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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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Students at Let's Get Ready's Career Day in New York City (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Although his eyes seemed to dance around the room, I would later learn that Antoine was indeed paying attention.  Seated at a small table on the third floor of Robert F. Wagner Middle School on New York’s East Side, the soon to be high school junior’s mind was aldreay dreaming of places far beyond the walls of room 302 this past Saturday.

Antoine was attending Let’s Get Ready’s Career Day.  It’s a day that gives a diverse mix of high school students the opportunity to learn about a variety of careers from about 50 professionals who volunteered their time to share their knowledge with more than 250 young people who attended.  Founded in the summer of 1998 by Jeannie Lang Rosenthal, an undergrad at Harvard, Let’s Get Ready is a nonprofit organization serving communities in and around New York City and Boston whose mission is to expand college access for motivated, low-income high school students by providing free SAT preparation and college admission counseling.

“You think that one day I could have a job like you,” the young man from west Bronx asked me after I finished my presentation.

“Absolutely.  How are your grades?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked him trying to get a sense of how he was doing in school.

“Well, last year I did real good: an A and mostly B’s.”

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Students took a personality assessment to help determine possible careers to explore. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The 16-year-old, whose real name I changed to Antoine for this article, is one of 3.1 million young people this year who will be faced with the decision of whether or not to attend college after high school.  If you evaluate his situation based solely on drive, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go on to college.  He’s thirsty to know more and asked several excellent questions during the seminar.

I co-led a variety of sessions focused on helping the students understand their career interests through a personality assessment, interactive sessions about college, and tips on how to build and maintain a professional network so that they can land a job after college.  Originally I was only to be a speaker at the half day workshop, however, when their photographer wasn’t able to make it, I offered to stand in and try to capture some visual images of the day as well.  Click here to see the images I captured from Career Day.

The thermometer nearly broke the century mark that afternoon and there was no air-conditioning in the room that I was assigned to.  Exhausted and covered with sweat, I wrapped up my session and headed to the closing session in the main auditorium.  I got the chance to meet and exchange business cards (Let’s Get Ready supplied the students with cards that they filled out to serve as business cards for the day) with dozens of tomorrow’s leaders.

It was inspiring to talk with them and hear their dreams.

“I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”

“I want to be a social worker.”

“I want to work in television.”

“I want to start my own organization to help underprivileged kids.”

“I want your job!”

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photo: Reed Sandridge

After the event was over I stayed and spoke with several young people who patiently waited to introduce themselves to me.  I hope they all keep in touch, I will be checking in on them periodically too to see how things are going.  When the last student had left, I grabbed my bags and headed for the front doors.  Now dim and voiceless in the school, the heavy metal doors rumbled as they gave way to a sun-drenched sidewalk filled with the sounds of the Big Apple.

The success of Let’s Get Ready depends greatly on volunteers and donations.  If you would like to support this organization and help prepare our next generation of leaders, please visit their website and get involved!

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

As I clicked Jack’s leash to his collar for our walk around the park this morning, I decided to put my card with the $10 in my pocket, anticipating a potential kindness investment.  The weather is cool and sunny this week, so there would likely be a lot of walkers today working on their New Year’s resolutions.

Across the park, I could see a lone basketball player throwing hoops. “There’s someone with a story,” I said to Jack, as we headed over to get it.  Not in my wildest dreams did I expect a teenager who is friendly, caring, deep, a recycler, athletic, technical, methodical, ambitious, an animal lover, quick, honest, dramatic, and wise?  And very, very funny.

I told the young gentleman about Reed’s Year of Giving project and asked if he would like to receive my $10 Kindness Investment.  A huge smile flashed across his face and his eyes went wide. “OF COURSE?  I’d be CRAZY not to accept $10!” He’s friendly.

Then his smile turned to concern. “But you’re not working. Don’t you need it?”  He’s caring.

I explained that part of the idea behind the giving project is to help us realize that no matter how down and out we are, we always have something to give.  “That’s very cool”, he said. “And a good lesson for everyone throughout life.” He’s deep.

Marcos D. is 14 years old, much younger than I thought, so I’m leaving off some information because of his age.  I also asked him to get his parents’ permission for me to post his story on the Year of Giving.  I was delighted when he told me they said yes, as Marcos is a very interesting guy with a great story.

Marcos lives with his mom, step-dad and little sister, and speaks English and Spanish.  He’s in the 8th grade, but was quick to point out the school shirt he was wearing was from last year in the 7th grade.  “It’s still in great condition, so why waste money?  I re-use.” He recycles.

“You know,” he continued, “I’ve been very lucky with money lately.  I found a $100 dollar bill in front of the grocery store before New Year’s.  One thing about me is that I’m not a good saver. I have slippery fingers,” he said, waving his fingers through the air. “If I have it, I gotta spend it.”  He’s a teenager.

Marcos says he’s “somewhat of a mutt” when it comes to hobbies, because he likes outdoor sports, mainly basketball, as well as indoor gaming. “Most people like one or the other, but I like it all.”  He also likes building and dismantling things. He’s athletic, technical and methodical.

When he grows up, he thinks he’d like to go into technology, maybe developing computer games. He’s ambitious. I told him I would put him in touch with my nephew, John, who works for a gaming company in Austin.  “You never know, Marcos.  John may be able to help you figure out where you want to go.”  I promised him I would give him John’s contact info.

Marcos pets Mary's dog Jack.

“Hey, don’t pee on the jacket,” he said to Jack, directing my attention to my dog, who was sniffing around Marcos’ jacket bunched up on the ground. I laughed and called Jack over to sit by us while we talked.  He gave Jack a big, genuine hug.  He told me he’s also a huge dog person and misses his dog, Coco, named by his little sister.  Marcos got a little down when he told me they had to give Coco away, but he knows where she lives and sneaks her treats when he can. “I miss Coco.  She always made me happy with those big, chocolate eyes. I wish we didn’t have to give her away.” He loves animals.

“So, you got a girlfriend, wife, kids?”, I asked to lighten the mood.

“Nope, still a bachelor,” he said, making me laugh.  He’s quick.

I asked what he was going to do with the $10.  He thought for a minute and said he might give it to his mom, who could use if for groceries, then looked down at his hands and said, “But with these spending fingers, it may not make the trip home.”  He’s honest.

A few favorites:

Class:  “I’d have to say reading.  DEFINITELY not math.  I’m NOT a math person.  I’m going bald from all the stress!” he cried as he tugged at a head full of thick, wavy hair. He’s dramatic.

Book: “I like Gender Blender from the library.  A guy and girl switch bodies and they have to figure out everything, like going to the bathroom and stuff.  It’s ridiculously funny.”

Computer Game: “Metroid.  It’s good for the mind, too.  You have to collect data, figure out weak points, and stuff.  Plus it’s fast-paced action.”

And regarding Lend a Hand…. “Any wishes?” I asked.  “Too many to count.  I see trillions of doors in my brain right now,” he told me, “and I don’t know which one to open.”  He’s creative. “Obviously I could use help with math.” He’s wise. “But more than anything, I’d like my own computer to shoot my own video blog.”  He’s a teenager.

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I just got home from work, kicked my shoes off and scanned around my messy apartment.  This week has been crazy and I have kind of let things get out of control around here.  Well, I have blocked off this weekend to get things done, so hopefully that includes getting things straightened up.

Day 336 was November 15th which was a Monday night.  On that night a tragic murder was committed here in Washington.  The Redskins fell victim to the Eagles 59 – 28.  But before the horrific slaughter, the parking lots were full of jubilant and hopeful fans who were still gossiping about the earlier news of the day that the Redskins extended Donovan McNabb’s contract for five years.  The deal pays McNabb 78 million dollars over five years with a guaranteed amount of 40 million.  Shoot, maybe I should be asking McNabb for some financial support for my Year End Celebration!

Antoine gave $3 to his friend and said he was going to save the rest.

Anyway, I told my buddy Chris that he could choose the recipient of the day but that his wife had veto power.  Well, this didn’t go very well.  Chris kept picking people that Beth didn’t approve of.  Until Chris drug 11-year-old Antoine over in front of her to be inspected and she approved.

Antoine was a sixth-grader who was selling candy to raise money for at risk youth in the DC area according to a gentleman accompanying Antoine who didn’t identify himself.  “I’ve got caramel hearts, peanut butter crisps, peanut brittle, green tea,” Antoine began to tell me.  What would you like?  I explained that he didn’t need to give me anything in return for the $10 and that he could just add that to his collection. 

“We use the money to provide activities for the kids and keep them off the street,” the man explained to me.  “You know we go to Kings Dominion, bowling, laser tag, all kinds of things.”

About this time another kid came over, he was a little older than Antoine.  I went to go get my camera to capture a few photographs.  “We got to get going,” the adult said as I returned 30 seconds later.  “We got to leave by 8:00pm and they still have plenty of items to sell.”  

I set up my camera while I asked some more questions to Antoine.  He told me that he had sold 12 boxes and that he had 7 more to go.

That's Antoine in the middle with his crate of goodies.

I snapped a few quick shots and let them get on their way.  As he grabbed his milk crate that he carried the items in I asked what he was going to do with the money.  “I just gave him three,” he said nodding his head toward the older boy, “and I think I will save the rest.”

This was a weird exchange.  Our conversation was awkward and I didn’t feel good or bad about it, just ambivalent.  I thought about it for a while even after Antoine was long gone and I was comfortably sitting in my covered seat in the stadium.  I wondered if he had ever come inside to see a game.  Probably not. 

As I said earlier, the game went on to be a disaster.  It poured rain for all of the second half and the score looked more like a basketball game than it did a football game.  The Redskins played awful.  I think 11-year-old Antoine could have played better than several of the guys that night – he would have played his heart out just be on the field.

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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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Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene V of Twelfth Night. 

I’m in a Shakespearean mood since on Day 250 I spent the day at the Sidney Harmon  Hall helping out with the Free For All, a free event that the Shakespeare Theatre Company has produced every year for about the last 20 years.  In addition to having two free weeks of Shakespeare’s classic Twelfth Night, on Saturday there was a wonderful all day event for families where children got to explore their creativity and knowledge of theatre and the arts. 

A young boy finds just the right marker to finish his coloring (photo: Reed)

I have dabbled in theatre since my teenage years and had fun helping kids understand the world of Shakespeare as well as helping them with more tangible tasks such as coloring.  While I was helping the children color their tote bags with special markers that write on fabric a very famous individual walked by: William Shakespeare.  I was pretty startled, but the show must go on so I continued with my work.  At one point though I realized that I might be able to steal a few minutes with the great bard and give him my $10.  The rest is history. 

Matt was born in Danville, Pennsylvania but grew up in Tennessee.  He holds a BA in Philosophy from Columbia University and an MFA in Classical Acting from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at The George Washington University.  He is currently working towards a PhD in Renaissance Theatre History at the University of Maryland.  He is also the Founding Artistic Director of the not for profit Theatre Company, Faction of Fools, which is managed by his wife Sarah.  Around for about a year, Faction of Fools focuses on mostly Commedia dell’Arte productions.  “These are plays that are very funny, very silly and very energetic,” says Matt. 

Mr. Shakespeare offers some artistic direction to the young apprentices (photo: Reed)

The Commedia dell’Arte began in Italy 500 years ago and quickly spread throughout Europe and continues to live in theatres around the world today. Its emergence during the Renaissance marked the beginning of professional theatre in the West; furthermore, the comic characters, themes and devices employed by early Commedia troupes influenced artists from Shakespeare, Moliere and Goldoni to The Blues Brothers, American musical theatre and contemporary sit-coms.

Matt’s interest in the theatre started at an early.  “I started telling stories when I was in the third grade.  My third grade teacher was a professional story-teller – which made her the coolest teacher ever!  I’ve been telling stories ever since.”  He says that his favorite Shakespeare work is the distinctively modern Troilus and Cressida, which focuses on the constant questioning of intrinsic values such as hierarchy, honor and love.  “It’s too everything.  It’s too philosophical, too poetic, too stupid, too funny…it blurs all the lines in terms of what a play can do and does it all on top of each another.” 

On this specific day, several of the children didn’t immediately recognize him as the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon.  “No less than five children thought I was a pirate,” Matt told me grinning.  “That’s ok, even my wife told me this morning, ‘your beard makes you kind of look like a pirate.’” 

I got my picture taken with the great William Shakespeare! (photo: Reed)

I thought I would ask young Shakespeare a few things about his life.  He told me that he was born in 1564 and although his exact birth date is unknown it is commonly believed that he was born on April 23rd since he was baptized on April 26th and 3 days were commonly passed before baptism.  In addition to this, the fact that he died on April 23rd, 1616, many historians hold steadfast to the April 23rd date for both is birth and death. 

Matt was quite busy with the activities of the day and I didn’t want to keep him too long, but I did get him to agree to do a very quick question/answer on video.  Check it out: 

Although Mr. Shakespeare would have preferred to receive pounds and shillings, he readily accepted the ten dollars and promised to donate it to the Faction of Fools Theatre Company. 

DC residents have an opportunity to see Matt this November at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre.  He stars in The Great One-Man Commedia Epic, single-handedly bringing to life 12 characters drawn from historical Commedia dell’ Arte.  It’s a hilarious tale of some common Shakespearean themes that come together to bring an entire town to the brink of tragedy before love prevails, normalcy is restored, and comedy triumphs.  It’s on my calendar, maybe I’ll see you there?  

The Great One-Man Commedia Epic
Wooly Mammoth Theatre
Wed, Nov 3 — Sun, Nov 7
8pm Wed, Thu, Fri, & Sat / 3pm Sat & Sun

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I had to run over to Home Depot to get some things and as I was driving home I saw Alfonso pushing his ice-cream cart up the slight incline of Patrick Henry Drive to where it intersects with Arlington Blvd.

Alfonso and his ice-cream cart (Photo: Reed)

I past him and then double backed, parked the car, and waited for him to reach my car.  The sound of the tires rolling over loose gravel was mostly muffled by the cheerful bells that rang with every movement of the cart.  

Alfonso has a kind face and smiles naturally, although his mustache covers up most of it.  He said that the company he works offered people the opportunity to come to Arlington, VA for the summer months to sell Mexican style ice-cream.  So Alfonso came here from Dallas, TX.  He didn’t know a soul in the area.  Now he interacts with hundreds of people every day.

Photo: Reed

He pushes his cart filled with a large block of ice and about 200 hundred ice-creams up Patrick Henry Drive from Route 7 to past Arlington Blvd into the neighborhoods behind the shopping center where the Target is.  Back and forth he travels under the burning sun.  He usually sells about 100-150 ice creams.  On a good day he might sell 200; coconut is the best seller.  I asked if I could take a peak inside the cooler.    

Having lived most of his life in Palm Springs, CA, six years ago Alfonso moved to Dallas searching for his 28-year-old son that he didn’t know.  He knew he was living somewhere in the state, but that doesn’t help much when you are searching in the second largest state in the country that boasts more than 268,000 square miles.  Luckily for Alfonso, his son was also trying to find him.  He found him in Austin, TX.

“We are friends now.  I will never be his father to him.”  He is hopeful that they can have a relationship, but it is hard after so many years and so much pain.  “You see, I was living in California and was lost on drugs and alcohol.  Then 15 years ago I received Jesus Christ as my savior.”

Photo: Reed

He is also not in touch with his ex-wife any more.  The last he knew she lived in Monterrey, Mexico.  Maybe I could try to find her like I am trying to find Victor’s mother from Day 139. 

He seems happy to be here.  “Arlington is nicer than Dallas,” he says.  “There is less crime here.” 

Despite a nice relaxing conversation, I could feel that he needed to get on his way.  He needed to earn his daily wages and the ice-cream would not stay cold forever.  I asked him what he would do with the $10 and he softly replied that he would save it. 

We exchanged telephone numbers and I got back in my car.  Alfonso returned to his position behind the cart and started to push it the remaining 30 yards to the intersection.  The bells began to sing again.

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Last week I found out that Woman’s World Magazine is doing a story on the Year of Giving.  The article will be in the July 19th issue which hits newsstands the week of July 8th.  I will post something here when we get closer to the date.  The reason I mention this is because last Friday they sent a photographer to take some photos of me giving away my $10. 

It was a pretty day and I suggested to Pete, the photographer, that we walk up to Dupont Circle.  After arriving, I took some time surveying the potential recipients and found a woman sitting on the grass playing with her daughter.  Perfect!

I walked over to Cecilia and explained what I was doing and asked if she would participate.  She agreed but mentioned that she might have some difficulties answering some of the questions because as Spanish was her first language.  I offered to do the interview in Spanish and she said that that would be more comfortable.  Her daughter Emilia was full of energy and a bit awestruck by the attention, especially the camera!

Pete deftly maneuvered around us as we spoke, capturing the scene unfold on his Nikon D300. 

Cecilia and Emilia (Photo: Reed)

Cecilia and her family moved here for her husband’s job18 months ago.  A teacher back in her native Chile, Cecilia has had to adjust to a lot of new things here in the US.  As she is not working while they are here, she has had the opportunity to dedicate the majority of her time to five-year-old Emilia and her nine-year-old brother Santiago.  Additionally she has been taking English classes and learning to cook. 

Cecilia spoke to me on camera about some of the challenges that living abroad has presented.  Besides learning a new language, culture, and city, Cecilia shared that being far away from their family has not been easy.  Family serves as our support network in multiple ways.  Luckily technology helps minimize that void.  I noticed how technology impacted communication from the time I lived in Mexico as an exchange student in 1990 to when I lived in Brazil four years ago.  In 1990 I would only call and speak to my family once or twice per month because of how expensive it was.  Going back just a few years though, it was not unusual for me to talk to my family several times a week while living in Sao Paulo.  Tools like email, Skype, more economically priced long distance service, etc. helped reduce the miles between us.

This video clip of some of my conversation with Cecilia is in Spanish…hopefully this will be an interesting new element to the blog for Spanish-speakers who are following the Year of Giving.  And for those who don’t speak Spanish, you might enjoy watching it just to see how playful and happy little Emilia is.  

As for the $10, Cecilia shares on the video that “the $10 will travel with me to Chile.”  She plans to go next month and will donate the money to the relief efforts for the recent earthquakes there.  Thankfully her family and friends are all ok and only suffered minor inconveniences.

On a different note, I want to take this opportunity to share with you some exciting news about me and the Year of Giving.  As you know I have been searching for work.  I have some good news on this front.  No, I didn’t find a job…but I did secure a small consulting project in Manizales, Colombia.  Next week I will travel there and spend ten days in the heart of Colombia’s coffee-belt working with a nonprofit foundation with their role in helping the region meet the Ministry of Education’s goal of being a truly bilingual country by 2019!

This is a very exciting opportunity for me and I feel that it will enrich the Year of Giving in many ways as well as change the landscape some and see first-hand how people from another part of the world react to my commitment.  I will of course continue my daily giving and blogging.  More news on this in the coming days!

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Day 76 – Mike D.

Welcome to Mechanicsburg, PA, a suburb of the state capital of Harrisburg and a stone’s throw away form the Three Mile Island – the nuclear facility that suffered a partial core meltdown in a pressurized water reactor almost 31 years ago to the day.

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Mike on his laptop [Photo: Reed

I was walking in the downtown area of Mechanicsburg when I walked by Mike sitting on his front porch using his computer.  It was chilly out but he was enjoying the crisp air.  Mike is 50 years old, father of two girls, and the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.   They are an independent state agency charged with taking steps to reduce and eliminate medical errors by identifying problems and recommending solutions that promote patient safety.

When I asked Mike what he was going to do with the money, he originally said he didn’t know but that it wouldn’t be used for anything for him.  He later got a great idea that no one has mentioned to me yet.  He said he was going to involve his two daughters in the decision and discuss with them what would be appropriate to do with the $10.  I love this idea.  This is an excellent opportunity for Mike to talk with his children about giving.  What do they think about what I am doing?  What do they think they should do with the $10?  Do they do things for others in their daily lives?

Mike agreed to get back to me after he had a chance to discuss this with his girls.  In the meantime, check out some footage of Mike that I shot while we spoke.

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