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My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

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Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

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Today is 10-10-10!  Hopefully you will join me and Howard Wu in giving away $10 today.  Howard came up with this idea and created a Facebook page for people to share their stories.

The fact that today is a special date, 10-10-10, seems very appropriate for today’s recipient.  You will see why later, but Joey has some absolutely brilliant abilities when it comes to dates.

Joey (left) and his brother Rick before entering Nationals Park (photo: Reed)

I was headed to the National’s baseball game and got a ride over from my friend and former colleague Rick.  He was joined by his brother Joey, who was visiting Rick here in the DC area.

I soon learn that Joey is a remarkable man.  The 52-year-old from New Hampshire is autistic.  His parents were told to institutionalize Joey, but they never did.  He has lived with his parents, who are now in their 70s, all his life.

Despite Joey’s disability he lives a full life.  He is a tremendous help to his parents around the house.  Rick tells me that he keeps his room and himself meticulously clean, and makes his own breakfast and lunch.

Joey told me that I was born on a Tuesday, he was right too! (photo: Reed)

He is a very gentle man.  He keeps to himself and doesn’t say much.  In fact, he didn’t speak at all until he was about nine.  When he does it is usually to answer a question.  And he is very decisive in his answer.  I often find myself trying to recall things and taking a few seconds or minutes to determine whether I know the answer or not.  Not Joey.    He either knows the answer or he doesn’t, there isn’t much in between.  

For more than twenty years, the Easter Seals have provided a tremendous amount of care for Joey.  During the week they provide transportation for him to and from different locations where he works.  Usually he sets up tables at local restaurants and has also worked at the library alphabetizing periodicals.  When his day is done, he returns to the comfort of his parent’s loving home.

 Joey has some incredible abilities.  Like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, he has savantism.  When I got in the car Joey quickly asked me my name.  I told him and he asked me to repeat my last name for him.  I got the feeling that this information was being stored away for future use.  He then asked, “When were you born?”  I told him that my birth date was January 22, 1974.  He took a few seconds and then said, “Tuesday.”  Rick told me that he knows the day of the week for every date. WOW!  I had no idea if he was right or not, but after checking this when I got home, I discovered he was right!  He also told me that my father, who turns 70 this Friday, was born on a Tuesday.  He was right again.  Rick tells me that if he ever meets me again he will surely remember my name and birth date.

Me at the game (photo: Kimon Kanelakis)

Joey wasn’t done yet.  Nope, not by a long shot.  He also has a knack for telling you the song name and artist for almost any song from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.  Rick had on an oldies station and every song that came on Joey would tell us the name of the song and the artist.  “I Saw Linda Yesterday by Dickey Lee,” he says.  A few minutes later he enlightened us with, “Traces by the Classics IV.”  I’ve never heard of either of the artists much less would I have known who they were by listening to them.  And I would have never known if he was right or not either but Rick’s radio will display that information if you press some buttons.  We repeated this exercise about a half-dozen times on the way to the game and he was spot on.

Joey really likes to swim.  Rick told me that he had gone swimming almost every day while he was in DC.  Unfortunately, his time in DC was coming to an end.  After the game Rick and Joey were driving north to meet their parents half way between New Hampshire and DC.  Joey was going back home. 

I caught a photo of brothers Joey and Rick before the left to get Joey's gelato. (photo: Reed)

I wish each and every one of you could have met him.  Joey is pretty amazing.  I almost forgot to tell you what he did with his $10.  On their way out of the stadium he bought some gelato.  I believe it was chocolate…he apparently eats chocolate every day.  He still has the other $4 carefully tucked away in a box where he keeps his spending money.  I’ll let you know if I hear what happens to the other $4.

By the way, Joey was born 52 years to the day before I started the Year of Giving: December 15th, 1957 – it was a Sunday.

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After leaving the Black Cat on Day 242, we got some pizza on U Street and I offered to walk a friend of mine home.  On the way we noticed some bright lights in the CVS parking lot. At first I thought maybe they were filming something. As we got closer we noticed that there were five cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them, some portrait studio type lighting and two color printers.

You can find Carlton every weekend until October at the CVS parking lot near Florida and 7th (photo: Reed)

Carlton was holding a Canon Rebel camera. I asked what was going on and he explained that during the warm months he and his brothers set up in the parking lot there at the CVS and take people’s photos in front of the backdrops. “It’s ten dollars for a picture,” the 31-year-old tells me. I looked at my watch, it was about 12:30am…it’s a new day. Game on! I reached in and grabbed $10 and gave it to Carlton. “I’ll take your guys picture for you if you want,” he offers but I explain that I can’t receive anything in return for the $10.

Carlton’s uncle negotiated a deal with the CVS people to use their parking lot from 11pm to around 3am on the weekends. Then he and his brother’s got a friend named GQ to design all the back drops. There were five backdrops lined up: one that said “Wasted” and had some alcohol bottles on it, another with a Cuervo 1800 bottle, a third with a Mercedes, the fourth one had a Cadillac truck and the last one showed a beach with waves crashing under the moon. “My favorite is one that is not up tonight, but it’s one with two bottles of Moet champagne,” Carlton says.

Carlton at work (photo: Reed)

As we are chatting a group of nine presumably inebriated young people show up to get their picture taken in front of the “Wasted” backdrop. He takes their photo about four times until they are happy with it and then pulls the memory stick out of the camera and slips it into the printer and hits print. About 90 seconds later, their picture was ready.

“We print about 70 pictures a night,” Carlton says. “We got a lot of regulars too.” No sooner did he mention that he had regulars than a guy shows up who must have taken 30 photos of himself. He was wearing sunglasses and had his car stereo system pumping hard. He took photos in front of several of the backdrops but then he took some of him in his car too. Carlton printed what looked to be about two dozen photos and handed them to the customer. “He’s a regular,” Carlton says nodding toward the man as he pulled out of the parking lot. I hope he didn’t pay $10 per picture!

Carlton poses for a picture (photo: Reed)

Carlton and his brothers, DC natives who attended Roosevelt High School, have been doing this for four years. Sometimes they also set up in clubs and other places, especially in the winter when they are not out at this location.  Things get a little out of control from time to time too. “Sometimes ladies get naked, it’s crazy,” Carlton admits.

Some ladies strike a pose for Carlton (photo: Reed)

Two young ladies approach us and ask to get their picture taken. I now had my camera out and I guess they thought I was working there…reasonable assumption. I directed them to Carlton and they struck a pose in front of the Cuervo bottle. I captured Carlton taking their photo.

“I’m going use the $10 to put gas in my car,” he says as he slides the ladies’ photo into a sleeve.

Before leaving, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get my photo taken as well.  I chose the beach scene. You can find the photo on the Facebook Page.

If you want to get your photo taken by Carlton, you’ll find him or one of his brothers in the CVS parking lot at Florida and 7th Street, NW any weekend from 11pm to around 3am until October.

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The NRIs with Melanie on violin (photo: Reed)

On Day 242 I made my way over to the Black Cat to see my friend Melanie’s band, the NRIs.  You might recall that Melanie is also in a band called Machines on Vacation (see Day 80 and 128).  I had not seen the NRIs before so I was excited to check them out and they didn’t disappoint.  My friend Melanie, who plays the violin, is a great addition to the band giving some of the songs a very genuine sound. 

Before going in to see the show, I spotted some people having a cigarette outside.  I thought I would see if one of them would be my 242nd recipient.  After a brief discussion they agreed that Gabrielle should be one. 

Chris and Gabrielle outside the Black Cat (photo: Reed)

“Today I live in Virginia…I guess,” she tells me as I collect some basic information from her.  It turns out this 28-year-old left Seattle a week earlier and drove 2,800 miles with her boyfriend Chris to Washington, DC.  “It was a long drive.  It was a hot drive,” she told me. 

Gabrielle moved her for a job in the video gaming field as an environmental graphic designer.  She’s the one that puts the trees and landscapes in your favorite games!  You’re welcome!  She likes working on next generation games and wants to make cool monsters (I think that is what my notes say…my writing is particularly bad this day.)  She recently completed some work on the racing simulator Forza Motorsport 3. 

As I recall she initially was staying outside of DC in Virginia as a house-sitter for some people who her father met in Idaho!  Totally random I know. 

 “Wow, that’s cool,” she says as I hand her the $10.  “I need it, I’m pretty much out of money.”  She thought for a while about what she was going to do with it and finally said that it would probably get spent on two beers that evening: one for her and one for Chris.  

Here is a short video of Gabrielle talking about the highs and lows of her trip back east as well as her initial impressions of Washington, DC.  Take a look:

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When my good friend Kim recently turned 40 she threw a tremendous celebration.  She is someone who always thinks about others first.  Her birthday was no exception.  When guests arrived they were greeted by a woman who gave them two small rectangular pieces of paper and informed them that they were to write two things that they were going to start doing the next day that would positively impact their life.  Then they were to use those pieces of paper as free drink coupons at the bar.  We then had put a name tag on and on that tag we had to described how we knew Kim and when we first met her.  I wrote down that I was her personal sangria maker (which is sorta true) but actually we met in 2008 while working at a non-profit health organization focused on reducing childhood obesity.  

We were told that there was also a video room where we were encouraged to go and leave a video message for Kim.  Her daughter was in charge of the filming and did a terrific job. 

Kay and her husband Marion (photo: Reed)

 

So there I am at the entrance trying to figure out what I would do that would change my life starting tomorrow.  That is a really difficult question.  Think about it, what would you do starting tomorrow to positively change your life forever.  I had no idea I would have so much responsibility bestowed upon my shoulders when I told Kim that I would be there to celebrate with her.  Most other people had written something down rather quickly and went inside.  I had flashbacks to my algebra final in the 10th grade when other students were finishing their tests and leaving me all alone sweating through the problems.  It was about this time that I thought I overheard the woman who was explaining to us what we were to do with the papers say that she was Kim’s mom.  I asked her again just to make sure that I heard correctly to which she said, “Yes, I’m Kay, Kim’s mother.”  I stopped what I was doing and went straight to her and gave her a giant hug.  She was probably a little startled but it was just my instinct.  She must be a pretty phenomenal woman herself to raise such an amazing woman like Kim. 

I decided to give Kay my $10 for the day!  She said she didn’t know what she would do with it, but she would “pass it on to someone else.”  

Cake being delivered to Kim (photo: Reed)

 

Kay, who lives in California, was in DC for her daughter’s birthday celebration.  She is a supervisor for an organization that investigates welfare fraud.  “It’s rampant, people do all kinds of things” she tells me.  Apparently people go buy groceries with a type of food stamps debit card and then report that it was stolen or something and that it wasn’t them who used the card and then they get reimbursed cash for the amount of the card.
Kim is such a giving person, I thought I would ask Kay about her giving habits.  “I give, but not as much financially as maybe I should, but I do give of my time.”  As I have said many times here, simple gifts of your time and conversation are often much more valuable than monetary gifts.  

I didn’t want to hold up Kay more; after all it was her daughter’s 40th birthday party!  I snapped a quick photo of her and joined the party. 

  

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child [as you age], which means never losing your enthusiasm.” – Aldous Huxley

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Feijoada and side dishes

I lived in Brazil for three years and absolutely loved the food.  One of the most typical meals is feijoada, in fact it is considered the national dish and is eaten almost exclusively at lunch time on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  In the US we don’t really have this custom of eating a certain dish every week on the same day, but it seems to work.  Feijoada is a heavy stew consisting of black turtle beans, a variety of salted pork and beef products (such as ears, tails, tongue, feet, etc), bacon, pork ribs and a couple of types of smoked sausage.  I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s delicious!

You toss all of these ingredients in large clay pot and let it simmer for hours until you get this beautiful rich purplish-brown juice which coats your tongue like a velvety glass of Petit Verdot.

So my friend Carmen, who is from Brazil, was celebrating her birthday by having some people over for feijoada.  While I was there I met a friend of hers named Elida who is from Carmen’s hometown of Campo Grande.  Elida spent two days preparing this feast and it was delicious!

She came to the US on July 5th to attend her nephew’s wedding in New York and then came down to DC to visit with Carmen and other friends.  She is planning to stay until August 13th.

Feijoada: Brazil's national dish

This is not her first time to the States though; in fact her husband was an American.  Elida did something that I thought was really great too, she signed up for a mini English course that she is taking for three weeks.

Although now retired, Elida worked for many years for Banco Itau.  That was my bank actually when I lived in Brazil.  Now she dedicates her time to her family.  She will soon be a grandmother!  She told me that she was asking her son, “When am I going to have some grandchildren?” and the next day he came to her and said, “You’re going to be a grandmother!”  The baby is due in April.

“I’m going to use the $10 to buy an outfit for the baby” she told me.

I tried to get some photos of her but she preferred not being photographed.

I asked her if there was anything she needed or wanted that somebody might be able to help her with.  She thought and said that she didn’t really need anything but that her dream was to spend a day in Paris.  “My husband promised me that we would go there, but we never did it.”  Who knows… maybe one day that dream will come true.

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So I went out to Safeway last night and bought a copy (actually two) of the bright pink Woman’s World Magazine.  It was the only thing I bought and I got a couple strange looks from the cashier.  Anyway, on the back inside cover there is really good article on the Year of Giving and a picture of me in a shirt that looks really green in the photo!

On Day 199 I ventured out looking for a recipient. It was one of those sweltering hot days and I didn’t a bit more get three blocks away and my forehead looked like I had just finished a spicy plate of lamb vindaloo.  Speaking of Indian food, which I love, have you heard of the Karma Kitchen?  There is one in Berkeley, Chicago and here in DC.  The website says, “Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.”  Now they don’t do this every day, but I think here in DC it is every Sunday at the Polo India Club (1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC).  I haven’t been there on a Sunday yet to check it out, but I have exchanged a few emails with one of people behind the idea.  Apparently the Year of Giving inspired them to share the stories of their guests and also give $10 away to a stranger every Sunday!  Read what Stephanie did with her $10!  Very cool.  I hope to check it out very soon!  Thanks to the folks at Karma Kitchen for believing in kindness of others!

Ok, sorry, I got sidetracked…so as I walked around the corner of a Starbucks I saw a man with what looked to be hundreds of envelopes that he was furiously licking shut.  I thought I would go in and meet him and see if he would accept my $10 or even just some help finishing off those envelopes.  You can do them pretty fast with a wet napkin or paper towel.

He was a bald pudgy man probably in his late 50s or early 60s.  He peered at me through his heavy framed glasses and in a thick accent said he didn’t have time.  I started to offer to help him with the envelopes and he barked something else at me that I didn’t understand but in fact I did understand that he didn’t want to continue the conversation.  So I left.

I walked around some more.  Up to Dupont Circle down Connecticut Avenue.  Maybe the guy smoking the pipe on the bench or the man who appeared to be homeless shouting at people walking by or why not mom holding her daughter’s tiny hand waiting for an ice cream?  For some reason, none seemed right that night.  I ended up strolling through some more residential streets and found Valerie (whose name I have changed her on her request) and Katie sitting on their front patio enjoying the subtle breeze that attempted to counter the thick omnipresent heat and humidity of the first day of July.

After graduating from the University of Arizona, they decided to move to DC and get some work experience.  Now they were relaxing on the eve of their last day in the apartment.  Katie is moving back to Arizona to attend law school in the fall and Valerie is staying in DC but moving to a new apartment in Georgetown.

When I approached them Valerie was talking about a young guy that works at the Subway near her office.  He is from Nepal and “exudes kindness” she says.  Every time she goes in she learns a little more about him.  Apparently he moved here and wants to go to college but doesn’t have the funds to do so.  “I just feel so bad that here is a guy who works so hard and is so nice to people and he can’t afford to get an education.”  Oh, and on a totally different note, Valerie highly recommends the new Subway special: an egg-white sandwich with veggies and cheese on whole wheat with a coffee for $2.50.

So at some point Valerie asked if I wanted something to drink.  “We’re having watermelon juice and vodka.”  That seemed like a strange combination.  “We have moved literally everything out of our place.  The only thing we have left in there is half a bottle of wine, watermelon juice and a handle of vodka.”  A handle?  Hadn’t ever heard it called that.  Anyway, let’s try this watermelon and vodka, I hope they still have ice!  You know what, the drink wasn’t bad either.

They told me a pretty funny story too.  Apparently they needed newspaper to pack some of their items so they swiped their landlord’s New York Times off the porch – he lives upstairs from them.  “We didn’t think he would miss one day’s paper.”  Well, he did.  He came down and asked them if they had “borrowed” it.  Caught off guard they denied it.  As we were talking about this, he and his wife arrived home.  He seemed like such a nice man.  I think they felt a little bad about it.  Maybe they will use the $10 to buy a back issue copy of that day’s paper and send it to him!

Speaking of the $10, I asked them what they were going to do with it.  They decided to split the $10 evenly.  Valerie said she was going to take her $5 and add her own $10 to it and give it to the young man at Subway to help him with his savings.  Katie said that she was going to take the $5 and add her own money to sign Valerie up to take the GRE exam.  By the way, I checked and the exam costs $140 so that is really nice gift!  That’s ok she said though, “If I had to invest in any person in the world it would be her.”

Pretty cool.

It was dark and I needed to get home.  I thanked them for the hospitality and wished them luck.  I actually think I might have seen Katie the next day sitting out on the terrace at the Front Page in Dupont.  Still proudly wearing my Brazil shirt on the day that they lost to The Netherlands, I passed a table full of football fans and one of them waived to me.  I walked over to the table only to be unsure of who it was.  I came up with some awkward things to say I guess and then went on my way.  Well, I guess we’ll find out if it was her when she reads this!

Update July 11, 2012: I received a request from the woman I have called Valerie here requesting to change her name and remove photos of them.

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Last Monday I spent the morning doing some phone calls and interviews.  I got outside a little to walk Ruben, the dog that I have been taking care of, but other than that I was pretty much inside.

That evening I had plans to have dinner with some former colleagues of mine from my last job.  We decided to meet up at my friend Patricia’s house in Arlington.  I took Ruben out for another walk before leaving, stopped by a wine shop and a new gelato shop to get some wine and gelato for the evening.  By the way, I got the gelato from Dolcezza in Dupont.  I sampled a bunch of the flavors, but settled on dulce de leche granizado and lime cilantro.  The lime cilantro was such a unique flavor, I had to get it.  The citrus flavors combined with zest of the cilantro created a deliciously refreshing dessert!

The evening was great.  I got to spend time with some old colleagues.  Laura and her husband brought their four-month-old boy Griffin too!  He is amazing!

Bar at the Afterwords Cafe (Photo: Reed)

Anyway, the night winded down and I dropped Kate off at her hotel in Chinatown.  It was 11:45 and I still had to give away my $10.  As I drove I kept my eyes open for somebody on the streets.  I passed a couple of large groups of people, but didn’t think that stopping them and explaining what I was doing would go very well at midnight, so I pulled over at Kramerbooks near my house.  Inside I found a young couple sitting at a table and offered the guy my $10.  He politely declined and I looked toward his friend.  She somewhat reluctantly agreed.

It turns out that she is the bartender there at Kramerbooks.  I didn’t realize that though because she was sitting at a table at the otherwise empty bar.  Get this, I realized I didn’t have a ten dollar bill.  For that matter, I didn’t even have $10!  I think I had $8.  Then I remembered that I had a bag of quarters in my backpack and grabbed them and counted out the rest of the money for her.  It was a little embarrassing, but Cynthia rolled with it and didn’t make me feel awkward at all.

Cynthia said she likes to travel.  Two of her favorite destinations are Dubrovnik, Croatia and Budapest, Hungary.  Camping and snowboarding are also high on her list of things to do.

About this time several people made their way into the bar and I let Cynthia go wait on them.  She returned shortly with a glass of water for me and asked if I had any other questions.  I could see that she was busy and I didn’t want to take up more of her time…so while she was preparing things I asked her what her favorite drink and food items were on the menu at Kramerbooks’ Afterwords Café.  Her favorite drink was a tie between the Brewmaster Reserve by Brooklyn Brewery and the Old Brown Dog by Smuttynose Brewery.  Her favorite dish is the Bison Burger.  Honestly, you almost can go wrong there, everything is good.

I wrapped things up and let Cynthia get back to work. 

Her $10 is going toward the purchase of a new dictionary for a homeless man who she knows.  Someone stole his bag which contained his dictionary.  I asked if there was anything that I could include in the Lend a Hand project and she mentioned that her car needs some work so she would love to get some help with that.  Heck, maybe a show like Overhaulin would come and help her out!

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