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

Before we get started with today’s volunteer experience, I want to remind you that today is the United Nation’s International Volunteer Day. I’m teaming up with Meridian International, Washington Parks and People and DC Green Corps to plant 61 trees in Oxon Run Park located in Southeast D.C. If you don’t have a volunteer project scheduled for today, make a commitment to volunteer at least once before the end of the year.

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A group crosses the finish line together

Now close your eyes and imagine this. It’s a  chilly October morning and you and your friends are gathered at ski resort getting ready to run a ten-mile course peppered with 25 insane obstacles that I probably wouldn’t want to do by themselves, much less after I’ve been running for hours.

To quote their website, “Tough Mudder is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race. It’s Ironman meets Burning Man.” I’m not sure that’s how I would describe this extreme race designed by an ex British Special Forces commando, but it is not for the week at heart.

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A woman collapses as her body absorbs some 10,000 volts as she tries to navigate the dreaded electrical guantlet.

The sunlight  breaks through the trees while rumors of daunting tasks such as traversing logs floating in freezing pools of water and sprinting through a gauntlet of live electrical wires, some of which are charged with more than 10,000 volts, circulate amongst the participants. I’m just thankful that I am not actually running this race. That’s right, I’m volunteering in this madness.

The event, one of a series of international races that Tough Mudder puts on, is being held at Wintergreen Ski Resort nestled in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia. I drove down the night before in stayed at the Acorn Inn – a wonderful European style inn run by Kathy and Martin, charming hosts who make you feel like you never want to leave.

I spent my day of service primarily at the finish line – watching exhausted participants triumphantly complete their mission. We handed out fruit and energy bars as well as water and sports drinks to the dazed athletes who wandered around trying to recover. Those who finished also were awarded a t-shirt and a free beer sponsored by Dos Equis.

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Tattoos and mohawks are free to particpants.

In addition to the race, several other Tough Mudder related activities were going on. You could get a mohawk style haircut or a mullet, have the Tough Mudder logo tattooed on your body or donate your mud encased shoes to charity. The haircuts and tattoos are free too!

“It’s all for a good cause,” said one exhausted racer who had driven up from North Carolina the night before, “the money goes to help the Wounded Warrior Project.” Well, that is partly true. Some money, nearly $2 million to date, does benefit the charity – and that’s the reason I agreed to volunteer. But as I handed out bananas to weary runners my mind raced off to calculate how much money these guys are making on all of this craziness. Let’s just say they are doing quite well – and I am totally ok with for profit companies doing well while also doing good. The business is so going so well that next year they will double the number of Tough Mudders.

I captured LOTS of images from the event – some of them show the euphoria of crossing the finish line – others show near defeat as the race begins to take its toll. I also got a few good shots of some brave souls who got tattoosmohawks, and mullets. You can check out all of my photographs from the weekend here.

DSC_0127.jpgIf you think you are Tough Mudder material – check out their website for an event near you! They have races in North America, Europe,Japan and Australia – chances are there is one near you!

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

Dwayne (left) with his stepfather Jonathan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tomas does a little dance in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue.

I couldn’t dream up some of the people that I come across.  Today, I ran across Thomas Jefferson, one of the four Washington Nationals’ mascots!  It was ironic, because the day before I had reached out to the National’s organization to ask for a donation item for the year-end celebration raffle.  By the way, they came through on that and generously donated an autographed baseball by outfield slugger Josh Willingham.  

Jefferson, whose jersey bears the name “Tomas”, wears the number three which corresponds to him being the third president of the United States.  I am not sure why he doesn’t have an “h” in the spelling of his name.  Anyway, he was in front of the Chipotle in Dupont handing out some flyers about the Nationals’ holiday promotion where you buy three games for about the price of two games, including tickets to opening day, and get a free Nationals ornament – pretty decent package.  I got to about ten games this past season and even gave my $10 away at about six or seven of them.  I already have 2011 opening day on my calendar; I haven’t missed it in the past four years.

Communication was limited to head nods and hand gestures as Tomas was unable to speak.  He was pretty good at it too.  If you need a charades partner, he’s your man.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he rubbed his belly.  “Food,” I asked and he rocked his enormous head back and forth.  Then he made a gesture like he was freezing cold.  Or maybe he was going to use it to buy some clothes.  Well, to be fair he was probably freezing cold.  He was wearing shorts and it was about 30 degrees.  Note to Nationals administration: Please get this guy some warmer clothes.

For those of you who have been to a game know that the four presidents whose images appear on Mount Rushmore (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt) have a race every home game from center field to the

Me and Tomas near Dupont Circle.

Nationals dugout.  Tomas is in second place overall since the inception of the race with 97 wins.  Despite having the second best record, he has never finished any single season in first place.  But then again, he’s doing better than poor Teddy who has never won a race.  Let Teddy Win!

We said goodbye and Tomas gave me a high-five.  I hoped that he would come to my year-end celebration, but to my knowledge he was not there.  Then again, without his costume I probably wouldn’t have recognized him!

Let’s go Nats!

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Yesterday evening was Day 365 of my Year of Giving.  It was absolutely brilliant.  It was so good to see so many past recipients of my $10 joined by blog followers, family and friends.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening.  If you want to get a taste of how the evening went, check out this awesome segment that ran on ABC-7 here in DC.  More to come on this when I write up the blog post for Day 365.

I hope I look as good as Margie does when I'm 65!

Now, let me take you back 17 days to a cold November 28th.  My brother Ryan invited me to be his guest at a Washington Capitals game.  It was there that I met Margie while she checked the tickets of the fans who entered the 200 level concourse. 

Margie, an usher at the arena for the past nine years, works all kinds of events.  “At first I didn’t care for hockey because I didn’t understand it, but I’ve learned some of the rules and things and now I’d probably say that it’s my favorite.”

A DC native, Margie and has four children and five grandchildren!  I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had worked in the nursing and healthcare field for most of her life as she is clearly a caring person.  She provided home healthcare for both children and adults; helping them bath, get dressed, cook, grocery shop, etc.  “I love helping people,” Margie said, “I’m a people person.” 

We laughed a lot.

She told me that this has been a difficult year for her.  “I’ve been having kidney and liver problems,” sounding positive despite the unfortunate circumstances.  She’s on several medications and hopes that her situation starts to improve soon.  It would be completely reasonable for her to use the $10 to help pay for the medications that she needs, but she decided to pass it on to someone who needs it more than she does; one of Margie’s daughters has a foster child who is expecting a baby.  As she looked down at the ten-dollar bill in her hand she said, “I know she could use the money.” 

I gave her a big hug before I left.  I look forward to seeing her again the next time I am at the Verizon Center.

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This post is a little out of order, but I will get caught up on the ones I skipped by this weekend.  I am getting behind doing my day jobs, planning for the Year of Giving Celebration next Tuesday, giving my daily $10 away and planning the next year’s commitment!  Trying to sleep now and then too!

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I took my father to see a Hershey Bears hockey match.  I would often go to the games as a child with my Boy Scout troop.  I used to enjoy them, but this time I didn’t really enjoy it.  Partly I think because the people that sat around us were loud and obnoxious the entire game.  The other factor was that it became pretty clear that the fans showed up more for the fights than they did the hockey. 

The Bears easily won 4-0.  The nearly 10,000 fans packed into the Giant Center Arena would celebrate after each goal however if you really wanted to see cheering all you had to do was wait until somebody started punching his opponent in the face.  “I want to see somebody bleeding on the ice,” a fan who was behind us said casually. 

I’ve been to many Washington Capitals games and have not felt this same blood and guts mentality.  Anyway, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

After the game I suggested to my dad that we hang out inside the arena for a while since getting out of the parking lot was sure to be an abysmal experience.  He and I walked down a little bit to the area where wheel chairs are allowed and saw two older men chatting away.  At the first opportunity I inserted myself into the conversation and explained my mission.

George, a man probably in his late 60s or early 70s with cotton-like flowing beard, told me he wouldn’t accept the ten dollars.  “I don’t know why,” he started “just because.”  I turned to his friend Melvin and asked him the same question and got this response, “Well, I don’t know either, but if that is what you want to do than I guess I’m OK with it.”

It was incredibly hard to hear Melvin.  The acoustics were funky where we were standing and he was a bit of a soft talker so I feel like I got about 70% of the story.  The 73-year-old from nearby Campbelltown, PA told me that he’s retired from the transportation business.  “I loaded and unloaded the trucks,” he said just loud enough that I could hear him.  He also was a volunteer fireman for many years.

Giant Center Arena

To his left there was a metallic cane that leaned against the railing.  “I broke my pelvic bone,” Melvin shared.  “I did it right after a game here come to think about it.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if he fell trying to get through the aisles.  The aisles are so thin that you can barely squeeze in and out of the aisles.  I nearly dropped a platter of chicken tenders, french fries, ketchup and beer all over the row in front of me because I could barely get by some women in our row.  Not to mention that I too probably would have landed on their heads.  It’s possibly the most poorly designed, not to mention dangerous, seating area that I have ever seen.

Anyway, Melvin said he was doing better now and that this was the first hockey game he had made this year. 

I asked him what he planned to do with the money and he didn’t know for sure.  “I’ll probably use it to take my wife out to breakfast in the morning,” he said after pondering it for a moment. 

A man who looked to be in his 40s walked up the aisle and stopped to talk to Melvin.  It turned out to be one of his three children.  They got to talking and I figured it was time to go and said goodbye.

Melvin preferred not having his photograph taken and didn’t leave me any contact information, so I will probably never know if he reads this or get any more details on the whereabouts of that ten-dollar bill.  I wouldn’t have gotten a good picture anyway; the arena wouldn’t let me bring my camera in.  They have a strict no detachable lens camera policy which I think is silly.  “We do this to prohibit professional photographers from taking photographs at the game,” I was told by a security guard.  I was surprised since I always take my camera to NHL games and have never had a problem.  This was the second time in two weeks that I have been turned away at the gate of a sporting event for carrying something that was not allowed in the stadium.  Maybe I ought to just stay away from stadiums.

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Hey, so yesterday I totally screwed up on my twitter account.  I thought I was sending a private message and apparently I broadcasted my mobile number!  Ooops.  Thankfully LilaScot noticed it and sent me a message to let me know.  Thanks!  I got it taken care of now.

One of my favorite pubs, Ireland's Four Courts in Arlington, VA. (photo: Reed)

So today you are going to meet five amazing, intelligent, beautiful people.  With a description like that they could only be one thing…that’s right Steeler fans!

Dave, Julie, Cathy, Scott and Brandon were all watching the Steelers game at one of my favorite pubs: Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington.  All of them but Brandon were clad in their Steeler jerseys and shirts.  If any of you are wondering what to get Brandon for the holidays, I’m guessing that a Steelers jersey would be much appreciated!

Some of them live here in the DC area, others live in Pittsburgh and Cathy came all the way from Panama City. 

From L-R, Cathy, Scott, Brandon, Dave and Julie. (photo: Reed)

I tried to figure out how everyone knew each other.  So Dave and Scott went to middle school together at Eden Christian Academy.  Julie and Scott are dating and I think Cathy and Dave are too….they actually met playing World of Warcraft online.  Hey, maybe Ashanti will meet someone there too….he used to be a big fan of the online game. 

I commented on Brandon’s hat and learned that he actually bought it in Germany.  “So I was there for Oktoberfest with Julie and Scott,” Brandon told me.  “I have a big head and it’s not easy to find a hat that fits…so when I found this one I got it!” 

All five of my new Steeler friends agreed to put their $2 share of the $10 toward their bar tab. 

I offered to put something on the Lend a Hand section for any of them and got some interesting requests.  Cathy would like to meet the Steelers’ all-pro safety Troy Polamalu.  In fact she said that she bought Head & Shoulders 2 in 1 shampoo just because his commercials for it!  Advertising works.

Brandon would like some help finding a job as a research analyst in the criminal justice field.  The 25-year-old lives in Northern Virginia and has a degree in public policy specializing in criminal justice. 

My new football friends hanging out at the Four Courts. (photo: Reed)

Dave joined in and said he would like some Steeler tickets!  And if you donate some tickets to Dave, add an extra ticket for me!!!  I’ve never been to a game in Pittsburgh.

Well the Steelers went on to trounce the Browns 28-10.  Hey, catch the Steelers this Monday night take on the Bengals!  I’m thinking about going to the Pour House to watch the game if you are in the DC area and want to join.  Who knows, you might even get ten bucks!

UPDATE: 11/20/2010

I just got an email from Cathy…I was right, they are dating, in fact they are engaged.  And guess what, she told me that Julie and Scott have just got engaged as well!  Congrats guys!

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U.S. Cellular Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final scoreboard message (Photo: Reed)

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

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

Photo: Reed

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

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