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Posts Tagged ‘family’

David’s farewell party

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

I wanted to update you on the latest news about David Ger – the charismatic young man from Kenya that has touched the hearts of so many followers of the Year of Giving.

You can read a more detailed chronological narrative of the sequence of events leading up to now, but basically David was my $10 recipient on Day 258. Through getting to know him I discovered that he wanted to try to find a cousin of his who was last known to be living in Poland. I Googled his name and posted it on the Year of Giving hoping that someone would know him, but no luck.

I snapped this photo of David on a recent visit we took to the Kenyan Embassy to make arrangements for his travel.

But then six months later I got a call from David’s cousin in Poland! I connected him with David and now they are closer to being reunited. After months of discussions and raising money to help pay for the costs, the day has finally come where he will be flying back to his home near Lake Victoria. It’s been nearly 15 years and along with the excitement must come a lot of anxiety too.

I will be sad to see my friend leave, but I think this is an amazing opportunity for him. I am throwing a little going away party for David this Monday night at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW) in DC. It’s right near the Dupont Circle Metro stop. Please stop by between 5:30 and 8pm to meet David if you haven’t already met him and wish him luck on his journey. Here’s a link to the invitation. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to help cover some of the costs. I’m hoping to raise $1,000.  If you can’t attend but still want to donate – just click here!

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Mothers Day

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Lenora "Ann" Reed Sandridge 10/17/43-12/15/06

A couple of days ago I sat down to brainstorm about the subject of my blog post for today.  As I have been focusing on volunteering with my posts, I thought I would highlight a national nonprofit that gave opportunities for mothers to volunteer.  To my surprise, I couldn’t find such an organization with the exception of very focused groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Then I thought I would focus on organizations that helped mothers.  I found lots of groups that help pregnant moms, new mothers, single parent mothers, etc.  But somehow I wasn’t finding anything that really grabbed me.

So I decided to dedicate today’s blog to my own mother who was one of my inspirations in creating the Year of Giving.

Born Lenora Ann Reed in 1943, my mother grew up in the sleepy coal-mining town of Richlands, Virginia.  It’s a beautiful part of the country.  I can remember driving down Route 460 as a child, well I wasn’t driving, but I was in the car, and seeing the breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My mother's childhood house and shed. The outhouse she used is long gone, but it still looks more or less the same structurally - except the deck. (Photo: Reed)

The house she grew up in still stands on a steep slope overlooking the town.  Today nearly 6,000 people live in Richlands compared to about 4,800 when my mother was a child.  Not too much has changed in my mind.  The King Kone ice cream and hot dog stand still gets people lined up two or three deep.  Mom used to love their chili dogs.  I went back last year with my dad and got one.  They must have been better back in the day.

Graduation from Richlands High School, 1960

Mom graduated from Richlands High School in 1960.  She followed the footsteps of her older sisters and went to nursing school, however, nursing wasn’t for her and she ended up working for the federal government in Washington, DC.

She was living with my uncle Jack on the fourth floor of a crimson colored brick apartment complex in Arlington,VA. The place is still there today in fact.  In the summer of 1962 my dad was moving in across the hall.  “There were some girls who were whistling and giggling at me as I was carrying things in,” he told me smiling.  “They kept hiding though when I would try to see who it was.”  Well, the rest is history as they say.

Jerry and Lenora were married on January 23, 1964.  They packed up the car and drove to California, sold everything except what they could carry in some suitcases and started out on a trip around the world.  The first stop was Honolulu.  They figured they would work for a while there until they had enough money to move on to the South Pacific.  They never made it any further and five years later left the tropical paradise of Don Ho and moved to California where my brother and I were born.

My mother and brother playing with my Uncle Jack's dog Spike in 1973. (photo: Reed)

The next 20 years were spent raising us kids.  Although we had a baby sitter when we would get home from school, they rarely left us with a sitter to go out to dinner or those kinds of things.  They completely put their social lives on hold in order to spend time with us.  Our house was full of love and laughter and a few screams of my brother and me fighting.

Mom was extremely generous.  We didn’t have much money to give, but she was always thinking of others before herself.  She searched voraciously to find the perfect card to send to her friends and family.  She wrote beautiful kind letters.  She led by example; instilling in my brother and me virtues of kindness, sympathy and honesty.

When I was 16 I was selected to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and went to Guasave, Mexico for my 11th grade year of high school.  On the eve of my flight, we sat in a hotel outside of Baltimore, MD fearing the unknown of a year apart.  Tears were flowing and my mother took me for a short walk outside our hotel.  She told me something that I will never forget.

My brother Ryan, Mom, Dad, Me in Ireland

“All my life I have worked to help you become independent.  You’ve grown up so much and are setting out to write a new chapter of your life.  We shouldn’t be crying; we should be celebrating.  This is what your father and I have dreamed of ever since you were born is to see you mature and develop into your own person.”

I think we both knew that I still had a lot of growing up to do but as always she had a way with words to make the pain or the sadness go away.  I must have received at least 100 letters from her during my 11 months in Mexico.

Mom died on the morning of December 15th, 2006 from some complications from a by-pass surgery she underwent a few days earlier.  She had battled heart disease for more than two decades since having her first heart attack days before Christmas in 1984.  It’s somehow ironic that someone with such a big and loving heart would die of heart related illness.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

Today I remember her.  I remember her smile, her laughter, her listening, her dancing with my dad in the kitchen, her gentle touch, her love of books, her love for family, her fondness for her work and coworkers and most of all her hugs.  I celebrate her life and the beauty she brought to the lives of so many others.

If you are able to spend the day with your mother, make sure you tell her that you love her and appreciate all that she has done for you.  Hug her and hold her an extra moment while you remember all of those who have lost their mothers.

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Blog post by Sibyl W, a Kindness Investor from Brentwood, Tenn.

Today I met Jeannie, who is a total sweetheart.   I was just getting out of my car when I saw her and just knew she was the one to be today’s recipient.  Lucky for me she said yes.  I wasn’t even ready and had to ask her to wait just a moment to get the things I needed out of my car, including the $10 dollars.

I explained what the Year of Giving was about and asked if she would be willing to share a piece of her story with me.  Like a lot of others, she has a lot going on in her life right now.

“This week my aunt, who’s 85 years old, had open heart surgery.  She lives in Toledo, Ohio and we just got back. She’s my mom’s sister, they are the only two siblings left in that part of the family.  She’s the golden star patient and she’s doing phenomenal, better than everyone expected.  Her mind is good; everything else is good it was just her heart.  But it was miraculous.  God healed her.

“There’s just so much to say.  I was in an accident in January but all is well thank the Lord.  My Aunt, the one in the hospital, was going to give me her car but she’ll be able to get back out and drive, go back to church and enjoy the things she likes to do.  So my brother-in-law, he’s in Afghanistan, they loaned us one of their cars.  God is amazing; you just can’t stop giving Him the glory.

“And, my husband and I have been approved to be adoptive parents.  But, I just found out Monday the birth mom changed her mind.”

Worried about her disappointment I said, “Oh no.” But she responded, “Oh, that’s good, she’s going to keep her baby and my prayer is that God is going to give us our baby. We believe in adoption, there are a lot of adopted kids throughout our family.  We were doing an independent adoption over the summer, the mother was a family member, but when the baby was born she decided to keep it and that’s great too.  I always promote babies being with their natural mother.  So we’ve been dealing with this since January.”

In my opinion, Jeannie’s life consists of things that I would refer to as stressful, but I don’t think she saw it that way.  She was so positive and upbeat it totally brightened my day.  We hugged and I thanked her for sharing her story. I told Jeannie I had one more question, could I ask what she might do with the $10 dollars. She immediately replied, “Give it to somebody.  I’ll bless somebody.”

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Name:

Sibyl W.
Age?
59 (ouch!)
 
Where do you live?
Brentwood, Tenn.
 
Where were you born?
I was born in Asheville, NC
What’s the highest level of education you have completed?
Graduated high school and took some college courses (Business & Psychology)
Do you have a family?
I’m divorced, no children.  But years ago I had a little sister through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.  She’s now grown with two boys of her own.  Her oldest is my godson.
 
How did you hear about the Year of Giving?
I believe it was a story I saw online, possibly MSN but not sure.
 
How long have you been unemployed?
I’ve been unemployed a little over two years, but part of that time I went home to NC to take care of my mother who was very ill.
 
What happened?
I was working for an entertainment marketing company in LA when the recession hit and the company had to cut way back.  We had very well-known clients but even the big guys had to cut spending.
 
Do you currently volunteer?
I currently volunteer at Saddle Up!, it’s a therapeutic horseback riding program designed for physically and mentally challenged children.  I help out with three classes and love every minute of it.

Who have been your biggest influences?

My mother has been the biggest influence in life.  She experienced some tough hardships but the only thing she was ever afraid of… was missing out on the fun with her family.  Another is my brother.  He is such a good person and received all the patience in the family.
 
What is your favorite food?
Chicken Fajitas, love, love, love. Oh, and biscuits and gravy. But not in the same meal. :)
 
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received?
My mother had five brothers and they were all in the service at the time of World War II.  My mother was a teenager at the time and they managed to bring her back an assortment of silver bangle bracelets.  When I was a little girl I loved playing with them.  Even though they were precious to her and she was afraid I would lose them, she gave them to me.  (I still have them.)
 
Describe your ideal job:
Having my own business helping others find what they are passionate about doing and then helping them find a way to accomplish it.

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Blog post by Stephanie, a Kindness Investor from Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Today’s Intention ~ Today, I Appreciate Joyful Living
I met birthday girl Liz at Border’s Bookstore.  She was working intently at her computer while listening to her iPod, the image of today’s college student.  I approached her as she was packing up and she was at first surprised and unsure about the Year of Giving.  She asked if I was going to ask her a bunch of “philosophical” questions about the meaning of life.  Being a deep thinker, I thought if we had more time I probably would have.  Instead I said I just wanted to learn a little bit more about her and her story.
Liz began sharing that she took a year off after highschool before she started community college.  She is currently undeclared, but she does harbor the idea of eventually going to law school.  She told me she would also like to take philosophy classes in college.
Liz went on to explain her passion for story telling.   She told me about a fictional love story she wrote in a blog a year ago.  She elaborated that she was contacted by a man who wants to turn the romance into a movie after Liz converts the blog into a script.  I now wonder if that is what she was working on before I approached her with the $10.  Liz also shared a ghost story with me about Ellicot City, Marlyand which I thought was funny because I have actually been there before.
Later in the conversation, I found out that it was Liz’s birthday and she was meeting up with a friend soon, but before she left I asked her what 3 things bring her joy in her life.  She said her Bichon Hagen, her family (Liz currently lives with her mom and her older brother just got married), and finally that one day she may be discovered! Hmmm, I wonder if that means joy that she will discover in herself or someone will discover her great talents as a writer.
Liz was a friendly young woman who I enjoyed speaking with!
I made an avatar of Liz because she didn’t want her picture taken.  Her hair was more blond with longer bangs, but I wanted to do something fun to honor the birthday girl/college student/writer who loves her dog and family!  Oh and she said the $10 will buy her coffee. She loves coffee and it keeps her going.  We both shared a good laugh that I was able to give her a surprise birthday gift!

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

Mr. Leng's tuk-tuk

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

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

One of the monks I helped.

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

When I read Reed’s invitation to share in his daily $10 give on 29Gifts.org, I knew immediately I would be an investor. When I told my mom what I was going to do and suggested she participate, she thought I was nuts.

After reminding me that I’ve been unemployed for two years, my husband and I are in debt, and that my husband won’t be too happy about me giving away $70 to strangers, she added, “We taught you kids to never talk to strangers and now you want me to AND give them money?  Are you crazy?”

Maybe.  But I’m in good company.

I was drawn to my first Kindness Investment, Patricia M., while standing in a very long line at the Post Office.  She was wearing a pink baseball cap, food-stained Donna Karan NY sweatshirt, jeans, and a fanny pack around her waist.  She had near her two fully stuffed backpacks and held an old, scuffed up handheld radio with the earbuds in her ears. She counted her change several times before deciding which services she could afford to add to her shipment.  My first impressions were that she was very well-spoken, very tall, friendly, possibly homeless and had an eye problem, as she leaned in closely to where the clerk’s finger pointed, showing where to sign on the delivery confirmation slip.

After her transaction ended, she turned around several times, asking question after question of the clerk already serving other customers.

“Oh, another question – How do I get a P.O. Box?”  “I’m sorry, one more question. How much does it cost?”  “May I have the forms to get one?”  “Thank you!”  “Bless You!”  The clerk appeared more than happy and patient to answer her. The long line of customers was drawn to her, as well, as we pitched in to answer more questions.  “How much is this?,” she asked aloud to no one in particular.  I told her the shipping box she held was $3.75. Another customer said she gets them for half that at Walmart, so she thanked them and put the box back on the counter.

As she turned to collect her backpacks, I introduced myself.  “Hello, I’m Mary. I have a project I’m working on I think you can help me with.  If you’re not busy for the next 15 minutes or so, I’d love to tell you about it.”   Without hesitation or hint of suspicion, she said, “I’m Patricia.  Yes, I’ll help you.  My bike is in the front lobby with my other things.  I’ll wait there for you.”

After adding the shipping box (the one that Patricia decided not to buy) to my purchase I found out it was half-price!  I approached Patricia in the lobby, told her about Reed’s Year of Giving project and asked if she would accept my $10 kindness investment for the day.  “YES!  God Bless You. I will gratefully accept!  You don’t know what this means to me!  I ABSOLUTELY accept your $10! Thank you!”

“I also saw you needed a box, so I got one for you.”

“Praise the Lord! Thank you!  Oh my God, this is unbelievable”, she said.

I invited 55-year-old Patricia for pizza next to the Post Office and offered to help carry her bags, which were heavier than I thought possible. I could barely carry one and she carried several while riding her bike.   It turns out Patricia is legally blind -  legally blind, toting heavy bags and riding a bike! “This is going to be a very interesting meeting,” I thought.

Patricia is an African American born and raised in Austin, Texas.  A straight-A honor student, she loved learning and reading.  She transferred to Houston in 1978 with her job at the time and has been here ever since.

Things took a downward spiral in 1987-88 after her mother died.  “I lost control of life and reality.  I locked myself away and started destroying myself”, she shared, using the cuff of her sweatshirt to wipe away the tears.  “I was around 38 years old, five months pregnant with a broken foot, the father had abandoned me and I got arrested for probation violation.  Then God intervened.”

During time in jail, she read the entire bible in 60 nights, from sundown to sun-up.  “God planted seeds in me back then and now they’re sprouting”, she said smiling.

Back in court, the judge had just sentenced her to 15 years in jail when she went into false labor.  Seeing she was pregnant, he threw out the sentence and sent her to a rehabilitation center called The Shoulders, a home for pregnant women in trouble.  It was there her daughter was born and “everything became new.”

She and her now 17-year-old daughter were evicted from their apartment last year and have been living in hotels. She has two sons, but didn’t say where they lived. She receives Social Security Disability Income, after losing her sight last year during a routine eye exam to treat what the doctor diagnosed as glaucoma.  Patricia believes she has cataracts and that the glaucoma medicine is what blinded her, so she stopped using the prescribed drops.

“Have you ever been in a burning house filled with smoke?” she asked me.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well you’re lucky”, she laughed, hinting that she may have.  “That’s what I see – outlines of things, but the details are very dark and smoky.”

“But you ride a bike,” I said in astonishment.  “Do you ever fall or run into anything?”

“Of course!  I’ve even been hit by a car.  You’re gonna fall and roll around in ditches, just like in life. But you get up and keep going.”  Patricia doesn’t see her blindness as a curse, nor is she afraid to die.  Her favorite quote is, “To be absent from the body is to be present with God.”  She believes her purpose in life is to share God’s word, because her life is testament to His promises.

“When you find your life’s purpose, you can live fully and lack nothing, regardless of what’s going on around you.”  After a lifetime of struggling, Patricia knew she was in the presence of God when she finally found rest amidst the turmoil and chaos and blindness.  “You may see me as homeless, but I have everything I need.  I’m in submission!” She’s not sad about being blind.  Her doctors told her she could wake up totally blind any day, but that doesn’t bother her, either.  “The evil that took my eyesight isn’t going to break me.  God gave me other senses.”

Patricia is going to use the $10 towards credit on her bus fare card, as she takes her bike, backpacks and computer with her everywhere she goes.  “I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve been assigned a mission from God and I’m going to fulfill it.  They said Moses and Noah were crazy, too. No one believed them, either,” she laughed.

Her mission to bring attention to government and social service corruption began in 2006.  She needed the box to start shipping legal documents she’s been collecting as evidence.  “I’ve carried this burden long enough.  Literally!  Those bags are HEAVY,” she laughed.  “It’s time to let go and let someone else carry on that part of the mission. God’s got more for me to do.”

Her greatest wish is to find a way for her and her daughter to make a home in San Diego, California.  She wants her daughter to experience more of the world and see that “the sun doesn’t shine any differently on Oprah or Michelle Obama.”  She’d also like to find her long lost older brother, another moment that brought great sadness, as well as rekindle a relationship with her estranged younger brother, who lives just outside of Houston.

Patricia has a presence about her; a pure sense of purpose that pours from her soul.  I felt I was in the presence of courage and greatness and I was very inspired by our meeting.

Her current mission is to make a change.  She loves our country and wonders if Americans really know what the words to our national anthem or pledge of allegiance really mean.  She asked me if I knew the words to The Star-spangled Banner. “Yes, I think I do,” I replied.  “Let’s hear it then.  Start singing.”  So there we were in the front lobby of Pizza Hut singing The Star-spangled Banner at the top of our lungs.  “I love and believe in this country, but we need to fix it.  We can’t keep trusting someone else to do it for us”, she said.

“I want to go to Washington and touch President Obama and he will look around and say, ‘Somebody touched me; who touched me?’  I’m going to draw from his power to make positive change,” she said.  “I’m going to make a change in this country.  God told me to.”

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-Blog post by Mike B., a Kindness Investor from Cromwell, CT

Dwayne (left) with his stepfather Jonathan

I really didn’t know what to expect today after yesterday’s recipient (Jayne) being quite the individual.  Well today’s yogi turned out to be memorable in a whole different light.  No his name wasn’t Yogi, but that’s the nickname I’ve given to the people I’m giving to. Yogi being Year of Giving Investment with no reference to Yogi Bear!.  Sorry, but I love my acronyms.  Yogi today was actually two people, Jonathan and Dwayne.   They are father and stepson who were together in the computer lab at Hartford- Literacy Volunteers.

I participate in the Communications/Marketing committee there and was working on a fundraising event coming up in April.  When I knew I was coming into Hartford today, I thought for sure I’ll find someone to give the $10 to.  So after I finished my meeting, I went in search. There weren’t too many people there and I wondered why, but a staff member mentioned it was Three Kings Day, so the students had the day off!  I knew or had met all the Literacy Volunteers staff so my best laid plans was having the proverbial wrench thrown in them.

I told the same staff member of my plight and asked if she could help me.  She took me to the computer lab where a couple of students were there, working hard on improving their English.  I found my Yogi!  Both students looked up and I was wondering which one to choose when their instructor told me they were father and stepson.  So I introduced myself to both of them and they agreed to take the $10.

Jonathan was 54 and had come from Jamaica just last month.  His wife had been here for a long time and she had come to be with her sister.  Dwayne was 26 and had been in the country for two days!  I don’t think I ever talked to anyone before who just had recently come to this country.  Amazing what this project does!  They were both very friendly and were at Literacy Volunteers to help them with their English.  Jonathan said he took a class on Monday and Wednesday and was in the computer lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays. His spoken English was fine, but as he said in his heavy accent, he needed to fill out forms if he wanted to work and thus needed to learn!

Dwayne had come to also work on the computer.  This was his second day there and he was working side by side with his stepdad.  They both said working on the computer helped them quite a bit and offered a lot of opportunity.  Jonathan said he was willing to do just about anything for work to get a break and try to make some money.  As he said, “you need cash!”

The $10 was going to be spent on food and in his words: “Something good!”  We talked a little about Jamaica and they said they miss it a little, but they were here for a purpose.   Had to admire someone who comes to the Northeast in the middle of winter, especially from Jamaica! Jonathan mentioned his other son played cricket all over the world and was playing now in Barbados in 2020.

I asked what 2020 was and with his accent I didn’t quite get it.  After going home and a quick Google search, I discovered it was actually called Twenty20 and it was the World Cup for Cricket!   I asked if I could take their picture and they said “No problem”. So I did and then left them to return to their individual computer screens where it looked like they were learning suffixes.

I left with a different feeling from yesterday, that I was happy the $10 was going for food this time but was wondering where they were going to find “something good” with just the ten bucks!

We’re supposed to have a little snowstorm tomorrow, so it could be interesting finding my next recipient.  Can’t wait!

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Day 1 – John

From the moment I found out I was going to be the first person to kick-off the second year of giving I was confident the first $10 I was going to give away would be to someone I met in the hospital as today my father was having a defibrillator put in.

I had a long day in the inpatient waiting room sitting beside my mother and was watching the people come in and out of the waiting room.  Not that there is a right or wrong person to approach for the $10 but I just didn’t see anyone else that day in the hospital that I felt was the one for the day.

The Milkhouse in Richmond, IN

Driving back to my parent’s house that evening I still had the $10.  I passed by the Milkhouse in Richmond, Indiana and decided whomever was working there would be my first person.  I pulled in and was greeted by a man named John.

John had always lived in Richmond and enjoyed his job however the cold weather months he didn’t find it quite as enjoyable.  John was blown away by the $10 and really didn’t know at the time what he may do with it.  He mentioned possibly getting a few snacks.  I didn’t have the chance to speak with John as long as I would have liked because he had customers to wait on but I enjoyed the little time we had.

- By Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three more days…

There were really no cars out. I took this in the center of Simpson Street, a "major" road in Mechanicsburg.

Today’s blog post is from Day 346 which was Thanksgiving.  I was in Mechanicsburg with my father.  Dad cooked a delicious turkey and I handled some of the sides.  My favorite is the stuffing.  In fact I made two stuffings.  Dad prefers cornbread stuffing, but I’m more of a bread stuffing guy.  I make sure to add a little sausage and plenty of sage like my mother used to do.  I also added pine nuts which I don’t think she did.

After the tasty spread was consumed along with a blurry amount of wine, I decided that I should try to go and find my recipient of the day.  I decided to walk, note the reference to wine above, and headed out toward downtown Mechanicsburg.  I was going to head to the CVS at 30 East Simpson Street.  It’s probably less than a mile from the house although I bet people rarely walk there from my father’s neighborhood.  Most people here drive everywhere.  Dad decided to stay behind because of his knee – at least that’s what he said, maybe it was because there was still some wine left!  “I don’t think CVS will be open,” he shouted down to me as I opened the front door.

The town looked abandoned.  The streets were empty and rather dark with a hint of precipitation making everything glisten ever so slightly.  I could peek through the windows of several homes and see families sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner.  Several houses already had their Christmas lights on.  

I got to the CVS and saw that it was in fact open.  There were two cars in the parking lot, one of which had just arrived.  A couple with a small child got out and disappeared into the store.  “Maybe I’ll give it to them,” I thought.  They ended up eluding me and I shifted my focus to my cashier: Kristen.

Kristen is a shift supervisor at CVS.

The 19-year-old is originally from a place called Troy, Missouri, “about 45 miles north of St. Louis.”  She’s the shift supervisor and had been there since 4:00pm – it was about 7:00pm. 

“Can I donate the $10?” she asked.

After explaining that she could do anything she wanted to with it she grabbed a piece of paper near the register that said, “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.”  Each card is worth a $2 donation.  She swiped it five times.  I looked at the card more closely and it said, “Help fight childhood cancer.”

Children are probably on her mind these days.  Kristen, who lives with her boyfriend, is expecting a baby in May.  “We don’t know if it is a boy or girl yet,” she started, “and I am not sure I want to know.”  She has an appointment December 30th and they will know then if they choose to.  

We were joined then by a co-worker, Atle, who coincidentally has a sister named Reed!  Wow…I almost never find someone named Reed – although I did give my $10 to a guy named Read on Day 280 – much less a woman.  The store was dead and they looked bored.  They had another two hours before they could go home to their families.

Atle (left) poses with Kristen in front of the a shelf of "Light Up Santa Clauses." Thanksgiving isn't even over yet!

As we chatted Kristen’s boyfriend’s family was probably just finishing up the big meal.  “They had dinner at 6:00pm,” she said looking down slightly.  “But this was really special – I’ll remember this Thanksgiving because of this – otherwise I’d just remember coming to work and going home and eating leftovers.”   

Kristen and her boyfriend live in a one bedroom apartment and live on a modest income.  If you would like to help them through this financially difficult time, please drop me a note.  “We could use pretty much anything for our baby.”

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Did you participate in Pay it Forward Day yesterday?  I did…I gave $10 to Rachel, a 22-year-old who just graduated from American University with a degree in graphic design and photography.  Here story coming on Day 352!

Today…we travel south to the picturesque town of Charlottesville, VA.  The town of 50,000 is located smack in the center of the Commonwealth of Virginia along the Rivanna River, a tributary of the James River.  It’s about 120 miles from Washington, but somehow we took the most backward way possible and spent 3+ hours getting there.  

So my brother, sister-in-law and I were going to meet up with my cousin Doug and his daughter Chelsea…what does that make us, cousins once removed, second cousins, anyway.  My dad also drove down from Pennsylvania.  Chelsea is a graduating high school senior and is scouting out colleges which landed them in at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  They live in Colorado so we don’t get to see them that often, although come to think of it I have seen Doug three times this year, but anyway, you get the point.  They come in to town and we all thought it would be a good idea to meet up.  And my cousin Dianne was driving in the next day too.  It was fun spending time with family.

Anyway I found a family having a picnic lunch – it was a perfect afternoon for that – right on campus before the football game. 

Tyler is a freshman at UVA and his family is down visiting him from Northern Virginia…close to DC.  He grew up in Herndon, VA…I also lived in Herndon for a while.  Small world.

The 18-year-old economics major says that my cousin should choose UVA.  “It’s great here,” he said as he helped himself to some potato chips, “freedom is the best part!”  I can’t think of a more beautiful place to explore that freedom.  The campus is stunning.  The town is quaint and charming.  “And we’re in the top 5 in the country for soccer,” Tyler adds.

I felt a little like I just crashed their family picnic…which I did, so I tried not to stay too long.  I gave Tyler the money and he said he was going to buy some music with it.  “Probably some punk music.  My favorite band is Sonic Youth.”  

Tyler and his family enjoying their picnic.

Before I left he did have something for me to add to the Lend a Hand initiative.  “I could use an internship in the DC area for the summer.”   Hopefully somebody will see this and give this promising young man a chance.

On Tuesday I got this update from him via email:

I ended up ordering one of my favorite albums- “Psychocandy” by The Jesus and Mary Chain. I’d never gotten around to buying a physical copy of it before.” – Tyler S.

He won’t be able to make the Year End Celebration because he has a final exam that day.  Although we’ll miss him, it’s probably a wise decision.

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Today’s recipients were very memorable.  After reading this I think that you will agree.

Supporters of the Pittsburgh Steelers know that in almost every city across the United States, and even in some overseas cities, there is a “Steeler bar.”  One of these such locations is the Pour House, a no frills multi-level pub near Capitol Hill.  My friend Kimon, a former Pittsburgh resident, and I headed over there to watch the Steelers take on the Bengals on Monday Night Football. 

We got there about 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but there were virtually no seats left.  We headed down a well-traveled staircase into a basement bar that took me back to my college years.  It was also full, however, there was a small nook that was open at the far end of the space.  It was as if it was contaminated with something awful as no one was sitting there.  Our newly claimed land was rather subdued compared to the rest of the joint which was standing room only, not to mention that nearly everyone had on a Steeler jersey, except us. 

I am not sure what they are signing, it is close to the sign for "I love you." Hopefully it doesn't mean "Go away!" :)

I decided to take a walk around the bar before halftime.  I made my way back up the old wooden staircase and plowed my way through the crowd like a running back determined to get a first down.  With less than two minutes left in the half, the Steelers were threatening.  They scored right before halftime and the crowd went into a frenzy.  The deafening cries from jubilant fans were soothing to my soul and detrimental to my ears.

During all of this madness I saw a couple that looked to be completely unaffected by the chaos.  Only after I made my way around some stools and got closer to them did I see that they were speaking in sign language. 

A million things, ok probably not a million, but a lot, were going through my head at this point.  How the hell am I going to explain to them what the Year of Giving is about?  Will they be able to read my lips?  Can they speak back to me?  Will this be a disaster?

I didn’t really know of any other way than to just go for it.  I interrupted them and told them my name.  Bryan very quickly responded to me that they were deaf.  “Can you read lips,” I asked.  He nodded yes.   I think he might have been able to hear a little bit as he was using a hearing device.

I tried to explain to them what I was doing.  Despite me being nervous approaching them, it was quite a funny scene.  I spoke mostly through Bryan since he was able to speak back to me.  So I would speak to him and he would sign what I said to his girlfriend Allison.  I can only imagine what Bryan was really signing…it probably went something like this.

Me: Hi, my name is Reed and I would like to give you $10.  It’s part of a year-long commitment to giving that I have made.

Bryan signing to Allison: This guy is either really drunk or completely crazy.  He says that he wants to give us $10.

Well you can imagine how the rest goes.

The irony of it all too is that I could barely hear what Bryan was telling me.  The bar was still noisy after the Steeler touchdown.  But to them, not being able to hear the other person was second nature…for me it was a struggle.

We managed though.  I learned that they had been dating for the past three years and were planning on getting married.  Bryan said something to me and pointed to Allison but I didn’t hear.  I looked at Allison and she made a motion with her hand close to her tummy that even I knew meant that she was pregnant.  I congratulated them and asked if they knew the sex yet.  They both shook their head no.  “Surprise,” Bryan said.  

They met at Gallaudet University.  According to the school’s website, Gallaudet is the only university in the world that offers all programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.  It was founded in 1864 by an Act of Congress and their charted was signed by none other than President Abraham Lincoln.  They currently have just shy of 2,000 students enrolled.

I understood that Allison was originally from Puerto Rico.  As a Spanish speaker,   I wondered if she could read lips in both English and Spanish.  She was born deaf, whereas Bryan lost his hearing at age two he explained.  I am not sure how he lost his hearing.  I sent him a follow-up email thanking them for taking time to speak with me and asking a few clarifying questions, but it appears that I might have either taken down the email address incorrectly or they gave me a fake address – that happens fairly often.

Here is a little video from that night.  You will see Pittsburgh scoring a touchdown, the bar celebrating and then a special message in sign language from Bryan and Allison to you!

I think what they said is that they will put the $10 toward something for the baby.  “It’s expensive,” Bryan told me referring to having a child.

This was a very special experience for me.  I was really nervous approaching them.  I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, but I think they were.  I wish we would have met some place else, where it was quiet (although again, that probably would have only benefited me) and we could have taken our time to get to know one another.  Maybe some other time…it’s a small world, you never know.

The Steelers went on to triumph over the Bengals 27-21.  For those of you who only found this post because you are obsessed Steeler fans and you read everything that has something to do with Steeler Nation, you already knew that!

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Amanda enjoys a perfect fall day in DC. (photo: Reed)

As I walked through Dupont Circle the other day I saw Amanda sitting on a bench eating her lunch.  “I normally go to the Greek deli on 19th and M but today I went to Moby Dick’s and got the gyro platter,” she told me.  The spot where she was sitting was ideally located in a shady part of the circle.  It was one of those beautiful fall days that are warm enough that you don’t need a coat during the day. 

Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

“I’m half Jewish half Mexican,” she tells me.  “And I grew up in an all black neighborhood in Chicago.  She and her husband moved here from the Windy City for her husband’s job in government.  She now works for a non-profit that focuses on assisting Hispanics pursue higher education.  Although she likes DC her dream is to live in New York City.  “And own a doggie day-care!” she said adding that they had a rescue Boxer-Pit Bull mix.

I was really touched by something she shared.  Amanda said that her mother was disowned by her family when she married her father, a then illegal immigrant from Mexico.  Now separated from her father, her family still has not accepted her mother even after 25 years!  That just seems crazy to me.  Family is family and you should be able to count on them unless you’re killing people or something like that.

Amanda rescued a dog and dreams of one day opening a doggie-daycare. (photo: Reed)

Would you believe that I am not sure what happened to her $10!  I know, I’m slipping.  Almost three weeks have passed since I met Amanda so my recollection is fuzzy.  I know she said she was thinking about buying flowers for her office…but I don’t know if that is what she settled on, so hopefully she will fill us in! 

Help me out Amanda!

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Hey!  I am still looking for a place to hold the year-end celebration.  If you know of someone with a philanthropic heart who would like to be a part of this special day, please shoot me an email at reed@yearofgiving.org!

On Sunday after a weekend visiting friends in southeastern Pennsylvania, we headed to Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, PA.  When you go to their website you will see this picture of the shopping center.

 

What they don’t show you is this.

 

That’s what you would see if you turn 180 degrees from the place where the first picture was taken. Twenty minutes before arriving, I could see the two cooling towers and the billowing cotton-like smoke streaming out of them.  As I pulled into the parking lot I have to admit that I was surprised to find this nuclear reactor so close to the mall.  It was literally next door to the outlets. 

Mario has worked at the outlets for two years. (photo: Reed)

After grabbing some lunch and saying goodbye to my childhood friends, I spotted Mario hustling about the grounds of the mall emptying the trash.  Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, he moved here in search of a better paying job.  In Spanish he explained, “I chose this area because I had some relatives already living here.”  Back home, his wife and five children receive regular money orders that he sends from his modest pay checks.  It’s been almost four years since he has seen them.  He’s been working at the outlets for about two years.

Mario took a second to let me snap this photo of him with the nuclear cooling towers in the background. (photo: Reed)

Some of you might have heard about the heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in his home state of Oaxaca back in September.  I asked him if his family and loved was were affected by the disaster and thankfully he said that they were all safe and doing ok.

Mario reminded me a little of Paulina from my second day of this year-long journey when he promptly told me that he would donate the money to his church.

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After 21 years with US Steel, drugs and alcohol have left Michael homeless. (photo: Reed)

In the early hours of October 5th I had just given my money to Alexander and Phaze.  I was talking to Alexander and getting my things together to leave because it was about 1:00am and I had to be at work in a few hours. Right then a guy pulled up on a Trek bicycle.  My initial thought was that the bike might have been stolen since it was missing the seat.  In a soft voice he approached me and said, “You want the real story?” He claimed that Alexander’s story was not representative of those facing real hardships on the streets.  “I don’t choose to be out here,” he said.  Although he was critical of Alexander’s choice to sell

StreetWise magazines, I support it.  I have seen how Street Sense here in DC has changed the lives of many individuals here in DC.  Michael was telling me that he was deserving of the $10 because of the hardships of his life.

So to give you an idea how this went down, I was filming Alexander and just let the camera running when Michael rolled up and started talking to me. Here is the raw unedited (with the exception of one part where we were interrupted) video from that conversation.

Michael said he goes daily to the labor lines in search of day work. “I get work probably once a week,” he told me.

Michael showed me the scars from where he was shot in Seattle. (photo: Reed)

He also told me that he survived a shooting in Seattle. Michael explained that it resulted from an incident where some other man pulled up the skirt of the woman he was with. He stood up for her and ended up getting shot six times. Michael pulled up his shirt to show me the wounds.

Michael's seatless bicycle (photo: Reed)

Before leaving Michael offered to give me the money back. I don’t really know why and I told him to keep it and he did. He said he was going to use it to buy food that week.
Right as I was packing up my stuff, another guy named Tim came by and also asked for money.  What is going on here?  Did someone tweet that a crazy guy was handing out money at Michigan and Randolph? Anyway, I politely told Tim no and headed home.

On my way home a filmed the following video debrief.

Tomorrow, it’s back to DC.

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Nora's holds the distinction of being the first certified organic restaurant in the US.

Sorry for the delay in posting this week.  I appreciate all of your emails checking to see if I was ok!  I have been swamped at work, so I got behind.

Day 306 was was my father’s 70th birthday.  We took him to a restaurant near my house called Nora’s which has the distinction of being the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.

After our delicious dinner my father went with me to search the neighborhood for a $10 recipient.  Just a few blocks away along Connecticut Avenue we spotted a man inching his way down the street.  We would later find out that his slow gait was due to broken ankles and broken knees.

I stopped him and asked if he would accept the $10.  From beneath his black hooded rain poncho he spoke softly saying that he would accept my gift.  I proceeded to ask him a few questions but he said he was not comfortable answering any personal questions and did not want any photographs taken of him.  He offered to give them money back and I explained that the money was his to keep.

He was an African-American man who I suspected was in his 60s.  despite his slow walk he appeared in good health.  He had a stark white beard that seemed to block the words from getting out.  “I also have a dislocated organ,” he told us pointing to the left side of his abdomen.  Neither of us asked him to explain further.

He clenched the $10 in his worn hands.  I could see the dirt that had settled underneath his long fingernails. 

My dad and me at Nora's celebrating his 70th birthday! (photo: Ryan Sandridge)

“You can call me John I guess,” he told me in a way that I knew that wasn’t his real name.  John said I looked familiar and I thought for a moment that I might have already given my $10 to him earlier in the year, but after I spoke with him for a few minutes I was sure that I had not met him before. 

I told him that it was Dad’s 70th birthday.  “He’s got good skin,” he said in response.  He also said something about my father’s eyes.  I think he said that they were still well aligned, but Dad thinks he said that they were “alive.”  In either case, he made some nice comments about my dad. 

John says that he tries to write every day.  “Well, when it’s warm I come right here and write on these benches but when it gets cold I find a place indoors.”  I asked what he liked to write about and he explained that he had a book about verbs and he practiced making sentences where he put the verbs together with various statements.

He was carrying two plastic bags that contained some personal items.  He showed us bottles of multi-vitamins and Ensure.  “I take 3 multi-vitamins a day; I usually try to take them six hours apart however yesterday I took all three at the same time.”  He went on to say that every other day he drank a small bottle of Ensure.  “When I have a little extra money I usually spend it on vitamins or maybe a book.”

Since the conversation had circled back to money I decided to ask him what he planned on using the $10 for.  “To survive,” he said.  “I’m just going to use it to survive.”

The 42 bus rolled up and he said he was getting on.  He gave us both a fist bump and started inching his way toward the bus.  It took him a few minutes, but sure enough he got on and the bus pulled away disappearing into the traffic at Dupont Circle.

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U.S. Cellular Field

I recently had to travel to Chicago for some work related meetings.  I got some emails this morning from readers who read my post that today’s blog post was from Chicago and they thought Oprah had me on her show.  Nope, not the case.  I was there for some work related meetings.  My original plan was to arrive Sunday evening and return home Tuesday late afternoon.  You know how ticket prices can be and it turned out to be a lot cheaper to fly in Sunday morning.  Since I had all day to spend there I decided to find something to do.  As you might be able to tell from some of my posts I am a bit of a baseball fan and love seeing a game at the ball park.  I checked to see if either the Cubs or the White Sox where in town and sure enough the White Sox were playing their last game of the season.   

The White Sox would go on to beat Cleveland 6-3. (photo: Reed)

I got into O’Hare, took the subway downtown, dropped my luggage off at the hotel and headed over to U.S. Cellular Field.  I got there and followed the crowd over to the stadium.  A scalper approached me with some tickets for $40.  I told him that I only wanted to spend like $10 on tickets and he explained that the tickets he was selling were lower level good seats between third base and left field and he couldn’t sell them for that.  In the end he sold me the ticket for $15.  I spent another $5 on a White Sox cap (I buy a hat at every stadium I visit, I have 10 different ones now) and headed inside. 

The ball park is beautiful.  It was built in 1991 to replace the legendary Comiskey Park which dated back to 1910.  Comiskey was the oldest baseball park in use up until 1991; a title now owned by the Red Sox’s Fenway Park which I have also visited. 

Dan has been a White Sox fan for as long as he can remember. (photo: Reed)

I grabbed a bratwurst and a beer and went to find my seat.  Although decent, I was more impressed with the seat location and the stadium than the brat.  As I sat down the guy next to me asked if I had bought my ticket from a scalper outside.  I told him I had and we had fun comparing notes from our negotiating experience.  I think Dan paid $20 or $25, I can’t remember.  Two other guys showed up later who had paid $40 for the last two remaining tickets the guy was selling.

Dan and I posed for a photo on top of the White Sox dugout after the game.

Dan was very sociable at the park.  He’s the kind of guy that by the end of the game knows the people in front of him, in back of him and on both sides…and maybe even a vendor or an usher.  He shared a lot of information with me about the White Sox and the stadium.  It was nice to have my own personal guide!

I offered Dan my $10 and he accepted it.  This was the farthest west in the US that I have given away my $10 so far.  Dan works on the trading floor at the Chicago Exchange.  He is a big White Sox fan and comes to about 25-30 games a year.  He says he hasn’t been to a Cubs game since the Reagan administration.  “This here is for real baseball fans,” he says gazing around the stadium, “and the 2005 season was amazing!”  I noticed he was wearing a 2005 White Sox World Champion hat.  He missed most of the series though due to a trip down to the Caribbean island of Saba.  He also recalls the tie-breaker game in 2008 (also called the “Black Out” game on September 30th between the White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.)  “I was sitting high up over there behind home plate,” he says cocking his neck around and pointing to the top of the upper deck.  “This place went crazy when Jim Thome hit a homer in the 9th inning to win the game!”  It was Thome’s 541st home run and if you want to get an idea of how crazy things were at the ball park that evening, check out this link.  You can see how crowded it was and they show the home run and crowd reaction.  Simply beautiful.

Final scoreboard message (Photo: Reed)

I went to grab another beer and offered to get Dan one.  He told me that he didn’t drink.  “I stopped drinking on December 24, 1998 – It’ll be 12 years this December.”  I congratulated him on his sobriety and told him a little bit about some of the other people I had met through my year-long journey who are now sober (Bob and Michelle).  Dan continues to go to AA meetings and said that he was going to donate his $10 to his meeting group so that they can buy coffee, etc. for the meetings.

I asked him about family.  He is single now although he does have children he doesn’t have a relationship with them.  “That’s all part of why I went to AA,” he said.  Although he didn’t think there was a chance to rebuild that relationship I hope that some day he is able to be involved in their lives in some capacity.  

Photo: Reed

After the game Dan and I went down near the dugout to see if any players were coming out.  I took some more photos down there and then we decided to leave.  We walked back all the way to the subway together.  We were both going the same direction, however I was getting off before him.  He was a really nice guy and I hope to stay in touch with him.  We traded emails and said our goodbyes.  He told me to go to Al’s Beef on Taylor Street for the best sandwich in town or if I wanted pizza to check out Malnati’s.  I unfortunately didn’t make it to either one.  Next time.

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Thanks for all the warm wishes about what would have been my mother’s 67th birthday yesterday.  Your emails and comments here and on Facebook meant a lot to me.  Thanks!

Donville loves his job at Starbucks! (photo: Reed)

The Starbucks to people ratio in DC is off the charts.  I got to walk nearly eight blocks to get to a grocery store, and not even a very good one, but coffee, no problem, they’re everywhere!  Too bad I don’t drink much coffee because there are six Starbucks within a five block radius of my house.  Donville works at one of them.

I ran into him while he was on his break.  Originally from Long Island, New York, Donville has recently started there as a barista.  “I love it,” he told me.  “The best thing is connecting with people and building a relationship with the community.”

His father is Dominican so Donville grew up speaking some Spanish.  “It’s helpful when you can speak to someone who is not comfortable speaking in English,” he said. 

Donville came to DC to study at Howard University, but after a year and a half he decided to put things on hold for a while.  Although he doesn’t have any family here he seems to like DC quite a bit.  Speaking of family, he told me that he was going to put my $10 toward a trip home to New York to see his family during the holidays.  “I’d actually like to go home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.  Hopefully my $10 will help.  The bus ticket can be pretty cheap – just ask Davie from Day 5 who after receiving my $10 went straight to catch a $24 bus to NYC.

Donville would like your help in locating his brother who was put up for adoption at the age of four. (photo: Reed)

One of eight brothers and sisters, Donville shared something very personal about his family with me.  Unfortunately his parents were not financially able to support the entire family and were forced to give one of his siblings up for adoption when he was young.  His little brother who was named Elyshawaun should be 14 years old now.  He and his family do not have contact with him any more.  Donville would like your help to locate either his brother or his biological father, William Gafney (or Gaffney), who also should know the whereabouts of his brother.  He didn’t know what Elyshawaun’s last name was, but they were both last known to be in Brooklyn.  If you remember Victor from day 139 you might recall that he shared with me that he had never met his mother.  I was pleasantly amazed when a blog follower, Linnie, used her genealogy skills and tracked his mother down!  Wow…that was amazing!  Hopefully we can find young Elyshawaun!

My ten dollar gift to Donville went toward a $7 pack of Newports.  I am always a little disappointed when the money gets spent on cigarettes.  But it is his choice.  I told him that my mother died of heart disease and was a long time smoker.  He said that he had only been smoking for about a year and planned on quitting some time.  “But just not now,’ he said.  He didn’t know where the other $3 would get spent…who knows, maybe he will read this and give us an update!  Maybe he has quit smoking by now.  You can do it Donville!

Check back tomorrow for my first blog post from my recent trip to Chicago!

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Some of you might recall that two of my recipients are celebrating a very special day today.  October 16th is the anniversary of Bob (Day 251) and Michelle’s (Day 277) sobriety.  Bob has been sober 24 years and Michelle eight.  I am so proud of them both and am thankful to have met them through my Year of Giving!

A VW Beatle sits almost completely underwater as flood victims make their way through town by boat. (Photo: Alfredo Estrella, AFP)

Today I am going to tell you about a fascinating young woman.  But first let me give you a little background on the circumstances that I met Ximena.  In September parts of Mexico were devastated when torrential downpours caused disastrous flooding in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz.  As you might know, I used to live in Mexico and have many friends there today.  Fortunately everyone I know is safe, however, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were affected by the relentless waters.  In September a group here in DC put together a fundraiser to collect money to send to needy families in Mexico.  My neighbor Paulina, who is Mexican, told me about the event and I stopped by to donate some money.

The fundraiser was held at Lupe Cantina, 1214 18th Street, NW (photo: Reed)

In addition to my donation to the fundraiser, I made another “donation” of $10 to Ximena.  She is a performing artist who was preparing to sing that evening at the event.  I found a moment when she was not busy and approached her and explained the Year of Giving concept

Ximena talking to a friend. (photo: Reed)

Ximena is 34 years old and hails from the Mexico City.  This talented young singer caught my attention when she shared with me part of her life where she spent four years living on a bus.  That’s right.  At the time she was living in Austin, Texas when she met up with a guy from DC who had driven a bus down to Texas.  The bus, called “Destino 2000”, would later turn into the home for several individuals.  The core group was about four people.  They loaded up and started driving south into Mexico.  But they didn’t stop there; they kept on going to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, etc.  “We worked everywhere,” she explained in Spanish, “to get enough money to get us to the next place.”

Ximena, originally from Mexico City, lived on a bus for four years. (photo: Reed)

Her experience on the bus taught her many things.  “When you live here you take many things for granted,” she told me.  Sometimes the most basic necessities presented challenges.  “Without drinking water you can not survive,” she added. 

There was one common thread that sustained the nomadic group during their journey: music.  “The music was always the vehicle that opened doors for us and sustained us,” Ximena said.

Last May she received her degree in music education.  She smiled and said, “It took me 14 years to do it, but I made it!”  Although she currently does not have a job she says that she is fortunate enough to pick up small projects here and there.  When I invited her to the year-end celebration in December, she said she would not be able to attend because she would be in Texas in the area that is made up of Juarez on the Mexican side and El Paso on the US side.  “I am organizing some Fandangos in response to the violence that that area has suffered.”  I thought that I met Ximena before the alleged murder of David Hartley by Mexican pirates, but after checking it was in fact the same day that I met Ximena.  As a side note, something seems strange about that case…I’m not sure we are getting the full story.

“When you live here you take many things for granted.” - Ximena (photo: Reed)

Anyway, being out of work you would think that Ximena would use the money to help pay for her rent or get some groceries but that was not the case.  “I’m going to send the money to my ‘papa’” she told me.  “He doesn’t work any more and I haven’t had very much to send him lately.”  I thought that was very touching.  Our parents do so much for us as children that it is nice to be able to help them when they are in need.

I unfortunately had another event that evening and had to leave before Ximena performed.  Hopefully I will get another chance.

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Busboys & Poets at 14th and V Streets (photo: Reed)

 I decided to go over and grab dinner at Busboys and Poets and see if I could talk with someone about holding my year-end celebration there.  They gave me the name of a person to talk to and I followed up later via email.  Coincidentally today someone called me back from their organization.  They were not interested in hosting the event unless I was going to pay a five-figure amount which is simply not possible and completely outside of the spirit of the Year of Giving.  So, if you know of a good venue in Washington, DC that can hold 200+ people and would like a ton of in-kind national and local media, let me know. 

Chavon paid her $10 forward. (photo: Reed)

While I was eating I met the person sitting to my right: Chavon.  A foster care case worker by day, she was enjoying a respite with friends after a long stressful week.  She works with a total of seven kids right now; two of which are siblings.  She tells me about each one of them; their ages: 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 18 and 19.  “It’s hard work,” she says exhaling.  “But you have to also let people go through their own journey.”

Busboys & Poets gets its name from American poet Langston Hughes. (photo: Reed)

She says she has always been a person naturally oriented to help others.  “It’s a passion,” she says with a smile.  “You know, every time someone gives you something – even a dollar – it means something.  

She says that she has given each one of her kids a notebook that they are to write down things that she tasks them with.  “I have to stay on top of them,” she tells me with a slightly more disciplinarian demeanor.  “I think that I will see how each one does on their assignments for next week and I’m going to give the $10 to the one who makes the most progress.”

Her two friends that were with her, Carla and Marques, spoke very highly of their friend.  “She is a good listener and she’s very honest, brutally honest,” Carla says.  Her friend Marques called her “hilarious” and said that she was also very sensitive.

As I left Chavon put a smile on my face when she said, “Reed, this has made my day!”

"Every time somebody gives you something - even a dollar - it means something." - Chavon (photo: Reed)

On Wednesday I got a note from Chavon saying that she had given the $10 to a new client of hers: a 13-year-old girl.  “She was very respectful and compliant with the things I tasked her with,” she wrote in her email.  “She was able to purchase her own breakfast without having to depend on anyone else.”  Getting her email made my day.  Thanks Chavon!

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Every Labor Day they hold the Granger's Fair.

I decided to drive up to my father’s house and spend the Labor Day weekend with him.  On Saturday I made the two-hour drive from Washington, DC to Mechanicsburg, PA.  Having grown up there and returned home countless times, I am very familiar with the route.  I made my way through Dillsburg and then turned left onto York Rd. and drove about a mile.  Then a right onto Williams Grove Rd.  It’s only about 5 miles from there to my dad’s house.  I hadn’t gone even a half mile when I saw a sea of farm equipment sprawled out over a field to my left.  A little further I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Steam Engine Hill.”  I decided to pull in and see what was going on.

“Dad, I’m going to be a little late for dinner, I’ve stopped up here at William’s Grove Park at a tractor exhibition or something,” I told my father on the phone.  I paid $3 to park and got out of my car and started to walk around.

photo: Reed

There were hundreds of tractors.  Sometimes you would look down an aisle and not see the end.  There were all kinds too: large, small, new, old, shiny, rusty, diesel, gas, kerosene, etc.  They had a parade at sunset and all the tractors were lining up getting ready to do a lap around the fairgrounds.  I came across a guy atop a tractor that was waiting to get into the parade and I decided to introduce myself.  We talked for a little while but he was reluctant to accept my $10.  “I’m actually not the owner of this tractor,” he told me.  That didn’t really matter to me, but he said he would rather pass on the opportunity.  I walked a short distance away and saw a large old tractor that was inching its way forward in the parade.  

Dave's parents paid $75 for the tractor in 1972. (photo: Reed)

Dave was at the wheel of a 1928 Farmall Regular, a four thousand pound American made tractor.  I yelled up to him and asked if he had a few minutes to talk and he said, “Sure come on up.”  I climbed up onto the tractor and tried to find a secure place to stand.  Dave recommended that I sit down on the side of the tractor to ensure that I didn’t fall off.  Probably a wise call.

 “Hang on,” he hollered over at me.  “I’ve got it floored.”  Thankfully maximum speed on one of these guys is only three or four miles an hour. 

photo: Reed

A mechanical engineer, Dave works as a project manager for a firm near his home in Millersburg, PA.  “As a mechanical engineer this stuff really impresses me,” Dave says looking over at dozens of parked tractors.  

I asked the 51-year-old how old he was and smiled and said, “Old enough to know better, too young to resist.”  He is married and has three grown daughters.  His passion for these vintage tractors and interest in engineering was not been passed on to his girls it seems.  “I thought my oldest was going to be an engineer, but she turned out to be mathematically challenged,” Dave tells me with a grin.  Although his daughters weren’t at the fair, his parents, wife and brother were all there.  In fact I saw his father and brother driving some of the other tractors they own.  That’s right, Dave owns several tractors, but I get the feeling that this Farmall is special.

He said he would probably put the $10 toward parts and supplies for his tractor.  “It’s getting harder and harder to find parts for it.”

Dave allowed me to go through the parade with him.  It was a great honor.  I got literally a front row seat to the entire parade!  We drove by main part of the parade and they announced Dave’s name and the tractor’s make, model and year.  “There’s no judges, no prizes,” Dave says.  “We do this because we love it.”

We made our way to the end of the parade and dismounted the classic row farming tractor.  He points out that the original wheels were steel and although it runs on gasoline now it originally ran on kerosene.  

Dave's brother Justin gives him a ride on a Wheel Horse tractor. "That was the first thing with a steering wheel that I ever drove." -Dave (photo: Reed)

Dave’s brother Justin came over and said hello.  I took some more photographs of them and their tractors.  They drove away on a small Wheel Horse tractor.  Justin drove while Dave hitched a ride in trailer that it was pulling.  I waved goodbye and headed on my way to my dad’s house.

I was really late by this time…thankfully he wasn’t upset.  He was just happy to see me.  Gotta love my dad!

Here is great video of me talking with Dave as we rode in the parade.

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Just after midnight on Sunday morning I was on my way home when I was approached by two men as I walked through Dupont Circle.  Tyrone approached me and said that his friend wanted to talk to me.  His friend, Josh, approached me and they invited me to join them in threesome!  Oh my God.

I got a bit nervous and kept walking to a more lit area.  The two men followed me there and I tried to change the subject and told them about my project and offered them the $10.  They weren’t interested in the ten spot. I said goodbye and headed home.  Never a dull moment living in Dupont.

Dupont Farmer's Market (photo by Reed)

The next morning I got up early and headed over to the Dupont Farmers Market.  I weaved in and out of the various vendor stalls and looked for someone that caught my eye.  I didn’t find the right person though.  And it was really hot and I was getting impatient.

I left the market and just as I crossed the street I saw David selling the Street Sense newspaper on the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue.

David started working for Street Sense on June 13th (photo by Reed)

Originally from Western Kenya near Lake Victoria, David came to the United States in 1997.  He was working in banking at the time and thought that Delaware would be a good place to live to learn about corporations since most companies are incorporated in the “First State.”  He later moved to DC in 2000.

At first he stayed with a professor friend here in DC while he studied at Strayer University.  He hoped to eventually become a doctor.  “I like medicine a lot.  I even used to volunteer at George Washington Hospital,” David said with a pronounced British accent.  He went on to talk about genetics.  “They are the key to living longer, eliminating disease and improving intelligence.”  In five years he hopes to be a medical researcher.

Like many Street Sense vendors, David is homeless.  However, unlike many of the other homeless that I have met, he chooses to sleep in shelters.  He currently stays at the Mitch Snyder shelter at 2nd and D Streets.  Mitch Snyder was a homeless advocate who was the subject of a 1986 made-for-television movie starring Martin Sheen.  After nine years of homelessness David says that shelters in DC are improving.  “There’s been a lot of changes that started in 2004, like installation of air conditioning, spraying for bugs and improved services.”

It’s been 13 years since he left Kenya.  He said that he misses the food.  “A typical meal back home is broiled or roasted corn.  We put lemon pepper on the corn and eat it with coffee or tea.”

One of six children and the only son, David has lost touch with most of his family.  “The last time I saw my dad was 1985, my mom raised us.”  He said he would like to know what happened to his father: Tom Nyamongo.  “I know that he went to Harvard in the 1980s, but he had some type of government job and his life was quite secretive.”  He hasn’t spoken to his mother in several years.  Although he hasn’t been able to confirm this, a sister of his told him in 2001 that she had passed away.

David has been homeless since 2001. (photo by Reed)

In addition to learning more about his parents, David would like to find a cousin of his that was like a big brother to him.  His name is Ben Bella Jaoko and he is in his mid forties today according to David.  “He moved to Poland in the 1980s to study.  With the internet today maybe somebody can find him,” he said with hope in his voice.

Before saying goodbye, David told me that he was going to use the $10 to buy him a nice meal consisting of some Italian sausages and some bread, a beer and put the rest toward a pack of cigarettes.

Although I met David at Connecticut and Q, he says that he is usually at 17th and K if you would like to stop by and say hello.

UPDATE 10/04/2011: Since my initial encounter with David, the most incredible thing has happened. Someone who was going to a job interview at a company in Poland Googled the hiring manager for the job to learn a little more about him – something we all do today, right? The hiring manager’s name was Ben Bella Jaoko!

Well, would you believe he found my post about his cousin David and at the end of the interview asked Ben if he knew that he had a cousin in the U.S. who was looking for him. Completely shocked, Ben wasted no time contacting me and we connected by phone and I put him and David in contact.

From that moment on Ben worked tirelessly to make arrangements for David to get back to Kenya to be reunited with his family.

This morning as I sat working away at my kitchen table, I got a phone call from Ben. I didn’t immediately recognize the voice but when I heard David’s name mentioned I connected the dots. “I’ve managed to raise enough money to purchase the airfare for David to come back to Kenya,” he told me. He explained to me the rest of the details and asked for my help to take him to the airport and help pay for luggage fees, etc. I am sure there will be some other incidentals that will come up too as he prepares to return to Nairobi. If you would like to help us reunite David with his family you can donate $10 by clicking HERE or the yellow DONATE button on the top right side of this page.

We hope to have everything completed for David to depart by the end of the month. With your help, we can make that happen!

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in silence in my apartment. All because of a simple blog post that I made back a little over a year ago David has is about to leave the streets of Washington to be reunited with his family. This is what it is all about!

UPDATE 11/15/2011: David will be flying home to Kenya on Tuesday, November 22nd. He has been away for nearly 15 years. Thanks to so many of you who have offered to help support these efforts. I have organized a going away party for David on Monday evening at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW – Dupont) in DC from 5:30-8:00pm. Please stop by and meet David before he embarks on this exciting new stage of his life. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to contribute to covering some of the costs associated with getting David back home. I hope to see you next Monday!!

 

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After a woman refused to be my recipient, I spotted a father and his son riding bikes together at Dupont Circle.  They seemed like perfect recipients. 

Jim and Addison next to the fountain at Dupont Circle. (photo: Reed)

 

I approached them and asked if they had a second.  “I probably won’t be able to help you though,” Jim said.  I get this often because most people think that I am going to ask them for money.  When I told him that I wanted to give him and his son, Addison, my ten spot of the day, his eye brows perked up. 

As it turns out, Jim is a former office manager / loan officer of a brokerage firm here in DC.  Unfortunately the banking crisis left him in the same boat that I was in earlier this year; out of a job.  “It’s been about a year and a half,” Jim says.  I told him that I was out of work for 285 days and I think he could tell that I understand some of what he is going through.  

At one point, Jim laughed at something I said and he grabbed his right side of his abdomen.  “Don’t make me laugh, I’ve got a hernia.”  Without insurance he has put surgery on hold which is not a good thing.  Left untreated they can lead to severe complications.  Would some doctor in the DC help Jim out and operate on his hernia for free?  Come on DC doctors, step up!   

Jim and Addison toured the entire city by bike. (photo: Reed)

 

They said that they were probably going to use the $10 for some groceries, but I later found out Jim was at a convenience store when a woman attempted to purchase a candy bar with her credit card. She was informed that there was a minimum amount required in order to pay by credit card, so she just put the candy bar back.  Jim stopped her and offered to buy it for her, which she gratefully accepted.  He also told her about the Year of Giving and the ten dollars that he had received.  The rest of their ten dollars was spent on some groceries and a $1 lottery ticket which I assume didn’t win, or they would have told me. 

I asked both Jim and Addison if there was anything they needed or wanted for the Lend a Hand project.  Jim quickly said that he would love to land a new job (see the Lend a Hand section for details on what he is looking for).  “Oh, and someone to operate on my hernia,” Jim added.  Addison had three requests, “I’d like to meet President Obama, Ellen Degeneres, or Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.”   

I have an idea, what if one of Addison’s idols offered to sponsor his dad’s surgery?  Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone.  

Jim was thinking about Addison’s “wishes” and added, “You know what I would also love to do, is have dinner and drinks with Bill Maher, he’s hilarious.”  He started to laugh a little but his smile quickly gave way to a grimace of pain as he grabbed his abdomen again. 

Some other little bits of trivia… Jim has become a bit of an amateur genealogist and has traced his family back some 40+ generations.  Along the way he discovered that he has connections to President Bush, Frankish leader Charles Martel and Charlamagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans.  I know my dad would be excited about the Roman ancestry part – he is so into Roman history these days. 

Anyway, I let father and son continue on their bike ride.  After all, it was a gorgeous afternoon – just perfect for exploring the city on a bicycle.

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I invited Bob to a coffee at a nearby coffee shop so Bob could sit down and rest his back. (photo: Reed)

I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street.  I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was.  I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.

“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared.  “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.”  There was something special about Bob, I don’t know if I knew exactly what it was immediately but I did perceive something really unique.  I have to admit that when I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze.  But I would soon find out that he has been sober for nearly 25 years.

Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him.  It’s one of the most moving videos I have shot of any of the people that I have met.  Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships and 20 nervous breakdowns.  His vulnerability and genuine candor will touch you.  I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend.  He too was in awe.

Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days.  Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state.  I definitely caught Bob on a good day.  No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted.  Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked.  I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day.  If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!

Ruth is Bob's birth mother. Ann was the mother who raised him. Bob would like to know what happened to his birth mother Ruth Lucas (photo: Reed)

He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s.  “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts.  After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year.  I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK.  “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked.  Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!”  He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.
At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob.  “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry based coffee-house.  She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that.  “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered.  “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote.  It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter.  I love her so much.”  He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her.  He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained.  He says that she has an alcohol addiction.  “There is always hope, look at me.  It took me 30 years though.”

I spent almost two hours with Bob.  I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute.  I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life.  “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross.  “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”

I caught a rare smile. Bob will use my $10 to help pay his rent. (photo: Reed)

I hope that you took the time to watch the video above.  It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery I think they will find it very insightful.  One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video clip that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait.  It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process.  They want what they want when they want it.  They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month.  It doesn’t work that way.  You got to be patient.”

As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought.  “Tell someone today that you love them.”  Invaluable advice.

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Located about 1,000 miles southeast of Florida, the Dominican Republic is home to about 10 million people, about twice the population of the Greater Washington, DC area.

Yudith sat on a wooden bench in a small park near the Dupont Metro.  This is the very same area where I met Alex on Day 109, John on Day 115 and the forthcoming story of Kathryn on Day 260.  Originally from the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo, the 34-year-old now lives in Maryland with her parents.  She was waiting for her mother and agreed to take my $10 which she says she will give to a friend.  “My situation is not the best, but at least I have a job, she doesn’t have a job.”

“Life here hasn’t turned out to be what I hoped for,” she tells me in Spanish.  “I came here looking for a better job, but in some respects life was better back home.”  Yudith, a single mom, left her three daughters with her aunt five years ago and moved to Boston in an effort to earn enough money to provide for her family.  She later moved to DC where she at least has the stability of having her parents near by.  “My plan is uncertain right now.  I sometimes think of going back to Boston.  Finding a job there was difficult before but here has even been worse,” she says adding that she currently works in a beauty salon.  “I make between $300 and $600 a week here whereas back home I would only make about 4,000 pesos a month,” which was equal to about $135 at the time.  She wires money home every 15 days to help support her children.  What makes things even more complicated is the fact that her visa expired years ago and she is now here illegally.

She says that although things have been difficult here and she misses her daughters and many things about her life in Santo Domingo, there are many great things about the US as well.  “One thing that I really like about the United States is that there is less difference in how people treat others based on their economic status.  Back home there is a much bigger difference in how rich and poor people are treated.”  

Yudith’s mother arrived and I introduced myself to her.  She was friendly and smiled warmly at me.  I said goodbye and continued on my way.

I have lived many places.  In the US I have lived in California, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.  Outside of the US I have lived in Mexico, Spain and Brazil.  I have an idea for what it is like to live far from home; to adapt to new cultures and foreign languages.  One thing that I have always taken with me from the training that I received as a Rotary Youth Exchange student is that things are neither better nor worse in another country, they are just different.

I felt that Yudith understands this and is trying to make the best of it.  It must be really hard though.  She has a much more challenging situation than I had in any of my experiences in other countries.  I wish her lots luck.

By the way, I guess the Year of Giving was featured in a Chinese newspaper.  I have received so many nice emails and comments from readers in China.  Xie xie!  I think that is thank you in Mandarin.

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I am so excited for you to meet today’s recipient.  Her name is Charlotte.  She is 93, born and raised in New Orleans, LA.  I had the pleasure of meeting her as she and her sister enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon view of the harbor in Annapolis, MD.

People always ask me how I select the people that I give to.  I wish I had some really good answer, but it’s much more of a spur of the moment decision than any type of scientific process.  On this day I could have given my $10 to several other people.  I could have given it to a struggling Naval Academy plebe that I had seen that day carry boxes…

At the Naval Academy the plebes were tirelessly carrying boxes all over campus. Some looked near exhaustion. (photo: Reed)

Or these young kids that were patrolling the harbor…

It wasn't until the boat got closer that I realized that they were kids and we were not being attacked. (photo: Reed)

I even tried to give the $10 to Alex Haley…

Me trying to give my $10 to Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots. (photo: Reed)

Or this guy playing guitar…

A busker playing some music steps from the pier. (photo: Reed)

But in the end I chose the right person…

I hope that I have half of Charlotte's energy, humor and joie de vivre when I am 93! (photo: Reed)

I saw Charlotte sitting on a bench with Jewell, the youngest of her five siblings.  I immediately knew that I wanted to give her my $10 for the day.  She looked so happy and relaxed sitting there watching the sail boats glide by.  You would have never known that she had gotten up early and flown 1,100 miles from New Orleans earlier that day.

I introduced myself and Jewell, who lives nearby, told me that she had heard about the Year of Giving.  The ladies invited me to sit down and we chatted for probably 45 minutes.  The proud mother of ten children, Charlotte shared her entire family with me.  There was the ordained priest, the Jesuit brother, the daughter that lives on a boat, Tommy who moved to Houston many years ago, Charlotte who they call “Suzie”, the son who lived in Pohnpei in the SE Asian Caroline Islands, her 6th, 7th and 8th children who were all boys, and the youngest two who were girls.  Although her first five children didn’t have children the other five combined to have 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.  

Jewell, Reed, Charlotte (photo: M. Legrain)

Charlotte graduated high school at 16 and went to Normal school to become a teacher and began teaching in the New Orleans public school system in the mid thirties at the age of 18.  But it was one summer that she was studying at Loyola that she met the man who ended up being her husband.  “My friend Charlie introduced me to him.  He lived over on Bank Street.”  She told me how things were different back then and they used to go out more in groups as friends rather than couples.  “I had decided that I was going to start dating someone else, but then my husband asked me out for every Saturday night for the next year!”  That’s a pretty good strategy.  Unfortunately he died in 1978 after 40 years of marriage.

The sun began to lower in the sky slightly and I could feel my neck starting to get burned.  Charlotte seemed comfortable though.  She came prepared with a beautiful scarf that not only protected her skin from the sun but also matched her earrings and necklace.  The hot sun might have had a slight influence on her decision to get some ice cream with the $10.

Travel seemed to be something that she really enjoyed.  “I’ve been to France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, Thailand, Hong Kong – come to think of it I left a bathing suit in Hong Kong,” she said making us all laugh.  She also made several trips to the Pacific to visit her son who lived in the Caroline Islands.  He had gone there initially as part of a mission and ended up running an agriculture school. 

Mmmmm...Central Grocery's Muffuletta

No matter where she has traveled, she always ends up back in New Orleans.  “You can get just about the best food in the world in Nawlins,” according to Charlotte.  I have to admit, some of my favorite meals have been there.  From the turtle soup at Commander’s Palace to fried green tomatoes from Jacques-Imo’s Café to the world’s best muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery, it’s a food lover’s paradise.  By the way, how do you spell muffuletta…I have seen it this way and also muffulatta and muffalata…but it doesn’t seem consistent.  Anyway, even the coffee at Café du Monde is pretty extraordinary – or maybe it’s the side order of beignets that makes the coffee so delicious!  “Maspero’s Café also makes a good muffuletta sandwich,” according to Charlotte.  I will have to add that place to my list.

About this time Charlotte looked at me and said, “You know the more I think about this I think I have heard about what you are doing on the news in New Orleans.”  There was a short pause and she thought for a second, “But I remember thinking when I heard about it, ‘that’s never gonna happen to me!’” 

We laughed a lot. From L-R, Charlotte, Jewell and Jewell's husband. (photo: Reed)

Jewell’s husband arrived and took a seat next to his wife.  “I made ten dollars while you were gone,” Charlotte quipped. 

I had so many other questions in my head for Charlotte.  She was such a wonderful woman, but they needed to get going.  She doesn’t use email so she game me her home address.  I plan to send her a letter with this blog posting printed out.  I told her that I was going to look her up the next time I was in New Orleans.  She smiled and said that that would be nice.  She’s avid bridge player and I’m looking forward to having her as my bridge partner. 

The three turned their backs to the sail boats and the glimmering water and Charlotte steadied herself behind her walker.  I watched them fade toward the center of picturesque Annapolis. 

What amazing people I meet!

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Five Guys cheeseburger and fries

 

Who doesn’t like a good burger?  Ok, maybe a vegetarian, but probably even they like a good veggie burger, right?  I live dangerously close to a Five Guys burger joint.  I have to exercise incredible restraint in order to not end up there too often.  Well, you might find yourself wanting a burger by the end of this post. 

Late in the evening of day 247, I spotted a guy crossing Connecticut Avenue carrying what looked like high chairs that restaurants have for small children.  I hurried across the street to catch up with the man who was now loading them into a vehicle.  It was close to midnight and I was interested in what someone does with restaurant high chairs in the middle of the night. 

Julio loads some high chairs that need fixed into his car. (photo: Reed)

 

I called out to the man and he turned to face me.  Julio is a manager for the Five Guys on Connecticut Avenue in the Dupont area.  He explains to me that he noticed that the high chairs needed to be repaired so he was taking them home to fix them. I wasn’t surprised that the 34-year-old was looking out for kids when I learned that he was the father of four daughters and one son.  The oldest is 16 and the youngest is ten months! 

Before joining the fast growing burger chain, Julio was doing work on floors in VA.  Before that he said he was living in Brooklyn, NY.  I asked some more questions about what he was doing in NY and he looked at me very squarely and told me that he spent 14 years in New York State prison.  I asked him what he was convicted of and he just said “violence.”  Now you might think that this would make me a little nervous, not at all.  He is the nicest guy.  “I’ve learned a lot about life,” he says.  “I got spiritual.”  He was released four years ago and moved his family away from his old barrio to the DC area to start over. 

Now here is the part I started to question.  How was his wife having these kids while he was serving his sentence…  He told me that he had kids that were 16, 11, 8, 2 and 10 months.  How was he having kids while he was in prison?  The answer: conjugal visits.  Yep!  I actually did a little research on this and according to Wikipedia conjugal visit privileges have been removed from all federal prisons and all but six state systems: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington.  I am not condoning criminal behavior, but if you are going to commit a crime I recommend one of those states.  I’m just saying. 

All that seems left of his past are some tattoos that decorate his arms.  “I was young,” he says referring to the fact that he was incarcerated at the age of 16.  He says that his focus now is on work and spending time with his wife and five children.  I asked him where he would like to be in 10 years and he said he hoped to own a couple of Five Guys franchises and possibly get into real estate.  He could use some help getting there though.  “I could use some financial planning advice,” he told me.  He wants to make sure that he manages his finances in such a way that he is able to realize his goals.  If any good financial planners out there are willing to do some pro-bono work, let me know and I can connect you with Julio.  Speaking of money…Julio said my $10 would get spent on gas.  He drives back and forth to Maryland every day for work. 

Julio has been with Five Guys for two years (photo: Reed)

 

So now the fun part.  Did you think I was going to end this without giving your stomach something to think about?  Well, I couldn’t resist asking Julio what his favorite burger was.  He said that was easy.  “Cheeseburger, all the sauces – ketchup, A-1, Bar-B-Q and hot sauce – pickles, onions and extra cheese.”  And with that he says you gotta order the Cajun fries.  Or maybe a little bit of both the Five Guys style and Cajun fries. 

Now as I explained on Day 238 to Paul, Five Guys is awesome (and they are even more awesome for investing in a good guy like Julio), but my favorite burger is from Ray’s Hellburger in Rosslyn, VA.  He said he hadn’t heard of Ray’s so some day I am going to take Julio over there with me and get him a burger.  Heck, maybe Paul will come with us too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela’s tide is turning.

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