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

67 years ago today my mother was born in the small coal mining town of Richlands, Virginia.  She died 3 years and 307 days ago.  An extremely generous woman herself, she was a tremendous inspiration for the Year of Giving.  This entire journey is dedicated to her, but I want to take a special moment today to remember her and the joy that she added to so many peoples’ lives.  I love you Mom!

A shot of Jacy and friends through the window. (photo: Reed)

Two weeks ago I went to see Neil Simon’s California Suite at the Rockville Little Theatre.  I knew several people involved with the production so it was a lot of fun and they did a great job.  After the show my friend Pat who directed the first act invited me to join him and some other friends and cast members at Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge.  It was there that I gave my $10 to Jacy, a good friend of Pat and his wife Melanie.

Jacy donated his $10 to Silver Spring Stage. (photo: Reed)

Jacy, a married 34-year-old nonprofit attorney also has a passion for the arts.  He’s been involved with community theatre for the past seven years he tells me.  He mostly writes and directs shows but also can be seen on stage from time to time.  “I just finished my first gig as a producer,” he says.  “Not sure I’ll do that again though…it’s a lot of work and I didn’t enjoy it that much.”

He’s on the board at Silver Spring Stage and said that he planned on donating the $10 to the theatre company. 

Jacy is a huge Terps fan.  He graduated from the University of Maryland and admits that he is a die-hard fan.  When I told him about the Lend a Hand section he laughed and said, “Can you find someone who can fix the college games so that Maryland wins?”  He was joking but if I knew the right person I get the feeling he would be ok if I could make that happen!  Well, I don’t, so no luck Jacy.  I am going to see them play in a few weeks and although not as good as fixing the game I promise to cheer loudly…and it’s an away game so I will be taking some personal risk in doing so.

Jacy also follows pro football.  “I’m getting killed though in fantasy football!”  He looks down and shakes his head as he regrettably says “I drafted Larry Fitzgerald…he’s just not producing.”

This photo is a little out of focus but it's a good shot of Jacy. (photo: Reed)

Later he did come up with something for the Lend a Hand section.  He would like every single person reading the Year of Giving to go see a live theatre production this year.  I second that!

Oh, by the way, for those who have read all the blogs you might remember the Tower Oaks Lodge from Day 88 when I met Hans.  I asked for him but they said he had transferred to the Reston location.  I sent him an email earlier this week but haven’t heard back yet.  He was a good guy.

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On the last day of the Nationals season, I decided to buy some cheap tickets and catch the final nine innings before the team hibernated for the winter.  Although the Nats lost 7-1 to the Phillies, there was something magical about the game.  Watching dads hold the tiny hands of their children as they took one last look at the field until next spring.  Teary-eyed fans hugging stadium staff as they left.  It reminded me of a quote by legendary baseball slugger Rogers Hornsby who once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Martha has been an usher for the Nats for three seasons. (photo: Reed)

Martha, a lower level usher, was no exception.  Fan after fan said goodbye and wished her well until they met again the following season.  I decided she should be my $10 recipient of the day!

This is Martha’s third year ushering for the Nats.  In fact it is a family affair.  Her husband and son also work at the stadium.  In an email that she sent me later Martha told me, “My son is a special education graduate, and loves his job there.  The Nationals are by far the best employer he has ever had.”  Wow, that says a lot about the Nationals organization.  Bravo to them!

It was a bit of a challenge to speak with Martha because there were so many fans who wanted to say goodbye.  On top of that, Martha was coordinating a picnic for stadium staff and she was supposed to make some final plans with other colleagues…but that didn’t happen she later told me in her email.  My $10 came in handy though as she put it toward the food that she was preparing for the picnic.  “You’re providing the ingredients to make a multitude of my famous brownies,” she wrote.

I honestly think I was the last person in the stadium. They'd turned all the lights off and there was not a soul in sight. I thought about doing a lap around the bases, but I just found an open exit and got out before I got locked in there!

Before she had to run, she did mention that her family was going through some uncertain times.  Her husband is transitioning between a steady paycheck as a teacher to a commission based arrangement providing financial services and planning for special needs families.  Special needs families have unique financial challenges that if not thought out properly can create tremendous financial burdens and stress on the family.  I applaud his courage to make this transition and help other families plan for the future.

Martha had to run…but as I mentioned earlier, she did send me a very kind email.  She mentioned that in addition to her husband and son, there was a woman who carpooled with them to and from the stadium.  She shared this at the end of her email.  “Our cohort in the carpool immediately said she had heard of you, read an article about your “Year of Giving”, now it’s my turn.”

I hope to see Martha and her family at my year-end celebration and then again at the Nats home opener on March 31st against the Braves!  Let’s go Nats!

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Last night I stayed up to watch the first few miners get rescued from the Chilean mine where they have been trapped 629 meters below ground for almost 70 days!

That is such a long time!  I try to keep that in mind when I remember that there are only about 70 days, less actually, to go until the end of my year-long journey.  Time has gone by so fast!  I am still interviewing potential venue locations for the year-end celebration.  It is exciting…there are so many creative possibilities for the culmination of this amazing year.  I will keep you posted!

Team Rockstar Lifestyle trying to get out of a tough inning. That's Johnny from WAKA in the bottom left hand corner of the photo. (photo: Reed)

It was beautiful the other night and I decided to go for a long walk and find someone to give my $10 to.  I came across a sports field called Marie Reed Park.  Good name!  There were people gathering and I knew something was going to happen.  It seemed that I was the only one not wearing a uniform of some sort.  I grabbed a little real estate on the bleachers and waited to see what unfolded.

It turns out I was at a kickball game.  I was literally the only one who was not playing…except for two guys with some red jerseys who were talking with a woman in a white blouse.  More about those guys later.

"Your not going to believe this, but I was just thinking about you two days ago!" Eric told me when I introduced myself. (photo: Reed)

I finally got the courage to go over to a guy who was sitting an inning out.  I didn’t want to bother someone while they were trying to win a game, but I forced myself to go meet someone.  His name was Eric.  As soon as I explained what I was doing he told me that he had heard about the Year of Giving!  “You’re not going to believe this but I was just thinking about you two days ago!” he told me.   That’s pretty cool….the word is spreading thanks to all of you!

This is Eric’s second season playing kickball in Washington’s chapter of the World Adult Kickball League (WAKA).  In fact, he plays on two teams.  The night I met him he was playing for a team called the Rockstar Lifestyle who was playing against the Ball Busters.  The cool thing about kickball is that just about everyone can play.  Having said that, it was clear that many of the players meant business.

Eric used his $10 to buy a pitcher of beer for him and his team to celebrate their victory. (photo: Reed)

Eric tells me that although he likes kickball, his true passion is in running marathons.  The 28-year-old has run nine marathons already!  He’s preparing for his next one right now which will be the New York City Marathon in just 25 days.  He says that he has seen some crazy things while running.  “One time I was running a marathon with my sister in LA and we saw people selling drugs along the side of the road.”

Eric took care of things in left field to help his team win. (photo: Reed)

The game was close and the coach tapped Eric to hit the field.  Before heading out to left field, Eric told me that if I wanted to know more about the entire WAKA league that one of the founders of the organization was standing to my right wearing a red jersey.  While Eric tried to help the Rockstars edge out the Ballbusters I went over to introduce myself to Johnny LeHane.  He helped found the kickball league back in 1998 in hopes to create a social activity that everyone could participate in.  “We wanted something that would have an almost fraternity feel,” Johnny told me.  I actually think I met Johnny back in 1998 at Kelly’s Irish Times, an Irish pub that was the first sponsor of WAKA.  I say that because Johnny worked at AOL and so did my brother and a bunch of friends back then and I recall that I went to a kickball happy hour in 1998 or 1999.  I keep forgetting to ask my brother who he knew from WAKA back then, maybe he remembers.  Anyway, in case you are shrugging your shoulders at the idea of organized kickball, be advised that they currently over 3,000 teams in over 300 leagues nation wide and employ a staff of 30.  It was cool to meet Johnny, who was in town from NYC where he lives and continues to work as part of the management team for WAKA.

Rockstar Lifestyle won 5-4! (photo: Reed)

Eric trotted back in to join his team as they had one last opportunity to win the game.  It was close, but he and his team managed to pull out a 5-4 win over the Ball Busters!  I was great to watch him and his team celebrate the victory.  He said they were going to a bar called Town where he would buy a pitcher of beer for the team with the $10.  Cheers!

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Giant at the corner of Wisconsin and Newark. (photo: Reed)

I was in Cleveland Park here in DC at the Giant grocery store on Wisconsin Avenue.  I hadn’t given away my money yet and it was getting late.  I had had some wine earlier that day on a picnic and was honestly not looking forward to giving my $10 away.

At the entrance of the grocery store I found Ryan and Samantha.  Ryan is a 25-year-old graduate of the University of Virginia.  Samantha, 22, is also a graduate of UVA.  They were browsing the movie titles at the automatic video rental machine.

Ryan and Samantha are both runners. (photo: Reed)

Both of them ran track and field at UVA.  They ran a variety of distances: 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 meters.  I think it was Samantha who said she also ran steeple chase races which consist of five barriers, one of which is a water barrier.  

“Ryan is a really good runner,” Samantha said.  “He just ran a race yesterday…8,000 meters.”  For those of you who are metric challenged, that’s just shy of five miles.  “So how did you do?” I asked.  Ryan was quite humble in telling me that he actually won the race.  I guess Samantha was right, he’s pretty good.

The couple decided to donate their $10 to the UVA Athletics Foundation.  Coincidentally I am planning to visit UVA in the coming weeks with my cousin and his daughter…who I guess is my second cousin or cousin once removed or something like that.  Anyway, she is a high school senior in Denver and is visiting potential colleges.  When they come out to visit UVA I am going to join them and we have tickets to the football game that weekend, so indirectly that $10 might end up benefiting me while I am there.  Work with me folks…use your imagination.

Ryan and Samantha donated their $10 to the UVA Athletics Foundation. (photo: Reed)

Anyway, some friends of Samantha and Ryan were waiting for them so I wrapped things up.  I almost forgot to take a photo and ran out into the parking lot and snapped a quick photo of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me at the game (photo: Kimon Kanelakis)

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

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

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

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

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

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Ryan hawks some beers on his first day at work at FedEx Field. (photo: Reed)

What does today’s recipient have in common with yesterday’s recipient?  They both carry things for a living.  Harold from yesterday carries the mail in DC while Ryan carries beer for thirsty sports fans at the Redskins games.

The 21-year-old, who wears a badge identifying him as Vendor #623, said that today was his first day on the job!  I asked him how it was going and he said, “The beer is heavy.  Really heavy.”  Just for that I bought one of his chilled Budweisers…you know, to help his tired arms and aching back out.  The container he is carrying around looks like it holds about a case and a half of 16 oz bottles.  Add some ice and water to that and you got a back-breaker of a load. 

He says that he has already gone back three times to pick up additional beer.  He kept moving and I followed him a little bit and talked to him between his sales. 

"The beer is heavy. Really heavy.” - Ryan (photo: Reed)

He told me that is a sophomore studying business at the University of Maryland.  I’m quite certain that in his first hours at work there at the stadium he has already learned some business skills.  I am guessing that he has learned a thing or two about the price inelasticity of demand when it comes to products like alcohol!  Maybe he can get college credit for his job.  It doesn’t matter that he is selling beers for ten times the cost that they would be sold at a supermarket, people will still buy it.  I bet they could charge $15 a beer and still have tremendous sales.  I hope owner Dan Snyder is not reading my blog and getting any ideas!

Well no surprise here what Ryan chose to do with the $10.  Yep, he’s going to buy some beer when he gets off of work.

Ryan finds some thirsty fans. (photo: Reed)

As for the game, the Redskins held a 17-point lead late in the 3rd quarter and then managed to blow it giving up 20 points to loose 27-30 to the Houston Texans.  The season is not looking good…

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On Day 276 I had some company with me as I searched for a recipient.  A news crew from Spain’s television network CUATRO were following me around for a story they were doing on my Year of Giving.  We met at Illy Café and chatted for a short while before heading to a nearby park where I tried to give my $10 to a man sitting in the park.  He refused.

We then started heading north on 21st Street I think.  It had been drizzling all day but the rain started to pick up a little bit and we sought shelter under an awning that extended over the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I then spotted a young guy walking two dogs across the street and I thought I would approach him.

I ran over to Jake with the news crew chasing after me.

Jake was helping his girlfriend out by walking her dogs. They were cute dogs. I remember the dog on the right is named Georgia. (photo: Reed)

Jake is a local to the Greater DC area.  He grew up in Alexandria, VA and graduated from T.C. Williams High School.  Now, 29, Jake is studying psychology at George Washington University.

On this specific day he was taking his girlfriend’s dogs for a walk.  He said that he would probably use the $10 to sponsor a day of dog walking for her some day.  “Her dog walker charges $10 for a walk, so this will help her out for at least one day,” he told me.

Jake is 29 so he is not your traditional undergraduate college student.  I asked what he had chosen to do after graduating high school and his answer surprised me.  “Well, I came to GW and studied for a couple years but then I was drafted by the San Francisco Giants to play baseball in the 2002 draft.”  Wow…I guess I should tell you that I used to dream of playing professional baseball for the New York Mets so I was pretty excited to meet a professional baseball player.  No, I didn’t grow up dreaming about being laid off my job and giving $10 away…that just sort of happened.

Jake making a double play look easy. (photo: Matt Thornton)

He played for nine years in the minor league organization of the Giants.  He spent most that time playing 2nd base and shortstop for their AA and AAA farm teams.  “It was a great experience,” he shared with me.  “You learn a lot.  You are consistently setting a goal to get better, always working to get to where it is you want to go.”  He went on to say that the fact that he was playing for half the year and then off for the other half made it really hard to stay focused on those goals. 

Jake talking to the Spanish news reporter. (photo: Reed)

“People would always tell me that my baseball career was going to help me so much in my professional life after baseball,” Jake said.  “I’m sure it will…using what I learned about setting goals, the drive that I have.”  I have no doubt.  Professional sports are highly competitive and only the best like Jake can survive for extended periods of time.  When I used to hire sales people I loved candidates who were runners or disciplined in some athletic area.  They understand commitment and know that you will have to go through considerable pain sometimes to achieve their goal.  They don’t quit.

I did some searching on Jake and found this interesting clip.  Apparently it is not live footage from a game rather a commercial that was taped for Gatorade.  The announcer lists the Fresno left fielder as Jake and although he didn’t play outfield much, I have a feeling it is him since he played for Fresno.  I tried to confirm this with him but I must have written his email down incorrectly.  If you know Jake, please put me in touch with him.  Anyway, have a look, it’s a cool clip.

By the way, you may remember that I happened to give $10 to another professional baseball player in May, Anthony on Day 158.  It’s either a small world or I got to too many baseball games.

We said goodbye and Jake continued on his way with the dogs. (photo: Reed)

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I sat at Illy Café at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and M Street sipping a double espresso.  To my right sat a girl who seemed to also be writing in a journal of sorts.  The last time I saw someone writing in a journal we got to meet Roey…maybe this would turn into a recipient 273.

I asked her to accept my $10.  She did and asked to take a few minutes to talk to her for the blog post.  Coincidentally she was waiting for someone that she was going to interview!

I am usually pretty good a detecting accents and determining where people are from, but I had no idea about Elina.  First let me say that she speaks incredible English.  Occasionally I would hear a slight accent that would make me think Eastern European.  But just when I would think that was it, I would detect an ever so slight southern twang!  I give up!

Elina hails from Regensburg, Germany. (photo: Reed)

So it turns out that she was born in Russia but grew up in the small town of Minden, Germany which is about 25 miles west of Hanover.  Her flawless English is probably partly due to her time in the US as an au pair and a year that she spent studying in Virginia on a scholarship.  “It completely changed my life.”  These days she lives in Regensburg, Germany.  “People kind of know who I am there because I was voted “party queen of Regensburg” on StudiVZ, a German social networking site similar to Facebook.

So I discover that she is in DC for about two months doing research for her undergrad thesis paper that studies society’s perception of soccer in Washington, DC.  “So I am actually interviewing people for my research,” she explained.  “I’m actually waiting for the President of a fan group for DC United.” 

The $10 will come in handy Elina tells me.  “I’ve been refusing to add more minutes to my American cell phone since I’m leaving next week.  I’m down to just $5 now and this will hopefully get me through these final days.”  She actually says that unlike most other 23-year-olds she hates having a cell phone.  “I didn’t have one until I started my studies.”

Just then a guy approached our table and she asked, “Are you Paul?”  Her interview subject had arrived.

Elina used the $10 to add minutes to her cell phone. (photo: Reed)

Paul is one of the leaders of the Screaming Eagles, a 1,100 member fan community for DC’s professional soccer club.  All three of us chatted for a while about random topics.  I didn’t want to impose on the time Elina had set up to meet with Paul so I said goodbye to both of them and excused myself.

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This was a sports weekend. NASCAR yesterday then the Redskins game on Sunday. I almost tried to go to the Nationals’ afternoon game on Sunday just to be able to say that I have been to a NASCAR race, a MLB game and a NFL game within 24 hours! It would have been crazy.

The ‘Skins were playing the Cowboys so it was one of those games where there is a lot of trash talking. Some of it was happening right in front of us. There was a guy wearing a jersey of the newly acquired Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb sitting directly in front of us who was dishing it out to some Cowboys fans sitting to our left. It seemed friendly, but there was lots of ribbing going back and forth.

James dishes it out at the Redskins home opener. (photo: Reed)

The Cowboys fans got a good laugh when “McNabb” was booted from his seat by some other fans who apparently had tickets for those seats. Realizing that he had been busted, “McNabb” swaggered down the steps but not before some final words for the Cowboys fans in the section. He disappeared inside the stadium.

I saw him reappear in the section next to ours a little while later and went to try to catch up to him. I went down and over a section and found the man wearing number 5 in a corridor that connects the seating area to the concession stand area.

This father of four turned 37 on September 14th. (photo: Reed)

When James is not boasting about the Redskins, he is working at Walter Reed Medical Center working with the Wounded Warrior program. [This is the second time I have crossed paths with the Wounded Warrior program during my Year of Giving. The first time was with Manni from Day 131.] He is also the father of four, two boys and two girls. “You know what I’m gonna do with this $10,” he asked. “I’m gonna get my one-year-old son some Pampers!”

I met James two days before his 37th birthday. “I’ve been a Redskins fan since I was four years old!” James proudly told me. He claims Santana Moss as his favorite player. The team is coming off a very disappointing year and I asked him how he felt about this year’s season under new leadership from coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb. He told me that he thought the team would go 12-4. He added, “I feel a Superbowl this year!”
He is certainly enthusiastic. You can get a feel for the energy I am talking about by watching this short video.

As a longtime fan, James attends every home game and is part of a group called the Redskins Diesel 44 Bus. He invited me to visit the tailgating bus some time, “It’s a pimped out bus that’s got good food!”

The home team went on to squeeze by the Cowboys 13-7. Despite their opening day win, they have not been so successful in their two most recent outings bringing their record to 1-2. Could this be a repeat of 2009?

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Borders at 18th and L Streets in NW Washington, DC (photo: Reed)

I am back in DC.  I went to Borders Book Store to pick up a gift for some friends who are moving back to Finland.  As I wandered around the store I found Madison searching through the non-fiction books.

I was surprised to find out that Madison was only 14.  She looked a little older and is very mature.  She lives in Virginia and is starting the 10th grade this fall. 

I asked her what kind of book she was looking for and she said that she was looking for a biography on Marilyn Monroe.  “She fascinates me; her whole attitude toward life.”  She perused the many books they had on the pop icon but I don’t think she ended up finding the one she wanted.  Or she just ran out of time since she ended up chatting with me for a while.

Madison seems like a very good student.  She is enrolled in an intensive Geometry course this summer so that she can skip it next year and move right into Algebra II.  Geometry though has not been easy for her.  She said she preferred Algebra over Geometry.  I was just the opposite.  I did really well in Geometry but nearly failed Algebra II.  She says that History is her favorite subject.  I would have to agree, it was one of my favorites too.

When she is not at school or studying, Madison likes to play volleyball and participate in her student government and school clubs.  She seems to like the private school that she attends. 

Our conversation makes its way back to the $10.  “What do you think you might do with it?”  She thought about the question and said that she would probably buy lunch for herself the following day at school.  “During the summer the school cafeteria is not open,” she explains so she has to get lunch on her own. 

photo: Reed

About this time I think I asked her if she was originally from DC and she said that she was but that she had moved and then came back at some point because of her dad’s job.  “What’s your dad do?” I asked.  I would have never expected the response.  “He used to play in the NFL,” she replies in a very humble tone.  I inquired who her father was.  I won’t mention his name here, but he was a first round draft pick that went on to play eight seasons of professional football.  For someone who grew up the daughter of such a well-known public figure she seems incredibly grounded and genuine. 

Speaking of her dad she looked at the time and said, “I actually have to go meet him now.”  I finished up my questions and we said goodbye.  She opted not to have her photo included, which I totally understand for various reasons.

What a smart young lady.  I was really impressed with her.  Just how she carried herself and the intelligent questions she asked.  We as society can sleep well at night knowing that it’s people like Madison that will become tomorrow’s leaders.

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So, don’t forget Thursday is the 15th and if you want another shot at giving your $10 away, give it a try and leave a comment here to let us know how it went. 

Maria and Karel (photo: Reed)

 

Day 200 was a Friday and Brazil was playing the Netherlands in the World Cup.  I slipped on my jersey that my friends Keila and Gilson got for me and headed downtown with a neighbor to cheer on Brazil.  

We found a table at the James Hoban pub on the circle.  In our section, I think we were in the minority.  There were several Dutch fans passionately cheering on their country.  Two of them were Maria and Karel.  My neighbor used to live in Holland so she seemed to change who she was rooting for as the Dutch pulled ahead.  She ended up chatting with Maria and Karel about something and then I ended up helping  Karel with some directions to Dulles airport. 

As it turns out the couple the city of Bergen was here for some business meetings and they were leaving for the airport in a couple of hours.  I drew a little map for him on the back of a print-out of the food and drink specials the bar was promoting during the world cup games.  

From L-R, Maria, Karel, Kees and Farren watch nervously before the Netherlands took the lead (photo: Reed)

 

After 90 minutes of play Brazil’s dreams of becoming the first team to ever win six World Cup championships were quashed; at least for another four years.  Our new Dutch friends were ecstatic.  I went over congratulated them and asked if they would share their joy and participate in a milestone day the Year of Giving: Day 200.  They accepted. 

Karel is the managing director of a Dutch industrial company.  Maria works for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  I have flown KLM before.  I remember it well.  I was in business class from Sao Paulo to Amsterdam.  The service was excellent, much better than Lufthansa or BA which is what I usually flew to Europe when I was living in Brazil.  The captain came on the intercom alerting us that we were landing in about 45 minutes and I brought my seat to the dreaded “upright position” and noticed that in my lap was a small ceramic house that was painted the colors of Dutch flag and inside it seemed to be some liquid.  I asked the person sitting next to me if it was theirs and they informed me that all KLM business class passengers received this token of appreciation and that it was filled with rum.  I tucked it away in my carry-on bag, exited the plane and headed for my connecting flight only to get stopped by security and told that I would have to surrender my new found gift because it had liquid in it, even though it was just two or three ounces at most.  For some reason I felt a little indignant about the situation and just to spite the security officer I opened it and drank it on the spot!  

photo: Reed

 

Anyway Maria and Karel were such a nice couple.  They seemed rather impressed with Washington…well then again they were really in a good mood after watching their team pass on to the next round.  “There’s more green than we expected,” said Karel.  “It’s quite relaxed and comfortable here.  Safer than I expected too!”  I asked them where I should visit if I go to their country and Karel and Maria thought about it for a second and said that Rotterdam would be a good choice. 

I found out that they were newlyweds having just gotten married on 09.09.09 after a whirlwind courtship of just about a month (well to be exact they had corresponded for much longer but had only met in person for about a month.)  You know what they say.  When you know, you just know.  I guess this year there will be some people tying the knot on 10.10.10. 

Maria said that she was going to give the $10 to someone else.  She enjoys helping others.  Just recently she volunteered for a program that KLM did for the homeless; part of their Wings of Support program.  Later Karel asked if he could give me $10…a different $10 as they wanted to hold on to the one I gave them so they could pass it on to someone else.  I tried to remember that I too need to be gracious when people offer me gifts and accepted their $10 which I will save and use to start a fundraising effort that I will begin in a few weeks to help a small bilingual performing arts school in Manizales, Colombia.  More to come on how you can help in some upcoming posts! 

Kees, Farren, Maria and Karel (photo: Reed)

 

Right before they left, they introduced me to their Dutch friends Farren(?) and Kees.  Kees said that I had inspired him to give five different people 10 euros each when he got back to Holland.  Yes!  Way to go Kees! 

Despite Brazil losing the game, I felt like a winner.  In fact as I walked home wearing my Brazil shirt, four different people stopped me to tell me how sorry they were that Brazil lost.  One Brazilian woman hung her head out of a stopped car and just shook her head in a mixture of disbelief and sorrow.  I tilted my head to one side and shrugged my shoulders.  “De aqui a quatro anos,” I told her. 

Oh, by the way, I got a text message later that day that Maria and Karel made it to the airport!  Stay in touch.

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Piola, 1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA (Photo: Reed)

I met Ryan and Mandy, my brother and sister-in-law, to watch the Brazil – Chile match at a restaurant called Piola in Arlington.  Despite it’s origins in Treviso, Italy, I always think about Piola as a Brazilian Pizzeria.  When I lived in Brazil there were several Piolas.  I used to go to one in Jardins neighborhood quite often.  Brazil has great pizza and although Piola is good, it’s not the best there.  For me the best pizzerias in Sao Paulo are Speranza, 1900 and Braz

Anyway, for the options we have here in the DC area, Piola makes a good pie.  When they opened up a few years ago in Arlington, I noticed a lot of Brazilians working and dining there.  So, that is how we ended up watching the Brazil game there.

A pizza maker prepares the dough before placing it in the wood-fired oven (Photo: Reed)

There were not that many people at the restaurant watching the game.  Granted it was being played at 2:30pm on a Monday, so perhaps people were at work.  Of the handful of fans there cheering on the game, most were clad in Brazilian shirts like myself.  When the satellite connection failed for nearly a half hour due to a thunder-storm, the table next to us pulled out their laptops, connected to a WiFi network and continued watching the game.  I migrated over to their table to watch the game and discovered that three of the four of them were from Brazil.  I decided to give them my $10 for the day!

Daniela, Reed, Antonella, Amina and Steve at Piola (Photo: Ryan Sandridge)

The game ended with Brazil eliminating Chile’s participation in the World Cup by a score of 3-0.  Although everyone in the bar was celebrating, part of me felt a little sad for Cecilia from Day 151.  As the game came to a close and people started to rush back to work, I tried to quickly take some notes about my new friends.  Unfortunately Steve had to leave immediately and the others only had a few minutes before they too had to leave too, so I had to work fast.

When the satellite connection failed for 30 minutes, Piola's manager sent everyone in the bar a caipirinha on the house! (Photo: Reed)

I asked them what they thought of Washington.  “I love DC,” says Daniela, “Rio is not as safe as Washington.  This is a very safe, cultured, cosmopolitan city.”  Antonella agrees and adds that “Sao Paulo’s traffic is crazy!”  She’s right about that.  I don’t miss the traffic in Sao Paulo at all.  As I was furiously writing down notes in my Moleskine notebook, I heard somebody else say, “We’re in the most important place in the US.”  It’s positive to hear them say such nice things about DC.  I loved my three years in their country too! 

The conversation shifts to what they plan to do with the $10.  I was very impressed by how they approached this opportunity.  After a good five or ten minutes of back and forth discussion amongst themselves in Portuguese they told me that they had decided.  “We’re going to pick a random address in the phone book and send the $10 to them with a note explaining about your project.”  That was pretty cool.  Nobody has done that before!  “And if they don’t want to keep it we’re going to tell them to give it to somebody else.”  “Parabens” to them for a creative and thoughtful idea.

It’s only fitting that I post this blog entry today as the world watches the final chapter of the 2010 World Cup.  Brazil didn’t make it unfortunately.  Will it be Spain?  Or will it be The Netherlands.  Whoever wins, history will be made as neither team has ever won the World Cup.  I have to root for Spain having lived there and developed a strong friendship with many Spaniards.  I can’t forget Carlos from Day 118 who hails from Spain or the Dutch recipients of the Year of Giving: Pieter from Day 140 and Karel and Maria from Day 200 – look out for their blog posting this week! 

Note: I am sitting here at home watching the game as I write up this blog entry.  It’s 0-0 in the first over-time period.  Viva España! 

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The Year of Giving does not focus on any one “type” of person. People often ask me how I select the recipients. Sure, some days I go out with a type of person in mind, however many times it is just a feeling I get when I am sitting next to somebody on the bus or watching a mother play with her child in a park. Having said this, I have given my $10 to a considerable amount of people who are currently or who have in the past experienced homelessness.

The US Government defines homelessness as follows (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development)

The term “homeless” or “homeless individual or homeless person” includes-

  1. an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
  2. an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is -
    1. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
    2. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
    3. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Photo: Jon Howell

Although I don’t think that the government has came up with the best definition here, it is certainly better than the definition that usually comes to people’s mind when they hear that someone is homeless. The image of someone sleeping on the streets.

The area that I have found particularly interesting to study here is the one that deals with those who lack “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” So many people today fall into this category and they are often not counted in statistics on homeless populations. The Year of Giving has taught me an immense amount about the people who struggle with this every day. I often forget how fortunate I am to have such a comfortable environment to keep my belongings, prepare my meals and sleep at night.

As a result of the writings, photographs and videos that I have done about the homeless I was nominated for the David Pike Excellence in Journalism Award. Although Maria Glod from the Washington Post ended up winning the award, I was extremely honored to have even been nominated for my work.

Photo: Jon Howell

I went to the award ceremony with my father and brother. It was a very nice evening. I took pictures which I can try to post here once I get my computer fixed. I thought I would look for a recipient for my $10 at the event, so I had my small black Moleskine journal with me to take notes. As it turns out, the notebook slid out of my bag and remained underneath my seat when we left the auditorium. I noticed that I was missing it immediately and had an idea that it was probably under the seat so I went back and checked but didn’t find anything. Now I was concerned, because I knew I had it with me. Maybe somebody turned it in, right?

Well, just as I was looking around to ask someone if anyone had turned it in, a young man who I recognized from being the photographer at the event, walked over to me and gave me the book. Well, on my Moleskine notebook it is clearly marked that there is a reward for returning it to me. You guessed it, that reward is $10!

I thanked Jon and happily handed him the $10. He explained that he was an intern working at Street Sense for the summer as a photographer. A photo journalism major at the University of North Texas, Jon is here in DC through a partnership with the George Washington University. Still holding his Canon Rebel XTi in his hands, he mentioned he was on his way to the reception to take more photographs. I didn’t want to hold him up so I tried to be quick.

Baylor rugby player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I found out that Jon recently transferred to the University of North Texas from Angelo State University in San Angelo, TX. He played rugby for two years there and hopes to continue playing at North Texas. “It’s different than football,” he says, “you have to learn how to hit the other guy differently.” He talks about the importance that strategy plays in the game as well. But even strategy doesn’t protect you from getting a little banged up. Jon has broken his nose three times (weird, so have I!) and had his AC separated off the clavicle.

Off the field Jon’s artistic interest is not limited to photography. He also loves music. “I own a record store in Abilene, Texas” he says. “You mean old school vinyl records?” I asked. He nodded his head and confirmed my suspicion. This struck me as odd. CDs were already starting to dominate as the preferred physical medium for music by the time he was born! But this has nothing to do with that. This is more about the relationship someone has with music. There is something almost romantic about vinyl records.

Record player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I was just surprised to discover that someone his age who grew up in an era full of hi-tech gizmos would feel so strongly about this format of music that he would own a record store. Let’s not forget how cool it is that at 19 he owns his own record store!

Jon said he was going to use the $10 to get some food that week. As an unpaid intern he has to be careful with his spending.

We talked about Washington, DC some. “The first time I came here was when I was in the eighth grade. I remember seeing the homeless and it made an impression on me.” He also took lots of photos while he was here. Jon was very excited to to return to Washington and work with an organization like Street Sense which does so much for the city’s homeless citizens.

Narrow DC street (Photo: Jon Howell, Street Sense)

His internship will be up in August and he will return to Texas. With him he will take much more than the thousands of photos he has shot and the college credits that he has earned. He will take with him an experience that I believe will change the course of his life as it has changed mine. The opportunity to learn about and work with this city’s homeless population has opened my eyes and my heart in so many ways.

I said goodbye to Jon and let him get to work.  The Award Ceremony reception had left over food and coffee which I took with me a few blocks away to the park at 20th and Pennsylvania.  There I found several people who were happy to receive some of the leftovers.  As I was walking around the park I found one man laying in the grass with nothing but the clothes on his back.  I was worried that he might not be ok, so I walked over and asked.  The man awoke from his sleep and turned out to beAnthony from Day 6! He and I chatted for a while and he seemed well, although sufficiently inebriated.   It was good to see him.  I chatted with another man for nearly an hour and a half.  It was now midnight and my brother and father were waiting for me across the street (they had went to dinner when I went to deliver the food and coffee).  It was a great night!

Jon (Photo: Reed)

A special thanks to Jon for allowing me to post some of his photographs in this blog. Click here to check out more of Jon’s photography.

UPDATE: 10/27/2010

I got an update from Jon.  Here it is…

Hey man its been awhile. Hope all is well in DC and with your giving. Sorry I never got to give you a photo lesson, it was just so crazy the whole time I was there. I’m working for the newspaper at UNT doing photography and multi-media news videos and playing for the UNT rugby team. I also just got a job working as a field representative for  home improvement place in Lewisville. I go door to door to offer a free estimate on any projects they may have on their homes. My brother also graduated from film school and got signed to an agency here in Dallas. He just got cast in stage production and is about to audition for another. The record store is still in business and doing pretty good. I still haven’t found a location for here in Denton but the one in Abilene is doing well. Hope to hear back from you.

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