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Last night was the opening night of A Year of Giving - the theatrical version of my year-long journey of giving $10 away every day to strangers while unemployed back in 2010.

Holger 2012 07 14.jpg

Holger D. (left) was my $10 recipient on July 14th. Photo: Dave Levin

The nearly sold out show was a culmination of a lot of hard work. Melanie Papasian provided us with a terrific script. Pat Miller of Rockville Little Theatre produced the show and got the very talented Sasha Brätt to direct the production. We had some serious setbacks in the last two weeks….losing two actors to injuries (not related to the show…there’s no circus moves or acrobatics in the in the play – it is part of the Fringe Festival so you never know!), but we managed to combine those two roles into one and find the amazing Devon DuPay who took on the daunting challenge of learning the entire piece in one week. You would never believe that she hadn’t seen the script before last week! In addition to her, Pat Miller and Steve Langley were phenomenal.

Miller shines as he portrays DC Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger who I gave my $10 to on Day 225. Langley did an amazing job portraying Ivory, a Street Sense vendor who I met on Day 49. He also portrays Knox, my first $10 recipient, who by total coincidence was shinning shoes outside the theatre – a special treat for the audience and Langley who portrays Knox in the show.

Knox and Steve.jpg

The real Knox (left) from Day 1 poses for a photo with Steve Langley who portrays Knox in A Year of Giving. Photo: Reed Sandridge

For me, seeing Knox outside was amazing. I’ve seen him a few times since our first encounter on December 15, 2010, but to run into him on the day that the show opened, that made my day! I’ve invited him to be my guest at any of the forthcoming shows….but it seems theatre is not his thing. He says he may try to show up and shine shoes outside the theatre though to make a few extra bucks.

The other highlight was giving my $10 away to an audience member. Yep, you come see the show and you might just get ten bucks! Holger, originally from Germany, helps develop environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions with the goal of improving the quality of life of city dwellers.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the $10 – but promised to follow up with me once he decided.

Four more shows to go! If you’d like to attend you can purchase tickets for the following days:

Jul 17th 9:00 PM
Jul 20th 7:00 PM
Jul 22nd 3:00 PM
Jul 28th 6:00 PM

All shows are at the Goethe Institut – a block from the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro stop.

For more information on the show, visit our Facebook Page.

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My very first recipient: Knox

Happy New Year!

365 days ago I embarked on an amazing journey.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would forever change my life.

When I started I had been out of work for 75 days, I was hungry for a job, at least that’s what I thought.  Looking back on it, I think I was searching for something even greater: purpose.

Sure, the first month without work is awesome.  I got loads of sleep, made it to the gym on a regular basis, read all the books that were on my list to read and made time to see friends and family.  But the second month brought with it changes.  I started waking up late and staying in bed watching television until midmorning.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of my skills were wearing away, oh no.  I was actually developing a rather impressive talent in guessing the showcase showdown price on The Price is Right!  By the way where do they get those people…I should be on this show.  Anyway, this need for a higher purpose in my life combined with my interest in philanthropy and the values my mother and father taught me as a child all collided.  I literally woke up one morning in early December with the idea of giving a different stranger a few dollars every day.

Writing the blog was a purely personal venture at first.  It quenched my thirst for a job-like activity.  Every day I would come home and write up the blog entry.  I had never blogged before and to be honest, hadn’t really followed anyone else’s either.  So I really had no idea what I was doing.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

I started on the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, she was a huge inspiration.  She guided me through all 365 days.

Every day was a unique adventure.  People always ask me who my favorite recipient was.  That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  So many of them were special in their own way.  Whether it was someone’s personal story that touched my heart or their creative idea of what to do with the ten dollars, every person left their own unique footstep along this year’s path.  And at some point what was a personal project turned into a movement and you joined me on the journey.  That moment was magical.  I received over ten thousand emails and comments from people all around the world who said that they were inspired; whether it be by my personal commitment or by one of the stories of the year-long cast of characters I introduced them to.

December 14th always loomed deep in the distance but before I knew it the day had arrived.  I decided to host a celebration with the goal being to reunite as many of the recipients as possible and put them together in one room.  In addition to introducing them to one another, it was also an opportunity for those who had been following the journey on the blog to meet the recipients in person.

Darrold, recipient from Day 189, picks a winning raffle ticket. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

It was bitter cold and windy on the 365th morning of the Year of Giving and my emotions were equally turbulent.  The excitement for the evening was met with a bit of sadness that this special year was coming to an end.  Sure I have some tremendous plans for 2011, but things would be different.   It’s like moving back to a place you once lived.  It’s never the same.  The magic isn’t easily created twice.

I spent all day on the 14th doing last-minute things for the event.  Thankfully my good friend Patricia Anderson had volunteered to take care of the brunt of the work and I was only left with a few minor tasks.  I ran a few errands and delegated a couple of jobs to my father.  The thing that took me the most time was editing the video that I wanted to show.  I have close to two hundred video files from the last year and I wanted to piece something together that would capture what this year meant to me.  I had never worked with video files before I started blogging and one thing that I learned is that it is a very time-consuming process.  A film editor once told me to benchmark one to two hours of work for every minute of final cut video.  I literally was editing until 10 minutes before I needed to be at Tabaq Bistro, the location of the event.  Miraculously I managed finish on time.  Click here to watch the video.

I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient from Dec. 15, 2009. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

I arrived and any plans I might have had for the evening were checked at the door. Events tend to just take over and you are then on autopilot for the most part.  It was very much like a wedding; lots of beautiful and emotional moments all blurred together.  Thankfully there are some great video clips by ABC-7 reporter Jay Korff and amazing photographs by Michael Bonfigli.  I encourage you to check out both of these links.

The year would not be complete however until I passed on the final installment in my $3,650 investment in kindness.  Who would it be?  There were several people at the celebration who I didn’t know, so they qualified.  But who?  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  It’s not a science, it’s much more of an impulsive decision.  Then I remembered the dozen individuals who were volunteering their time to work the event.  I knew some of them, but there were a few unfamiliar faces.  One of them belonged to Alyson, a 25-year-old DC resident who was busy working when I pulled her aside and placed the ten-dollar bill in her hand.

The final $10 changed hands during the event when Alyson H. became recipient #365. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

She works in congressional relations at the Peace Corps headquarters here in Washington, DC.

“I’m going to buy two raffle tickets,” Alyson told me.  Participants at the event could purchase raffle tickets for five dollars a piece for a chance to win some fantastic prizes from generous organizations and individuals (see list of sponsors) in the DC area.  All the money collected, about $2,200, is being donated to three amazing nonprofits: DC Central Kitchen, Street Sense and the Urban Philharmonic.  Each have played a special part in this year-long journey and it seemed fitting to mark this event with an act of giving back.

Unfortunately Alyson didn’t win anything in the raffle, but that wasn’t this Minnesota native’s real motivation.  She is just a giving person at heart.  In addition to her meaningful work with the Peace Corps, she takes time out of her busy schedule to do things for others.  In fact, she had recently volunteered at DC Central Kitchen.

So what now?  Well, for 2011 I have two big things planned.  First, the ten-dollar a day giving continues with other unemployed people signing up to be Kindness Investors and give a ten spot away every day for one week and then share their stories here.  It’s truly an amazing experience.  Later today you will start to get blog posts from Melinda from Xenia, OH, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

Elijah (Day 185) made it to the event, still not wearing shirts or shoes...and it was cold! (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

The other big project I am planning is to personally volunteer once a week for the entire year.  After reflecting on the previous 12 months I realized that the most valuable part of this experience has been the interaction with others, the time I spent with the recipients.  That’s what matters, to really care about someone else and their story.  So, I am going to be volunteering my time with some great nonprofits over the coming year and sharing the stories here on the Year of Giving! I hope you will follow along and drop me a note about how you incorporate volunteering into your life.

In addition to my personal commitment, I am challenging all those who are out of work to volunteer at least one day of their time.  We currently have 15 million individuals who are out of work in the US.  If we take an arbitrary hourly salary for each of them of $20 and calculate the value of each of them spending an eight our day volunteering, it comes up to $2.4 billion.  Now the average person is unemployed for six months right now, so double that amount and you get the total potential for the US for a year.  $4.8 billion is a seismic amount.  To put that into perspective, that is more than the economy of Zimbabwe!  Or three times the economy of Belize!  And we haven’t even mentioned the benefits the individual gets from volunteering!

I also want to work with companies to get them to create programs that encourage their employees to volunteer.  Imagine what we could do if we got just 20% of the active workforce to volunteer one day a year!  Anyway, check back in the coming weeks for more on this exciting new project.

Pierre from Day 359

Everything that I have ever done that was meaningful was sad when it came to an end.  So too is this moment.  The Year of Giving is not an earth shattering idea.  As Pierre from Day 359 put it, “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!”  He’s right.  What is unique is the experience that I have had.  When I started this project I thought that I might potentially change the lives of a handful of people, but I never thought about how it would change me.  I am forever changed.  I look at giving differently now.  It’s contagious and it has seeped into all aspects of my life.  I look at the homeless man on the street through a new lens now.  I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more valuable to stop and ask their name and how they are doing than it is to drop a dollar into their bucket.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but be reminded of some sage advice in Mitch Albom’s real-life story Tuesdays with Morrie. In the book, Morrie tells Mitch, The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  I did just that and today I have 365 new friends and a truly meaningful purpose in life.

It’s ironic that just when I thought I was reaching the end I’ve realized that in fact it is just the beginning!  It is truly a happy new year.  Stay tuned…

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Merry Christmas!

Today is a day that we easily associate with giving; a day that we give gifts to our family members and friends as a symbol of our love and friendship.  As we approach a new year, let’s all make a commitment to think more about ways in which we can give to our family, friends and community.

Richard (left) and Paul (day 335) brave the cold to smoke a cigarette.

On Day 357 I was walking north on Connecticut Avenue when I passed a guy who looked just like Paul from Day 335.  Paul was the bike messenger who I met and then couldn’t find any of my notes from meeting him; not even his email or phone number.  Well, would you believe it, it was him!  Yes!  I found him.

He was standing outside a custom framing shop with his buddy Richard who works there.  The three of us chatted for a while and then I decided to give my $10 for the day to Richard.  He proved to be an interesting character!

“I like to make films,” he tells me taking a drag off of a cigarette in the subzero December afternoon.  “I’m doing a commercial for a record label now, but I’ve done some shorts and music videos too,” he adds.  He’s even recently bought an 8mm camera which he was eager to tell me about.

Now I’ve got to tell you that after yesterday’s recipient told me about his fetish to use heart monitors during sex I thought I had to ask Richard if there was anything interesting or unique about him.  I mean, after you hear about the heart monitor thing you can’t pass up the opportunity to top it.

Well, Richard’s answer doesn’t disappoint!  “I’ve been arrested twice within a five-day period in two different cities,” he says.  It turns out that he was traveling through Oklahoma City when he found himself in a supermarket and was arrested for shoplifting.  “I had some tea in my pocket which was actually mine, but they thought that I had stolen it,” Richard says.  He goes on to tell me that he had some cheese in his pocket as well.  “I’m not sure about the cheese though,” he confesses.  “That might not have been mine.”  As a result he was charged with larceny, got to spend 24 hours in an Oklahoma City jail and wear a bright-colored jump suit!  “All in all I probably spent $500 on that tea and cheese!”  Incidentally he said it was probably about a dollar’s worth of cheese.

Three days later Richard was leaving the South by Southwest Conference and Festival and driving through Brenham, TX when an officer of the law pulled the van over that he and his friends were traveling in.  “He pulled us over for a broken tail light,” he says, “but we ended up being detained for two hours while they searched the car and found a joint on one of the other guys.  So they brought us all down to the station.”  Well, the officer didn’t finish the paperwork and they had to spend the night in the jail.  “We somehow ended up in there for 36 hours.”    He smiled and said, “It’s bad man when you’re getting booked by some 18-year-old cop who is bitching and moaning about his prom.”  That being said, the Texas facility was apparently a lot better than the jail in Oklahoma City.  Their bail bondsman even brought them pizza when they got out of jail.

“So a few months later,” Richard goes on to tell me, “I traveled back down to Brenham to appear in court but at the last minute it was decided that we didn’t even have to appear!”

Richard said he was going to hold on to the $10 for now.  I thought he might be saving it for future bail money, but he advised me that it would be put toward some studio recording fees.  “I play the guitar and bass and am planning to get into the studio in January.”

I said goodbye to Richard and Paul and told them about the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration.  They said they would try to make it but I didn’t see them there unfortunately.

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9/11 memorial

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 9 years since the 9/11 tragedy.  I remember where I was; just under a mile from the Pentagon.  I remember seeing the crash on TV at my eye doctor’s office and then walking over to my office in Rosslyn, VA and hearing the crash at the Pentagon.   2,996 lives were lost that morning.  To give you an idea of how many people that is.  If we were to honor one person each day, it would have taken until Nov. 26, 2009 – more than eight years - to honor all those who lost their lives.    

Remember Tommy from Day 155?  Well, I delivered some items from Meghan in Pennsylvania and took some video.  Check it out here.  By the way, he needs some items for winter, check out the Lend a Hand section.  

Before I introduce you to today’s recipient, I must apologize for a mix up on my side.  Yesterday I posted Day 256 with pictures of today’s recipient, Lisa, but with the story and notes that pertain to Jessica who was the recipient on Day 257.  Sorry…I think I got it all cleaned up now.  With 365 posts this year I was bound to mess this up at some point! 

Lisa proudly displays her $10

Embarrassingly Lisa saw the mix up and wrote to me to point it out.  Thankfully she was understanding and assured her that I would get it taken care of today.  Thanks Lisa, I’m sorry about that. 

Anyway, I met Lisa at a going away party for Sarah, the person who I replaced at the WWF.  The 26-year-old owns her own graphic design business here in Washington, DC.  After growing up here in the DC area, she went to Pittsburgh to study at Carnegie Mellon University.  Today most of her family is split between Boston and Buffalo. 

Owning your own business seems to have its advantages for this world traveler.  “I try to set aside a month or two each year for travel,” she says.  “My next trip is going to be the western part of South America or India.  She told me about another trip where she went hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro.  When I lived in Brazil I went to Rio regularly for business and often stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel.  From the hotel you can see the hang gliders taking off from Sao Conrado and riding the thermals high above.  Who knows, maybe Lisa was one of those hang gliders that I have seen! 

We talked a little bit about why people give.  “I’m pretty busy and so I often give money instead of my time.”  Lisa went on to say that she does give of her time to her family and close friends.  “I’m pretty artistic, so sometimes I will do a painting for friends.  I’ve also done a friend’s wedding invitations.”  Speaking of giving, the $10 in her hand ended up being used to buy her good friend Sarah some beers.  

photo: Reed

I asked Lisa if there was anything that someone else could give to her that would be helpful.  “I’d really like it if someone could donate five or six hours at a printing shop.  That would be amazing!”  

If anyone is in need of a graphic designer, let me know and I can connect you with Lisa!

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

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

Lisa feeling a little better (photo: Reed)

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

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

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

photo: Reed

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

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

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

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