even later showed off some things she has learned to do.  Unfortunately my camera kind of spooked her so I didn’t get to see the complete repertoire of tricks.

Kiko politely shakes Kristen's hand. (photo: Reed)

Speaking of tricks, Paul had a trick of his own that he showed me.  He has the unique ability to snap his fingers with his pinky fingers.  I have never seen anyone do that.  “Neither have I,” said the 29-year-old Dupont resident, “I even listed it on my application for Georgetown where they asked about special talents.”  Paul ended up getting accepted to Georgetown so for any of you prospective college students, start practicing now so that you can add this to your admission application.  It apparently works!

I asked him if there was anything he could think of that I could list on the Lend a Hand section of the website.  He light-heartedly said, “A healthy supply of Belgian beers would be nice.”  All you Belgian and Belgian style brewers out there, please send Paul a six pack of you best beer.

Paul said that his ten dollars would somehow go to Kiko.  “Maybe a toy or some treats,” he told me.  I later got this in an email from him:

Instead of being put toward a new toy or a bag of treats for her, your “donation” covered 5/8 of the $16 fee charged by our dogwalker for her 30 minute session with Kiko today. Not cheap, right? If you want to reap windfall profits, dogwalking is where it’s at…”

Thanks for the update Paul!

So before I left, I got to meet his girlfriend Kristen.  She was very nice and we chatted for a while.  I felt bad though as their delicious burgers were getting cold so I said goodbye and walked home.

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Jon gets a fresh delicious pretzel for a customer (photo: Reed)

 

On Sunday I said goodbye to Sweetie and Manassas and headed back to DC. On the way home I stopped at the Tyson’s Corner Mall. I got to admit that I have almost no willpower when it comes to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I succumbed to the cravings and walked over and got a pretzel. My favorite one is the jalapeno, but they didn’t have that at this one so I just got the original. Mmmm…it was devoured in about two minutes.  

As I was eating I thought that maybe I could give my $10 to the guy who sold me the pretzel.  I walked back over and introduced myself to Jon and explained what I was doing. He said he would accept my $10 and I chatted with him while he prepared the place for closing, after all the mall was closing in about 10 minutes.  

Jon (photo: Reed)

 

After four months working for the pretzel gods, Jon says that the original pretzel is the most common. “We also sell a lot of almond pretzels,” he says. I never knew they sold almond pretzels but he says that they are quite popular with Asian Americans. Which is interesting, because when I used to live in Brazil they had pretzel shops there too, but they never sold salted pretzels, mostly sweet pretzels. Brazilians like salty snacks; I’ve always thought that the original pretzel would be very popular there.   Maybe they would like the almond pretzel!  Anyway.  

Jon comes across as a professional, charismatic guy. I was a little surprised that he was working in retail at the mall. He shared with me that he had been convicted of felony drug charges in the past and it was hard to find work. “I was sentenced to 15 months in Arlington County jail,” he tells me although he later explains that the majority of the sentence he served in a rehabilitation center. “That’s in the past now.  I’m clean now. I was at a point in my life when I needed change,” Jon said.  

Now he is focused on other things. He realized he had to exchange his old lifestyle and friends for a new lifestyle that would allow him to live a productive life. When he is not working he says that he enjoys going to the gym, playing sports and rooting for the Redskins. He has also invested time and money into getting his A+ Certification for computer systems. He has done all the coursework he needs he just needs to take the final exam. He got interested in computers at an early age and has been building his own computers for the past four to five years.  

Jon attends to some customers (photo: Reed)

 

A family walked up and ordered three pretzels. “We have a special that if you buy two you get the third one free,” he told her. That made them so happy. 

I learned that three nights a week they give their leftover food to a shelter program. Very nice. I am not sure why they don’t do it every night but I suspect it might present some logistical challenges.  

“So what do you think you will use the $10 for?” I asked him. He didn’t waste any time to blurt out, “Bus fare!” He sometimes uses a scooter, but relies heavily on the bus system. “Right now my scooter is in the shop actually,” he said. “It was supposed be ready the other day but now it wont be ready until tomorrow at the earliest – that’s the kind of stuff that used to set me off when I was using, but now it doesn’t really bother me.”  

One of his colleagues showed up from the other location that Auntie Anne’s has in the mall. I told him that I would let him go and packed up my stuff and tried to figure out how I was going to get out of the mall because some of the exits were now closed.  Jon told me how to get out and thanked me and I wished him a good night. He smiled and said, “Thanks, I will. I’m actually meeting my mother for dinner!”

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Chilean president Sebastián Piñera holds up a message from the trapped miners. (photo: Hector Retamal/AP)

Have you been following the 33 miners trapped in a mine in Chile.  Well, yesterday after 17 days trapped 4.5 miles inside the winding mine, rescuers received a note written in red paint that all 33 were alive!  VIVA CHILE!  That is awesome.  Now the challenge.  It will take up to four months to get them out…but they are able to send some supplies down to them.  Read more about this here.

This is the same shot I took the yesterday but at night (photo: Reed)

Back here in the US, I was on my third day in Manassas when I decided to go to the historic downtown and find my recipient of the day.  I had gone to dinner down in Springfield with some old work colleagues and then drove back and stopped downtown.  It’s a charming quaint looking place where you see the same police car driving around the town a couple of times during the same evening (either that or they were suspicious of the “guy from out of town walking around giving money away and taking pictures.”)  The flag lined streets are nestled with small shops, restaurants, bars, a hotel and even a barber shop.  It’s in front of the Royal Cuts Barber Shop on Center Street that I found Alex and Breanna sitting on a bench.

I am not sure how well they knew each other.  At first I figured they were a couple, but then it turned out that they were just friends, or maybe even acquaintances, who had attended the same high school.

Alex and Breanna chilling in front of Royal Cuts Barber Shop (photo: Reed)

I asked them what someone should see or do in Manassas and they said that they really didn’t have a good answer.  “There’s not much to do here except go around town and look at the plaques,” they said referring to the historical markers that are peppered around the city center.  Alex said to check out a place called Tommy’s.  “It’s pretty good and they got some pool tables,” he added.  I looked them up later on the internet and it seems to be an interesting place.  They describe the atmosphere as a “sports bar” that is also “family friendly” and welcomes cowboy hats! 

I asked them what they liked to do and they both said they enjoyed writing.  “I have a freakish imagination,” Alex says.  “I write short stories, sci-fi and fantasy but it’s not very good.”  Breanna says she also likes to write and is equally self-deprecating of her talent.  Alex also admitted to a severe music addiction saying that he likes all kinds of music, “80s, 90s up to today.”

We chat some more and before too long before a friend of Breanna’s who just got off work stopped by.  I’m going to take the liberty to change his name and call him Mike…I think you will understand once I explain more. Anyway, I had asked Alex and Breanna to share with me something interesting or funny about them so when Mike arrived I thought better yet, I’ll ask Mike to give me some funny story about the two.  Mike thinks for a second and then says, “Ok, well, I guess I could share this with you but it’s pretty embarrassing.”  Mike proceeds to tell me a story that had nothing to do with Alex and Breanna at all.  It was story about him that had to do with masturbation! 

I was looking at Breanna and Alex and they were looking at me and none of us knew quite what to say.  “I don’t think he understood your question,” Breanna said.  Yeah, I’d say that was a safe assumption.

Anyway, it was a bit awkward for a minute or two and then Breanna left with Mike and I stayed behind with Alex. 

Intersection of Main and Center Streets at night (photo: Reed)

I’m glad I decided to hang out a little longer and chat with Alex because he shared his own personal struggle getting a job.  That meant a lot to me given my own 285 day search for employment that I had gone through since being laid off last year. Alex didn’t graduate when he should have because he failed a civics class.  It started off ok but then the teacher had a stroke and they had a slew of substitute teachers in and out of the classroom and he just didn’t do well and ended up failing.  Until he finished the class and got his diploma it was really hard to find a job that would pay anything decent. 

Alex found himself graduating as the country slipped into a depression.  The job market turned south and he was left knocking on doors, literally.  “I walked door to door at one point looking for a job,” he told me.  I asked him if he could share the story on video and he agreed.  His heartfelt story shows how determination on a rainy day can lead to opportunity. Anyone who has thought about giving up on finding a job should watch this!

So, what the heck happened to the $10, right!  Well, I asked Alex what he was going to do with the money and we realized that Breanna had ended up with the money!  Somehow I must have missed that when she left.  Perhaps I was distracted by the masturbation story.  Anyway, I have emailed Breanna and hope to get an update on the $10 soon.

We said goodbye and I walked through the streets of Manassas passed dozens of dark storefronts until I arrived at my car.  I went back and took Sweetie for a walk before going to bed.

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Railroad tracks run through picturesque downtown Manassas (photo: Reed)

I’ve enjoyed taking care of my friends’ dog Sweetie.  She really likes going for walks.

While in Manassas I thought I would go and relax a little at a local coffee shop so I looked online for a good place and found some good reviews for a place called Jess Presso.  It was over off of Liberia Ave. and I looked all over for it but couldn’t find it.  I double checked the address and found that there was another business operating where it used to be.  There was a Starbucks in the same plaza so I thought that I would head over there and maybe do a little writing or see who I would find there to give my $10 to.

Starbucks on Liberia Ave. where I met Joshua (photo: Reed)

As I waited for my dopio espresso, the perky cashier explained to me that the place I was looking for had closed.  “It wasn’t that good actually in my opinion – my friend worked there,” she said.  Well, at least I didn’t miss anything.  I got my espresso, added a packet of Splenda and stirred the murky water while I scanned the shop.  There was a guy sitting in a comfy chair working on his computer who caught my eye. 

Originally from Oklahoma, Joshua moved here two weeks ago after spending the last three years living with his wife at the home of his in-laws in Hawaii. 

Joshua spent nine years in the navy as a submarine sonar technician before leaving the military back in May.  Then he spent two months combing the internet for a job.  Being out of work for an extended time will “make your eyes bleed,” Joshua states shaking his head.  He is thankful for the job opportunity he received despite having to leave his wife in Hawaii for a while.  Pregnant with their first child, they decided that she would stay back in Hawaii with her family until after the arrival of the baby in January. 

Joshua doesn't have internet access at his apartment yet, so he often visits Starbucks to connect. (photo: Reed)

From politics to foreign cultures to immigration laws to the economy; we talked for nearly two hours.  He told me that before joining the navy he worked for a small lending company in Oklahoma.  He used to go in person to do the collections and had so many sad stories of people getting into situations that they were unable to easily get themselves out of.  He says that he felt bad for many of the people that he had to go and pressure to make payments.  He says that they weren’t like the aggressive maniacs you see on TV, but their goal was to recover the borrowed money.  “I definitely learned one thing; never co-sign anything unless you’re prepared to be solely responsible for it.” 

Despite being submerged for up to 45 days at a time sometimes, he said that he really enjoyed his time in the navy.  “A difficult part that a lot of guys don’t know before they enlist is that even when they are at port they have to “stand duty” one out of every four nights.”  That means staying aboard the ship away from family and standing guard.  As he and his wife start their own family they felt that a civilian life would allow them to spend more time together.

Joshua is living in an apartment for the time being but hopes to purchase a house.  On this clip he talks to me a little bit about the importance of home ownership in the US and how cultural backgrounds play a big role in shaping our views of what type of living arrangements we choose.

When I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 he replied that he was going to “get some stuff for the apartment.”  He smiled and said, “Today I bought a microwave, but that is about all I got, well that and an inflatable bed and two camping chairs, but that’s it.”

After almost two hours of talking I realized I completely hijacked his time there and we both packed up and left – I think Starbucks was closing anyway.  As we got to our cars, I thanked him for his service to our country and for the enjoyable conversation that evening and said “Goodbye.”

UPDATE Aug. 23, 2010: I got an email from Joshua today letting me know that the $10 went toward a futon which is already being used by a friend from his Navy training days who is visiting!

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If you are in Washington, DC, join me today at the Shakespeare Theatre Family Fun Fair from 10:00-2:00 downtown near the Verizon Center.  It should be a fun event for the whole family.

photo: Reed

I was recently dog-sitting in Manassas, VA for my friends Tressa and Tom.  It was nice to have a new community for a few days to share the Year of Giving with.  On my first day there I headed over to Costco to get some items that I needed.  As I was leaving I saw a man sitting with his child.  I asked him to be my 234th recipient but he preferred not to participate.  His name was Jeremy.

I then headed over to the Giant grocery store on Sudley Rd and picked up another couple items to have on hand for my weekend “getaway” in Manassas.  I was still looking for someone else but just didn’t seem to see the right person.  About a block away from the Giant there was a Family Dollar store.  I drove over there and saw a woman coming out of the store.

I parked quickly and ran over to Angela who was now loading her purchases into the car.  She was very friendly and open to talking with me.  We talked for about thirty minutes and I have thought about her and her story every day since.

Angela has overcome many challenges in life (photo: Reed)

Angela is a 35-year-old single mother of five kids!  The oldest is 17 and the youngest is seven.  Unfortunately she doesn’t have custody of the children right now because the father (they are separated) had nearby family that would be able to help raise the children.  Angela’s closest family members are in West Virginia.  She works two full-time jobs right now as a certified nursing assistant in order to be able to support herself and make payments to help with childcare of her children.  “I have been working as a CNA for 14 years now,” She says.  “I like what I do; it’s like taking care of family.”

As we talked more I discovered that just how difficult of a time it was for Angela when she and her husband separated.  It set off a series of events.  She got depressed and ended up losing her job and later her home.  “I slept in my car for a total of six months to get back to living in an apartment,” she told me.

Angela shared this very emotional moment with me in this video clip.  It’s heartbreaking to see and hear her describe such a difficult time in her life.

Angela has her own apartment now and wants to go back to school to get her nursing degree.  She also wants custody of her children.  “It’s really hard,” she admits.  I think it’s important that Angela pursue her nursing degree so that she can have a more stable financial situation, work fewer hours and have a more active role in the lives of her children.  The challenge with that is to be able to juggle nursing school while still working enough to make ends meet.  If you or anyone you know is a career counselor at a school that might be able to speak with Angela and give her some guidance on how to successfully manage all that, please contact me so that I can put you in touch with her.

As I said earlier I think about my conversation with Angela every day.  Meeting her and learning about her story really touched my heart.  It’s people like Angela that I meet that make going out and giving my $10 away every day worth it.

Angela in front of the car that she lived in for six months (photo: Reed)

She was tired and had worked all week.  Angela told me that she was going to run in to the Aldi supermarket and get some groceries with my $10.  I gave her a hug and walked back to my car and just sat there for a while thinking about how difficult it must have been to lose her husband, her children, her job, her house and live in her car.

Her determination and perseverance remind me of a quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” 

Angela’s tide is turning.

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Ishmael sits with his boots that someone gave him during the snow storm this winter. (photo: Reed)

People always say that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.  Meet Ishmael.  He’s 49 and was born and raised here in Washington, DC.  Now homeless, he wants more than anything an opportunity to be gainfully employed.

It is kind of a vicious circle though.  We all know that it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job.  Prospective employers often think that you have something to offer simply by the fact that another organization hired you.  I know that when I was working I would get recruiters calling me regularly about other jobs.  When I was out of work for 285 days, my phone didn’t ring near as often.  And if you are homeless, there is a good chance you don’t even have a phone so it’s that much more difficult.  You don’t have a computer or even a safe place to keep your clothes and belongings. 

I found Ishmael as he escaped the sun’s hot rays beneath a tree in the small triangular park that is surrounded by noisy streets of New Hampshire, 21st and M.  I sat down next to him and gave him the $10.  He was very grateful for the act of kindness and said he was going to use it to buy some food this week.  I think he knows that many people probably think that someone in his situation would use it for drugs or alcohol.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that he didn’t have any substance abuse problems.

“I got to this situation because I didn’t get myself together,” Ishmael explains.  “However, when you lose your job or your house for four or five years, you come back and work so much harder for an organization.”  Ishmael also said that he understands that he needs to be patient.  “My time will come.”  He recorded this short message that talks specifically about what kind of job he would like to find and the commitment he will make to that organization. 

Ishmael’s last job was cleaning mail bags at a large building.  Just by talking with him I could tell that he understood what was important in his work: quality, efficiency, attitude and following established procedures. 

He turns 50 this next February 12th and hopes to be in a different situation by then.  Can you help him?  Let me know.  I am going to reach out to Robert from Day 225 and his DC Central Kitchen to see if there might be something he could do there as he said he had experience in the food service industry. 

photo: Reed

By the way, if you don’t have job leads for him, you can also help him out with gift cards to Safeway.  You can send them to me and I will get them to Ishmael.

As we said he goodbye, he said, “You aren’t like most people.  You are progressive and open-minded.  All I need is someone like you who is willing to take a chance on me.”

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I met a friend for lunch over near Union Station and then decided to walk back home. It’s about 30 blocks so I knew I would find somebody! I stopped by So Others Might Eat (SOME) and picked up some information and then kept on snaking my way over to Dupont Circle. I came across a nice guy who was originally from Mexico out walking a couple of dogs. He took my card but said he preferred that I find someone else…so on I went.

 

Tent City DC at Parcel 42 (photo: Reed)

I decided to stop by Tent City DC.  When I arrived at the abandoned lot at 7th and R Streets I didn’t find anyone there.  I walked around, yelled “hello, anybody home” but no voices came from any of the tents. Just then two young girls yelled over to me from outside the fenced in area where I was standing. “Hey, why are you guys staying in these tents?” I walked over and explained to them that I was not one of the people staying in the tents, but that they were protesting the fact that Parcel 42 was being earmarked for development into luxury condos instead of affordable housing like what was promised by the mayor’s office a few years ago.

I told them about my project and asked if I could give them my $10 for the day.

Shaquan and Cierra next to Tent City DC in the Shaw neighborhood (photo: Reed)

 Cierra is 17 and Shaquan is almost 16.  They are high school students who are working this summer at a youth camp.  They are also two of the 463,000 children living in foster care in the US.

Shaquan has been in the system since she was three and has been in and out of group homes and families all of her life. “The system has got a lot of problems,” Shaquan says. “Every time you go to a new place you got to go through the whole screening process again.” Cierra has only been in foster care for about five years but even in that relatively short amount of time she has been shuffled between 6-8 families. Right now they are both living with Cierra’s sister for the summer, but soon they will go back to a foster family or group house.

They say that some foster families are only in it for the money. “They get a lot of money from the government and we don’t see any of it,” according to Shaquan. I played devil’s advocate a little and reminded them that the families also have a lot of costs that they may not see directly. The agreed that that was probably true, but they still felt like there were some inequities there.

I was deeply sadden as I talked to these smart, articulate young women. They have been forced to grow up much faster than others. They have felt unloved and unwanted at times and suffered through the pain that accompanies those emotions. “It’s hard,” Shaquan starts to say, “I used to blame other people for my actions, but I can’t blame nobody but myself. You got to keep your head up!” She went on to say that she was adopted by a family years ago and she “messed it all up.” She was referring to a woman named Ms. Theresa. I learned that in addition to adopting Shaquan, Ms. Theresa had also opened her home to Cierra. “Man, I wish I was back there now. I didn’t know how good I had it, but I messed up again,” Shaquan says.

I asked them what they were going to do with the $5 that each of them had in their hand. “Probably give it to someone else,” they said. “If I see a homeless person and I got money in my pocket, I give something,” Shaquan says.

photo: Reed

This was one of those days that I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who I had met for a long time after the goodbyes. Both of these girls have so much to offer the world. They are smart. They are charismatic. They are strong yet sensitive and thoughtful at the same time. They are beautiful young women who have not had the easiest path to get to where they are today and admitted to having made some poor choices themselves. What impressed me most was their attitude. They could have said “poor me, why me?” But they didn’t. They accepted responsibility for their actions and their lives and were living in the present making the best out of the cards that they have been dealt.  Keep your head up!

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Yab with all of his belongings (photo: Reed)

Today is my brother’s 39th birthday! Happy birthday Ryan. He has helped me in so many ways with my Year of Giving; from suggesting that I start on the anniversary of my mother’s passing to countless hours of computer and camera support to reading every blog post and pointing out mispelled words that I missed. He has been there with me the entire journey. Thanks LB! I love you.

Often times when I speak to someone about the Year of Giving and the conversation turns to the homeless people who I have given to people assume that they use the money for alcohol or drugs.  Of course that has happened.  However, sometimes you would be surprised what a homeless person does when they are offered $10.  I was certainly surprised with Yab’s response.

On this particular day I was walking along 23rd Street near Rock Creek Park in northwest DC.  I saw Yab lying on some cardboard on the side of the road.  He was sleeping.  I took a chance and went over and spoke to him.  He took a second to wake up and I introduced myself.  I explained what I was doing and we started talking.

Yab hasn’t shaved since 1997 (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ethiopia, Yab told me an amazing story about his life.  He patiently invited me back to the year 1943 when he was seven years old living in Ethiopia.  It was July, the cold season, when one morning he volunteered to take some of his family’s cattle up the mountain to graze.  When he got to the top of the mountain, he came across a man standing outside a cave.  “There’s a hyena inside there” the man told young Yab.  He walked cautiously over to the entrance of the cave and peered inside.  Sure enough, there was a massive hyena lying inside.  The man suggested that they build a fire to drive the hyena out.  Yab started to gather sticks and small logs to build the fire and the man came close to Yab and touched his arm and out of nowhere the wood caught fire and the hyena fled the cave.  It wasn’t until 50 years later on President Clinton’s inauguration day on January 20th, 1993 that he realized who that man was.  “I didn’t know it then, but that was God there with me.”  Ever since this realization he has lived a deeply spiritual life.  He shares his message asking everyone to accept Jesus into their life in this short clip.

So how did Yab get to the US from that mountainside in Ethiopia?  Well, in the 1980s Yab was in Somalia working on some oil ventures when he was captured and taken hostage by terrorists who were against the country’s leader Siad Barre, who was later overthrown in 1991.  When the UN and the Red Cross got involved he asked for political asylum to the United States.  Since he had lived in the US briefly in 1958 he was given priority and offered asylum in Minnesota.  He said he didn’t really want to go to Minnesota but they promised him free housing, free education, food, a Pell Grant, etc.  However, when he arrived, he said that the assistance only lasted for about a month and then he was asked to leave the Mayflower Church where he was staying and told that he would have to go. 

He eventually got them to give him $1,600 and a ticket to Washington, DC where he even got to meet with then Mayor Marion Barry before Barry went to prison in 1991.

Later that year Yab became homeless and has been so ever since.

The former electrical engineer now carries signs around with him with messages on them that definitely make you look twice.  I asked him to explain some of the signs; most of which seemed too bizarre to be true.  One said:

Monster Obama must stop cuttin’ human throats at the expense of:

1. Dupont Circle chess players 

2. Oprah Winfrey – Arsenio Hall – Horton – Barry   

3. Odinga PM of Kenya.

One of Yab’s signs (photo: Reed)

Probably the most extreme thing he shared with me was that he believed that President Obama was with the CIA and tried to kill him when he was in the concentration camp in Somalia.  “I know it was him, I saw him.”  I tried to understand his thoughts and messages but it was difficult to follow his logic.  It reminded me a little bit of John from Day 121.  Both men are extremely nice.  Both have turned to signs to spread their message.  And I think both are greatly misunderstood because their choice of messages.

photo: Reed

I finally asked the bearded 74-year-old what he planned to do with the $10.  Would you believe that he gave it back to me and said that he wanted me to have it.  He said that he hasn’t accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.  “God will take care of me,” he assured me.  I tried to convince him to keep it or give it to someone else, but he said he wanted me to have it.  Faith and dignity are strong stubborn things. 

I’ve walked by that place several times since I met Yab but haven’t seen him again.

Update 12/Oct/2010

I ran into Yab on the streets of DC today.  He was doing well, seemed in good health and good spirits.  He recognized me and remembered our conversation well.  Pushing a cart full of personal items, he was walking south on Columbia Rd. toward Dupont.

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Tommy and Loni pose for me at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

I was walking through Dupont Circle at dusk when I passed a man and woman sitting on a bench.  As I got passed the couple I heard them both make some sexually suggestive comments to me.  Flattering ones, but still it’s awkward to hear.  I kept walking for about 30 yards and stopped and thought, this could be interesting.  So, I turned around and decided to walk back and give my $10 to them.  “He’s coming back” Tommy said a bit nervously perhaps as I headed back toward the bench where they were seated.

I spent the next hour talking to Tommy and Loni.  I soon learned that Loni was a transgender.  She told me that she had the full surgery and was completely operational.  “Wanna take a look” she said with a demonic smile.  Hmmm, I think I’ll pass.  

They went back and forth a little deciding who was going to accept $10 until they finally agreed that Tommy would.  “You have no idea how many times I have really needed $10″ he says.

Although now he has a place to stay, Tommy used to live right here in Dupont Circle.  “I love the park, but the problem with this place is that there are too many people sharing my room” he says as he gives way to a hearty laugh.  I laughed as well.  He shared that one time he was sleeping on the edge of the fountain at the circle when he rolled off into the water. (Hey, I’ve been in that fountain too!)

When Tommy came to DC last October, he said he “jumped right into the gay community.”  He explains that back in Detroit there is not a strong gay community any more.  “There used to be like 60 gay bars there, now there is maybe six!”  Although he says that Detroit gets a bad reputation, there are some really beautiful parts.  “The architecture is amazing” he says as he explains that Detroit has the largest collection of art deco architecture in the US (I always thought it was more of a Miami Beach thing.) 

Tommy says that he will use the money to help someone else out.  “I try to help people all the time” he says.  “What comes around goes around – I live off the kindness of others.” 

Tommy showed me some of his dance moves (photo: Reed)

I asked him what he was doing for money and he replied, “Tomorrow I am starting a stripper job – I need a wig though, know anywhere I can get one?”  I actually don’t have a lot of knowledge of wigs surprisingly.  He also told me that he uses a pseudonym for his dancing.  “I go by Gordon – it’s my brother and dad’s name.”  Wow…that just seems wrong.  If I found out my brother was stripping and using my Dad’s name, I think I would be more upset that he was using Dad’s name than I would be that he was stripping. 

Tommy told me that he used to be a designer until he was laid off three years ago.  And before that – 27 years ago to be exact – he used to do modeling.  In fact he said that he was the first male model for Calvin Klein.

We exchanged contact information and I said goodbye.  Just then Loni started talking to a guy who approached her.  This guy seemed really strange, like he was under the influence of something or had some mental illness.  Tommy was quick to make sure that she was ok.  Once the other guy left, Loni went on her way and I started heading home.  Tommy and I walked a short ways together and chatted a little more.   He told me that some times he writes phrases with chalk on the sidewalk at Dupont Circle.  “I like this one thing I wrote, Speak without doubt!”  I like that too.

I actually saw Tommy again today in Dupont Circle, but he was busy talking with someone.  I have a feeling I will see him some more.

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When my good friend Kim recently turned 40 she threw a tremendous celebration.  She is someone who always thinks about others first.  Her birthday was no exception.  When guests arrived they were greeted by a woman who gave them two small rectangular pieces of paper and informed them that they were to write two things that they were going to start doing the next day that would positively impact their life.  Then they were to use those pieces of paper as free drink coupons at the bar.  We then had put a name tag on and on that tag we had to described how we knew Kim and when we first met her.  I wrote down that I was her personal sangria maker (which is sorta true) but actually we met in 2008 while working at a non-profit health organization focused on reducing childhood obesity.  

We were told that there was also a video room where we were encouraged to go and leave a video message for Kim.  Her daughter was in charge of the filming and did a terrific job. 

Kay and her husband Marion (photo: Reed)

 

So there I am at the entrance trying to figure out what I would do that would change my life starting tomorrow.  That is a really difficult question.  Think about it, what would you do starting tomorrow to positively change your life forever.  I had no idea I would have so much responsibility bestowed upon my shoulders when I told Kim that I would be there to celebrate with her.  Most other people had written something down rather quickly and went inside.  I had flashbacks to my algebra final in the 10th grade when other students were finishing their tests and leaving me all alone sweating through the problems.  It was about this time that I thought I overheard the woman who was explaining to us what we were to do with the papers say that she was Kim’s mom.  I asked her again just to make sure that I heard correctly to which she said, “Yes, I’m Kay, Kim’s mother.”  I stopped what I was doing and went straight to her and gave her a giant hug.  She was probably a little startled but it was just my instinct.  She must be a pretty phenomenal woman herself to raise such an amazing woman like Kim. 

I decided to give Kay my $10 for the day!  She said she didn’t know what she would do with it, but she would “pass it on to someone else.”  

Cake being delivered to Kim (photo: Reed)

 

Kay, who lives in California, was in DC for her daughter’s birthday celebration.  She is a supervisor for an organization that investigates welfare fraud.  “It’s rampant, people do all kinds of things” she tells me.  Apparently people go buy groceries with a type of food stamps debit card and then report that it was stolen or something and that it wasn’t them who used the card and then they get reimbursed cash for the amount of the card.
Kim is such a giving person, I thought I would ask Kay about her giving habits.  “I give, but not as much financially as maybe I should, but I do give of my time.”  As I have said many times here, simple gifts of your time and conversation are often much more valuable than monetary gifts.  

I didn’t want to hold up Kay more; after all it was her daughter’s 40th birthday party!  I snapped a quick photo of her and joined the party. 

  

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child [as you age], which means never losing your enthusiasm.” – Aldous Huxley

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Today’s recipients are third year medical students at George Washington University Medical School.  It seems that I have had a lot of recipients in the medical field over the last couple weeks. 

I was walking by SoHo Café on the corner of P and 22nd Street, which by the way if you live in DC you should definitely check this place out.  They are really nice there and always take good care of you. Anyway, I saw a guy in front of the café holding a bottle of booze and thought that this guy is starting his weekend off with a bang!  He turned out to be a rather bizarre individual.  He was really paranoid or on some mind altering substance and became very nervous.  Soon another individual approached him and he refused my Alexander Hamilton and walked away. 

I slowly turned in a circle, scanning the scene until I saw Kat and Ben sitting at an outside table at SoHo.  They had laptops out and seemed to be working on a project (they were actually filling out rotation schedules) or something.  I walked up to them and introduced myself and the Year of Giving

The med students were a bit curious about my project.  Ben asked a couple investigative questions about the project.  I asked them if they would accept the $10 and they looked at each other and shrugged and said “Sure.”  

I asked them what they thought they might specialize in.  They were still pretty open-minded about this and didn’t really have any decision made yet.  “Not geriatrics or psychology” Ben said.  Kat agreed. 

I asked them what they liked to do when they were not studying.  “We live pretty boring lives,” Ben lamented.  I felt bad about invading their time when he said “This is about the only time we have free.”  But that didn’t stop me!  No sir!  Not me.  Seriously, I tried not to keep them too long, but I did want to learn a little more about them.  I found out that Kate loves to play soccer and has been playing since she was 4!  She really enjoyed watching the World Cup this year.  Ben shared that he did his undergraduate studies at Knox College, a small liberal arts school in Illinois.  There he had a radio show for four years and later became the general manager.  He also studied abroad in Copenhagen.

I thought that was pretty impressive and then Kat added that she studied abroad in Spain (Salamanca) and spent some time in Switzerland and New Zealand where she jumped out of a perfectly good airplane!  Pretty impressive.

So what would two young people who seem to have it all do with this new found $10?  Ben seemed to take the lead in their decision making process and explained to me the likely fate of the ten spot.  “Honestly, I think $5 will go toward beer, $3 and change toward an empanada at Julia’s Empanadas and the rest will end up as tip probably.” 

Ben and Kat, on left, enjoy some down-time from their busy med school studies (photo: Reed)

As I always do, I asked to photograph them and get their email so that I can send them an invite to the year-end celebration.  Usually younger people are very comfortable with both of these requests, however, they preferred to stay more anonymous.  They did allow me to take this one picture from far away…that’s them sitting at the table on the left.

Well, I felt like I might have worn out my welcome a little and said goodbye.  I do hope that they check out the blog and decide to come to the celebration in December.  Time to head home before it rains.

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I said back on Day 218 that sometimes I just find myself in the moment and realize I am talking to the person who should receive my $10.  Day 227 was just such a day.

I had walked down to the corner of 19th and M Streets to see Anthony from Day 67.  It was his birthday and I had bought him a mini birthday cake.  He was in a great mood and lots of people were stopping by to wish him well.

Lisa feeling a little better (photo: Reed)

While we were chatting a woman crossed the street and as she stepped up onto the curb she lost her footing and went down.  I saw it.  Anthony heard it.  She went down hard launching the ice-tea that she had in her hand through the air.  I ran over to her to see if she was ok.  Despite being a little frazzled and embarrassed she seemed ok.  She was more upset about the ice-tea I think!  I helped her up and saw the blood starting to form around the skinless patch on her leg.  I walked with her over to the Au Bon Pain where there were some chairs outside and she sat down to catch her breath and check her leg.  Meanwhile I went in and asked the store manager for some bandages and alcohol.  Unfortunately they couldn’t find any bandages so I walked over to the 7-11 and bought a box of Band-Aids.  There weren’t any that were large enough to cover the entire scrape though.

As she cleaned herself up, I gave her my $10.  After all I had a somewhat captive audience, right!  Lisa is a 43-year-old member services representative for a credit union.  For the past nine years she has been handling the members’ accounts, loans and helping them get credit.

Although she now lives in Maryland, she grew up in DC.  I asked her what some of her more memorable moments in the nation’s capital were.  She didn’t hesitate at all before replying, “Getting to see the first black president.”  She paused for a second and slightly nodded her head, “I didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime.”  She shared that she wished that her mother and father would have been alive to see it.  You could feel the hope in her voice as she talked about her four children and the opportunities they will have.

photo: Reed

I asked her what she would do with the $10.  “I think I’m going to get me a nice lunch and a smoothie” she said.

Well, Lisa needed to get on her way.  She slowly stood up and eased some pressure on her leg.  “I’m ok” she said as she started to walk back to her office.

It felt nice to take time to help someone.  I’m sure the $10 will help make up for the ice-tea that she lost, but for me being able to help her and make sure that she was alright was worth more than anything I had in my wallet.

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Sometimes I get almost to the end of the day and still haven’t given away my $10.  The biggest challenge when this happens is that being dark outside creates another element to the task.  At least here in the city, people’s defense mechanisms are heightened at night.  We are much more leery of someone who approaches us at night, so sometimes I end up going to business establishments that are lit up where people have a greater sense of security, albeit perhaps a false one. 

Bar at Kramer's Afterwords Cafe (Photo: Reed)

A few minutes later a few guys came in and I honed in on my target: Pat.  

He was a white guy with a beard who looked to be in his twenties.  He had a Pabst Blue Ribbon hat on and a shirt that said something like “Grumpy’s.”  This should be interesting. 

It turns out that Pat is a chef at a nearby restaurant.  I love to cook and had my chance to ask him some burning questions I had, but I didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.  I did ask him however what his favorite item to prepare was.  “The pig.  It’s the greatest animal ever!  It’s 100% edible from snout to tail.”  I would have thought some other animals fit that description too, but maybe they are not as tasty as the pig. 

We started talking about some other things and the topic of the snowpocalypse came up.  He told me how he ended up being stuck downtown for a week.  His employer got him and some other staff a room for the week and he worked 14 hour days.  “We did our best day of business so far this year on the day of the snowball fight at Dupont Circle” Pat tells me.  “We sold over 200 bottles of wine in just two hours.”  They couldn’t open bottles fast enough at one point. 


I asked Pat to think of three words that fully described him.  “Genuine, crazy and asshole” he says as he looks to his pals to get confirmation.  “I tell it like it is and I help other people out.”  As for being crazy he says that anyone who works in the restaurant busy is crazy.  “You can’t work in this business and be sane.  This is the most hard-core cut-throat business there is.”  He adds that alcohol and drug abuse is more common in restaurant service business too which “makes it even crazier.”  

The big and small hand on the clock are creeping toward 12 when the Metro closes during the week and Pat is ever mindful of the time.  He and his buddies decide they have to leave in order to catch the last train.  They were heading to watch Showtime’s comedy-drama hit Weeds.  

“I’ll probably spend the $10 on alcohol or put it on my Metro card.”  He grabs his bag and downs the rest of his beer.  “It’ll probably get spent on alcohol” he says with a smile as he hurries out the door.

Would you believe the very next day I was driving along 22nd Street in DC and saw Pat and his PBR hat.  He didn’t see me because I couldn’t stop, but it was him.  Small world.

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I have hit the streets every single day for the past 225 days searching for someone to give my $10 to.  This journey started out during a difficult time for me.  For the first time since I was 12 (stop calling the Department of Labor, I was a paper boy!) I was out of a job.  Through the Year of Giving I meet so many other amazing people who are in similar situations and every day they look for work or someone who will give them a chance.  Today I met a person who does just that!

Robert (photo: Reed)

Robert Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the nation’s first “community kitchen”, where unemployed men and women learn marketable culinary skills while donated food is converted into wholesome meals.  Pretty cool, eh?

At 52, Robert’s life has taken an unlikely course for someone whose dream 30 years ago was to open the quintessential nightclub in the country.  Back then he worked in clubs and bars and even got to see the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen play in what is now the Darlington House in Dupont.  As we walk east along E Street, Robert explains how in 1989 he cooked up this idea to feed the poor after a volunteer experience.  20 million meals later, he and DC Central Kitchen have done a lot of good and given over 700 men and women full-time employment as well!

In one of our tangents, Robert explained how two men covered the entire country painting Mail Pouch signs on barns. One went and made the deals and the other followed painting he barns.

I had seen Robert once before.  He spoke at an event earlier this year and I was so impressed at how he sees the world.  He can take 5 random subject ingredients, toss them together and come up with a coherent message that is meaningful and memorable.  It’s no surprise that he spends a great deal of his time speaking to groups around the country about harnessing nonprofit power.

He was born in the little town of Milton, Florida (population about 10,000) nine months after his parents tied the knot.  “I was a wedding night baby!” he says with a wide grin that reaches outside of his goatee.  “1958 – me, Madonna, Prince and Kevin Bacon!”  Can you name three famous people who were born the same year you were?   I don’t think I can.

One thing you definitely notice about Robert is that he speaks fast.  Trying to walk and jot down notes was nearly impossible so I busted out the Flip camera.  Try to keep up…

As he arrives back at the DC Central Kitchen, a young woman named Becky walks by.  Robert snags her and beams as he tells me what a great job she has done leading their job placement program.  “We placed 20 out of 21 candidates in our last class” Becky says and then hustles back to work.

As she slips out of sight I shift back into my list of questions for Robert.  Before I could even get my next thought conjured up in my head another team member, Quinn, walks by.  Robert pulls him aside and says “I know exactly what I am going to do with this $10 and Quinn here is going to make it happen!”  Quinn’s face looked like most people’s face when I tell them I want to give them $10…a little confused.  But he goes with the flow and Robert explains how giving the $10 to Quinn will impact thousands of people in the DC area.  This is cool, check it out.

Not only is he the President of DC Central Kitchen, but he has parlayed his success as a social entrepreneur into two other related ventures, the Campus Kitchens Project and Fresh Start Catering.  On top of that he founded a political action group that represents the voice of social enterprise and non-profits called V3 and wrote a book (which I just bought!) called Begging for Change that is a plea for reform for the 800 billion dollar non-profit sector.

The guy is busy and keeps an insane calendar, but the chaos of his schedule puts him in front of people all across this country.  And when he is in cabs or waiting for a plane to depart he is updating his twitter and facebook status.  Hopefully you will get the chance to speak with Robert one day – it’s invigorating.  My suggestion if you see him, and you want to try to get him to sit still for a second, is to offer him big-ass margarita made with Herradura Tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice.  Drop me a line and let me know if it works!

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Were you aware that there are people enslaved in the US today? Unfortunately this is all too common occurrence in the agriculture business; eight cases in Florida alone in the past 12 years and many more that go undocumented.

Recently I was walking home from work when I passed a truck parked up on the grass in front of the Church of the Pilgrims in between 23rd Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest DC. On the side of the truck was written “Florida Modern Slavery Museum.” It’s hard to believe that this exists in the US in 2010! But it does. A new case was just filed last month. As I browse through the exhibit I read the stories of those who have been held against their will, chained, beaten, pistol whipped and even shot.

Julia (photo: Reed)

I got the opportunity to sit down and speak with Julia and Lucas; two members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Their organization is one of three groups that have come together to produce the museum and travel the country educating people about the horrifying status quo of farming conditions in Florida and many other parts of the country. The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Their organization has communal in nature and has no hierarchy or executive director for that matter. They are 4,000 people united to improve the working conditions of the farmers.

Florida Modern Slavery Museum in front of the Capitol (photo courtesy of http://www.ciw-online.org)

Julia and Lucas are traveling accompanying the museum as it makes its nearly four-week tour up and down the East Coast. They explain to me that although the museum started this year, the CIW has been around since 1993. They share with me the “other side of agriculture…the dark side.” You might think that this is a situation that you are far removed from, however, Julia reminds us that we all are involved. “This is about the people who harvest the fruits and vegetables that you purchase in your local grocery store.” They explain to me that the grocery stores are a part of this too. They pay very low fees for the products that they get. So little that the result is that the farmers provide low wages and poor conditions to their workers. Some cases get so bad that the workers, who are often immigrants with little recourse, become held against their will in a modern enslavement of sorts.

Lucas (photo: Reed)

“Are there any grocery stores that have taken a strong position against working with any farms that are found to be offenders?” I asked. They told me that Whole Foods is the only chain so far that has stepped up and worked with their organization and committed to stop these deplorable conditions. So you might ask what it is that the CIW asks of these big grocery giants since so many of them are not working with CIW. They ask them to do three things that sound pretty reasonable:
• Pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes purchased to directly increase the wages of tomato pickers;
• Implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe and fair working conditions for farm workers, including zero tolerance for modern-day slavery;
• Ensure a voice for farm workers in monitoring improvements and reporting abuses.

Some restaurants have agreed to these principles: Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc), McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway.

I didn’t get a chance to ask them why it is focused on tomato-pickers and not more general, it seems like we should be protecting all types of farm workers.
I have two videos to share with you on this topic. The first one is an extensive conversation with Julia about the current situation as well as a call to action of what we can do to help abolish these inhumane practices.

The second video is with Julia and Lucas and it is in Spanish. (Este video se explica la situacion actual del abuso de campesinos en el estado de Florida)

Julia and Lucas will use the $10 to put toward gas and food for the crew during their journey. If you would like to meet Julia, Lucas and their colleagues and visit the museum, you can check them out here:
Aug. 9 Boston, City Hall Plaza, Intersection of Congress St & North St 10 am to 8 pm
Aug. 10 Northampton, MA, In front of Pulaski Park on Main St., near Masonic St. and Smith College, 10 am – 8 pm
Aug. 14 Baltimore – Location TBD
Aug. 16 Charlotte, NC, Compass Group corporate offices, 2400 Yorkmont Road, 10am – 6pm

If you would like to learn more about CIW or make a donation, please click here.

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Eric fights to protect the right to affordable housing in the District (photo: Reed)

Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest.  On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock.  Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific. 

He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel.  Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital.  Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story 

This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though.  Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks.  If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before.  They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others.  That’s quite a family.  They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them! 

Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida.  As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement.  He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey.  In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time.  That was not the only tragedy of 1994.  On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.  

In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods.  He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist.  He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally. 

Eric at Parcel 42 aka Tent City DC at 7th and R in NW (photo: Reed)

He walked and hitchhiked most of the way.  He told me several amazing stories about his journey.  One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening.  There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance.  When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church.  Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night.  He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers.  They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him.  He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA.  When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20! 

Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open.  He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open.  Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter. 

Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates.  He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter.  This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.  

With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation.  He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals.  Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.  

Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food. 

I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents.  The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative.  Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.

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Carlton sometimes does as many as 10 paintings a day (photo: Reed)

Carlton is sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America along Dupont Circle, his feet extending over the edge of the curb and into traffic.  His right hand, covered with paint, swiftly dances over the canvas of a landscape of a far off mountain accompanied by some trees in the foreground.  He pops up and talks to a man who approaches him.  He displays another painting that he has next to him to the man.  They talk for a few minutes and then the man takes his wallet out and pulls a twenty from it and places it in Carlton’s hand.  In exchange he hands him the painting.

I decided to go up to Carlton and ask if he would accept my $10.  He was genuinely curious about what I was doing.  We chatted about his past, the present and the future.  It was a pretty memorable evening.

photo: Reed

At 45 Carlton has been through a lot.  But painting here at Dupont Circle brings his story full circle.  You see it was here about 10 years ago that he used to sleep in the park and panhandle in front of the CVS.  He was a homeless out-of-work drug user.  One evening he went into the park and shot up with some dirty needles.  He suspects it was that specific night that he contracted the HIV virus.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea, but the addiction had blurred his judgment.  It reminds me of Rob from Day 117 who said, “The thing about addiction is that people continue these behaviors in spite of catastrophic consequences.”  Anyway, he went years without knowing he was infected until he started to get quite ill and lost a considerable amount of weight.  He went to the hospital and found out that he was HIV positive.  He says that his health is good these days thanks to three little pills that he takes every day.  He says he knocked his drug addiction although still drinks alcohol which I could smell on his breath.

It was only about a year and a half ago that Carlton started painting.  “I didn’t want to panhandle no more” he said.  He got started when a woman left him some paint by the bench where he was sleeping.  He decided to give it a try.  “God taught me,” he answers when I ask if he was self-taught.  The reason he chooses to paint at Dupont Circle is that he hopes that some of the same people who used to see him strung out years ago will see him today and realize that he has talent and that he has improved his situation.  He talks to me about why he likes to paint landscapes, how he has deals with being HIV positive and being homeless:

With the money that I gave him he said he was going to buy some colored paints.

Here is another few minutes of my conversation with Carlton. I asked him how others can help him and I thought his answer was beautiful.

I really enjoyed talking with him.  As it got late and he finished his last painting he said that he needed to catch the Metro.  “Hey, why don’t you take this painting” he offers as he pushes the painting you see in these pictures toward me.  I told him that I couldn’t receive anything in return for the $10 but I did appreciate the gesture.

 
If you would like to find Carlton, he is often at Dupont Circle in front of the Bank of America during the afternoons.  And sometimes he is there at night, like today.  His paintings range from $20 and up, depending on the size and type.

UPDATE: I ran into Carlton on June 1, 2011 and visited with him for a while.  You can read about my latest encounter with him by clicking here.

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Tent City DC at Parcel 42 (photo: Reed)

Have you heard of Tent City in DC?  I hadn’t until a week ago Thursday when I went to an event for Bread for the City on 7th Street and then walked a few blocks with Karen, a YoG follower, to see what was going on there. 

Tent City DC was founded on July 10th, 2010 when members from a variety of community groups including ONE DC came together to bring attention to the lack of affordable housing in the District.  Long time residents are finding it nearly impossible to pay their rent much less achieve home ownership.  Here is a news clip that aired on ABC Channel 7 on their first day. 

Some of the community member's tents (photo: Reed)

Tent City DC is located at 7th and R Streets on a piece of land known as Parcel 42.  You can find information about Parcel 42 here.  The short story according to ONE DC’s website is that their organization had a meeting with then Deputy Mayor Neil Albert and reached an agreement that Parcel 42 would be developed into “very affordable housing.”  This has not happened and in fact it is rumored that this land will now be one of the many land areas here that get turned into luxury housing.  As a result of this, Tent City DC was established.  An interesting side note is that I have been there several times now and see almost no involvement from ONE DC anymore.  They apparently pulled most of their volunteers out of Parcel 42 after the fifth day, however, other community members have kept the protest going. 

I went back to Tent City DC the next day to bring some food, water, and supplies to the residents.  While I was there I met Ca’Vonn. 

A Shaw resident for past eleven years, she was born in DC and has grown up all over town.  After 15 years of marriage, she is now in the process of a divorce and trying to raise her six children; the youngest of which turned three on Monday.  I learned that a seventh child sadly died of SIDS.
Ca’Vonn said she had been there since the first day (photo: Reed)

 

She hopes to finish her studies at the University of the District of Columbia where she was studying journalism and music education.  But all of these demands have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the 33-year-old single mom.  And to make matters worse, she finds it increasingly difficult to find suitable housing for her and her kids.  That is why she is voicing her opinion about the need for affordable housing in her community.

As we are talking, two teenagers enter into Tent City DC and start talking to some of the members of the tent community.  All of a sudden, the one boy who was shirtless and had the number 500 tattooed across his stomach snatched a bicycle from a Tent City DC community member and rode off with it.  Can you believe it?!  Ca’Vonn got up and tried to calm the young lady down. 

Ca'Vonn looks for some relief from the scorching sun (photo: Reed)

My time at Tent City DC is somewhat surreal.  Although it’s just a small patch of land in the city, it represents so much more.  Gentrification has become rampant in many parts of DC, the Shaw community included.  This instance is a symbol of the systemic virus that is crippling our community.  Families who have lived in this neighborhood for generations are facing the reality that they will have to abandon their grandparents’ homes and try to start over in a new place.  If you want to help or learn what is going on at Tent City DC, you can check out their blog or check out the Lend a Hand page

So what does a mother of six children do with $10 during one of the hottest summers we have had in a long time?  She says she will treat her kids to an ice cream that evening!

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A Bread for the City volunteer plates food for the picnic guests (photo: Reed)

The Year of Giving has given me a renewed appreciation for so many organizations in the DC area that provide tremendous social good.  Several people who have been daily recipients of the Year of Giving have sung the praises of organizations such as:  American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Bread for the City, DC Cares, DC Central Kitchen, Food and Friends, Green Door, Martha’s Table, Miriam’s Kitchen, SOME, Street Sense, etc.  Today’s recipient possibly owe’s his wife’s life to a physician at one of these organizations.

Started in 1974, Bread for the City is a front line agency serving Washington’s poor.  The agency began as two organizations; Zacchaeus Free Clinic began in 1974 as a volunteer-run free medical clinic, and Bread for the City was created in 1976 by a coalition of downtown churches to feed and clothe the poor.  The two entities merged in 1995.  Today, we operate two Centers in the District of Columbia and provide direct services to low-income residents of Washington, DC.  All of our services are free.  Our mission is to provide comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to low-income Washington, DC residents in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.  – Source: www.breadforthecity.org

I have been aware of Bread for the City for many years, however, haven’t had the chance to get to know their services first hand.  So I decided to attend their Parking Lot Picnic and got to meet several of the staff members there and even got a tour of the facility which is currently being expanded (Thanks Kristin!)  Some of their staff worked hard all afternoon to provide hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone.  I grabbed a burger and sat down at a table next to Mike.  I had no idea how he and his story would impact me.

Mike and Reed (photo: Marnette)

Mike has been volunteering at Bread for the City for the last three years, but his relationship with the organization goes back much further.  You see Mike was a bicycle messenger and used to do a lot of deliveries for an insurance claims center.  He would go to Bread for the City and pick up claims for their clients and then deliver them to the processing center.  He was there all the time.  “Of all the places that I had to go and make a pick-up, this is the only place that had all their forms ready and organized” he said.

Well during the time that he was picking up forms at Bread for the City, his wife was struggling with a mysterious illness.  “No one could figure it out.  She couldn’t hold anything down” he said.  “No fluids, nothing!”  She got down to 98 pounds and was deathly ill.  “About once a week we would have to call an ambulance and she’d go in and they’d give her an IV and she’d be better for a while, but then when she would get home it’d start again.”  They stuck her so many times that they had to resort to her neck in order to find good veins.

Finally one day he was at Bread for the City and met Dr. Randi, the organization’s medical director.  Dr. Randi agreed to take a look at his wife’s situation and noticed she was on all kinds of medications.  Dr. Randi ordered her to stop taking all the medicine for a while so that she could start to understand what was going wrong and then carefully prescribe medicine to correct the issues that she discovers.  Well guess what happened?  After Marnette, Mike’s wife, went off all the medicine, she started getting better.  She was holding down food and putting on weight.  It wasn’t long before she was perfectly fine.  I met Marnette, who works in food service at Powell Elementary School, and she looked healthy and said she couldn’t feel better today.  They are both extremely thankful for Dr. Randi’s dedication and compassion.

Photo: Reed

Fast forward to the present.  He and his wife are happily married and healthy.  Mike no longer is a bike messenger.  “The bike messenger business has completely changed.”  According to Mike after 9/11, the anthrax scares and the increased exchange of electronic files, the number of bike messengers in DC plummeted.  Now he drives tour buses and limousines.  “Instead of taking envelopes from Point A to Point B, I take people!”

Mike said that he was going to use the $10 to buy groceries for him and his wife.

If you would like to volunteer or support Bread for the City, go to their website and click on “Get Involved.”

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Day 219 – Tara H.

Day 219 was an interesting experience. It ended up being about 10:00pm and I hadn’t given away my $10 yet.

Tara and Sean in the fountain at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

On my way home from an event I attended I decided to see who I could find at Dupont Circle. I saw a group of people sitting on the edge of the fountain. A young lady in their group was actually standing in the fountain and two others dangled their feet in the cool water in search of some respite from the smothering heat. Just as I got close to them they spotted a friend passing by and started chatting with him. I kept walking to the south side of the fountain and sat down on a bench and just watched the scene for a little bit. It wasn’t long before I spotted Tara and Sean.

I saw a couple who were standing in the fountain getting their picture taken by a random person. They were using their phone to take the picture and I overheard someone saying that the picture didn’t come out very well. Although I didn’t have my SLR camera with me I did have my small canon digital camera that my friend Patricia lent me when my canon digital camera died. I figured I might be able to get a better picture for them. While offering to take their photo I took advantage of the opportunity to ask them to be my 219th recipient. This launched us into a thirty minute roller coaster discussion about my motives and reasoning behind my project and giving in general.

While Tara seemed more open to accepting the $10, Sean was quite clear that he didn’t want the money. A few times he actually said that he would  accept it but wanted me then to go and find someone more “deserving” to give it to.  I explained that he could do that but he wasn’t interested in that option. At a certain point I wrote the encounter off as a refusal and decided to take the photo of the two twenty-somethings anyway and send it to them.

About that time Tara made me an offer. “If you get in the fountain with me I will accept your $10” I was dressed in a suit and can assure you that if you had asked me earlier that day to name 100 potential things I would be doing later that evening, jumping in the fountain at Dupont Circle would not have made the list. With a little encouragement from Tara I decided to take her up on the offer. I think this marks the first time that I have had to do something for someone else in order for them to accept my $10.

Off went my socks and shoes. I rolled up my suit pants to my knees and

Reed steps around to the other side of the camera (photo: Sean)

swung my leg over the edge of the fountain. Before I knew it the two of us were standing in the middle of the fountain laughing as Sean took a photo of us. It was fun and felt really good.

We got out of the fountain and I let my feet dry off a little.

I found out that Tara works for a property management firm in Annapolis, MD where she has lived her entire life with the exception of attending East Carolina University. Sean and her have been friends since their freshman year of high school. On this night they were just hanging out, catching up with one another and having a few drinks.

I asked Tara what she planned on doing with the $10. “I want to do something good with it but it might just get spent on alcohol at the next bar we go to” she admits. I told her that she could do anything she wanted to with the money. “You know what, I am going to find a homeless person to give it to on the way to where we’re going.”

I put my socks and shoes back on and said goodbye to them both. They headed toward the Dupont Hotel and I headed back toward my place.

I got the following email from Tara the next day:

Reed,
I met you last night in the Dupont Circle fountain and you chose my friend Sean and I to be your Pay it Forward. I wanted to let you know after a deliciously over priced martini at Cafe Dupont, before retrieving a cab, I walked back over to the circle and woke up a homeless man. I asked him if he was hungry, he said “of course” and then I handed him the $10.
The first words out of his mouth were “God bless you, your an angel” and I just walked away. I’ve read many of the responses on your blog about peoples’ judgement on why we (being the participants that give away the money to someone that “deserves” it) would do such a thing. It isn’t even because it made me feel good, because it didn’t, I was thinking about the much larger picture and impact that you are having on so many people. After grabbing the cab and passing off the $10, we went back to my friends house and were sitting there telling his roommates about how we met this crazy guy named “Reed” and everything about the Year of Giving and his one roommate was like “Yea, yea, yea… OH MY GOD, I’ve heard about this guy! He’s like famous.” And of course I start laughing immediately at Sean from his skepticism but we were so enlightened by the whole experience.

Point being:
a) You chose my friend and I for a reason
b) We could have easily spent the $10 at the bar but instead that $10 fed a homeless man for the next 2 days.
c) Making you get into the fountain with me just so you could give me $10 was RIDICULOUS!
d) What you are doing is special, kind and humbling.

God bless you and your ventures!!!
I’m excited to follow you up until your Christmas Party!

It was a pleasure.
Tara

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Deborah (left) and Keely pose with two five-spots! (photo: Reed)

Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a conversation with someone and realize I should give my $10 to the person that I am speaking with.  This happened on Day 218.  My friend Patricia was on her way to Australia and had some friends coming to stay at her place while she was gone so we agreed to meet so that she could leave her key with me to give to them when they got into town.  Sounds slightly complicated, but really it was quite straightforward. 

Patricia showed up with Keely, Patricia’s sister, and Deborah.  The two ladies have been friends almost all their life.  They met around the age of 10 and they are about 40 now…so 30 years more or less.  They live in Long Island and were in DC visiting Patricia.  As I witnessed their banter back and forth I couldn’t help but find the entire conversation hysterical.  Having known each other for so long, they seem to know what the other will say and almost finish each other’s sentences on a regular basis. 

Keely is married and has three children and works as an elementary school librarian.  Deborah is single with no kids and works as an office manager at an accounting firm. 

We talked about all kinds of interesting facts.  For example the most popular book in the elementary school where Keely teaches is a book by American author Jeff Kinney called The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I had never heard of this book, but then again what do I know about the reading habits of ten-year-olds?  She said that she only lets third graders and above borrow it due to its subject matter.  Keely didn’t buy my notion that the Dewey Decimal System will one day be replaced by something more contemporary.  I know it’s based on a simple principle, but I got to think that after 135 years somebody would have come up with an even better system!

Deborah, who Keely says is an extremely loyal friend, has a bit of a fear of heights.  She doesn’t like the escalators at the Metro and is not even fond of going up in her attic.  However, she had no problem jumping in a hot air balloon and going up thousands of feet in the Arizona sky.  She admits that logically she should have had more fear of the “glorified wicker basket.”  In fact she loved it.  I found it funny that they allowed alcohol on the hot air balloon ride so that they could do a champagne toast but didn’t allow anyone to board with flip-flops – for supposed safety reasons. 

The conversation turned to food and I learned that both Keely and Deborah are a little obsessed with two iconic food establishments: Cracker Barrel and Dairy Queen (I think they like to be called DQ now.)  Check them out here talking about both places:

I checked DQ.com and it seems that they are right; there are no DQ’s on Long Island.  The closest ones are in NJ.  I think Carvel dominated that region.  Well, free advice for the DQ folks: Open a store on Long Island!!!

The conversation turned a little more serious when we discussed what they would do with the $10.  Keely and Patricia’s uncle was recently diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma so Keely and Deborah thought that maybe they would donate it to a charity that focuses on finding a cure for the disease.  I think he was to start chemotherapy last week so I hope that we have good news soon!  I told them to tell their uncle to be strong!

I later learned that the following day on the way to the airport they risked being late for their flight to make a quick pit-stop at a DQ.  Thankfully they got their ice cream and got back on the road and arrived at the airport just in time!

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I’m heading over to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic later today.  Should be a good day of tennis, both Andy Roddick and John Isner are playing tonight!  They play up at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.  If you are not familiar with Rock Creek Park, it is a beautiful sanctuary of green space in Washington, DC that is twice the size of New York’s Central Park. 

On my way home from work I walk right by the lower part of the park.  One evening after work I noticed that there were only two people in the park near the entrance of the park at 23rd and O Streets.  One was a young man who was sitting by himself in the middle of the park.  The other was a man who was walking around in a slightly crazed manner.  I watched as the wandering man got closer and closer to the guy sitting by himself. 

By the time I got close to the guy sitting on the grass, the other man had wandered over to the edge of the woods.  I decided to approach the young man sitting by himself.

Raoul preferred not to be photographed, but he was sitting just over the hill to the right (photo: Reed)

I introduced myself and took a seat next to Raoul.  He’s a 32-year-old professional who works here in DC for a non-profit focused on energy sustainability.  “I came out here just to relax a little and catch up on some emails,” he told me as he lifted his right hand to reveal a cell phone.

There are some tennis courts and a swimming pool adjacent to where we were sitting and Raoul told me that he had actually just came from a swim over at the pool.  I have never been to the Francis Swimming Pool (2500 N. Street).  In fact I didn’t even know it was there until a few weeks ago.  Given how hot it has been this summer I am considering making a visit over there though.  It’s walking distance from my place and it’s free for DC residents!

Originally from Mumbai (Bombay), India, Raoul moved to the US about 15 years ago.  His parents are diplomats and they were posted here in DC.  He grew up speaking Hindi and five other local dialects in addition to English.  I asked him how somebody learns five dialects!  “You just sort of pick them up informally by talking with your friends” he shared.  Now he also speaks some Spanish, French and Italian.  It probably won’t come as any surprise to you that Raoul is well traveled and has visited 37 countries.

I love Indian food and never miss an opportunity to ask someone who I think might have a good tip about finding the ultimate in Indian cuisine.  “I like the Bombay Club” he said about the Farragut North locale.  I haven’t been there but will definitely check it out.  He says that he really misses some of the simple street foods from India. 

View of Connecticut Avenue crossing Rock Creek Park

Raoul says that he will give the $10 to somebody else or some organization.  “Maybe I’ll give it to Bread for the City” he says.  That’s odd…because I was planning to go to a Bread for the City event later that week.  It’s a great organization that I will talk about later this week.

Since Raoul is working for a sustainable energy organization I thought I would ask if he had any advice for people on how they could do their part on conserving energy.  He looked over at me and said “Turn the lights off and take the metro.”  Sounds so simple but most of us could do better about reducing the electricity we use and taking public transportation.

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Feijoada and side dishes

I lived in Brazil for three years and absolutely loved the food.  One of the most typical meals is feijoada, in fact it is considered the national dish and is eaten almost exclusively at lunch time on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  In the US we don’t really have this custom of eating a certain dish every week on the same day, but it seems to work.  Feijoada is a heavy stew consisting of black turtle beans, a variety of salted pork and beef products (such as ears, tails, tongue, feet, etc), bacon, pork ribs and a couple of types of smoked sausage.  I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s delicious!

You toss all of these ingredients in large clay pot and let it simmer for hours until you get this beautiful rich purplish-brown juice which coats your tongue like a velvety glass of Petit Verdot.

So my friend Carmen, who is from Brazil, was celebrating her birthday by having some people over for feijoada.  While I was there I met a friend of hers named Elida who is from Carmen’s hometown of Campo Grande.  Elida spent two days preparing this feast and it was delicious!

She came to the US on July 5th to attend her nephew’s wedding in New York and then came down to DC to visit with Carmen and other friends.  She is planning to stay until August 13th.

Feijoada: Brazil's national dish

This is not her first time to the States though; in fact her husband was an American.  Elida did something that I thought was really great too, she signed up for a mini English course that she is taking for three weeks.

Although now retired, Elida worked for many years for Banco Itau.  That was my bank actually when I lived in Brazil.  Now she dedicates her time to her family.  She will soon be a grandmother!  She told me that she was asking her son, “When am I going to have some grandchildren?” and the next day he came to her and said, “You’re going to be a grandmother!”  The baby is due in April.

“I’m going to use the $10 to buy an outfit for the baby” she told me.

I tried to get some photos of her but she preferred not being photographed.

I asked her if there was anything she needed or wanted that somebody might be able to help her with.  She thought and said that she didn’t really need anything but that her dream was to spend a day in Paris.  “My husband promised me that we would go there, but we never did it.”  Who knows… maybe one day that dream will come true.

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