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Archive for April, 2011

Do-it (UK)

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

royal wedding social media twitter  Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smile following their marriage at Westminster Abbey

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

I am in London today for the wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine.  The royal couple invited me to volunteer during their wedding celebration.  I will be helping pour champagne for the more than 650 guests at the reception.

OK, that was a lie.  I’m not in London nor have I been invited to volunteer at the royal wedding (although if they want to reach out some time for me to do some volunteering that would be cook too.)  I did however think that it would be appropriate to either get a Kindness Investor from the UK this week or do a blog post focusing on a British organization helping individuals volunteer.

do-it logoDo-it, a volunteer portal operated by YouthNet, claimed to be the first national database of volunteer opportunities in the UK when it was founded in 2001.  Since then it has grown to be a leading connector between good organizations and people doing good.

The majority of opportunities on Do-it come from local volunteer centers in England. These organizations secure the hardware, software and training so that they can upload their vacancies onto the Do-it database.  In addition, some large national and international organizations post on Do-it as well.

So when all the pomp and circumstance is done over in Old Blighty I hope my English readers will check out Do-it and find a cause that they feel passionate about and find out how they can help them!  Trust me, it’s easy.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

“Imagine making a meaningful difference in the lives of others, while discovering amazing cultures, people and places!”

These are the words that greet you when you fire up the website of Wellington, New Zealand based Global Volunteer Network (GVN).  That’s right; today’s spotlight on volunteering takes a unique perspective.  What if you could combine your interest in traveling with your passion for volunteering?  Well, that is just what GVN has done.Volunteer Abroad with the Global Volunteer Network

Colin Salisbury

GVN Founder and President, Colin Salisbury

Founded in 2000 by Colin Salisbury after he volunteered in Ghana,West Africa, GVN has placed more than 14,000 individuals to about two dozen countries around the world.  Although I couldn’t find a concrete answer on their website, it appears that most volunteer opportunities last for about a week or two.

I like this concept that many people refer to as voluntourism or humanitarian tourism.  Having traveled to 30+ countries and lived in four, I have often seen how tourists to developing countries are perceived.  “They come and open their wallets,” a restaurant owner in Brazil once shared with me, “but they don’t necessarily open their hearts to the local challenges that we face every day.”

A few years ago my friend Kim spent her vacation in New Orleans helping rebuild a community that was devastated by Katrina.    She found the experience to be fun and really rewarding.

Vietnam Youth Tour

Photo courtesy of globalvolunteernetwork.org

One of the program’s that I like most that GVN provides is their Youth Tour which gives 15-17 year olds the chance to explore a new part of the world while learning a life-long lesson of service.  This year their trip is to Vietnam.  Click here for more details.

A recent post on the New York Times blog by Heidi Mitchell focuses on Voluntourism.  If you are considering your volunteer trip, I recommend checking her article out to familiarize yourself with GVN and other groups providing similar services.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

When I was 15-years-old there was only one thing stood between me and the rank of Eagle Scout.  This high distinction in Scouting is marked by the completion of a Leadership Service Project where candidates must conceptualize a project that will benefit their community and then successfully manage a team of other Scouts in order to complete the task.  I chose to organize a region-wide food drive to collect non-perishable items and donate them to an organization that would ensure that they would reach individuals and families in need.


After reviewing potential benefactors to receive the collected food, I chose New Hope Ministries (NHM) – a Christian social service agency that provides assistance to community members in times of need and supports their efforts toward stability.  My project resulted in thousands of donated items.

DSC_0036.jpg

In addition to food, NHM needs toiletry items and financial donations to finish their kitchen and add a chair lift to the 2nd floor.

Goose bumps wisped over my skin as I walked into their new facility 22 years later.  I was in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania helping my father recover from knee surgery and I took a few hours off to go and help NHM out.  I was scheduled to be folding letters and stuffing envelopes for an appreciation dinner the organization will hold in June for all the volunteers who have helped NHM achieve their goals throughout the year.

Every single person I had contact with there was delightful.  Kindness flowed freely from every staff member with whom I interacted – Joanne, Molly and Sue – as well as my two follow envelope-stuffers – Brenda and Silvia.  The work might sound boring, but the three of us had a lot of fun.

DSC_0024.jpgAfter two hours of folding and stuffing and successfully avoiding paper cuts, Sue Fornicola, the program manager, kindly offered the three of us a tour of their new facility.  It hardly resembles the building I had visited as a teenager.  I think the most impressive areas were the food pantry and the food warehouse.  It is a very professional operation.

Although it’s easy to be distracted by the well run food pantry, NHM is much more than just a pantry.  They also provide:

  • rent/mortgage assistance to prevent homelessness
  • prescription, medical, dental and eye care assistance
  • utility assistance to prevent termination of service
  • transportation assistance
  • counseling
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I like this photo. It was hanging in the room where we were stuffing envelopes.

But what I discovered through my time at NHM is that their real gift to the individuals who walk through their doors is something far more valuable than bags of groceries or assistance paying rent.  They give people the love and support that they need to pull themselves up.  They give them hope.

Click here to donate to NHM

Click here to volunteer with NHM

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Easter Egg Dying

Photo: Luz Bratcher

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating Easter today.

I thought I would mix it up today and share a different type of volunteer resource with you today.  Volunteer.gov is volunteer portal that connects US citizens with volunteer opportunities with various local, state and federal agencies.  The portal was launched in 2002 by then President George W. Bush.

To my knowledge this was the first time such a resource had been rolled out nationwide.

So how does it work?  You just go to www.volunteer.gov and search for volunteer opportunities in your area that meet your interest.  For example I choose DC and then typed in “Parks” for the keyword and it churned out 12 different volunteer opportunities in the area that involved parks.  There were several activities; from maintaining parks to being a docent to my favorite of them all: counting non-migratory Canada Geese.

Once you’ve found an activity that you like, you register and notifications are sent immediately to both you and the activity coordinator.

Some agencies have some specific requirements, but their Website notes two general requirements:

  • A sense of solidarity and service, plus commitment to share one’s knowledge, skills, time, and effort with others (the volunteering “ethos” or spirit).
  • A willingness to serve in a non-salaried, non-stipend volunteer position with no or little remuneration beyond incidental expenses (arranged on a case-by-case basis and subject to the availability of funds).

If you have volunteered through Volunteer.gov before, please consider sharing your experience here.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

This is my fourth day of focusing on the great resources that we have to volunteer opportunities.  Have you signed up for one of the organizations that I have showcased?  Are you going to?  I hope so.

Today’s organization is One Brick, an organization headquartered in San Francisco that brings volunteers together to support other local non-profits.  They try to create a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering by inviting the volunteers to a social event after volunteering.  So you might work at a community kitchen for a few hours and then find yourself having a coffee or beer with the other volunteers.

Although I really like what these guys are doing, they have a much smaller footprint than the other organizations that I have highlighted so far.  They currently have operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Chicago, Washington DC., Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Seattle and Orlando.  This boutique volunteer shop reported more than 65,000 hours last year.  That’s impressive, but I can’t help but think back to my recent visit to the Junior League of Atlanta and how amazing that group is.  I recall that their membership provided over 90,000 hours of community service last year.  That’s amazing.

Some DC volunteers with One Brick help out Books to Prisoners

If you live in a One Brick city, sign up and check out the cool opportunities that they have to offer.  The website is very easy to use.  I’m actually in the process of signing up for my first volunteer gig with them.

Have you already volunteered through One Brick?  Why not leave a comment here and share your experience.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Today is Earth Day and I can’t think of a more appropriate volunteer resource today than the Earth Day Network (EDN) website.  They have an entire list of events happening all around the United States and even some international countries as well.  Punch in your zip code and start browsing for events near you.  They need a lot of volunteers.  And remember, there are still plenty of events happening after today!

Earth Day started on this day back in 1970 when 20 million Americans brought the environmental concerns of our Earth to the streets in protest.  Check out this news footage from 1970! These efforts along with those of conservation pioneers like my employer, World Wildlife Fund, served as a catalyst for future conservation efforts and legislation around the world.

More than 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day activities this year according to EDN, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

While you’re on EDN’s website, check out the section called A Billion Acts of Green®.  This is their initiative to collect over one billion commitments for a greener world from average Joes like us as well as organizations.  They hope to reach their goal before the global Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Tomorrow’s environment is far too important to ignore and we owe future generations the very same benefits of the rich biodiversity that we enjoy today.  What will you do to help?

Keep a look out in the coming weeks for my blog post about my volunteer project for Earth Day!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

One of the places that I find myself going back to time and again to search for volunteer opportunities is VolunteerMatch.  While the system is not perfect, it is probably the most comprehensive website with national coverage that you will find.  These guys are the match.com of the volunteer universe.  Yesterday I wrote about Sparked, the leader in virtual microvolunteering, VolunteerMatch is a much broader platform for discovering face to face and virtual volunteer opportunities of all kinds, including microvolunteering.

The history of this volunteer matching powerhouse goes back to the early nineties when a team of four were sitting around trying to figure out what to do with their MBA degrees.  They ended up pulling together a plan in 1994 to launch an online nonprofit that would promote community involvement.

Fast forward nearly twenty years and you have VolunteerMatch which last year welcomed 8.4 million visitors!  In a nutshell what they are doing is strengthening communities by making it easier for do-gooders to connect with organizations doing good in order to create greatness.

If you are passionate about volunteering and have not checked out their website, go there NOW and sign up.  You plug in your location and a few key words about your interests in volunteering and voilà!  You’ve got a list of opportunities to volunteer right in front of you.  Choose the one you want and they exchange your information with the organization and your set.

My experience is that I usually get contacted by the organization within 24-48 hours, but if not, you get their contact information as well and can reach out to them.

Although they do have the option to search for virtual volunteer opportunities, my feeling is that Sparked has established itself as best in class in that arena.

You can read about two of my recent volunteer outings that I found on VolunteerMatch: the MS Society and the Arthritis Foundation.

Stop reading this and go sign up!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

We’re without a Kindness Investor for a while it looks like.  As always, if you know someone who would like to take on this exciting seven-day adventure, drop me a note.

For the rest of you I’d like to share some tools that I use for volunteering.  So for the next couple of days I will do a blog post each day on a resource for finding volunteer opportunities.

Here's a cool video of Sparked Co-Founder and CEO Jacob Colker talking about Sparked and the impact it's making.

The first one is one that every single one of you can use!  Sparked (www.sparked.com) claims to be the world’s first microvolunteering network.  What’s microvolunteering you ask?  Well, the folks at Sparked define it as volunteering that meets four main criteria.

Convenient
It’s volunteerism that fits into your schedule when you have time - typically (but not necessarily) via an internet connected device such as a personal computer or mobile phone.

Bite-sized
Volunteer tasks are broken into small(-ish) pieces, so that you can complete a task in the time you have available (whatever that time may be).

Crowdsourced
The nonprofit that needs help asks a large(-ish) group for assistance.

Network-managed
The time demands of the manager (e.g. a nonprofit staffer) are reduced by distributing as much of the project management and quality review as possible to the network of micro-volunteers. This work management method differs from a top-down model of project management.

I’ve signed up for Sparked and have already completed my first project, which didn’t take me long at all.  You can read my blog post about using Sparked to help the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.  What is brilliant about Sparked is that you can volunteer when you have time all from the convenience of your computer.  You can help nonprofits in dozens of areas, but here are a few to give you an idea: accounting, blogging, copywriting, data entry, marketing, research, social networking, translating, etc.

All this talk (ok, I’m writing not talking, but you get the idea) about microvolunteering has got me thinking.  As you know, the Worldwide Day of Giving is coming up on June 15th!  This year you have an option to volunteer if you would rather do that then do a $10 kindness investment.  If you are busy and don’t have time to get out and volunteer on that day this is your perfect option.  I want to see how many people we can get to do microvolunteering projects on June 15th with Sparked!  Right now they have 2,642 volunteer opportunities on their website.  Wouldn’t it be cool if all of us Year of Giving followers could get enough people to volunteer that day that we could complete every single task they have on their site?  Wow…that would be amazing.

You better start spreading the word fast!

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Michelle - Day 277

Blog post by Reed, a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC

On Day 227 of last year I introduced you to my 277th recipient, Michelle B.  With an infectious smile and a “let’s get it done” attitude, Michelle keeps the dining room at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in order.  The guests are warmed by her love and laughter but also know not to step out of line.  She’s in charge.  One of the things I most look forward to when I am going to volunteer at SOME is the opportunity to see and talk with Michelle – she’s awesome.

On a recent Tuesday morning after meeting up with Anthony from Day 67 for breakfast, I made my way over to Truxton Circle, a small triangular neighborhood that has lost its identity somewhat since the traffic circle for which it’s named was removed in the late 40s.  Somewhere between then and now it seems the area’s identity has also been lost, often being referred to incorrectly as Eckington or Shaw.  I frankly had never even heard the name Truxton Circle used very much until I started researching things for this post, but then again, I don’t frequent the neighborhood that often and neither do the majority of other middle/upper class Washingtonians.  In fact, the only reason that I go to Truxton Circle is to visit SOME and hopefully see my new friend Michelle.

SOME-2.jpgUnfortunately on this Tuesday Michelle wasn’t there, but that’s alright.  I got to speak with Dirk, the volunteer coordinator, who I have “known” via email but not in person until then.  After a career overseas working in foreign policy, Dirk came back to Washington looking to make a difference.

“I haven’t ‘worked’ a day since I’ve been here,” he remarks about his 15 months on the job.

Inside the dining room I get to work resetting tables for the 250 guests that filed through the doors that afternoon to get a sausage sandwich, beans, mixed vegetables and an apple.  It was not too hectic as we had a decent number of volunteers; even some young students from a high school in North Carolina were on hand to help.  Everything just sort of works.  The regular volunteers guide the new volunteers in a very proactive way.

“Want to help me wipe down these tables,” I overhear a veteran volunteer ask one of the students.

Back with Dirk, he explains that it would be impossible to provide the quality of services that they do without the help of volunteers.

“We need all types,” he says.  “Serving breakfast during the week is something that we can always use help with, but we have other needs too that you might not realize.  We need volunteers with skills in web design, landscaping and tutoring.”

When asked about the challenges associated with maintaining regular volunteers Dirk’s eyes widen. “If you feel the impact – a smile or a hug – then you show up the next day.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.

SOME-3.jpg

I wanted to get my picture taken with Dirk.

Before leaving, I take several boxes of clothes that I collected at my birthday party back in January over to their clothing center.  Over one hundred items were given to me to be donated, many of which had sales tags still on them.

I left with my heart glowing; feeling that high that you get when you make somebody’s day.  SOME is doing terrific work not only with their dining facility, but also in the other services that they provide which they break down into three categories: emergency, rebuilding and stability.

Anthony told me that morning that “SOME is possibly the best” when it comes to providing comprehensive services to the homeless.   I totally agree and will continue to support them.

If you would like to volunteer with SOME, please visit their Volunteer Page.

If you would like to donate to SOME, click here.

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I just spent the better part of an hour being treated to a stream of consciousness as only a nonmedicated schizophrenic can dish it out.

Today is my last day in my first week as a Kindness Investor (yes, I’m hooked.  I’ll be back again in May).  I had originally intended to try my husband’s idea and go down to the McDonald’s in the nearby Wal-Mart to find a recipient.
But first I had to make a deposit in the bank two blocks from my house.  Actually, it’s across the street from the McDonalds where I met Michael B. (Day 68).  When I left the bank I saw this gentleman sitting on a park bench.  I needed to run home and get my ten.  I decided if he was still there when I got back, he would be my recipient.

Well, he was gone.  I played a hunch he hadn’t been waiting for the bus, so I decided to walk east on Madison towards a little public square where sometimes the homeless tend to congregate.  Sure enough, he was sitting there.

“Are you the man I just saw sitting up the block about a half hour ago? Across from the bank?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Oh good.  Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yes.”

I plopped down, careful to keep his bag of newspaper scraps and black canvas backpack tied together with several belts between us.  I asked him point-blank if it would be ok to give him a ten-dollar bill.

“Well sure,” he said.  “It’s always ok to give me ten dollars.  Do you want me to do something for it?”  

It was the perfect opening.  I started to explain about Reed and the Year of Giving blog.  However, after about three seconds he interrupted me.

“I do mostly art.  It’s my gift.  It gives me peace.”   He had taken out a scrap of paper.  It looked like the back of a checkbook, with the calendar year printed on one side.  He folded it in half and taking a pen from his backpack, started to draw on it.

“All the power is from God.  Life is an adventure.  Basically I get my peace from the artwork.  God gave me this gift to give me peace.  I’m a multimedia artist.  Do you know Julie Bell?  Frisette?  Bell does science fiction.  They’re good. They’re some of my favorites.”

I didn’t interrupt.  Probably what I had to say wasn’t going to make much sense to him anyway.  Instead, I paid attention to what he was drawing.  I saw a few sweeps of what looked like long hair, so I thought perhaps he was drawing me as a way to impress me.

Finally he held it up.  “Judas Iscariot,” he pronounced.  Well, I’ve been called worse.

“Is that who you were…”

“No, John the Baptist,” he corrected himself.  “See?”  He pointed out the fierce gaze in the eyes on the paper, which contrasted oddly with the artist’s own deep brown eyes.  His weathered face appeared to be about sixty as his hand went back to drawing, and his mouth back to talking.  “John the Baptist.  Always telling the truth.  That’s what he did.  So tell me your story?  What were you saying?”

I got another three seconds into the saga of YOG when he broke in again.  He’d added a helmet with a flag and horn, and a pointy beard.  “Kubla Khan.  Fu Man Chu.  Or maybe a Knight.  I draw like this.  It’s called layering.  You know about layering?”

This was basically the rhythm of our conversation.  He would free associate off of some word I’d just said, eventually coming back to asking me to finish my story.  Finally I started asking him questions.  I figured he was a vet.  He told me he was in special forces and was in Desert Storm.  Before he got out of the military he was doing peacekeeping work in Afghanistan.  I’m telling you the short version.  There was a lot of meandering around the inner terrain, if you get my drift, but I suspected those two bits of information had some validity.

He’s from Chicago, although he claims to have lived all over the country, gone to countless high-end schools, graduated from top art institutes.  He not only draws.  He writes, takes pictures and is a percussionist.  He has a very high IQ.  How high?  Nobody would tell him.  But he went to Montessori, he told me, as if that were proof in itself.  He stuttered and stumbled over his words, and sometimes sounded to me like a child at play, boasting in imagined exploits.

I started to feel a little motherly towards him.  Who knew where he was?  Who was reaching out to him?  He has children he claims he sees now and again.

“How do they find you?”

“Oh, they just do.”  A lot of his answers were like that.  Vague and mysterious.

“Do you ever go over to Hines?”  Hines VA Hospital is just a few miles from my house.

“I’ve been over there.  I’ll go back sometime,” he said nonchalantly.  But I doubt it.  I don’t think he’d take well to anyone offering solutions so unmanageable to a man in his condition as a roof over his head, medications he’d have to take daily, a pension that would make him a target for robbery.  He looked very fit to me, and handsome in a rugged sort of way.  He probably manages street life as well as can be expected.

“So what are you going to do with the ten I gave you?”

“I’m going to buy art supplies.  Paper and crayons.”  He pulled some crayons from his backpack.  “See these here?  They’re cheap, but I’m going to use them to add texture to this picture.”  He started applying shades of gold and green.
“He has a very warm aura, doesn’t he,” I commented.  I was beginning to think he was drawing a self-portrait, because he seemed to me warm and likeable, despite his mental illness.

“Yes!  You can see it, can’t you?  What do you think that is there,” he said, pointing to the throat.

“It looks like water to me.”

“He’s rising from the water.  He was probably an Aquarius.  I like white water rafting.”

We shared an unexpected moment of silence.  Then…

“Life’s an adventure.  I like parasailing too.  Hang-gliding.  Gliding in planes.  The planes, gliders you know, have no engines.  They glide over the mountains and it’s quiet and I sang to my girlfriend up there.”

I took his picture holding the drawing, because he didn’t want people to see his broken teeth and uneven beard.  He handed me the drawing as a gift with a message written on the back.  It reads:

Rose,

My bibliogenetic is God’s Tool engraven image Artisian, Well of Faith and Brush of Great Gift to myself, to others.  Visual Applause.

Johnny Flash

I walked home thinking of him singing to his girlfriend in the wild quiet above the world.  I wondered what he sang to her.  I hope she remembers him.  I know I will.

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I decided to go do my “reverse panhandling” at Starbucks in River Forest as it is a favorite haunt for both my husband John and myself.  In the evenings it quiets down, making it a nice place to read or write.  Tonight I found out it’s also a nice place for a gathering of women who share a common hobby:  knitting.

This Starbucks has a cozy corner tucked in the back away from the fray.  A coffee table sits on a worn Persian rug and is surrounded by three burnt orange wingback chairs.  Most people covet this prime real estate, myself being one of them.  When I arrived, I headed back there immediately, only to find one chair taken by a studious young man reading a Bible.  A silver-haired woman sits knitting in another.  The third chair holds a wicker basket stuffed with yarn.
I eyed the chair and the woman eyes me.  These are the words in the cartoon balloons floating over our heads.

“You’re not taking that chair!”

“I don’t want that chair!”

“Yes you do, and you can’t have it!”

I really don’t want the chair, and besides, it’s pretty obvious she’s holding it for someone.  What I am thinking is,“Hmmm, is she the one?  I don’t know.  She’s guarding that chair like a pit bull.”  She really is a bit intimidating.  Maybe I better approach the Bible reader instead.  I mean, what could go wrong there?  A Bible reader is bound to be interested in the YOG project.

Trying to make up my mind, I once again eye the Bible reader, the chair, and the woman.

The woman eyes me back.  I think I detect a certain fierceness in the click of her knitting needles.  Suitably daunted and uncertain about bothering the young man, I decide to wander the length of Starbucks looking for someone else to draw my attention.  But I don’t want to leave my Asus unattended, so I return to home base—a table just outside the coveted cozy corner.

Well, I have two reasons for finally deciding to approach the silver-haired knitter.  One, I could’ve wasted all night looking for the right recipient.  Two, I’m overcome with an unreasonable need to reassure her I don’t want her chair!  I don’t steal parking spots either!

“Hello, excuse me,” I begin timidly, “is someone sitting here?”

“No, but they will be in less than fifteen minutes,”comes her firm reply.

“Oh, that’s ok, I don’t want the chair,” I swear, barely resisting the temptation to finish with “cross my heart and hope to die.”  She explains she meets here weekly with a group of women friends numbering from six to fifteen.  They gathered to knit, share knitting patterns and shoot the breeze.

Then I ask her if she’d be willing to hear about a project that might interest her.  I’m starting to think that’s not the best pick-up line because it seems to arouse suspicion when my goal is to inspire generosity.  I would probably feel the same way.  Whoever approaches somebody with the sole purpose of giving away money?  My assumption would be this project is probably going to cost me something.

She is gracious, though, and allows me to tell her about Reed and the Year of Giving blog.  When I finish, she tells me she’s struck by the notion anyone would be interested in what she was going to do with the money.  It seems odd to her.  She’s also adamant she doesn’t want to be involved in something she has to perpetuate, as if it were a “living chain letter” of sorts.  I assure her this is not the case.

She’s clearly ambivalent, and I don’t want her to feel pressured.  I’m on the verge of trying to find a graceful way to bow out when another member of the group shows up.

“Glenyss!  We have a project to consider,” she says, gesturing to me.  “This is right up your alley.”

Glenyss pulls up a chair and listens while I explained it again.  The silver-haired knitter is right.  It is right up her alley.

“Oh sure, we can take the money.  We can find a charitable knitting project and use the ten to buy the yarn for it.”
I actually have a friend who is involved in “competitive knitting” but I’d never heard the phrase “charitable knitting.”  I ask Glenyss to tell me more and she explained she’s been involved in a number of charitable knitting projects, both personally and through her church.  For instance, in 2008 Iowa was flooded for the entire month of June.  Her church knitted caps and mittens because, “no-one was thinking about winter coming, when they’d discovered they’d lost the caps and mittens in the flood.”  So this way, they would be prepared.  How wonderful it must have been for those families to have one less thing to worry about during that difficult time!

A few more women show up, including Marion, for whom the chair had been reserved (she tells me with a pat to the bum “I have no padding so I need a soft chair”).  The other is Lori.  Lori wants to hear about the project too.  The project brought a big smile to her face, and I sense I have finally made the sale (boy, whoever thought you’d have to go to so much effort to SELL ten dollars?).

“So, shall I give you the ten dollars,” I ask the group of four knitters.

“Sure, we’ll take it,” Glenyss speaks for the group, reaching her hand out for the money.

The silver-haired knitter—whose name I finally learned was Debbie—doesn’t want her picture on the web, so I suggest they display their knitting projects and I will take a picture of their work.

What you’re looking at here is beautiful sweater for a young child, a gorgeous woman’s white cardigan and the start of a knapsack.  Debbie is making it.  It brought back a bittersweet memory for me.  My grandmother had once made me a knitted knapsack that I adored.  I loved it because it was cool and reminded me of her.  Then, my apartment was robbed and only two items were taken—a ring which cost five dollars, and the knapsack.  It’s been over twenty years and I still miss it!

Thanking them for their time, I return to my little writing post.  The group has grown from four to nine while I write this.  I overhear conversations about knitting quickly give way to more personal stories interspersed with jokes, laughter and the occasional display of a project for the generous admiration of all.  Their words knit one, pearl two a soft, warm shawl of goodwill and friendship around them which spills out to wrap around me as well.

As the evening draws to a close the women start to leave, one by one.  A few wish me goodnight and good luck with my project and I’m tempted to say, “It’s your project, too.”  But that’s not for me to decide.  They have the ten-dollar bill.  What they do with it is up to them.  Still, I’d like to think it has added a unique stitch to their evening.  I hope it won’t get dropped. 

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I gave ten dollars to forty-eight year old Michael B, from Cicero.  I found him while I was walking around my neighborhood on a gorgeous day.  The weather is behaving itself, acting like a spring day should act, so lots of people are out “taking in the air.”

Michael was sitting on the curb outside McDonald’s, next to his blue bike.  Initially I’d thought to go into McDonald’s and find someone so I at first passed up Michael.  Inside I found a scruffy-looking middle-aged man drinking a cup of coffee by himself who let me explain the Year of Giving to him before refusing to take the money.

“You should find someone who really needs it,” he said.  Frankly, he looked to me like he really needed it,  but I took him at his word.

“Well,” I replied, “you could take it and then find someone worse off to give it to.”  He considered that option momentarily before again refusing politely.  I sensed I had hurt his pride.  Thanking him for his time, I left in search of another stranger.

Michael was still there, sitting quietly on the curb listening to his iPod.  He had a worried look on his face, and seemed absorbed in his thoughts.  As I approached he got up and started to unlock his bike.  I asked him if he had a minute to talk about a project and he said yes warily.  So once again, I explained the Year of Giving and my role in it.  

“Well, who wouldn’t want ten dollars for nothin’,” he joked.  “But what do I gotta do to get  it?”

“Nothing,” I said.

He looked taken aback.  I wondered if he thought I was trying to sucker him into a change-making scam.   I guess I looked too innocent for that sort of business because he started to act more curious than suspicious.

“So when is this supposed to happen,” he asked.

“Right now,” I replied cheerily.  “I’ve got the money right here in my back pocket.”  For some reason I felt like the Flying Nun at this moment, swooping in to save the day.

I saw a smile finally brighten his face.  “Sit right down, then,” he said, waving his hand in the direction of the curb as if he were ushering me into his office.

I handed him the ten as I sat.  He took it from me reluctantly, saying, “It don’t matter.  The money don’t matter.”  Once again, I sensed pride was at stake here.  I asked him right away what he planned to do with his ten.  He said he would use it to pay for transportation to work later that day.  I asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m a welder,” he replied with some pride.

“How’s business these days,” I asked.

“Terrible,” he replied, “just terrible.”  Michael went on to explain to me how his field has been railroaded by temporary hiring agencies like Manpower and Benchmark Staffing.  “You go to Careerbuilders.com and you look for welders or tool and die jobs, and you won’t find one—not one—that isn’t handled through an agency.”

The cost to Michael has been high.  Recently he was hired to do a job for $13/hr that would have paid him $25/hr a few years ago.  His income is now a fraction of the $70K he used to make, and as a result he’s been battling foreclosure for the past eight months.  Jobs for Michael only last a few months at a time, and then he is again on unemployment.  Sometimes that gets tricky.  For instance, he had listed his resume with 75 (yes, 75) different temp agencies.  One of those agencies reported to the government that he now had a contract with them, even though they had not supplied him with any work.  His unemployment was cancelled because of the meaningless contract.

Lack of health insurance is another problem.  Temp agencies rarely provide it.  Michael’s health is ok, but this past year has been tough due to a cold he has been unable to kick.  I could hear the rattle in his chest as we talked.  Occasionally he had to stop our conversation to cough.

“It’s from the public transportation,” he explained.  “I have to ride the trains and buses all the time now and there’re full of homeless people.  Homeless people are just livin’ on them, and they’re sick.  They’re coughin’ and sneezin’ and spittin’ on the floor.”  A look of disgust came over his face.  “I get better for a little while and then it just comes back again.”

I asked Michael about unions,  “Aren’t they helping?”

“They said they would help me.  I belonged to three unions, and I paid my dues.  I kept paying them until I couldn’t afford to anymore and then I gave up because they weren’t doing anything.  They were just sittin’ on the bench.”

In addition to the nagging cold, I could hear the exasperation in his voice. I share his frustration.  It seems to me the recession has settled into middle America like a lava flow slowly hardening around its ankles.  It has been enough to put anyone into a foul mood and I wished then and there I could do more for Michael.  I thought it might help if I got him talking about what has helped him survive this difficult time in his life.

“I’ve always had to fight,” he replied.  He went on to tell me about moving to Texas as a child.  His father promptly bought a fancy car and left his mother there with five kids.  Michael never saw his dad again.  Later they moved back to Chicago where he lived until he was sixteen.  “Then my mom kicked me out because she had all those other mouths to feed.”

“Michael, I’m sorry,” I said.  “That sounds really tough.  I can see you’ve had to fight to survive a lot in your life.”

I hoped I sounded genuinely sympathetic and not like I felt sorry for him, or like I wanted to smack his lousy parents for making him feel unwanted and unloved.  But Michael, I could tell, was not going to feel sorry for himself.  “The Lord gives me strength for it,” he responded.  “He has a plan for me somewhere along the line.  Besides, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

These are the gritty slogans that keep Michael going, and frankly, I’m amazed he can live on such thin soup.  He told me sometimes he gets inspiration from watching Joel Osteen on TV.  I can’t say I get inspiration from a man whose greatest struggle in life is deciding whether to live in a really big house or a mansion.  However, I am moved by Michael, who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his modest home, his health and his dignity as a skilled working man.  We stood and shook hands.

“Well, Michael,” I said, “I better let you go.  I know you have to get to work.“Good luck with…with.”

Michael laughed as together we both finished the sentence together“…with everything.”

Michael climbed on his bike, and I turned and walked towards home, wondering if a ten-dollar band-aid could possibly fix anything.

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I found my teens today on St. Kitts!  Our ship arrived around 11am and we disembarked an hour later.  I didn’t have an excursion today so I ended up taking a so-so tour of the island by taxi, which ended at Frigate Bay, a rock black sand beach.  I took a half-hearted dip and dried out at the bar where I had a Ting (similar to Seven Up) and a chicken roti.

I was served by an ex-pat who had left America with her husband six years ago.  She was originally from New York.  She and her husband lived on a boat for three years.  Then they decided to settle on St. Kitts, but she doesn’t think they’ll stay there forever.  She’s written a book about their adventures which is supposed to be published by McGraw Hill in May of 2012.  You never know who you’re going to meet, do you?!

She said St. Kitts was very expensive, and several times referred to financial worries.  Her husband was working construction on a nearby hotel, which afforded him health insurance.  But she had none.  She seemed like a good person to give ten dollars.  So I explained the whole deal to her, and she happily accepted the ten dollars.  Just then a few people came up to buy some beers.  While they were finishing their order, it dawned on me I had not left myself enough money to get a taxi back to the ship!

Good grief, the embarrassment!  Here I am a Year of Giving Ambassador and I had to ask for my money back!  She was good natured about it, though, and as it turned out it seemed to be for the best.

When I got back to port I hoofed it on to the boat, unloaded my stuff and grabbed a ten from the safe in our room.  Then I hoofed it back out to the port’s shopping plaza.  Someone walked by with a huge waffle bowl of ice cream.  I asked where she got it and she pointed down a certain street.  I walked in that direction when suddenly, just up ahead, I spied five teenagers walking away from me.  Perfect!

They seemed relaxed as they chatted and ambled on some distance ahead of me, so I increased my pace to catch up with them.

“Excuse me,” I blurted to their backs, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

They all turned to look at me with surprise.  They were willing to listen as I explained to them my mission.  When I’d finished, I said I could give one of them the ten, if they wanted, or I could split it five ways.  They were fine with receiving the money split five ways.

One reason I was interested in giving to teenagers is that teens are still so idealistic and inspired.  I thought for sure they would be supportive of the Year of Giving philosophy.  Several of them commented something along the lines that what I was doing should happen more often.  So I think I was on the mark, and made sure to write down the website address for them.

I used my slightly battered digital camera to briefly film each one of them.  It was a lot of fun playing junior documentarian.  Unfortunately when I played it back later I couldn’t understand much of what they said because background noises garbled their speech.  So what you’re about to read is mostly true, some part best guess and one, and a bit pure invention.

This much is true.  All five of them are sixteen.   They all belong to the fifth form, which I took to be roughly analogous to our senior high.  They were all excited to be graduating to sixth form in two months which would allow them to move on to college or other goals.  The mix was three boys and two girls, and they all seemed to be good friends.  They were excited because their school had won the St. Kitts interschool championship for sports.  Tomorrow would be a school holiday to celebrate and there would be a “motorcade,” as one boy described it, “with lots of cars honking and people cheering.”  

I didn’t get this boy’s name.  However, I did find out he is a cheerleader and the school mascot.  The mascot is a cheeto…a large, orange cheeto.  He’s a tall, handsome boy so I’m sure he makes a very dignified cheeto.  The others in the group described him as a “natural born salesmen” and deferred to him as the leader of the group.  He responded modestly to their praise, but I could tell he was an ambitious young man.  He told me he hoped to major in electrical engineering, and was planning on saving his two dollar jackpot for the time being.  Since school is free in St. Kitts, he won’t need to save it to pay off a hefty education debt, thank goodness!

Chez, whose name I did get correctly, wants to major in IT.  I assured him that was a good choice because it was lucrative.  He agreed with a big smile. He planned on buying a soda with his two dollars “because it’s hot!” He’s a practical sort, I think.

Hasia (I think that’s his name but not certain) is going to major in economics.  He seemed the most excited about getting the money, and was clearly the spiritual one of the group.  When I started to hand out the money he said, “We have received a blessing from God!”  Later, when I gathered them as a group to take a picture, he said, “We should all be smiling because God has given us a gift!  We should have a big smile on our faces!”  He’s also the one who suggested they all shout “Ten Dollars!” when I snapped the photo, a variation on saying “Cheese.”  He planned on saving his windfall.  I have a hunch he might give it to his church or a charity.  Just a hunch.

Tahira, the smaller of the two girls, was the only one of the group who didn’t have plans to go onto college.  Well, that may be true of Tamika too.  She was too shy to be interviewed.  We all decided as a group she was speechless with joy over the two dollar boon.  Tahira, however, wants to get a job after school.  She’s interested in being a pilot because she likes to travel and would like to go to Africa.  Another career possibility is the spy business.  She sees them on TV sit-drams and thinks their lives look very exciting.  She didn’t know yet what she wanted to do with her double sawbucks.  She’s the imaginative one of the group, so I suspect she needed time to ponder the many possibilities available to her.

I asked them how it felt to receive money from a stranger for no reason at all.  They all thought it was “weird,” a word I found to be just about right, since the root of the word comes from the word “wyrd,” which means “fate” or “destiny.” And you never know what chance encounter may change your fate or destiny.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they would try to change someone’s fate or destiny for the better through the Year of Giving, or in some other way.  If I could roll these five bright kids into one, I bet I would come up with an ambitious, practical kid full of faith, hope, gratitude and imagination.  This kind soul would be speechless with joy at the way life can surprise you with grace.  What kid like that wouldn’t go out of his or her way to make someone else’s day a little brighter?

This kid would be like my cruise-mate Carol who a few minutes later treated me to a delicious waffle bowl of sour soup ice-cream.  I told her I’d pay her back on the ship, to which she replied, “No worries.  I’m good.”

They would also be like Chuck, a man on my cruise whom I’d never met before, who a half hour later saw that I didn’t have the money I needed to buy the perfect souvenir for my mother which had finally manifested at the last possible second—a coconut shell carved into the shape of a pig with ears that actually moved (no accounting for taste)— and bought it for me.

They might be like the tall, lanky fellow with waist-length dreadlocks who heaped adorable monkeys on my shoulders as I raced back to the ship moments before it was leaving and when I told him, “I’m so sorry!  I’ve absolutely no cash left on me,” insisted on taking a few pictures anyway, even though he knew with the end of the cruising season next week his opportunities to make money were about to dwindle sharply.

And I know they would be like Hasia, who tossed a “God bless you” over his shoulder to me in a lovely West Indies lilt as we parted ways.   And God—who is not outdone in generosity—did.

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I cheated and gave away $20.  That’s because the first encounter so annoyed me I had to find something to leave a sweeter taste in my mouth.  It was my first lesson in detachment, I think, because clearly I was attached to how the gift giving made me feel.

We’re in Barbados today.  I went on a bike and swim excursion.  We were taxied by Mike, a local, to the highest point on the island.  Barbados is a lovely island, well-festooned with bougainvillea, ginger, and other flowers.  So even though we were passing many homes just as poor as on the previous islands, I was lulled into a sort of stupor by the colorful displays and couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures.

Mike taught us that half the homes here are made of cement, and the other half are wood.  The wooden houses are called chattel (meaning “possessions”) houses and slaves used to be called chattel.  When the slaves were emancipated, some of the former owners allowed them to build houses on pieces of land they owned but the owner could evict them at any time and take possession of whatever property could not be taken away.  So the former slaves learned to build houses from wood which could be taken apart in a single day and carried elsewhere.

Our bike ride was a six mile downhill trip.  We saw a beautiful waterfall and the country club where Tiger Woods was married.  Then Mike picked us up and drove us to a local beach.  On the way, we passed some of the richest real estate on the island.  He pointed out one particularly exclusive condominium community called The Sands.  I asked him if anyone famous lived there.  He replied, “They must be famous if they have $18 million to buy a condo.”

Our beach was a tad less upscale but seemed popular with locals and tourists alike.  The was a bar and small restaurant at our beach and when we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a woman standing by the open hood of her taxi, testing the radiator cap to see if it was cool enough to take off.  I wondered if she would be a good person to give my ten dollars.  It was not what I had intended.  I’d left the boat thinking I’d like to find some teens.  I had a hunch they would have a pretty interesting response to a ten dollar bill.  But I decided a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush and, once we’d embarked, I sought her out.  

At first Monica thought I wanted a taxi.  Lots of taxi drivers were standing around, hopeful as sparrows flitting around the edges of a picnic.  I explained I was part of a project called the Year of Giving, and wondered if it would be ok to give her ten dollars. I could tell right away Monica was a wary sparrow as she had a look in her eye that said, “What’s the catch?”  I assured her there were no strings attached.  I would just like to know what she would do with the money, and maybe take a picture.

“Well, ten dollars doesn’t buy much,” she said.  “I couldn’t hardly buy a pack of coke with that!!”

I was taken aback, not only by the cost of coke, but by her lack of pleasure.  I soldiered on bravely, and enquired into the cost of food in Barbados.  “Oh, yes!  Food is very expensive.  You can buy one small bottle of coke for $2.25. That’s all.”

“So what will you do with your ten,” I asked after handing her the bill.

“Oh, I’ll buy something to eat I think,” she said nonchalantly.  I had a feeling she was really hungry.  I tried to engage her in more conversation, but it was like pulling teeth.  She told me making a living as a taxi driver was great in the winter, but in the summer it was very hard.  In the summer you get maybe one cruise ship a week.  So she has to budget her money carefully to make it last all year.  She also told me she owned her cab, and that she was responsible for all its maintenance.  When I saw her earlier with the hood of her car up, she explained she was just checking the radiator.
Monica is 67 years old.  I asked her when people retire.  She said 65, but she couldn’t afford to do it.  She is single with no kids.  She was clearly one tough broad, and I think not a little jaded by a career of ferrying around rich visitors to her island.  So maybe my ten wasn’t as appreciated as much as I would have liked.  On the other hand, maybe the real gift for her was to be able to speak frankly about how it felt to be under-appreciated and under-tipped, expressed so well in that little snipe, “Ten dollars doesn’t buy much.”

Well, I left Monica and toddled off to the beach for a bit of a wade.  We had less than an hour and I decided to spend it walking and praying the rosary.  My Lenten observance this year is to pray a rosary a day.  I decided to offer it for Monica.  I’d like to say my motives were pure, but I think a part of me was hoping I could strong-arm God into changing her attitude.  But I have to be honest—as I sit here writing this, I think I’m the one who got the attitude adjustment!

The bonus ten went to Clare.  I found Clare at the end of the beach—well past where most of the tourists hung out—sitting splay-legged with a bucket between them.  She seemed to be peeling some thing which she dropped into the bucket.  I was so taken by her I grabbed my camera right away and shot a few pictures, trying to include what looked to be a makeshift outdoor home a little ways behind her.  Too curious to resist, and still a little fed up with Monica, I approached her.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

She gave me a toothless grin and replied, “Clare.”  Well, that got me.  I love St. Clare, St. Francis of Assissi’s first female follower.  I’m born on her birthday, as a matter of fact.

“Clare,” I said.  “I love that name!  Is that your home back there?”

“Yes, it is.  I’ve been living there twelve years now.  No one else lives with me.  It’s all mine.  I got a dog.  She’s big with babies right now.”  All this in a rush, and straightforward as a child.

“What are you peeling there,” I asked noticing that her hands were badly damaged.

“Onions.  Them are potatoes back there and a couple of eggplants.  I have a friend in town who is a professional and when he has food that’s just a little old he brings it out here for me.”

“Clare, what happened to your hands,” I asked.  She explained that fourteen years ago someone had thrown a bottle into her house which exploded—I assume a malatov cocktail—and her house was destroyed.  She got out but over 95% of her body was burned.  The culprits were never found.  I wondered why she was here and not with family.  According to her, her family lived on another Island, and she’d come here when she was twenty years old, over 40 years ago.  She didn’t want to go anywhere.  This was home.

She also said she had a son in New York who was a “big police sergeant” but he never sent her money.  That was the only time a shadow of a frown crossed her face.  Otherwise, she was ebullient and her eyes sparkled with diamonds.  My mind wanted to charge her with a diagnosis of mental illness, but my heart saw she had a radiant energy that made her shine with a resilience and joy which I and Monica, in our relative states of wealth, lacked.  It was a reminder to me to be grateful for my blessings, meager as they sometimes seem.

Before the fire Clare used to work on the plantations.  Her job was to cut and carry sugar cane on her head and throw it onto the trucks which carried it away to turn into sugar.  Now she still feels useful.  “I help the tourists now,” she exclaimed.

“How do you do that?”

“I keep the robbers away.  They see me sitting here knowing I’m watching the beach, and they leave people alone.”  She took obvious pride in her volunteer position.

By then I was kneeling in the sand with her, searching through my backpack looking for my money.  I wasn’t going to bother explaining what I was up to.  I just wanted to give her ten dollars.  I found it and gave it to her.  She stuffed it in her bra and with sincere gratitude said, “God bless you!”

“What will you do with it, Clare?”

“I will buy my dog some food.”

Clare had a watch on her left wrist and I noticed the time was getting short.  Standing, I told her I had to go.  With her permission I took a few pictures.  Finally it was time to leave.

“Wait!  Before you go!  Tell me your name!”

“Rose,” I said.  “Like the flower.”

Taking my hand, she said, “I love you, Rosie.”

“I love you, Clare.”

And Monica, you crusty old broad, I love you too.

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I was in Antigua.  I began the day with a zipline tour.  We had to drive inland for a half hour to reach our destination—the rainforest.  Our taxi driver introduced himself as Spice Man.  He was a big man with a good sense of humor.  He gave us a talking tour all the way there and back telling us many things about his island.  But I was mostly fascinated by the small, colorful houses we passed, many in a state of extreme disrepair, which began to appear as soon as we left the posh tourist harbor area.  This was the real Antigua.

The zipline experience was fun.  It felt very settling to be among all those trees after more than four days at sea.  The way it works is that you are strapped into a harness similar to what you wear when you parachute.  Then you are hooked with big metal hooks to cable wires that are strung between a series of trees.  Each tree has a platform built around it and a certified zipliner (although I don’t know what that means exactly; I was helped by one of these zipliners and she had acrylic nails that had to be two inches long) who makes sure you don’t fall off the platform into the forest below before sending you on to the next platform.

We ziplined through twelve different stations down to the bottom of the forest.  That was the grueling part because we then had to climb many, many steps back to the top.  There we were able to tip our certified zipliners, as well as buy a t-shirt or two.

Spice Man brought us back to the harbor.  I asked him if he could help me find some Cuban cigars.  My husband had asked me to smuggle some back into the country with me.  Spice Man took me to a liquor store owned by a friend who then directed us to another location.  This was a bonafide cigar store.  I was able to find John some Cuhios, Romeo y Julieta and a few others.

By then it was getting late and I was starting to run out of time.   I decided to run back to the ship and drop off the cigars, then come back to the edge of the harbor and enjoy one last coffee before leaving.  I wasn’t certain whether or not I would give away $10 today.  But as I walked towards the coffee shop I was moved by the site of a young girl in her school uniform leaning listlessly against a post, holding handmade jewelry in her hand.  Her mother was busily opening a suitcase, trying to get passersby interested in buying the trinkets.  I took a candid shot of them.  Then I decided I wanted to give that ten to them.

I began by asking to look at their jewelry.  While I browsed I asked the girl her name.  Euresha she replied before explaining that she was eleven years old and in grade six.  I couldn’t imagine what her life must be like, having to go to school all day and then work selling jewelry to help her family survive.  The mother told me her name was Brenda.  I found out she was the mother of ten, and Euresha was the youngest.  I was browsing very slowly, trying to work up my nerve to offer the ten.  Brenda didn’t take my hesitation as a good sign.  She started bargaining with me, lowering her prices more and more the longer I looked.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, it started to rain.  We moved under the awning of the coffee shop and sat down opposite a couple who were also on my cruise.  I could tell Brenda was getting antsy to move on, and worried I wouldn’t buy anything at all.   Finally I settled on a matching abalone necklace and bracelet.  I said, “Brenda, I’d like to buy this bracelet and necklace.  What would it cost?”

“Bracelet is five, necklace is twenty.  But I give you both for $20.”

“Well, I’d be happy to pay you twenty for them, but would you be insulted if I also gave you ten dollars for no reason at all?”

You should have seen the look on her face.  It was like she’d won the lottery.  But she didn’t miss a beat.  Immediately she responded, “Give it to my daughter.  She needs it for her science project.”

I said, “Oh that’s great, Brenda!  I’ll give it to you, and you can give it to your daughter.  Because I was going to ask you what you were going to do with it, and now I know.”  Then I went on to explain about the Year of Giving.  Frankly, I don’t think Brenda cared.  That ten dollars was manna from heaven, and the unexpected boon was all that mattered.
Meanwhile Euresha was grinning from ear to ear.  I doubt she’d had many experiences like this of sheer good luck.  I asked her to tell me about her science project.  She said she is writing a paper on the Fallow Deer, which is an endangered species.  Her mom explained she needed the money to pay for some computer fees so she could type up the project.  She then went on to boast about her daughter, saying she’d be sitting for an exam next year that would allow her to go on to the next level of school.  “I know she will do very, very well,” she proclaimed proudly.  Euresha told me she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.

Euresha wrote down her address for me, and we all admired her lovely cursive handwriting.  The couple at the table with us who had witnessed this whole exchange asked me if this was part of a Christian ministry.  I explained to them about the Year of Giving website and suggested they check it out.  Then I took a picture of Euresha and Brenda, smiling broadly and looking hopeful, the worry and strain wiped away for a moment.

The rain had let up a little and now it really was time for me to get back on the boat.  I dashed between the drops, imagining the story Euresha and Brenda would have to tell the family that night.  It gave me such a good feeling, I thought, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stop this after seven days!”

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Hi, my name is Rose and I am this week’s Kindness Investor.  I am underemployed this year.  However, I had an opportunity to take a cruise recently to the British Virgin Islands as a Teaching Assistant to Donna Eden, by whom I am trained as an Eden Energy Medicine Clinical Practitioner.  So my first four opportunities to give away ten dollars a day began on the cruise.

I started my week of giving early here on the island of Tortola.  I spent the morning on a nature hike in the Sage Mountain National Park.  Then we went to some touristy beach the name of which I do not recall.  No, it was Cane Something.  Well, anyway.   It has a centuries old rum distillery on it that is still operating.  Samples were wasted on me since I don’t drink, but the distillery itself was fascinating and beautiful to photograph.

We had about an hour on the beach which was a bit crowded.  The pelicans here are to the locals what seagulls are to American beach-goers.  No, they don’t beg from you, but they are very tolerant of people and float in the water very close to shore.  I was lucky enough to get a shot of one flying up into the air.  However, I couldn’t get a reverse shot of any diving into the water to grab a fish.  It was fun watching them swallow their meals.  Just like in the cartoons, you can see the little lumps wiggling down their pouchy gullets.

When we finally got back to the area near the boat, I did some shopping.  There were two areas which sold “local crafts.”  The first area sold mostly cheap junk.  I didn’t even bother looking for anything here.  I just made off for the other area.  It was very close to the same.  However, I found one gem there.  An artist who is a fourth generation Tortolan had a little hut full of his artwork.  His ancestors came from West Africa, and art has been in their blood.  His dad, he said, was also a painter like him.  “But, when my parents divorced, I didn’t divorce the tradition.  So I kept on painting.”

I bought a small painting of slaves cutting sugar cane which touched me deeply with its sense of peace despite hardship.  Then, upon his recommendation, I headed down the street to Bamboushay, a coffee shop which also sold locally made pottery.

When I walked in there was an Asian woman—very pregnant—typing on her laptop, a Caucasian woman with long blonde hair I pegged for an ex-pat, and a beautiful slender black woman behind the counter.  A small array of cookies and muffins was on display, and—much to my relief—a long list of coffee specialties were available.

At first I ordered a large decaf iced latte.  Then I spied Chai latte on the board.  So I said, “Wait a sec, how’s your Chai tea?  Is it really, really good?”

I asked that because I don’t think Starbuck’s Chai is all that good, and I wanted a really good one.  She cut a smirky glance at her ex-Pat friend that looked just a little eye roll-ish, if you know what I mean.  Then, without looking at me, she said, “Yes, it’s really, really good.”  Her friend giggled a wry giggle.  The whole encounter made me feel a bit self-conscious, even though I knew I’d set myself up for it.  What was she going to say, after all?  “No, we make lousy Chai?”

“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” I said.  “I’ll take a large.”

Trying to adopt a sweeter attitude, she asked me to wait a few moments while she finished her friend’s order.  But I sensed she was feeling irritated and maybe sad.   I wondered if it was because she took me for a rich, white American girl out Island-hopping.  I wanted to protest my innocence, but what was the point?  In comparison to her world, I was exactly that.

Wandering around the shop I took the time to admire the local pottery.  Some of it was exquisite.  I would have bought something if it wasn’t such a fragile souvenir.  Eventually she finished making my chai.  Perhaps feeling a little bit of a need to please, I asked if the cookies and muffins in the case were fresh, and where did they come from.
“They are home-made,” she replied (in a lovely, soft BVI accent), adding, “I make them in my home.”

Well, I was sold.  So I also bought a small, whole wheat, carrot muffin.  The total bill was $6.95.   I handed her a twenty.  She started to make change when it hit me.  I could begin my week of giving with her!  Why not?

She handed me three dollars, a nickel and a ten.  I said thank you, and then I dove right in.  My explanation of the project was a little bumbling as I wasn’t prepared in the least.  I wish you could have seen the look on her face when I first told her I wanted to give her ten dollars, no strings attached.  It was a look of pure surprise.  Who was this weird stranger offering her money for nothing?  In fact, at first she thought I was describing a sort of “chain letter.”  I would give her ten dollars, and then she would be required to find seven other people to give ten dollars.  No wonder her look of surprise quickly changed to one of wariness.

I explained it again.  By that time a worker had come out from the back to find out what was going on.   They both got the gist of it finally.  I wished the worker had been out there earlier because I would have offered both of them $5, rather than $10 to just one of them.  It took her a few minutes to make up her mind, but she finally agreed and I handed her the ten.

The smiles that broke out on our faces at that moment were like two simultaneous sunrises peeking over the Caribbean horizon.

She told me her name was Susan (pronounced Suzanne) R.  She wasn’t the owner of the coffee shop, but its manager—and apparently its baker (the muffin was delicious, by the way).  When I asked her what she would do with the money, she hesitated for a long moment.  I sensed she was expected to do something altruistic with it.  So I offered, “Listen, you can drink a bottle of $10 rum with it if you want.”  That got a laugh from both of them.

Finally she said she thought she might by some all-natural juice for her daughter, Enya.  I asked if she was named for the singer, and she said yes.  This was another small moment of connection for us as Enya is one of my husband John’s all-time favorite musicians.  I told her so, and we both agreed it was a shame she hadn’t put out anything new lately.

We chatted for a few minutes more.  Susan told me Enya is five years old and is in the First Level of school.  I didn’t know what that meant, so she explained to me it would be analogous to our kindergarten.  Then she wanted to know if it would be possible for her to do this as well.  Only, she thought it would have to be for less than ten a day.  She couldn’t afford that much.  I was deeply touched by that.  I could see she had a big heart, and it would be in her nature to want to give more than receive.

It also brought to mind one of my favorite sayings:  God cannot be outdone in generosity, and it occurred to me I had already received much more than I had just given.

Finally, although she had protested earlier, she allowed me to take a picture of her.  I thought it caught something breathtaking about her, something I noticed earlier despite her slightly churlish mood.  It was a defiance and pride that made me like her instantly.  If I lived in Tortola, I would have to have known her better.  I think she’d make an inspiring friend.

Just about then an older couple came in, presumably looking to escape the heat as I had earlier.  I made my goodbyes quickly, making sure to leave the website address, my name and email.  At the door I turned and looked over my shoulder for one more glance.   Her mood was entirely different from when I had entered twenty minutes earlier.  It suddenly dawned on me then the real gift was not the ten dollar bill.

Bambooshay is a festive Virgin Islands dance performed to invoke good luck.  I hoped she would remember this day as one in which good luck danced her way.

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Name:

Rose M

Age?

54
Where do you live?

Forest Park, IL

Where were you born?

Salisbury MD

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

Masters of Science
Do you have a family?

Married to my husband John for almost 16 years.  No kids.  One cat
How did you hear about the Year of Giving?

I was starting my own blog and was searching the web for blogs that sounded interesting and were well-written.  I ran across this one and fell in love!
How long have you been unemployed?

Not unemployed. Underemployed.  I would say off and on since 2005, although things got a bit better last year. But they bottomed out at the start of 2011.
What happened?

I don’t know.  I’ve been told that the “recession” which has been plaguing the nation has actually started to hit the midwest hard this year.  Maybe that’s just a comforting myth.

Do you currently volunteer?

Not in the traditional way.  I make meals about four times a year for our parish soup kitchen, and sometimes help out there.  I also volunteer for various parish activities on an as-needs basis.  Last year I volunteered a week of my time in New Orleans helping to rehab houses.   I plan on doing that again this year.

Who have been your biggest influences?

Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa and Donna Eden.  Also, I have a long list of strangers in my life who have said or done just the right thing when I’ve needed it most, and whom I’ve never seen again.

What is your favorite food?

Edible.
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received?

A ring inscribed in Hebrew with the words “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.”

Describe your ideal job:

I LOVE the work I do.  I’m very grateful for that.  I am a psychotherapist and energy medicine practitioner, and what I do changes people’s lives for the better.  My ideal job would simply doing what I love to do more.

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San Francisco General

Photo: Troy Holden

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

Greetings from the foggy city by the bay, San Francisco.  This is the first time I have been on the West Coast since I lost my job in 2009.  It’s good to be back!  This city has been the incubator of some very cool philanthropic ventures.  The One Percent Foundation, with their bold approach to engaging young people in philanthropy,  held their first event here.  Kiva calls San Francisco home.  They’re the guys who made a seismic makeover of how we look at lending and alleviating poverty through the Internet.  Sparked, headquartered here too, is changing the way we look at volunteering by connecting organizations with volunteers on the Internet through micro-volunteering opportunities.  You get the idea.

Anyway, I am here for a special celebration of World Wildlife Fund’s 50th anniversary and their Spring Council meetings.  It should be an exciting few days celebrating the past and focusing on the future, especially looking at the intersection between technology and conservation.

Like all of these organizations, nonprofits across the country are driven by the desire to create social good rather than dollars.  These organizations work tirelessly to improve the world in which we live.  Whether it be protecting the biodiversity of our planet, reducing homelessness, or improving the education that our children receive, these organizations humbly push ahead toward their mission – often in spite of financial conditions that would be considered unacceptable in the private sector.

How do these cash-strapped organizations attract and retain top talent?  How do they use lessons learned from others in their field to solve their own problems efficiently?  How do they build partnerships with other organizations with aligned missions to progress their work?  Well, one of the ways is to take some of the sector’s brightest and most energetic leaders and bring them together in a dynamic exchange of experiences, ideas and contacts.  Few do this better than the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I was invited to attend their national conference in Grand Rapids, MI and speak to their members about the Year of Giving. I donated my time and services as a speaker and photographer for the conference at the end of March.

Over the Highway

Grand Rapids, MI at sunset (Photo: Eli Potter)

I touched down at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids just after seven, the glimmer of the late winter sunlight over the flat terrain quickly slipped into the night.  It’s a nice place to visit, possibly to live if you don’t mind winters that have overgrown their three month calendar season.  “You’re right here,” a woman sitting next to me on the plane explained while pointing to the palm of her right hand, just below where the little finger connects to the palm.  “You see Michigan is shaped like a mitt….we’re right here.”  I nodded and smiled at the novel way of showing someone where you lived and thought how I would shape my hand into the places I have lived.  No such luck for Brazil or Mexico, but maybe Pennsylvania works if I place my hand horizontally.

YNPN 2011.jpg

I was part of their speakers track titled Innovation. I’m not sure how innovating the Year of Giving is, after all it was Pierre on Day 359 who reminded me that certainly others had thought of this idea before.  “The difference,” he told me, “is that you did something.”  There is a tremendous difference between having an idea and implementing it.  Only one of the two really exists.  This conference was packed full of doers; my kind of people.

The conference went well, people even laughed at some of my attempts at humor which always makes me feel good.  That evening I put to work my photography “skills” to capture the nonprofit smackdown: a wild debate of sorts where nonprofit professionals from all different sectors defended their causes.  It was an interesting evening which was highlighted by an impromptu cash collection which I was told raised over a thousand dollars for the final two surviving nonprofits in the bout.

YNPN4

Impromptu cash donations totaled more than $1,000 for some of the terrific nonprofits represented at the smackdown!

There are 47 YNPN chapters across the US representing over 20,000 young nonprofit professionals working in a variety of capacities.  Check their website to see if there is a chapter near you!

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

A year ago this week I met a charismatic young post-grad student from Georgetown University: Alex S.  His story is one of my favorites and one that I tell over and over because I love how he thought outside the box and was creative and thoughtful with how he used the $10.

Here it is…

Originally posted on April 12, 2010

So this morning I heard the NPR story by Liane Hansen…it was great!  If you missed it, check it out here.

So I was walking around my neighborhood one night looking for someone to give my $10 to.  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  There really isn’t any scientific method, but more of an instinctive gut reaction that I have.  Something about the person makes them interesting to me.  Maybe they are dressed in an interesting way, maybe a pan-handler says something clever, or perhaps it’s just a nice bus driver.

Alex is sitting in a small park on a bench reading a book at about 9:00pm.  The dim light from a nearby street lamp is just enough for him to read his book: Negotiating Across Culture by Raymond Cohen.

Alex is dressed in a suit sans tie.  He looks comfortable and at ease with me approaching and sitting down next to him.  He is reading the textbook for his post-grad coursework at Georgetown.  In addition to his schoolwork, Alex also has a part-time job at a DC think tank.  As I explain to him my year-long commitment I learn that his birthday is December 15th (the day I started the Year of Giving).  Somehow I feel that I was meant to meet Alex.

When Alex isn’t studying, working at the think tank or taking in a night at local art galleries (that’s what he was doing this night) he gives his time.  He helps out at shelters and kitchens around DC.  He has volunteered several times atLoaves and Fishes, a ministry of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church that has been serving lunch to the hungry and homeless on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays since 1968.

Alex hopes to work in international development and policy in Africa.  This is no surprise given his vast international experience.  For a 24-year-old he has seen a lot of the world.  Check out the video where we talk a little about his experiences overseas.

The following is a letter that I received from Alex explaining how he used the $10.  Also, take note of the link to the study on kindness at the end…definitely worth a read.

Hey Reed,

I was really unexpected and nice meeting you the other night. I wanted to drop you a note to say that I really think your project is fantastic. I think it’s great that you have embraced the curiosity, generosity, and faith in other people that a lot of us aspire to. I too believe that there’s so many incredible and interesting people we encounter in our daily lives that we seldom take the time to stop and appreciate. I myself wish I did it more.

So, I told you I’d write you to tell you how I’d spend my money.  Basically, 10 bucks isn’t going to change what I can afford, or what some deserving NGO in the area could do if I gave the money to them.  But, what the gesture of yours can do is change something I do, particularly stopping to appreciate the people we see in our daily lives but maybe don’t stop to acknowledge or appreciate. So, what I decided to do was spend that money on some cookie supplies, bake some cookies and give them to people we don’t too often acknowledge – the guys who hand out the WaPo Express, the people who work at the Metro stations and the cleaning people and receptionist in my building on K Street.

Oh and I also thought you’d be interested in this article I came across on the kindness multiplier. Reminds you that an act of kindness has consequences you don’t see!

Cheers and best of luck,

Alex (109)

Thanks Alex.  What a thoughtful and creative use of the $10.  I would love to know how the people reacted!  If you haven’t already done it yet and can record it, it would be great to post here!  It was great to meet you…thanks for making this giving experience so special.

Update 4/9/2011

Alex attended the Year-End Celebration in December.  And he didn’t show up empty handed either.  Would you believe that he showed up with cookies to share?  What a thoughtful guy!

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

I’m looking for volunteers for four things.  Two of the items can be done anywhere in the world, so there’s something for everyone!

  1. On Saturday April 16th I am volunteering at DC Servathon, a city-wide volunteer movement.  I am leading a small team of people who will be working to make some improvements at the Maya Angelou Charter School.  We are in need of volunteers and donations.  If you are interested in volunteering making a financial contribution, click here.

    DSC_0043.jpg

    Volunteers from MLK Service Day!

  2. On Saturday April 30th I am involved in another service day called Hands-On-DC!  We’ll be tackling a DC public school and need more volunteers.  Click here to sign up or make a financial contribution to provide college scholarships for underprivileged kids in DC.
  3. We need a new Kindness Investor on Year of Giving!  If you or someone you know is unemployed or underemployed and wants to spend seven amazing days investing in kindness let me know.  Click here for more details.
  4. The Worldwide Day of Giving is back!  That’s right, this coming June 15th is the second annual Worldwide Day of Giving.  Last year over a thousand people from around the world participated by giving $10 to stranger.  This year, you have an additional option for those who would prefer to volunteer.  Both options are a lot of fun.  Details can be found here or on the Facebook Page.  I need your help in spreading the word so that we can make this another amazing day!  Use your Facebook, twitter, whatever…just spread the love!

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It was a slow week on the blog.  We are without a Kindness Investor to share a daily story of giving from some part of the world.  If you or someone you know are out of work or underemployed and would like to become a Kindness Investor for seven days, shoot me a message!

My blog today is a special one.  I recently was honored to be invited to visit Atlanta to speak at the 95th anniversary event for the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA).

In case you are not familiar with the Junior League, it’s an organization made up of outstanding women who are committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.  They have a little less than 2,000 active members in the Greater Atlanta region who last year collectively volunteered more than 90,000 hours at 95 different organizations saving them more than $1.8 million in labor related expenses.  That is awesome!

My speech was in the evening and so I had some time to visit first hand some of the work that JLA’s members are involved with.  I was met by Audra Dial, JLA’s current president.  She accompanied me to three spectacular organizations where JLA works.  Audra, a partner at a top law firm, is a truly inspiring individual.  In addition to her professional and philanthropic work, she’s married and is the mother of a handsome 18-month-old boy!  People often ask me how I do all that I do, well, I want to know how the heck she does everything that she does!

Atlanta Union Mission.jpgThe first organization we visited was My Sister’s House a 264 bed facility that offers overnight shelter and residential discipleship programs for homeless women and women with children.  Part of the Atltanta Mission, My Sister’s House also provides counselors, referrals to job training programs, and help in finding housing, medical and legal resources. For mothers, the organization has a fully developed childcare facility staffed with a behavioral specialists and social workers.

Melissa, the manager of volunteer services, greeted us and showed us around.  I was very impressed with the facilities, especially the part that houses single women and women with children for up to a year.  They have simple yet comfortable apartments that they call home.  The housing and services are provided free of charge to the women and their children, however, each woman is required to contribute in some way.  Some do laundry, others clean the general facility rooms or help provide the more than 500 meals that are served daily.

My Sisters House.jpg

My Sister's House facility.

“How can people help,” I asked Melissa.  She told me that they need volunteers, especially men.  “The children, in particular the boys, need positive male role models.”  They also need people who are able to provide child-care for the guests, mainly on Sunday mornings and evenings during the week.  “We also need volunteers who can help with adult literacy, serve meals and tutor the women on computer skills.”

This appears to be a very well run organization that is full of love.  It was sad to leave, but we had a few other places to visit.

NearlyNew.jpg

Nearly New Shop storefront

Next it was the Nearly New Shop, a store that is run by JLA as a source of fundraising for the organization.  “We’re somewhere between a thrift store and a consignment shop,” Scott, the store manager, explained to me.  I walked through the neatly organized store and wandered over to the men’s clothing.  A charcoal Brooks Brothers suit caught my eye, but it wasn’t my size!  Everyone working here is extremely warm and caring.  Jackie, a JLA volunteer, warmed my heart with her smile and calming voice.  “We are always in need of donation items in good condition,” Scott mentioned as he showed me around the storage area.  “Especially furniture and men’s clothing,” Jackie added.

NearlyNew2.jpg

Jackie, Reed and Audra at the Nearly New Shop.

My last stop was the Atlanta Speech School, one of the Southeast’s oldest therapeutic, educational centers for children and adults with hearing, speech, language or learning disabilities. Co-founded in 1938 by Katherine Hamm, the mother of a deaf son, and JLA, the school has the feel of a state-of-the-art learning center.  Comer Yates, the school’s executive director, manages to squeeze me in to chat for a few minutes.  He was full of awe-striking facts
about language and literacy that made me wish I had taken notes.  If you would like to support this vibrant learning facility please click here.

I ended up back at my hotel for a quick shower before heading over to the beautiful Ahavath Achim Synagogue where I delivered my speech.  The evening presented two “firsts” for me.  It marked the first time I have given a speech in a synagogue and the first time I have been the only man in a room with nearly 500 women!

I want to thank Audra, Sara, Deb and all the members of JLA.  I truly felt the southern hospitality!

If you want to learn more about JLA or support their terrific work, please click here.

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