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Archive for February, 2011

Thanks for those of you who have reached out to become Kindness Investors!  The next few weeks are certain to be exciting!

As you know, I dedicate every Monday’s blog post to my weekly volunteer experiences.  I recently stumbled upon an interesting organization called the Center for Nonprofit Success (CFNPS) whose mission is to provide the training, knowledge and resources to help nonprofit organizations succeed.  I thought this would be an excellent group to help out.

DSC_0001.jpgCFNPS holds monthly seminars on a variety of topics salient to the success of nonprofits.  Volunteers are utilized to help produce the events and I applied and was accepted to help with a session titled, “Strategic Alliances 101.”

I showed up at 7:30am as requested and searched for someone from CFNPS.  I was surprised not to find anyone.  There was one woman who seemed to be managing everything but she told me that she didn’t work for CFNPS and in fact was a volunteer herself.  “I’ve volunteered one other time with them,” she told me.

“So who is from CFNPS,” I asked a few of the other volunteers.

Nobody seemed to know based on the silence and shoulder shrugs.  As it turns out there was nobody there from the organization.  They rely completely on volunteers.  Part of me loves this model, the other part realizes that there were some downfalls as a result.  None of us really knew anything about the organization and were unable to answer questions from the attendees.

My name tag from the seminar

Anyway, I got to work organizing the registration desk and welcoming attendees.  It went rather smoothly thanks to the great team of volunteers.  The room completely filled up, I’m guessing there were about 50 attendees.  There were four speakers and the program got started just a few minutes after the 8:00am schedule start time.  Although I thought the speakers were good and quite knowledgeable about their respective areas of expertise, I didn’t think they really addressed the topic that was listed in the program:

This Session will explore:
-How to know if a Strategic Alliance will benefit your organization
-The different kinds of alliances and partnerships and how nonprofits can benefit from them
– A step by step guide to setting up a partnership
-Identifying suitable partners
– Common mistakes to avoid with your strategic partner
– How to evaluate whether your alliance is producing a return on investment

You will leave this session with a full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.

The four presenters spoke almost exclusively about fundraising.  After the second speaker, a few of the attendees began to ask me if they were at the right session.  I assured them they were, however, I too noticed that the presentations didn’t seem to address the topics above and certainly didn’t give someone a “full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.”  One attendee was really bothered and complained that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to attend, not to mention had paid $100 to participate.  “This is a waste of time,” he said as he packed up his items and just left.

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All in all it was an interesting experience.  I actually got something out of the presentations since I am involved in fundraising in my profession, however, it was clear that many of the attendees found themselves utterly confused with the incongruence between the description and presentations.

CFNPS holds seminars in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattleand Washington, DC.  Click here for a calendar of upcoming events.

Next Monday I will be sharing with you my experience volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen!  Stay tuned.

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

Photo: Maria D.

Meet Alex.  She’s a vibrant, young woman, full of life and energy.  She’s lived in Australia, Oregon, Chicago, and attended undergrad at Northwestern.  Alex has a passion for grapes, which is what has led her to her current gig as Director of Marketing and Communication for Washington Wine Academy, based out of Arlington, VA.

But it wasn’t a smooth transition – she was an unemployed, “freaking out” new graduate “loafing” around Oregon and came to VA on a whim to take a wine certification class after working at Winestyles in college.  Her instructor at WWA saw something in her that he wanted to snatch up, and hired her back in April 2010.

Alex’s gamble of moving out East from Oregon seems to have paid off as she loves her job – wine, people, events, what’s not to love?  Which brings us to her $10.  She knew immediately how she’d be spending it: “mmm, a giant coffee and a breakfast sandwich” while working her company’s event this weekend, a 1K Wine Walk.

When I asked her if she needed anything, she quickly responded, “No thanks, I’m perfect!  Well….(she hastily recanted) I could use an extra day before Monday!  Can you guys help me with that?”  Probably not…but thanks for your infectious smile and boundless energy, Alex!

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Thanks to the couple of people who have reached out to me after my “wanted ad” yesterday.  It’s with pleasure that I introduce to you our Kindness Investor for the next seven days!  Her stories begin tomorrow!
Name: Maria D.
Age? 27
Where do you live? Takoma Park, MD, near Washington, D.C.
Where were you born? Guildford, England
What’s the highest level of education you have completed? Juris Doctor
Do you have a family? I’m a single gal, but am very close with my sister Julianna, parents John and Catherine, and have a superstar half-bro named Ron

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? I am temping where Reed works, so I heard about it while he was recruiting some other potential Kindness Investors

How long have you been unemployed? Hmm, well I guess officially since graduating law school in May 2010 and moving to D.C. to look for a job in Oct. 2010
What happened? The market for newly minted lawyers sucks. Straight up.  I graduated knowing I wanted to be a human rights/civil rights non-profit lobbyist but no leads. So I took a leap of faith and am still finding my way while temping at World Wildlife Fund.
Do you currently volunteer? Yes, I am starting to volunteer with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (they do DNA exoneration for MD, VA, and DC inmates) and N Street Village (a women’s shelter and center), as well as other random events when help is needed.
Who have been your biggest influences? My mom and dad, who instilled a sense of social justice in me from an early age, and anyone else who has spoken out to help others when those in need had no voice. Also my Nonna, who emigrated from Sicily and started a life out of literally nothing.  Hard work is very important to me, as is appreciating life.
What is your favorite food? Tomatoes.  But as a dish, I’d say Capellini Pomodoro (angel hair pasta w/ fresh basil, tomato, olive oil, and garlic tossed together). Now I’m hungry!
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? After the bar exam, I had the privilege of going to Europe for a month. I went to Paris for a week and made friends with the woman who set up breakfast and cleaned the hostel. We had a mid-morning dance party a few times, which was pretty awesome. On the last day, she took the earings she was wearing out of her ears and gave them to me.  I kept them on for the rest of the trip…Well, until my ears started to hurt. Ha..
Describe your ideal job: My ideal job is working as a researcher and lobbyist at a non-profit engaged in tax policy reform that benefits low and middle-income families.

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There’s no blog post today from a Kindness Investorthat’s because we don’t currently have one! :(

So…I thought I would utilize today’s post to try to find one.

Wanted: 46 unemployed or underemployed individuals who are willing to be Kindness Investors for seven days!  No prior experience necessary, just seven ten-dollar bills and a willingness to reach out to seven strangers and give them ten bucks and find out what they are going to do with it.  Interested candidates can email reed@yearofgiving.org for more details!

 

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A picture of Bob from my original encounter with him a year ago. (Photo: Reed)

Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I met Bob on the basketball court near the intersection of 17th and P Streets in DC.  Draped in layers of clothing and blankets Bob made me very nervous.  I remember his hands disappearing under the garments several times as he erratically moved closer to my face calling me stupid.  “Was there a weapon concealed beneath the sea of fabrics he wore?” I thought to myself as I held my ground.

It turns out that Bob suffers from mental illness and probably doesn’t pose a threat to anyone.  I have seen him a few times since our original encounter; however, I hadn’t been able to really talk to him until last night.  It was just before midnight as I headed home from a dinner at Birch and Barley on 16th Street with an old colleague in town for the week.

“Oh, yeah…you were the one who writes the stories,” he told me after I reminded him that I had given him $10.  “Well, ok,” he began to say nervously, “So, how have things been with you?”  I gave him a quick update on me and then tried to find out what he has been up to.

He was dressed in the exact same sweatshirt and torn slippers that he wore a year ago.  The aluminum foil, rags and plastic bags that covered his head were gone; however, he now had a small swatch of aluminum foil covering his nose.  It was held in place by a rubber band that wrapped around his head, forcing the skin of his upper cheeks toward his eyes.

I watched as he shot from the foul line.  Like my earlier encounter he sank basket after basket always shooting with just the right hand.  In his left hand he held a newspaper, bottle of water and the corner of the grey standard issue homeless outreach blanket.  His twelfth attempt wasn’t successful.  “That wasn’t a good shot,” he said as he released the slightly deflated ball, “I’m not concentrating.”  I apologized and offered that he probably missed the shot because I was talking to him.  He says that he believes that he has made 20+ one-handed shots from the foul line this century.  That doesn’t compare to his record of lay-ups in a row which he claims to be approximately 2,900.

The evening was definitely worthy of a warm jacket but the still air and bright light from the moon’s last quarter phase helped mitigate the temperature.  He seemed to be shooting a little hastily, albeit every time placing his toe exposed slippers in the exact same location.

“I think there is about four or five specific movements that I do and I try to do them exactly the same way every time in order to make a basket.”  He went on to explain that the key is to add a little bit of top-spin to the release.

Another photo from my original encounter with Bob in 2010.

I stood in silence and watched him shoot.  He’s truly gifted at being able to reproduce the same shot.  One of his attempts misses and I take the opportunity to ask him about the $10 I had given him.  I actually never asked him what he was going to use it for so I thought I would try to take the moment to find out.  He didn’t recall very well, after all it has been a year, but he said it probably went toward some food or bus fare.

My question about money must have triggered something in his head.  “Do you have a few dollars that you could give me,” he asked not taking his eyes from his target.  The shot missed and he walked over to retrieve the ball next to his cart holding his belongings.  I reached into my pockets and found some coins.  “I hate to ask you but I need to add a few dollars on my Metro card.”  I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it in his hand.

Shortly after I thought I should leave.  It was now close to 12:30 in the morning and I needed to get up early.  I shook his weathered hand and told him to take care of himself.  He returned the pleasantry and continued shooting baskets.  I watched him shoot as I excited the court.  He made three in a row before he slipped out of sight.

You can find my original post on Bob by clicking here.

 

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC.

When I started the second Year of Giving and invited others who were out of work or underemployed to pick up where I left off after my 365 day journey I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that a year was way too long to find someone who would continue the giving; however, I figured that I could easily find people who would commit to seven days of giving.  I was wrong!  I’ve had a hard time finding new Kindness Investors.  Can you feel me trying to nudge those of you who are on the fence about it?

As a result I am in a situation where we have no Kindness Investor for a few days; however, I figured I would take advantage of this time to give you some updates on some of the amazing people that I met last year.

 

This is Knox on December 15th, 2009.

The Year of Giving began on the afternoon of December 15th 2009.  On that chilly monochromatic day, I got rejected twice before finding Knox who accepted my $10 as he hawked his shoe shining services on the corner of 21st and P Streets in DC.

 

Fast forward 365 days and Knox made it to the year-end celebration on December 14th 2010.  There is a great photo of us from that event.

And then I ran into Knox on February 12th after I was volunteering with Yachad.  It was ten minutes shy of midnight when I heard the familiar voice reaching out to the alcohol coated passersby on 7th Street near Chinatown.

We chatted for a while.  “Business is good,” he told me.  And he said that he has been doing well.  He claims to have a handle on his addictions although I am not sure what that means…especially after he produces a bottle of shaojiu, an indiscernible clear white liquor that based purely on the label probably has never made it to any FDA testing lab.

 

One year after meeting him, I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient, . (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

Anyway, Knox is Knox.  He still thinks that I am some sort of event producer.  Ever since I invited him to the year-end party he thinks that I organize regular events.  He encourages me to throw another party soon and invite him to shine shoes.  I let him in on the secret that I am actually not an event planner…although I guess I could be as it seems that I am collecting professions these days.  He seemed disappointed but I promised him that when I throw the year-end celebration in December that he will again get an invite.

 

I updated his cell number in my phone, handed him the three dollars I had left in my pocket and said goodbye.  It was late and I don’t think I was helping his business a bit.

To read my original blog post on Knox that I posted on December 16th, 2009, click here.

 

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Before I get to this week’s post, I want to let you know about a great opportunity for those of you in the DC area to join me on a day of service.  Every year Greater DC Cares holds Servathon, an amazing event where more than 8,000 people come together to complete a variety of service projects.

This year the event is Saturday, April 16th.  Trust me, after you submit your taxes on the 15th, you will be ready to do some good!  I am leading a team and encourage you to sign up to join me.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find team Year of Giving!  We’ll do a half-day of volunteering and then meet up with all the other service teams for a happy hour (or two)!

DSC_0295.jpgYou will notice that this blog post shows Week 5 and 6 service days…that’s because I did two days of volunteering with this organization.  Yachad is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.

What I like about the work that Yachad does is that the volunteers work alongside the community members they are helping.  It’s a very small group and they do some pretty amazing work on a very modest budget.

In order to support their work, they host a film festival called Our City Film Festival.  Showcasing films that focus on our nation’s capital, the two-day event is a must see for DC residents and film enthusiasts.  Saturday evening things kicked off with a launch party followed by a day of films on Sunday.  I volunteered both Saturday evening and all day on Sunday.

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Christylez Bacon performing at the kick-off party.

Saturday was awesome.  The kick-off was hosted at RFD, a fixture in the Gallery Place neighborhood that features hundreds of beers.  The highlight of the evening was a performance by Grammy nominated recording artist Christylez Bacon, a progressive hip-hop artist who stunned audiences with his truly unique performance.  Keep an eye out for him and make it a point to see him if you can.

My job there was to basically do anything that Film Festival Director Kendra Rubinfeld told me to do.  Mostly I checked people’s tickets and took photographs of the evening’s festivities.  It was a little embarrassing when Kendra corrected me on the pronunciation of the word Yachad.  It’s pronounced “YAH hahd”, not “YAH shod” as I was walking around saying.  Thank goodness she corrected me before I went around butchering the name even more!

Then the next day the event moved literally next door to the Goethe-Institut.  There was fantastic line up of films and everyone that I met raved about the films and the event in general.  Kendra did an amazing job.  The evening wrapped up with the premier showing of TLC’s reality show DC Cupcakes.  After the screening, the stars of the show – Sophie and Katherine – handed out some of their delicious cupcake creations at a champagne reception.

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Sophie (left) and Katherine (right) pause for a photograph with Kendra next to some of their sensational cup cakes.use for a photograph in front of some of the tasty c

All in all this was a very fun two days of volunteering.  I was so impressed with this small but mighty nonprofit.  So many people think about helping rebuild communities when natural disasters strike like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, but Yachad president Roxanne Littner reminded me, “We have our own New Orleans right here!”  She’s right too.  There are plenty of communities in the DC area that desperately need support.  I am going to work on a future Yachad construction project.  If you too want to help them, click here to find out more information or drop me a note and I will let you know when I will be volunteering again with them.

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Mmmm...hungry now?

I can’t say enough about this organization and the professional manner in which the film festival was run.  I learned that the word Yachad means “together” in Hebrew, but based on the staff and other volunteers that pour their hearts into this organization, you could have just as easily believed it meant “love.”

If you would like to see more photos from the film festival, click here.

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

This was my very favorite give, although I took a little bit of liberty with Reed’s “rules” about the $10.

This is the woman I bought the skirt for.

On my last day in Cambodia, we visited a village to give the people there our gently used clothing. They get to go shopping maybe once a year for the Khmer New Year. Making a fashion statement does not seem to be a part of their culture. From what I could see, if you’ve got a pair of pants and a shirt you’re dressed, regardless of if they match or not. Coordinated outfits are only important on special occasions.

When we arrived, an old woman came out to meet us. As our guide told her why we were there, her face lit up. She took me by the hand and led me to her best chair. She then went inside for a few minutes returning with a pot and cups. I thought she had made tea but instead was offering me the best she had…boiled water.

After gathering the village people and disbursing the clothing we began making our farewells. The old woman approached me and touched her skirt saying something in Khmer. My guide told me she had said, “The next time you come back, bring me a skirt.”

Upon returning to my hotel, I had a few hours to kill before my flight. So I walked into town to a market and began shopping. For $11.00 I was able to buy her a lovely “brand new” skirt and matching top. Since the guide was going to be returning to the village the next day, I asked him to deliver my gift…

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Leng's tuk-tuk

A “tuk-tuk” is a motorcycle taxi. Mr. Leng was my tuk-tuk driver while I was in Cambodia. And a fine driver he is indeed; and not too shabby at snooker either. I believe the average monthly income of a tuk-tuk driver is about $60.00 USD a month. Mr. Leng will use the money I gave him to feed his family.

I also helped out some monks that I met this week.  The monks are an integral part of a Buddhist community by providing many services such as giving blessings and participating at weddings and funerals. Since the monks do not work for an income, it is customary to give Alms to them. I gave Alms to a monk in the form of rice, tea, coffee and a few other essentials. Poor village boys are allowed to live at this particular monastery. They go to public schools and learn the ways of the monks. At an older age they can choose to either become a monk or go back into the secular world.

One of the monks I helped.

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Day 40 – Dine

-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.


Dine (pronounced DNA) is a tour guide in Siem Reap. He is a coordinator for Globe Aware Volunteer Vacations and host to its participants. Dine worked his way through Tour Guide University, is married and has two children. But being a tour guide is much more than just a job for Dine. He has dreams for not only himself and his own family, but also for the people and the country he loves. One of his dreams to make a better living involves buying a jeep. If he owns a jeep, he can not only be a guide but also a driver and work for an EcoTourism company. The money I gave Dine will be used towards the purchase of his jeep. There is no doubt in my mind, that increased income to Dine will aid him in his philanthropic ways. Even without money, he gives freely of his time to many different causes including orphans, the disabled and the poor. He has hope and he has drive.

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Happy Valentines Day!

Although the US tends to think of this day as primarily a day to cherish our spouses or significant others, in many other countries it is a broader celebration that includes remembering our friends; much more like it was when you were in grade school and you made Valentine’s cards for everyone in the class.

Whether we celebrate our lovers or friends, it is a day where we focus on giving.  We often do this by giving gifts or taking time to do something special, but we also give of our hearts.  Why not try something different today and consider volunteering or doing something nice for someone in your community?  And if you can’t find anyone, check out Sparked, a great website that connects volunteers with projects that they can do from the comfort of their own home.

I did one that I will share with you today.  Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB) wanted some help shaping up their blog.  I often get told that people like my blog partially because they say it is “clean” and “well organized.”  I believe that this applies less this year with the addition of my Year of Volunteering, nonetheless, I have learned a thing or two about what makes a successful blog.

The challenge: “We’d like to get some feedback about our organization’s blog and if we’re providing the right mix of content. What do you like about it, and what could we do to improve? Is it telling our story effectively? Are we spending too much time talking about ways to donate? Are we not telling enough first-person accounts or writing enough essays?”

So I spent some time reviewing their blog and tried to formulate some suggestions for them which you can find here…mine are listed under “Reed.”  If you like them, go ahead and click on the thumbs up to let them know you agree with my suggestions.

Take a look around Sparked. Who knows, maybe you will find a project for you!

Enjoy your week!

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

The Sustainable Organization for Community Peasant Laborer Student Development and Orphans (SOCPLSDO),  a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political organization, was established in 2006 by Mr Pong Sena.  The SOCPLSDO established the Chres Village School and Orphanage in the same year for the regional orphans, students, laborers and peasants from the villages in and around the district of Bakong of the Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.

The aim of the SOCPLSDO is to alleviate the poverty and difficulties of the orphans and children of poor families in the Bakong district providing support of their basic needs such as food, clothing, education, accommodation, health services and school supplies.

More than 50% of the Cambodian population is less than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.

I went over my $10 today, but it was my pleasure to give my temporary English students the help they needed for each of them to buy school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

Today I gave my $10 to the students at the Buddhism Association School.

The Buddhist monks here offer free English classes to adults.   Tourism is a growing industry in Cambodia and the ability to speak English greatly enhances ones abilities to work, grow their income and improve their lives. While having the opportunity to be a substitute English teacher, I gave the students a donation which they used for school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, etc.) to aid them in their efforts.

Tomorrow I’m visiting an orphanage!

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Day 37 – Aki R.

-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

 

Photo: Richard Fitoussi

Today I visited the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center which was established in 1997 by former Khmer Rouge child soldier turned de-miner, Aki Ra. The original museum displayed his collection of landmines, bombs and other UXO material that Aki Ra cleared from around the country since the end of the war. In 2001, a Canadian relief organization partnered with Aki Ra to create the CLMMRF NGO that was able to construct a new museum for his growing collection of decommissioned weapons as well as a relief facility for dozens of children affected by landmines, poverty and physical handicaps.

 

All museum donations go directly to support and educate the children who now call the museum home. Aki Ra says, “I want to make my country safe for my people.”

 

The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center

Check out this trailer for a movie about Aki and his life as a child soldier and his work now which has resulted in the removal of more than 50,000 mines – many of which he probably planted himself.

 

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Thailand.

Picture from Big Heart Project in Cambodia

While on a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, I met a young woman named Kathleen from Australia.  She was a fundraiser for an organization called Big Heart Project.  The purpose of their existence is to identify communities and individuals who are living in conditions where basic necessities are scarce, opportunities are limited and many freedoms are inhibited, they then dedicate their time to educate these communities in a holistic way.  The main focus is to prevent children from entering prostitution and situations of slavery and abuse in the first place.  Where they can, they also rescue, rehabilitate, care for and educate girls leaving child prostitution and sexual slavery.

I gave my daily gift to Kathleen who had come to Cambodia to deliver funds that she had collected for the purpose of purchasing land and building an orphanage in Phnom Penh.  They need about $13,000.00 USD for the land and another $20,000 for the building.  Hopefully my gift helped her meet her goal in some small way.

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Name: Traci

Age? 50

Where do you live? I currently live in Washington (state), but I call California home.

Where were you born? Fairfield, CA, USA

What’s the highest level of education you have completed? AA

Do you have a family? Both of my parents are deceased. I have five brothers, one sister and my best friend is just like family.

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? Mary J. (Week 5 Kindness Investor)

How long have you been unemployed? Since January 2011

What happened? Laid off due to lack of work.

Do you currently volunteer? I am currently a volunteer at Summit Assistance Dogs in Anacortes, Washington.

Who have been your biggest influences? My sister, Mother Theresa, Gandhi

What is your favorite food? Tofu

What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? A piece of wood fashioned into a jewelry holder by my ex-husband.

Describe your ideal job: To work from home (wherever I choose to live) for a NPO/NGO, involving some travel locally and abroad with completely flexible scheduling. But even better, how about no job and money just comes to me so that I have the time and resources to simply shine my light wherever it is needed and wanted – unlimited.

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-Blog post by Mary J., a Kindness Investor from Houston, TX

I met today’s recipient at Chik-fil-A in Pasadena, TX, while going through the drive-thru with Mom and Jack.  Have you ever had their chicken sandwich? If an investor had approached me about a new restaurant whose feature item was a fried chicken breast with three pickles on a buttered bun, I would have laughed them out of the room.  Now, I probably single-handedly keep the one on Fairmont Parkway in business.  They’re sooooo good.  And they make great iced tea; lemon, no sugar.
 
Chris T. was taking orders outside with a co-worker, trying to keep the growing line coiled around the building moving.  After he took our order, I introduced myself and told him about the Kindness Investment project.  He was very interested and said he’d be happy to talk to me, but didn’t have a lot of time right then to answer all my questions.  I found out he’s working at the fast-food chicken chain while attending college.
 
I gave him the $10 and we agreed to talk later.  He gave me his phone number and I left a message, but he hasn’t returned my call.  I don’t want to hold up the blog, so if/when I hear from him I’ll post an update at that time.

Well, today is my final day of giving.  It went by so fast!  My week as a Kindness Investor was a great experience and one I highly recommend to others, unemployed or working.  The project made me more aware of the many people who pass in and out and around my life every day, whom I never would have thought to talk to.  The experience added a new dimension to giving.
 
I’m now looking forward to meeting the distinguished gentleman dressed in the cream suit who rides his bike near our home, the woman wearing scrubs who walks her young daughter to school every day, and of course, the streetperson with his right leg missing whom I’d planned to include in the project all week.  I’m going to make more time to talk to people while waiting in lines, find out where they’re from, and really make a connection, even if for a few minutes.  I truly believe the electricity generated from each connection made causes a ripple effect that can only add more kindness to the world.
 
In hindsight, the best lesson I learned is that it’s better to pick people who aren’t ‘on the job’ (D’Oh – seems so obvious NOW…).  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the ‘investments’ this week, but I think the best interviews were with those I could spend more time with in a relaxed environment – Patricia and Marcos.
 
I haven’t contacted Patricia to follow up yet – she wants me to meet her daughter and see her great-grandmother’s picture,  but Marcos has become a regular fixture at our house.  We’re on his way home from school and he comes over to walk Jack, borrow books and use the computer.  Turns out his mom makes AWESOME tamales from scratch, along with her own hot sauce, for $8 a dozen.  I’m totally hooked.  If anyone in the southeast Houston / Pasadena area wants some, please let me know and I’ll hook you up, too.  Except for Mama Ninfa’s, they’re the best I’ve had outside of Mexico.

Marcos using the computer at Mary's house.

In fact, Marcos is in the living room with Henry and Jack watching TV as I write this.  I can hear him laughing.  He just inhaled TWO huge cheeseburgers Henry grilled for dinner.  Marcos is a great kid and we’re happy to have him in our lives.  This friendship likely wouldn’t have happened if not for Reed and the Year of Giving project.

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-Blog post by Mary J., a Kindness Investor from Houston, TX

I got a refusal today.  I first approached Carol M who was working at Pier One, but she decided not to accept the $10, but said that she liked the project and I did spend some time talking with her.

Later I gave the $10 to a lady selling newspapers on the street – I wish I had had time to talk with her and find out what she planned on doing with the money, or even get her name, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Reed asked me to share the cards I have been using.  Below is a picture of the cards with the ten dollar bills that I am giving out.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge, a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

Reed shoveling a sidewalk on R Street in Washington, DC

People often tell me that they want to volunteer their time but don’t know where to start. Sheila, a working mom from Boston recently expressed her frustration with trying to volunteer.  “The local community center where I was hoping to volunteer only accepts applicants that are able to make a commitment of at least once a month for a year,” she wrote.  “I can’t guarantee that.”  She went on to say that other organizations were looking for individuals with specific skills or training which she didn’t have.

Sheila’s challenges are not unique.  I hear this same comment from individuals from all parts of the world on a regular basis.  The fact is that there are lots of ways that you can contribute to your community without volunteering with formal organizations.  Here are seven simple ways that you can make a difference in your community that cost little or nothing and don’t require you to jump through any administrative hoops!

  1. Pick up trash around your neighborhood or at a local park
  2. Rake the leaves/shovel snow/mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor
  3. Drive an elderly neighbor to the store or to their doctor’s appointment
  4. Take leftover food to poor/homeless members of your community
  5. Donate clothes in good condition that you no longer use to a local shelter or community outreach center
  6. Ask people to bring an item for donation to your next party or get-together
  7. Micro-volunteer online at an organization like sparked.com.

So two weeks ago I did exactly this.  We got a dose of really wet snow, maybe four or five inches.  A day after the snowfall I noticed a couple of sidewalks that still were not cleared.  The fluffy white blanket had now compressed down into a three-inch thick sheet of ice that was not only hard as hell to remove, but dangerous for those who relied on the sidewalks to get around town.  One spot was owned by an older couple.  Another was an abandoned home and I don’t know the situation of the third home, but their sidewalk hadn’t been touched.  So, I grabbed the shovel and set out to clear those areas.

Snow shoveling isn’t my thing.  Sure I can do it, but my back usually gets all out of whack for days after a long day of shoveling.  I know, “You gotta use your knees,” you’re thinking to yourself.  You are right…and I probably don’t use them enough.

As I was shoveling the long sidewalk in front of the abandoned home I spotted an elderly woman carefully navigating the icy terrain.  I should have offered her a hand but she gave me a terrible scowl as if to say, “You are late in getting this sidewalk shoveled young man!”  Geez.

That's Reed in the distance making his final pass on a sidewalk on 21st Street in DC.

I finished clearing the final patch of ice at the third house and headed home to put away my weary shovel and rest my now screaming lower back.  The next day I walked by one of the areas and saw people moving about on the now snow-free sidewalks that I had cared for.  I felt magnificent.  Ok, that’s not exactly true.  My back felt like an 18-wheeler had pulled into my bedroom in the middle of the night and parked on top of me.  But seriously, I was elated by the simple neighborly act that I had done.  It didn’t cost anything, well not then at least.  I just have to save up to have a microdiscectomy procedure to fix my herniated lumbar disc!

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY IN DC THIS WEEKEND!

Hey, are you in the DC area and want to give a few hours of your time this weekend for a good cause?  Why not join me in volunteering at the fourth annual Our City Film Festival.  All proceeds go to Yachad DC, a local non-profit working to bring communities together through service.  They mobilize skilled and unskilled volunteers to work side-by-side with those being served to repair homes and communities for low-income residents.  What a fun way to help out.  If you are interested in volunteering, email me or Kendra at kendra@yachad-dc.org.

 

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-Blog post by Mary J., a Kindness Investor from Houston, TX

For over a year now,  I’ve often seen a gentleman with the lower right half of his leg missing asking for money, sitting on a triangular-shaped esplanade on a side street just off the freeway.  I’ve waved to him and said hello, but never have gift cards on me to give him.  I decided after I became a Kindness Investor, he would be one of my investments, but I haven’t seen him all week.

Today I got in the car – Jack in the passenger seat – and went to find him.  I had little hope, since it’s raining outside, but I had to give it another shot.

I have mixed feelings about giving handouts to people on the street.  They’re obviously in need of help on several levels, and I’m more than willing to help them out with food. In memory of my father, I give street people gift cards to nearby restaurants, so I know they’re getting one or two good meals and the money isn’t going to alcohol or drugs (if they don’t sell the cards).  But do our donations really help them?  Do the gift cards and loose change keep them on the street, hoping for more, instead of seeking permanent shelter and medical assistance?  I don’t want to be an enabler on any level.  Anyway…

As I turned off the feeder, the triangular esplanade was, once again, empty.  I felt relieved that the gentleman wasn’t sitting out there in the rain.  I parked in Starbuck’s parking lot to see if he was seeking shade somewhere in the little shopping strip, when I spotted three men huddled close together under an overhang in front of one of the shops.  My guy wasn’t among them, but I felt drawn to them nonetheless.

“What do you think, Jack, will one of these guys be my next investment?” Jack looked at me, licked his lips and gave me a big, happy, toothy grin, so I took that as a sign to “man up” and go meet them.  Please note that I never would have approached strangers in such a situation otherwise, but Jack is an excellent guard dog and his size generally keeps people at a distance anyway.

I drove up to where the three were standing, rolled down my window and asked if one of them was interested in helping me with a kindness project for $10.  They looked at each other and laughed, two of them pointing to one, pushing him towards the car.  They were speaking too quickly in Spanish for me to follow, but were apparently encouraging the third to talk to me.

The elected member walked towards me, looking around; more wary of me than I was of them.  “Yes, ma’am? You have a project?” he asked with a strong Spanish accent.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.  “Yes, ma’am.  Very good English,” he replied.

In a combination of Spanish and English, I told him about the Year of Giving project, my unemployment and my week as a Kindness Investor.   “Do you want this $10 bill as my kindness investment for today?”

He looked a little skeptical, turned to see where his companions were, then back to me.  “And what you want for this?”

“Tell me about yourself – whatever you want, where you’re from, about your family, the kind of work you do, what brought you here today.  How will you spend the $10 – will you save it, give it to someone, buy something?”  And, finally, “Do you have a wish you want someone to help you with?  Esta bien?”

“Si, si,” he nodded his head in agreement as I handed him my card with the $10 bill tied to it.  He briefly scanned the card and put it in his pocket.  I asked if he’d like to go to Starbuck’s to sit down and he said no, that he didn’t want to miss “the truck.”

He said his name is Edmund; “Mundo”, for short, and he is 20 years old.  He was at the strip center with his brother and cousin waiting for a truck to pick them up for a job.  I asked if he had other family here and he said his parents, brothers and sisters are in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.  “No wife, no children?” I asked.  “No,” he laughed.  “Too young.”   There is a girl in Mexico he likes, “but she doesn’t know it yet,” he added.  “Maybe one day I will take her on a date.”  In the meantime, he spends most of his days finding work with his brother and cousin, watching TV and practicing his English.  He goes to church if he’s not working, calls home often and misses his family very much.

Mundo said he will probably send then $10 to his family in Mexico.  He doesn’t have a computer, but knows someone who will help him look up the Year of Giving website, so he can see his story.  His greatest wish is to make enough money to take care of his family, and for prayers to keep the jobs coming.

About that time, someone in a white truck pulled up and honked the horn.  “Must go now. Thank you for your kindness loan,” he said smiling, as he waved his compadres over and sprinted towards the truck.

I didn’t ask if the three of them are in the US illegally, but I suspect they are.  Mundo did not want me to take his picture, so I just took one of the shopping center where they had been standing.  He told me he doesn’t have contact information and didn’t want to give me his address, but offered that he lives in an apartment in the area, “with others from Mexico.”

Mundo, if you get a chance to see this, I am praying for you and your family. I am very proud of you for learning English, which you speak and understand muy bien.  And I hope you decide to use the $10 for a date with the beautiful senorita back home, soon. If you are here illegally, I encourage you to return home and go through the immigration process to live and work in the US legally, just as my great-great-grandparents from Germany and Czechoslovakia did two centuries ago, and as my husband’s parents from the Netherlands Antilles did 52 years ago.  Secure borders are critical for our nation’s safety and I would hate to see you hurt or worse crossing the border illegally.

Que tengas buena suerte, mi amigo!  Good luck, my friend. Be safe.

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-Blog post by Mary J., a Kindness Investor from Houston, TX

Today was a very hectic day. It was around 2:00pm and I hadn’t had lunch, when I spotted a Popeye’s Chicken drive-thru. I hadn’t eaten at Popeye’s in years and suddenly had a craving for their cajun-style fried shrimp and iced tea with lemon, no sugar.  After paying for my order, the server asked me to move forward and she would bring the food out to me.

As she handed me the bag, our eyes met and I thought, “next kindness investment!”  After explaining the project I was working on, she happily accepted the $10.  I didn’t have a pen on me, so she quickly volunteered to get me one, as well as tell her manager that she would be taking a few minutes to talk to me.

Ana M. was born in Mexico 19 years ago.  She and her parents came to Pasadena, TX when she was only one. She’s single, lives with her parents and four younger sisters and brother.

Ana is studying Nursing at San Jacinto Junior College and hopes to work in Pediatrics after graduation.  She’s been working at Popeye’s for about three years and would like to one day work in a hospital, as she likes helping people, especially children.

When I asked her what she was going to do with the $10, she said she was heading to Starbuck’s next door for her break.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to talk, as another hungry driver was ready to pay for his order, and Ana had to go back in.

A few of Ana’s favorites:

Hobbies:  “I like scrapbooking, spending time with family, and watching movies.”

Movies:  “Anything romantic.  I don’t watch much TV, though.  No time with school and work.”

Music:  “All kinds.  It’s hard to pick a favorite.”

Her greatest wish is to get her citizenship finalized.  “It’s been a long time and I want to be a citizen very much.”

I wish Ana all the best and can tell by her kind, relaxed nature that she will be a great nurse.  Her future patients will be fortunate to have her take care of them.

 

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