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Archive for December, 2010

Day 364…just one more day after today’s blog post to come full circle with my year-long commitment.  But this movement will continue on.  This weekend an important new chapter will begin for the Year of Giving. Our first Kindness Investor will start blogging about her giving experience.  I can’t wait for you to meet Melinda and the amazing people she meets each day when she gives away $10.

I found today’s recipient as I left the Starbucks at Dupont Circle.  Roman was getting ready to get on his bicycle when I approached him and asked him to accept my $10.

Roman, originally from Kiev, Ukraine, is a night club promoter here in DC.  He’s also a student at Strayer University where he studies business administration.

It was one of the coldest days of the year.  I kept our conversation brief as I could feel the blood flowing through my veins turning to ice.  Ok not really, but you get the idea.  Anyway, the 24-year-old said he was going to use the money to buy some coffee during the week.

Before saying goodbye, I invited him to the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration the following evening.  He rode off on his bike and I hurried home.

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Today marks the first day of giving for our newest Kindness Investor from Seattle: Petra.   I spoke to another future Kindness Investor earlier this week.  His name is Michael B. from Connecticut and he will start his week of kindness investing on January 5th.  Slowly I am getting people to join this movement; a seven-day, seventy dollar investment that has the power to change an unemployed person’s perspective on life through kindness.  If you or someone you know are out of work and want an opportunity of a lifetime, drop me a line.

Today’s recipient is one whose story touched me tremendously.  I was in Manassas, VA visiting my good friends Thomas and Tressa.  It was their beautiful baby girl Tegan’s first birthday.  Well, I guess she already had a birthday last year…a real birth day…anyway she turned one!  While I was there I met a friend of theirs named Jen who teaches at the same school where Tressa teaches.  I decided to give her my $10.

Our conversation was quite typical at first.  We talked about her job as a high school biology teacher.  I learned about her experience volunteering in Ghana with an ophthalmologist.  “I did eye exams and distributed glasses to local communities,” she explained.  “It completely inspired me!”  It inspired her to pursue other dreams and that is why next year this 30-year-old Pittston, PA native will leave her lesson plans on photosynthesis and Mendel’s heredity research for a new career in medicine.

It’s not a surprise that Jen is going back to school when you learn that she is the faculty member that overseas homecoming, student council, prom, quiz team, etc.  Yep, she’s definitely an overachiever.  My friends tell me that she is a karaoke wiz too!  “I know the lyrics to just about any song from the late 80s and early 90s,” she says beaming.

Then I asked a question that completely changed our carefree conversation, “Are you married, do you have kids?” I asked.  There was a brief silence and she responded that she was a widow.  I offered my condolences and she explained that her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, was killed on October 31st of 2003 in Fallujah, Iraq when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his Humvee.  The 23-year-old was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.  A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Todd’s death came just 52 days after being deployed or as Jen put it to a journalist once, “55 letters later.”  “And we were married just ten days before he deployed,” she told me managing to keep her composure.

She shared with me the moment that she learned the news.  “I was teaching at my school,” she began to say, “when I was visited by an Army general and chaplain…”

I was speechless.  I just wanted to give her a big hug.  In a matter of minutes I felt like I knew Jen for years rather than the handful of minutes we had actually spent talking to each other.  And although I never met Todd, I can assure you that he was nothing less than extraordinary.

I have to be honest I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd when I got home later that evening.  I had so many questions and turned to the Internet to find out more.  He quickly becomes more than a casualty of war but a bright young man who liked In-n-Out burgers and making people laugh, who dreamed of raising a family with his soul mate and pursuing a career in government where he could effect real change in our country.  He was a husband, a son, a brother and a friend.  He would have been my friend.

There were also comments from those who never knew Todd but reached out to pay their respects to a family that understood the meaning of  service.  Todd’s parents were former military officers and his brother Tim is currently a Lt. Col in the U.S. Marine Corps serving in the Marine Expeditionary Unit  and sister Tiffany, a 2000 graduate of West Point herself, served as a Captain in the Army before becoming a teacher.

You’ll even find a hard to put down book entitled In the Time of War by Bill Murphy, Jr. that focuses on Todd and his fellow graduating class from West Point.  I got the book and have read several chapters already.   It has several heartfelt excerpts of letters that Jen wrote to her husband and Todd’s farewell letter to Jen.  I can’t remember the last time I cried from reading a book.

It was fitting I thought that she decided to use the ten dollars to buy items for a care package that the student council members at her school were preparing to send to troops stationed overseas for the holidays.

Todd J. Bryant 1/14/80 - 10/31/03

We live far away from places like Fallujah, Iraq and Helmand Province, Afghanistan and sometimes we take for granted the sacrifices our brothers and sisters in uniform make for us.  I dedicate this blog post to the memory of Todd Bryant and encourage you to take a moment of silence right now and pay your respects to Todd and all of those who have lost their lives serving their respective countries.

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Filter Coffee House, 1726 20th NW, Washington, DC

It was the Sunday before my Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration on December 14th and I was scrambling to get everything done that I needed to do.  I had taken a break from my planning to meet up with a friend of mine who was visiting from Sao Paulo, Brazil.  We went to Maggiano’s for lunch and on my way home I stopped by a small coffee shop near my apartment called Filter.  Those who have followed the Year of Giving for a long time and have superpower memory might recall that I met Mark from Day 132 there as well.

I was sitting there having an espresso scoping out the café.  I really didn’t need a coffee, but I did need to find a recipient and given that it was raining outside I figured that finding someone indoors where it was dry and warm was much more appealing than talking to someone while becoming a human sponge.

I grabbed a seat in the cozy café next to two young ladies who were sitting to my left.  There are maybe 10 tables so often times you end up sharing a table with someone else.  I didn’t know if they were together or just sharing a table, but figured I would ask the one sitting closest to me.  It turned out they weren’t together and Meg, after pulling the earphones from her ears, agreed to accept my money.  The other girl at some point seemed bothered by the conversation, or just bummed she didn’t get the ten bucks, and moved.

Meg and her husband JD with the ten dollars

Meg is a 23-year-old who lives in Takoma Park, MD and came into the city that afternoon to go to a “good coffee shop.”  She was reading Wilkie Collins’ 19th century classic epistolary The Moonstone and listening to some music while she waited for her husband JD to arrive.  Meg does some really amazing work.  She works for an organization that helps resettle refugees from conflict areas such as Somalia, Sudan, DRC, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.  “It’s very rewarding,” she said taking a sip of her latte.

Meg and her husband got married this summer and moved here after having met at Oklahoma State University.  Now a bunch of my relatives went to OU and I thought that this would be a good thing to mention.  Little did I know that you don’t want to tell an Oklahoma State alum that you are partial to OU.  We made quick treaty and she went on to tell me that she and her husband had spent time living abroad in Egypt and really enjoyed it.  Having lived in Mexico, Spain and Brazil myself, I think the opportunity to live in another country, especially one where they speak another language, is extremely rewarding.

JD arrived covered with beads of rain from the lingering afternoon drizzle.  As it turns out he left his wallet in the car and asked Meg if she could buy him a coffee.  Meg smiled and slid the ten dollars across the table to her husband.

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The Year of Giving made AOL’s Top 10 Good News Stories of 2010!  Wow!  I can’t believe it.  Check the link above to read all ten amazing stories!

I was over in Southwest picking up the autographed baseball that the Nats donated for the fundraising auction when I decided to find somebody in the neighborhood to give my $10 to.  I first approached a female crossing guard who was braving the cold to make sure the intersection at First and M Streets was safe for school children.  Although she said she really liked the idea of the Year of Giving, she politely declined saying that as a city employee she could not accept any money.

Charmaine suffers from various illnesses and alcohol dependency.

I drove south on First Street a few blocks and found Charmaine walking down an ally near First and O Streets.  Dressed in sweat suit, covered by a white robe and black leather trench coat, Charmaine was walking west down an empty alley holding a plastic supermarket bag.

The 55-year-old told me that she was originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She has a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.

I get Supplemental Security Income in the form of disability.  “I suffer from pancreatitis, hepatitis c, high blood pressure and a chronic breathing disorder,” she told me.  “I also am battling depression and suicidal tendencies; I have schizoaffective disorder.”

It was about 3pm and I enquired about where she was going since she was still dressed in her robe.  “I just ran up to the corner store (I later found out that she went to the Friendly Food Market that didn’t look so friendly) to get me some more beer; you can probably smell it on my breath,” she said admitting that she probably shouldn’t be drinking because of the pancreatitis, but she struggles with alcohol dependency.  “I get two Keystones for $1.25,” she told me pointing to the white plastic sack she was clutching in her right hand.  I had a feeling she was going to tell me that she was going to use the ten dollars for beer too, but she had another answer.  “I’m gonna get me some food, soap and toilet paper; I don’t got no toilet paper to wipe my ass with,” she said showing me her toothless smile.

We were interrupted by a guy who was getting belligerent with us.  He had seen my SLR camera and took an unwanted interest in us.  I quickly tucked the camera back in my bag and barked back at him to leave us alone.  He kept on taunting us for a few minutes and then walked away.  “You gotta be careful,” Charmaine admonished, “a young boy was shot and killed just one street over earlier this week.”  I got the message loud and clear.  I gave Charmaine a quick hug, said goodbye and bee-lined it back to my car and got out of there.

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Tomas does a little dance in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue.

I couldn’t dream up some of the people that I come across.  Today, I ran across Thomas Jefferson, one of the four Washington Nationals’ mascots!  It was ironic, because the day before I had reached out to the National’s organization to ask for a donation item for the year-end celebration raffle.  By the way, they came through on that and generously donated an autographed baseball by outfield slugger Josh Willingham.  

Jefferson, whose jersey bears the name “Tomas”, wears the number three which corresponds to him being the third president of the United States.  I am not sure why he doesn’t have an “h” in the spelling of his name.  Anyway, he was in front of the Chipotle in Dupont handing out some flyers about the Nationals’ holiday promotion where you buy three games for about the price of two games, including tickets to opening day, and get a free Nationals ornament – pretty decent package.  I got to about ten games this past season and even gave my $10 away at about six or seven of them.  I already have 2011 opening day on my calendar; I haven’t missed it in the past four years.

Communication was limited to head nods and hand gestures as Tomas was unable to speak.  He was pretty good at it too.  If you need a charades partner, he’s your man.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he rubbed his belly.  “Food,” I asked and he rocked his enormous head back and forth.  Then he made a gesture like he was freezing cold.  Or maybe he was going to use it to buy some clothes.  Well, to be fair he was probably freezing cold.  He was wearing shorts and it was about 30 degrees.  Note to Nationals administration: Please get this guy some warmer clothes.

For those of you who have been to a game know that the four presidents whose images appear on Mount Rushmore (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt) have a race every home game from center field to the

Me and Tomas near Dupont Circle.

Nationals dugout.  Tomas is in second place overall since the inception of the race with 97 wins.  Despite having the second best record, he has never finished any single season in first place.  But then again, he’s doing better than poor Teddy who has never won a race.  Let Teddy Win!

We said goodbye and Tomas gave me a high-five.  I hoped that he would come to my year-end celebration, but to my knowledge he was not there.  Then again, without his costume I probably wouldn’t have recognized him!

Let’s go Nats!

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I asked if I could take Pierre's photograph and he said, "Why not, I am a handsome man!"

After attending a luncheon fundraiser for Room to Read that featured journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts, I hailed a cab and headed over to my office at 24th and M Streets.  I asked the cab driver how his day was and he responded, “Wonderful.  Every day is beautiful!”  I peered up at the name listed on the taxi permit fastened to the underside of the sun visor and saw that his name was Pierre.

I leaned over, grabbed my book bag and pulled my small notebook out to take some notes about this jovial character as we traveled the 30 blocks across town.

Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Pierre moved here in 1972.  “I remember it well, it was the year that Mr. Nixon had some trouble,” the 66-year-old said still smiling broadly.  “And the Dolphins won the Superbowl!”  He would know that too because he moved to Miami before moving to DC later in 1975.  He hasn’t been back to Haiti in a while though.  In fact, he isn’t aware of any family still living there.  “If I have some, I don’t know them.” 

“I’ve been driving a cab since 1984 or 85.”  He’s been lucky, he said, that he has never experienced any dangerous situations while driving his cab like Freddy, the recipient from Day 331 who was shot while driving his taxi back in the late eighties. 

I shared with Pierre that part of my motivation for this project was my mother, who passed away four years ago this month.  He told me that he lost his wife two years and eight months ago.  “We had ten children and 20 grandkids.  The oldest is now 46; I had her my last year of high school,” he said turning onto M Street.  “All but one of them are here in DC.  And the 20th grandchild was just born the day before.  “I was coming from the hospital when I picked you up,” Pierre said.  

I love this guy.  He had such an energy and esprit de vivre!  His ten dollars went to buying his lunch for the day.

“I really like what you are doing,” he said as I got out of his cab.  “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!” he said with his intoxicating voice.  

I hopped out and snapped this photo of him as he pulled away.

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There was a lot of talk earlier this week of a white Christmas here in Pennsylvania, but so far no snow.  I had a wonderful holiday with my father, brother and sister-in-law.  I got some great presents and had fun making cookies and playing bridge.  I am stuffed though.  No more food for me until Spring.

It's hard to see here but this is a photograph that I took of James sleeping. He leans slightly against the wall and his upper body slowly bends toward the earth.

Today’s recipient is going to touch your heart.  He’s 58-year-old James who has been homeless in DC for “six or seven years.”  I found him at the Chinatown Metro stop late at night while he slept standing up.  I observed him for about five minutes and then he began to fall over and woke up again.  I walked over to see if he was ok.

“Oh I’m fine, thank you,” James said forcing the words through the frozen air.  “I sleep standing up ‘cause I get cramps lying down.”  He later added, “The last time I slept in a bed was 1995.”  I can’t imagine that.  I was still in college at that time.

Through speaking with James it appears that he has some chronic health problems, but he refuses to go to the hospital.  “I don’t trust them,” he says softly.  

Everything that James owns sat in front of him in a cold metallic shopping cart which he keeps chained to him to ensure that nobody steals it while he sleeps.  “I have my clothes, soap, cleaning stuff, shoes, underwear, socks, a step-ladder,” he says continuing on to name some other items.  I notice that tucked on top of the cart was a Webster’s Dictionary that was probably 25 years old.  “Oh, that’s my dictionary,” he said rallying a bit of energy, “I like to read the dictionary.” 

James says that he doesn’t have any living relatives that he knows of.  His mother died in 1968 and his grandmother looked after him until she later passed away.  

James eyes rarely opened wider than this.

He seemed interested in US presidents.  He enthusiastically spoke about President Obama.  He seemed fond of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.  “Clinton was alright, he came out to a trailer park one time to meet the folks,” he started to say, “and Jimmy Carter was a good man too, he had nigger lips, did ya ever notice that?”  His comment paralyzed me slightly and I couldn’t even really come up with a response.  I’ve never liked that word and don’t use it myself.  It so often comes loaded with so much hate when it is uttered, but James said it with endearing admiration for the 86-year-old former president.

James tries to stay warm next to his belongings.

“I’m probably gonna get me a burger and a $0.65 senior coffee at McDonald’s,” he said motioning toward the ten dollars that was folded between his fingers.  Sometimes he hangs out there to stay warm, watch some television and treat himself to the occasional ice cream.

The air was so cold my face was hurting.  I said goodbye and shook his bare hand.  It was cold and stiff and I asked if he had gloves.  If he didn’t, I was going to leave mine with him.  “I’ve got some, they’re in my pocket, I’m just not wearing them right now.”  The temperature was plummeting and I urged him to go to a shelter, but he insisted that he would be fine.  I hope that he was right.  Street Sense’s Ellen Gilmer reported last week that 37 homeless individuals died this last year in the DC area.  Sadly many of them probably died alone.

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