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Jeff displaying his $10 after the show. And yes, I know. My camera phone sucks. Photo: Reed Sandridge

So last Sunday we did a matinée show. It went really well and we had a good crowd for a Sunday afternoon. Celia Wren from the Washington Post was there and did a very nice review on A Year of Giving – check it out!

So at the show…I gave my $10 away to Jeff M. He’s a program analyst with the government – he told me which (more…)

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge in Washington, D.C.

DSC_0170.jpgSeven years ago Winston Duncan started an amazing organization that would send bicycles to needy individuals in Africa. Now in and of itself this is a tremendous idea and a worthy endeavor, but what makes it extra special is Winston. You see he was only 10 years old when he started this organization. Seven years and four thousand bikes later, he continues on his mission.

I volunteered with Wheels to Africa on December 10th – the final outing of my Year of Volunteering. I arrived in the morning and volunteers were already hard at work receiving bicycles and making adjustments (removing pedals and rotating the handlebars 90 degrees) so that they would stack more efficiently.

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Dixie, Reed and Winston

A good bit taller than me, the 17-year-old is unassuming and quiet. He’s passionate not only about basketball and hanging out with his friends, but also about caring for individuals half way around the world who he has never met and probably never will.

Far outnumbering the adults, I was surprised at how many young people were volunteering. They seemed to have an almost magical feeling of empowerment. Nobody had to tell them what to do – they just stepped up and got the work done. Winston also had a little help from his mom, Dixie, who worked tirelessly on the project. I got to spend some time with her as we rode together up to Kensington, MD to pick up a U-Haul truck full of bikes and bring it back down to the main collection point in Virginia. From behind the wheel of her SUV she kept on working during the 35 minute drive; fielding phone calls from donors wanting information about drop off centers and making calls to volunteer leaders to make sure things were going OK at their respective locations.

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Volunteers put some muscle into getting the pedals off of a donated bike.

Few volunteer opportunities that I have been a part of this year have touched me as much as this one did. The way so many people came together to help Winston in his mission. We worked well into the night; loading bikes from collection centers on to trucks and then driving them to storage centers and unloading them. You gain a new respect for the kind of effort that is required to pull something of this magnitude off.

Exhausted and sore from the day’s work of loading and unloading bikes, Winston laughed and nodded his head when I asked him if he ever wished that he had started a “Harmonicas for Africa” organization instead – it sure would be a lot less heavy lifting and shipping would be a fraction of the cost, but then again I doubt that harmonicas would have as meaningful of an impact on people’s lives.

This year there was no collection point in the District of Columbia and I hope that next year I can help Winston and Dixie establish one. Maybe you will join me? I hope that you check out Wheels-to-Africa’s website and drop by and say hello at next year’s event. In the meantime, Wheels to Africa not only needs your bikes, but they also need your donations to help cover shipping and other related costs to get the bikes to those who need them. So consider making a tax-deductible donation and help Winston fulfill his dream.

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It's not just a guy thing either!

If you would like to see more photographs that I took while volunteering with Wheels to Africa, check out my Flickr account.

Also, I just checked and harmonicas-to-africa.org is still available so if you want to pursue that idea you better hurry!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

Share the Story logoDecember 5th marks the United Nation’s International Volunteer Day – a day where people and communities worldwide come together in service. I agreed to join a group of volunteers from Meridian International Center (you might remember them from Week 36) who were going to plant trees with Washington Parks and People.

On the bus ride over to Oxon Run Park in the Southeast part of our nation’s capital my mind drifted back to the turn of the 19th century to images of Johnny Appleseed leisurely spreading seeds from a small leather pouch as he headed to the new frontier of the Midwest. Well not only is my mental version of Johnny Appleseed historically inaccurate, it couldn’t have been further from the reality that lay ahead.

Along the trickling banks of the stream bearing the park’s name, we were put into small groups and assigned about a half-dozen trees to plant in the lonely green clearing. That’s right, no seeds but 100+ pound baby trees. Each team was led by a graduate of the DC Green Corps – a city-wide program developed by Washington Parks and People that introduces participants to more than 50 different careers in urban forestry through an intensive three-month course.
I am not sure which part is more difficult. Digging the whole to put the trees in or schlepping the trees around. The next morning my forearms hurt so bad from shoveling…that movement that you make to leverage the shovel against the earth burdens muscles that I apparently never use.

DSC_0078.jpgWhen the day was over we had planted 61 trees according to the design plan that the Washington Parks and People staff architected. It took into account aesthetics and purpose – the trees would help keep soil in tact and reduce erosion and excessive runoff that causes flooding during heavy rains. The American sweetgums (liquidambar styraciflua) that I helped plant that day are native to the region and will dazzle local residents with its deep glossy green foliage which give way to beautiful purplish hues in the fall.

Before we left several volunteers named and hugged their trees. Despite being a self-proclaimed treehugger, I didn’t wrap my tired arms around any of my trees. Instead I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of our labor that day and firmly record the new landscape in my mind. I think I will make a pilgrimage to the area each year to find refuge from Washington’s sweltering summer heat and have a picnic in the cool shadows of the sweetgums five-pointed star-shaped leaves.

DSC_0159.jpgPlease consider volunteering with Washington Parks and People and DC Green Corps. You can also make donations to help support their incredible work.

Click here for more photographs from this event.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

One in three children in the United States are overweight or obese.

The CDC reports that since 1980 obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  So what is being done to stop this? Well, some of the most influential stakeholders came together in Washington last month to actively discuss innovative ways to reverse the rising trend of childhood obesity – and guess who volunteered their time at this conference? You guessed it.

photo courtesy of cbs.com

As a chubby kid myself, I have more than just a casual interest in the subject. As a young adult I started to get interested in the food that I ate and how it affected my health. I even had the honor to work for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation a few years ago, one of six founding members of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

At this first of its kind summit I was charged with being a facilitator for a breakout discussion about how the private sector can help reduce current barriers that negatively affect young people’s ability to participate in before and after school activities. Cash-strapped schools generally don’t have the means to provide transportation for students to either arrive earlier or go home later if kids choose to participate in sports and extra curricular activities outside of school hours.

I participated in several preparatory meetings and phone calls, read numerous articles and opinions on the subject and took off work to volunteer at the two-day conference. As it turns out though this is either not really a problem or in fact it is such a conundrum that people truly don’t know where to begin. I say that because only one person out of the more than 700 attendees showed up to the session! “I don’t know much about these challenges and thought this could get me up to speed,” she told me as she sat alone in a sea of chairs that I had formed into a large circle. We decided not to hold the session given the turnout and our brave attendee joined another session.

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My empty breakout session

Besides my rather anticlimactic session, I enjoyed the two-day experience and was particularly energized by the collective expertise and brainpower they managed to bring together. On top of that, there were memorable moments by tantalizing speakers such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Newark, NJ Mayor Corey Booker not to mention an entertaining and educational dinner program which challenged James Beard Award-winning chefs Tom Colicchio, Maria Hines, Holly Smith and Ming Tsai to create dinner meals on a SNAP (food stamp) budget of $10!
To learn more about this event and other resources to help reduce childhood obesity, check out the Partnership for a Healthier America or the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

There’s an overwhelming joy … of sharing what I love and bringing it into the community.

Those words were spoken to me back in the summer of 2010 by Maestro Darrold Hunt, the founder and conductor of the Urban Philharmonic, a nonprofit whose mission it is to take high quality symphonic music normally heard only within the marble walls of prestigious concert halls and introduce it to diverse neighborhoods throughout our community.

Hunt was the 189th recipient of my $10. As I normally do I spent some time speaking with him and learned more about him and the organization he started four decades earlier. I was so touched by the history and potential of the organization that I agreed to take a voluntary role of interim executive director. Despite its rich history, the organization had fallen on hard times. Silenced for several years, they were in debt and missing clear direction.

I spent about one day a week for the next year working to revive the symphony. I recently stepped down from my role and now serve as an advisor – albeit in a much less active way. We succeeded in improving the financial position of the organization tremendously, however, now it is time for a full time executive director to come in and take it to the next level. If you are able to make a donation or know of a dedicated individual who might be able to carry the organization forward, please reach out.

Hunt outside Soho Tea and Coffee on Day 189 of my Year of Giving

To learn more about Maestro Hunt and the Urban Philharmonic click here to watch a short video I shot of him in what became our “office” – Soho Tea and Coffee at the intersection of 22nd and P. If you go in the mornings you will hear some beautiful orchestral music. If you go in the afternoon you very well might run into Maestro Hunt…say hello and tell him I sent you!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

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Registration at Philanthropy Day 2011

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to volunteer at the National Capital Philanthropy Day here in Washington, D.C. It’s an annual celebration of the region’s individuals, nonprofits, volunteers, businesses, and fundraising professionals whose philanthropic contributions have made significant impacts on our community.

On my way over to the JW Marriott, I ran into Bill Davis who was my 100th $10 recipient last year. He was filling the corridors of Metro Center with the beautiful sounds of his alto saxophone.

I arrived at the hotel around 9:00 a.m. – a few minutes early for our scheduled 9:15 arrival time. I grabbed some pastries that were offered for us while waiting to get our assignment for the day. At my table I met some great people who were also volunteering. One of them (and her family!) ended up coming to my farewell party for David! She’s got a great blog too that you should check out.

Anyway, I was asked to be a greeter at one of the hotel entrances. It was an easy enough job but you do get a newfound respect for security guards and hosts who stand all day in the hotel. After a couple of hours it starts to take a toll on your feet.

Another great volunteering experience chalked up! If you know an outstanding individual or group who you believe to be worthy of recognition of their philanthropic efforts, please consider nominating them for your local Philanthropy Day! To find one in your area, check out the Association of Fundraising Professionals website to find your local chapter.

To see more photos from the event, click here.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

Columbus Day weekend delivered quintessential fall weather here in our nation’s capital. Bright sunny days that gave way to stark autumn evenings. And if you walked down Pennsylvania Avenue– just a few short blocks from the White House – you would have smelled the aromas of gourmet food and heard the sounds of live music echoing off the governmental walls that line the street. That’s right; it’s the Taste of D.C. festival.

And after a bowl of Ben’s famous chili or a mouth-watering plate from SÂUÇÁ you might need something cold and refreshing to wash it all down with. Look no further than the Craft Beer & Wine Pavilion. Dozens of craft breweries and wineries were set up to give visitors a taste, literally, of some of the most refined libations around.

I actually worked a shift for Stoudt’s (you might remember them from Day 77 of my Year of Giving) and helped the small craft brewer introduce their brews to the palates of Washington. The beer pavilion is run by a handful of staff from the breweries themselves with the help of a small army of volunteers. Unfortunately that small army was really small and the tent would go through periods where it was severely understaffed. So I decided to go back the next day and help them out. After all a portion of the proceeds went to DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, Luke’s Wings, and the American Red Cross – all really good organizations.

So there I was for another shift, pouring beers and answering questions about the subtleties of the different malt beverages. “Either I’ve had too many or I think I taste something like those little banana flavored Runts candies,” a bearded thirty-something guy told me as he smelled and resampled Stoudt’s Heifer-in-Wheat, a Bavarian style Hefeweizen. Well, he very might be more sober than you think. No, the beer doesn’t have Runts candies, but you get some of that fruit flavor from the German yeast that is used. It’s also got a sweetness about it thanks to a generous amount of malt that goes into the brew. Although not my favorite of their 15 or so beers that they make, on a warm autumn day it’s perfection.

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My year-long journey of volunteering brought me to the podium two weeks ago. As part of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration, Meridian International Center hosted 50 men and women from 50 different countries at their historic mansion in Northwest D.C. for a panel discussion on volunteerism in the United States. I was honored to serve as the moderator for the discussion which featured experts from AmeriCorps NCCC, Youth Service America, Points of Light Institute, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Experience Corps.

It was a terrific discussion. I especially enjoyed the part where we opened the floor up to the 50 attendees to hear some of their comments. All of the participants have influenced the Peace Corps programs and led volunteering efforts in their local communities – so there was at least a couple hundred years of collective volunteer experience represented in the room. After the conference, I was fortunate to be able to speak individually with several members of the delegation. Hearing their personal stories was very moving.

My favorite comment of the day though came from Dave Premo of CNCS. We were talking about engaging young people and he said that they have found that email is no longer effective for that age segment. It’s seems that it still works well for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers but Millennials don’t read it. “You got to use social networking to get their attention,” he said. I laughed – another reminder that I’m getting older.

The full delegation with State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.

The visit, which is part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is very well done. They spend a week in Washington D.C. participating in meetings, cultural exchanges and volunteer projects and then they scatter out across the country to several cities to get an appreciation for regional differences. The program wraps up in Chicago this Saturday.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC.

Happy 4th of July! 

Just beyond the beltway of Washington, DC, Congressional Country Club was selected to host this year’s US Open.  The United States Golf Association, the organizers of the Father’s Day classic, provides concession stands around the course that are manned primarily by volunteers.  In turn, a percentage of the proceeds go toward those organizations that work the stands.

logoHands’sOn Greater DC Cares, the leading mobilizer of volunteers in the Greater DC area, asked for volunteers to help out and raise money for their organization.  I’ve volunteered at several of their service days and always been impressed with them so I was happy to help them out.

Now this may sound like a piece of cake, right?  How hard could selling a few cold beers and hotdogs to a bunch of golf enthusiasts be?  Well, you’re right it isn’t so hard, however it does require a lot of volunteers and a well-coordinated operation to serve the 230,000 attendees.

After parking nearly 40 minutes away and taking a special shuttle to Congressional, I got checked in, tied an apron on and found myself pulling cold drinks and hot food for the cashiers.  After about three hours of this I had to change jobs as my knee was failing me – I tore my meniscus two months ago playing softball.  Anyway, I closed out the rest of the day running the register.

All in all it was a good experience despite the scorching heat and lack of breaks throughout the eight-hour shift.  We were slammed for five to six hours solid.

I have no idea how much Greater DC Cares received – hopefully a healthy amount.

Rory McIlroy holds aloft the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

Rory McIlroy holds aloft the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

Volunteers receive a nice perk – they are free to watch the golf play before and after their shift.  I headed over to the 18th hole with fellow YoG volunteer and former Kindness Investor Maria D.  We watched the golfers wrap up the second to last day of golf at the final hole.  The last pair to putt and wave to the fans was South Korea’s Y.E. Yang and 22–year-old tournament winner Rory McIlroy who set a record with a 16-under finish.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

DSC_0011-2.jpgWell I have fallen two days behind on posting this.  Sorry, but I have been digging out from all of your emails and comments about the Worldwide Day of Giving!  I’ll be doing an update soon on some of the great stories from June 15th.

But for now, I want to share one of the volunteer projects I did on the Worldwide Day of Giving.  I spent six hours volunteering at The IMPACT Summit.  Organized by HandsOn Greater DC Cares, this unique forum convenes leaders from the business, education, government and nonprofit sectors to leverage volunteerism, service and philanthropy to address critical issues facing our community.  I was asked to photograph the event and captured nearly 300 photos throughout the day.

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HandsOn Greater DC Cares President & CEO Dr. Madye Henson (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel around 8am.  A friendly staff member for the event greeted me at the door and explained to me how to find the conference rooms designated for the event – there were several events taking place that day and it took a little searching to arrive at the right spot.

Alicia, my point of contact from HandsOn Greater DC Cares, gave me an overview of the day’s schedule and reviewed some of the key photographs they wanted.  I pulled my Nikon D90 out and connected the 85mm lens that my brother Ryan had let me use.  It’s a great lens by the way to capture quality images without flash.  I also used a few of the other lenses that I have – all but one of them were actually Ryan’s.

I enjoyed this project.  I wish I had been able to focus a little more on the content of sessions.  You obviously know about my strong commitment to volunteering and service, but I am also very much involved in exploring how companies engage their employees in service.  There are so many benefits for the companies, employees and the community, but I find that most corporations are not taking full advantage of the programs they have in place.

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Dr. Henson (left) and Chairperson Matt Mitchell present Jamila Larson of the Homeless Children's Playtime Project with the Community Impact Award. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

The day closed with several awards for exceptional dedication to service by both individuals and organizations.  You can see a list of the amazing nominees and winners here.  I packed up my gear and headed home.  Now the laborious part for dodgy photographers such as myself – editing.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

This post was supposed to be put up yesterday – sorry. I was out volunteering and got behind.

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I captured this image of a fallen soldier being delivered to Arlington Cemetery on a recent return flight to DC.

Yesterday was Memorial Day – a day when we remember those who have served our country. I took some time to think about my family members who have served – most recently my cousin Jonathan and his wife Alex. Thankfully they made it home safely. I then was reminded of Jen B. who I met on Day 362 of my Year of Giving. She lost her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, when his Humvee came under attack in Fallujah in October of 2003. My thoughts go out to her, Todd’s family and all of those who have lost loved ones serving their country.

My first bike ride of the year is something that I look forward to every spring. The mixture of warm sunlight and cool air on my face as I roll by some of our country’s most iconic monuments keeps me sane.

Washington is full of wonderful trails that provide safe riding throughout our nation’s capital. However there is one day each year that gives riders full access to the city and so many of the breathtaking vistas usually reserved only for snapshots out windows of slow moving cars. That day is Bike DC.

I rode in Bike DC last year and even gave my $10 away to another rider. You can read the blog post and watch some video I shot while riding. This year I too was going to ride and then I got the idea that I would volunteer for them.

I was stationed at the Will Call table which was set up on the corner of 3rd and Jefferson, directly west of the US Capitol. Technically I was supposed to be answering questions that the cyclists had, but there was a much greater need to actually check the nearly 4,000 riders in so I started checking them in too. It was impressive. We managed to process every single rider in about 90 minutes.

Crossing the Potomac River (Photo: Charles Hagman)

The event, which costs riders about $35, supports the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA). They represent cyclists’ interest here in DC. I overlook their tired emails and letters because I, like many others here in the area, benefit from their work. Click here to find out how you can support WABA.

After I was done working, I tacked on a rider’s bib and headed out on the course. It’s beautiful and there is something indescribable about riding through such a picturesque city with no cars. My favorite part though is crossing the bridge into Virginia and riding down the GW Parkway! That is pretty cool.

Ghost Bike

Photo by M.V. Jantzen

I started this post off remembering those who have served in the military. In the theme of remembrance, I offer a name to you: Alice Swanson. She died just a block from my home while riding her bike to work in July of 2008. For a long time there was a white bicycle placed at the corner of Connecticut and R Streets as a memorial. Although I never knew Alice, there is not a day that goes by when I walk by that corner that I don’t think about her.

Next Monday I will take you along on a volunteering journey with Yachad DC where we will rebuild some lower income housing near Fort Totten.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

DSC_0008.jpgThe Year of Giving transitioned from a blog to a social movement a few months into my year-long journey in 2010 and all of a sudden I was thrust into the space of social media.  Given my background, I figured I would be a good volunteer for the DC Social Media Summit.  I spent four years organizing and producing events and conferences in addition to my experience navigating the ever-changing field of social media.  Sounds like a perfect match right?

The event was produced by the Center for Nonprofit Success, a nonprofit registered under the name Mediate Facilitate Inc.  This is the second time I have volunteered with this organization.  The first time was back in Week 7.  It’s an interesting organization.  Part of me really loves the concept.  They run conferences around theUS with no onsite staff.  That’s right.  Every single person working at the conference is a volunteer.  That’s amazing!

DSC_0084.jpgDespite the fact that I think our small team of volunteers managed to make the best of the situation we were presented with, it was not easy.  We were missing guidance, information, tools, etc.  Attendees seemed frustrated with our lack of information and less than organized demeanor.  It got so bad at one point that some of the volunteers contemplated walking out during the middle of the conference.  Thankfully the content of the sessions was quite good.  The organizer managed to secure some really talented speakers who dazzled the couple hundred attendees.

Although I did say that I was impressed that such an organization exists and puts on conferences all around the country with just volunteers staffing the events, I don’t think this is the best model.  I believe there should be at least one employee at each event from start to finish to manage the conference.  I think that would help in a variety of ways as well as help create the culture of the volunteer staff.

DSC_0082.jpgI did some research on this organization.  The math is just not adding up for me.  For a nonprofit that has such a skeleton staff that onsite management is done completely by volunteers, I have to wonder where all their revenue goes?  There were no handouts to give to attendees – they were asked to print them themselves along with their name badges.  The speakers were also donating their time and not compensated for their appearance or travel expenses.  So I was left with more questions than answers.

I did get to meet some interesting people who were volunteering with me and got to see a few minutes of one of the presentations which I found very interesting.  Having said that, I don’t think I will volunteer with this organization again.

Click here to see more of the photographs that I took during the event.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC.

HandsOn Network is a very impressive organization.  As the volunteer-focused arm of Points of Light Institute, they claim to be the largest volunteer network in the nation comprised of more than 250 HandsOn Action Centers in 16 countries.  Where these guys really get traction is by digging into their more than 70,000 corporate, faith and nonprofit organizations that have stepped up to the plate to help create meaningful change in their communities.  The latest figure I saw was that last year they racked up some 30 million volunteer hours.  That represents over $600 million worth of services that nonprofits and government entities didn’t need to spend.  That’s pretty awesome.

logoI have a connection with HandsOn Network.  You see I’ve been volunteering for a while with their local Action Center here in DC: Greater DC Cares.  I recently participated in Servathon and on the MLK Service Day.  I’m also building a team for their 9/11 Day of Service.

HandsOn Network mobilizes people who want to do good.  That is the hard part.  All of us want to do good things, however, moving individuals to act is often the barrier.  We have so many other parts of our lives that are pulling at us.  But it can be done.

Log on to HandsOn Network today and find a local Action Center near you.  There’s more than 250 of them so there is a good chance there is one near you!  And for those of you in Oconomowoc, WI, yes, even you have one near you…just down the road in Waukesha!

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Me volunteering at MLK Service Day in January.

By the way, HandsOn Network and the Points of Light Institute (along with the Corporation for National and Community Service) are part of the driving force behind the National Conference on Volunteering and Service that will be held in New Orleans June 6-8.  If you are passionate about volunteering, find a way to make it to the Superbowl of Volunteering and give me a shout…I’d be happy to meet up.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

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

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

Some DC volunteers with One Brick help out Books to Prisoners

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop reading this and go sign up!

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San Francisco General

Photo: Troy Holden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the Highway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Sister's House facility.

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

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

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Nearly New Shop storefront

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

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Jackie, Reed and Audra at the Nearly New Shop.

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

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

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

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

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By Reed Sandridge, a Kindness Investor and Founder of Year of Giving.

Matt out of costume (courtesy of Faction of Fools)

I thought I would catch you up on a former recipient: Matt from Day 250.  Although I met up with him in February, it somehow seemed appropriate to share this update with you this week since two days ago marked the Ides of March and you might recall Matt was portraying William Shakespeare when I originally met him at an arts festival for children back in August of 2010.

My recent encounter with Matt was at a fundraiser he was throwing to try to raise money for his nonprofit theatre company called Faction of Fools, which focuses on Commedia delle’Arte.  Commedia del what?  It’s a genre of theatre characterized by its use of masks, improvisation, physical comedy, and recognizable character types – all characters are based off of four specific types of characters.  You can find more information here.

As I walked in the door of the Gala Carnavale I was greeted by one of the characters who announced in a thunderous voice to all the other guests, “Welcome Lord Sandridge.”  I thought I was special for about a minute when the front door opened and two more people came in and their names were also proudly announced as well.  I was fitted with a mask and then saw Matt, who was wearing a suit instead of a costume.  I took off my mask to say hello.  He looked a little tired which is reasonable right?  He’s been working his but off to pull this event together.

And it was not only going on here in Washington, but all over the world.  February 25th is Commedia delle’Arte day.  What the heck is that you might ask? Well, “It’s the ‘birthday’ of professional theatre,” Matt explained.  “On February 25, 1545, a troupe under the leadership of Ser Maphio signed the first contract of theatrical incorporation in Padua, Italy.”

“For the first time in history there are celebrations on every continent,” he shared with a glowing smile.  Yep, even the winter-over crew of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica was also hosting a celebration.  Matt had been busy!

That's Matt under that mask performing The Great One-Man Commedia Epic

The evening was a huge success.  There were some amazing items to bid on in the silent auction, delicious food and drink and of course, a sampling of theatrical pieces that they have been performing.  I tried pretty hard to get some of the items in the silent auction, but I ended up getting outbid.

For those of you in DC, keep a look out for Faction of Fools.  Their performances are a lot of fun.  As I was writing this up I saw that Matt is doing his signature piece, The Great One-Man Commedia Epic, this Sunday at The Corner Store.  It’s pretty wild.  Matt plays all 12 characters!

Oh, I almost forgot.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Be careful if you are out and about tonight.  It’s amateur drinking night.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when our newest Kindness Investor, Sibyl from Brentwood, TN, starts her seven days of giving.

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Thanks for those of you who have reached out to become Kindness Investors!  The next few weeks are certain to be exciting!

As you know, I dedicate every Monday’s blog post to my weekly volunteer experiences.  I recently stumbled upon an interesting organization called the Center for Nonprofit Success (CFNPS) whose mission is to provide the training, knowledge and resources to help nonprofit organizations succeed.  I thought this would be an excellent group to help out.

DSC_0001.jpgCFNPS holds monthly seminars on a variety of topics salient to the success of nonprofits.  Volunteers are utilized to help produce the events and I applied and was accepted to help with a session titled, “Strategic Alliances 101.”

I showed up at 7:30am as requested and searched for someone from CFNPS.  I was surprised not to find anyone.  There was one woman who seemed to be managing everything but she told me that she didn’t work for CFNPS and in fact was a volunteer herself.  “I’ve volunteered one other time with them,” she told me.

“So who is from CFNPS,” I asked a few of the other volunteers.

Nobody seemed to know based on the silence and shoulder shrugs.  As it turns out there was nobody there from the organization.  They rely completely on volunteers.  Part of me loves this model, the other part realizes that there were some downfalls as a result.  None of us really knew anything about the organization and were unable to answer questions from the attendees.

My name tag from the seminar

Anyway, I got to work organizing the registration desk and welcoming attendees.  It went rather smoothly thanks to the great team of volunteers.  The room completely filled up, I’m guessing there were about 50 attendees.  There were four speakers and the program got started just a few minutes after the 8:00am schedule start time.  Although I thought the speakers were good and quite knowledgeable about their respective areas of expertise, I didn’t think they really addressed the topic that was listed in the program:

This Session will explore:
-How to know if a Strategic Alliance will benefit your organization
-The different kinds of alliances and partnerships and how nonprofits can benefit from them
– A step by step guide to setting up a partnership
-Identifying suitable partners
– Common mistakes to avoid with your strategic partner
– How to evaluate whether your alliance is producing a return on investment

You will leave this session with a full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.

The four presenters spoke almost exclusively about fundraising.  After the second speaker, a few of the attendees began to ask me if they were at the right session.  I assured them they were, however, I too noticed that the presentations didn’t seem to address the topics above and certainly didn’t give someone a “full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.”  One attendee was really bothered and complained that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to attend, not to mention had paid $100 to participate.  “This is a waste of time,” he said as he packed up his items and just left.

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All in all it was an interesting experience.  I actually got something out of the presentations since I am involved in fundraising in my profession, however, it was clear that many of the attendees found themselves utterly confused with the incongruence between the description and presentations.

CFNPS holds seminars in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattleand Washington, DC.  Click here for a calendar of upcoming events.

Next Monday I will be sharing with you my experience volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen!  Stay tuned.

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Day 37 – Aki R.

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

 

Photo: Richard Fitoussi

Today I visited the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center which was established in 1997 by former Khmer Rouge child soldier turned de-miner, Aki Ra. The original museum displayed his collection of landmines, bombs and other UXO material that Aki Ra cleared from around the country since the end of the war. In 2001, a Canadian relief organization partnered with Aki Ra to create the CLMMRF NGO that was able to construct a new museum for his growing collection of decommissioned weapons as well as a relief facility for dozens of children affected by landmines, poverty and physical handicaps.

 

All museum donations go directly to support and educate the children who now call the museum home. Aki Ra says, “I want to make my country safe for my people.”

 

The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center

Check out this trailer for a movie about Aki and his life as a child soldier and his work now which has resulted in the removal of more than 50,000 mines – many of which he probably planted himself.

 

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

Picture from Big Heart Project in Cambodia

While on a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, I met a young woman named Kathleen from Australia.  She was a fundraiser for an organization called Big Heart Project.  The purpose of their existence is to identify communities and individuals who are living in conditions where basic necessities are scarce, opportunities are limited and many freedoms are inhibited, they then dedicate their time to educate these communities in a holistic way.  The main focus is to prevent children from entering prostitution and situations of slavery and abuse in the first place.  Where they can, they also rescue, rehabilitate, care for and educate girls leaving child prostitution and sexual slavery.

I gave my daily gift to Kathleen who had come to Cambodia to deliver funds that she had collected for the purpose of purchasing land and building an orphanage in Phnom Penh.  They need about $13,000.00 USD for the land and another $20,000 for the building.  Hopefully my gift helped her meet her goal in some small way.

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Gary, like Kristen from Day 346 who also works for CVS, donated his $10 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Today I was in CVS and saw Gary S. the manager at my local CVS stocking shelves.  Gary always has a very enthusiastic attitude toward his job.  As I walked toward him he greeted me with his normal warm and enthusiastic hello.

I told him about the project which he thought was amazing and accepted the $10.  He said he was going to donate the money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital because it’s a charity that CVS is very passionate about.

Gary has worked as a Manager at CVS since April 2010.  Before working for CVS he spent 30 years working for Taco Bell as Manager, District Manager and at the end of his term he was a franchisee co-owner for 12 Taco Bells.

He retired and spent a few years enjoying retirement life and decided retirement wasn’t for him.  He was going stir crazy, plus he needed healthcare.

He loves his job because he is involved in both the retail portion as well as the pharmaceutical portion of the business.  He also loves the customers and how passionate they are for the company.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Today's recipient Kathy gets a hug from one of the wolves. (photo: Melinda T.)

Today I went with friends to view the wolves at Wolf Creek Habitat in Brookville, Indiana.  Upon arriving I was greeted with a hug from Kathy who is one of the caregivers for the wolves.  I explained the project to Kathy and she accepted the $10 and walked right over to the donation box with it.

 

Kathy was kind and passionate about educating people old and young about wolves.    They have a couple of packs of wolves that were either rescued or have been breed at the center.  We got to go in the area of two different packs.

One pack was still young about 8 months old and was bottle feed by human since they were ten days old.   They were not afraid of people and would come up to you.  The other pack was not bottle fed and they stayed further away but were still beautiful to watch.  At one time the habitat had a few rescue wolves that were bred with malamutes.  Kathy recommended staying away from these breeds as she feels you get the worst of each breed and they are not ideal pets like some think.

 

Photo: Melinda T.

 

The habitat gets their feeding meat from a butcher that processes deer meat.  This benefits both the habitat and the butcher since the butcher normally would have to pay to dispose the carcass and the habitat gets free food.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Photo: Melinda T.

A few days ago while speaking with Reed on the phone I was telling him about my dog Max being a Therapy Dog.  Later that day Reed saw a news story about a service dog that helps an autistic child.  The dog was trained through a group called 4 Paws for Ability.  Very ironic because 4 Paws for Ability is located in Xenia, Ohio where I’m currently living.  Reed had no idea of this at the time.

I’ve lived in Xenia for almost a year and a half, drove past  4 Paws for Ability several times but never actually stopped to check it out.  I decided I should head over to 4 Paws for Ability and donate $10 to a volunteer there.  I gave the money to Charlene who in turn donated the money to 4 Paws for Ability.

Connor says hello to Melinda. (Photo: Melinda T.)

Charlene showed me around the facility and introduced me to quite a few dogs.   In total 4 Paws for Ability has 200 dogs but they are not all living at the facility.  Some of the dogs live at a Correctional Facility where the inmates there train the dogs, other dogs are living with foster families.  75% of the dogs at 4 Paws for Ability are rescued from animal shelters, I thought this was just amazing.  After working with the dogs if a dog just doesn’t seem like it will be a good service dog they place the dogs on PetFinder.com.  All dogs placed on Pet Finder have went through extensive obedience training so you get a fully trained dog.

4 Paws for Ability has designed the inside of the facility to resemble a home.  They have an area in the facility which is set up like the living room in your home.  This area has toys, television with video games and a computer.  The area is somewhat barricaded and was designed for children who are getting a service dog to be able to spend a day in a home like setting with just them and the dog as the parents view the interactions from outside the area.

Outside the building is a 2 acre area which is sectioned off into different yard type areas for the dogs to play.  Outside I was greeted by Connor who is currently going through training.  Connor was playing in the area which was made up to look like a typical backyard area with swings and play-sets.  During the warmer months the children can spend time outside interacting with the dog.

4 Paws for Ability play area (photo: Melinda T.)

If it weren’t for participating in the week of giving I may have never walked into 4 Paws for Ability.  Thanks to this opportunity I may have just found an additional opportunity to volunteer.

4Paws for Ability has ongoing needs for donations.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Day 4 – Mike

Mike with Melinda's dog Max at Lowe's. (photo: Melinda T.)

The Lowe’s in our area allow well-behaved dogs in the store so today I was doing some shopping with my dog Max.  Max was dressed as Santa Claus and enjoyed the extra attention.

He is a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International and has put in many hours at Summit Academy in Xenia, Ohio.  The students there take turns reading stories to him.

As we walked in the store, Max was greeted by many workers but was also greeted with a hug by a young boy whom attends Summit Academy and has read many stories to Max.  Walking through the store we met a man that worked at Lowe’s named Mike.  He went to Max and was petting him and I decided this is the man my $10 will go to today.

I explained to Mike the project I was working on and he was totally blown away.  I love seeing the reactions of people when I tell them what I’m doing.  Mike gave me the biggest hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “God will surely bless you.”  Mike wasn’t sure exactly where the money was going to go but spoke about how he buys one lottery ticket each week so he may use the money for that.

Max hard at work at Summit Academy. (photo: Melinda T.)

As I was walking away I heard Mike say to another man in the area, “that was totally unexpected.”  It’s the unexpected reaction of people that makes this so rewarding.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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It’s Christmas eve and I am in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking and baking.  From a chocolate chess pie to cranberry chutney to marinated mushroom crescents…it was a food-centric day.  I might have also started a new tradition of mojitos on Christmas Eve.  They were crowd pleaser.

By the way, I have found a few Kindness Investors for this year already, but I am still looking for unemployed people to give away $10 for a week.  If you or someone you know wants to give it a try, send me a message.  Keep a look out by the end of next week for blogs coming from Melinda from Ohio, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

I found my recipient on Day 356 around 11:00pm after I dropped off an electric blanket that  Michelle from North Carolina sent for Bill M. of Day 330.  He was very appreciative and even worried about using the electricity from the bank where he sleeps without checking with them first.  I left and trudged out in the cold windy night looking for a new recipient of my ten dollars.

I first found Sean who was running east on Pennsylvania Avenue to his car which was parked on Pennsylvania.  He was probably running because it was below 30 degrees and he wasn’t wearing a coat.  “I’m a giving person and I just couldn’t take your money,” the tall twenty-something guy told me.  So, I scanned the dark silent streets for someone else until I spotted Alberto crossing 20th Street toward me.

Alberto holding his ten dollars.

Originally from South Africa, he’s been here for two months and works for a large NGO.  “I like DC,” he says as my bare hand stiffens up from the December air as I scribble in my Moleskine notebook.  “I’ve enjoyed it here.  I have even been to a Redskins game; they lost though.”  Well that is no surprise.

We didn’t talk much.  The frigid temperature made it tempting to us both to wrap things up quickly.  I did manage to ask him a couple quick questions; one of which led to a surprising response from the South African.  I asked him if there was anything unique about him.  “Well,” the 31-year-old said pausing slightly, “I like to wear a heart monitor when I’m having sex.”  I didn’t quite no what to say.  “It makes sex kind of kinky,” he shared.  I got to tell you that I had a million questions racing through my mind when I heard this.  Forget the obvious of questions of why someone would do this, but what about how you would explain this to your partner.  “I usually introduce this when I come home from the gym,” Alberto says.  “Then it seems like it is just kind of a spontaneous thing that happens.”  I wonder if he leaves the beeping noise on?  And if you were wondering, yes, sometimes he convinces his partner to wear one too…then there would be lots of beeping going on.

Well, this was certainly an interesting meeting.  If you asked me to name 10,000 things that tonight’s recipient might tell me I can guarantee you that “wearing a heart monitor during sex” would not have been one of them.  This guy should be a sponsor for Polar or Timex.

His $10 didn’t go toward a new heart monitor.  Instead he said he would use the ten spot to buy someone else some coffee this coming week.  I’m sure that will be greatly appreciated now that the temperature is venturing less and less above the freezing point.  We said goodbye and I hurried across the avenue and practically dove into my refrigerated car.

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A man tucks a $5 bill into the donation kettle.

How many times have you walked by the Salvation Army bell-ringer in your lifetime?  Probably hundreds.  How many times have you stopped to make a donation?  Probably a fraction of those times if you are like most people.  Have you ever stopped to speak to the bell-ringer? Well, I did and met Daniel.

 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Daniel moved to Colorado Springs for middle and high school before moving to DC.  Now 17, he is a youth pastor here in our nation’s capital and is studying to get his associates degree in legal affairs at the University of the District of Colombia.  If all this wasn’t enough to make him one heck of an interesting recipient, check out his voice.  That’s definitely what caught my eye, err…ear I guess, when I walked by him on 12th Street.

He accepted my two five dollar bills and put them right into the bright red tub next to him.  “Nobody’s gonna to steal my bucket,” Daniel told me in response to a news report that I shared with him about a bucket being stolen from a bell-ringer in Arlington, TX earlier in the week.  “I’m a good Christian, but if somebody tries to steal my bucket I’m gonna get’em,” he tells me with a deafening smile.

 

Daniel sings holiday songs for hours while he volunteers with the Salvation Army.

“I’ve been doing this since the sixth grade,” he says while continuing the melodic ringing of the shiny silver bell.  “I do it every day and people seem to really enjoy the singing.”  I have to agree with Daniel.  I saw probably a dozen people putting money into the kettle.  “There’s been a lot of fives going in today,” Daniel said.  “It’s gonna be a good day!”  If you haven’t already heard Daniel’s singing and made a donation to the Salvation Army, he’ll be there until 11pm tomorrow night, so if you are in DC, head down to 12th and G Streets and say hello to Daniel and make a donation.

 

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Are you unemployed and want something inspiring to do for the next seven days?  Well, I have a solution for you!  Become a Kindness Investor and give $10 away every day to a new stranger for a week and then share your experiences here on the Year of Giving. I need someone to start tomorrow!!! So please email me today if you or someone you know are up for this amazing experience.

1417 22nd Street Northwest Washington D.C., DC 20037 - (202) 835-2665

On Day 353 I went over to Books for America, a great nonprofit bookstore that I have frequented for several years.  As I was purchasing the book I decided to give my money $10 to someone working there.  Two of the clerks that I mentioned it to both pointed toward a guy slouched down behind a computer off to the side of the register.  “He could certainly use the cash,” one of the clerks said pointing toward Adam who had by now stood up and made his way over to the counter.

I gave him the $10 and he thanked me and said, “I can definitely use it.”  I asked if I could jot down a couple of notes and he invited me outside to talk to him while he smoked a cigarette.

Adam grew up in Maine and attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.  “I studied Liberal Arts – what do you do with that?” he rhetorically asked.  Well, he ended up working at Books for America and told me, “This is the best job ever.”  Adam picks up donations of books around the city and brings them to the store where they are resold at lower than market prices.

“I one time went to pick up some books from this lady’s house and when I got there she was so upset about parting with her books that in the end I recommend that she hold on to them and think about,” Adam told me.  “I mean, books can mean a lot to people and I want the person to be comfortable with the donation, otherwise it’s not good for them or us.”  I don’t recall if the woman ever called back for Adam to get the books or not.

Adam, who is very thankful to be employed now told me, “The thing that really sucks about being unemployed is having to tell your friends and people from high school that you are ‘in between jobs’ when they ask what you are doing.”  This never really bothered me when I was out of work, but I know a lot of people have shared this same comment with me.

Adam shared an amazing personal story of giving with me.  When he was in high school he and some buddies decided to buy some strangers breakfast.  Their simple altruistic act of kindness lived on for years without them knowing it; until recently when he happened to be visiting one of the same friends that was with him that morning and they received a very unexpected phone call.  Check out the entire story…

My favorite part of his story is, “Her gratitude was so much greater than our generosity in the moment.”  That is beautiful.  It just goes to show you that sometimes the little things you do mean a lot more to others around you.

By the way, the 28-year-old’s ten dollars are going to be handed to a bartender at the Big Hunt in exchange for a few “Bad Ass Amber beers.”

Adam and his ten dollars

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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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A few weeks ago I headed up to Greenbelt, Maryland to see a musical dinner theatre performance of The Sound of Music.  It was held at the MAD Theater which is actually a special interest club at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center devoted to the theatrical arts and supported by the Goddard Employees Welfare Association.  My friend Jill was playing the role of the Baroness Elsa Schraeder. 

So the directions had me going through rural Maryland and at one point making a left onto a dusty gravel road where I was greeted by a police officer.

Officer: Good evening.  Can I help you?

Me: Uh, I am looking for the MAD Theater, we’re going to see a musical.

Officer: A musical? 

Me: Yes, The Sound of Music.

Officer: Do you have a ticket or something?

Me: Yes sir…here you go (showing him the form I printed out).

Officer: Of course, just pull up about 100 feet and you can park anywhere you find parking.  Enjoy the show.

I guess it’s due to security but he didn’t act like he knew anything about the show until I actually produced the ticket and then he let us in where we found a hundred other cars.

Anyway, it’s a really neat place and I enjoyed the show.  The entire staff is volunteer and two of them were Gayle and Andrew.  I actually met Andrew first as he was waiting on our table.  “Oh I couldn’t accept your $10, I am volunteering,” he told me at first but then said, “but maybe my wife will do this!”  He promised to talk to her and then sure enough came back with her a little bit later.

I asked them how long they had been married.  “How long have we been married or how long have we been happily married,” Andrew shot back at me causing Gayle to roll her eyes and laugh.  “28 years,” she said smiling.

Gayle is a travel agent and Andrew is a meteorologist.  “If you want to go on a trip,” Andrew began, “I can give you the forecast and she can book the trip!”  That’s a pretty good combination don’t you think?  I gave each of them $5 so that they could each chose what they wanted to do with the money.  Gayle said that she was going to donate her five bucks to the Prince George’s Little Theatre.  I looked at Andrew and he just handed his money over to Gayle making it a ten-dollar donation.

They were quite busy so I let them get back to work.  They were really nice and I am always happy to support community theatre!

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