Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘video’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

DSC_0019.jpg

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

DSC_0001.jpg

Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

DSC_0007.jpg

Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

50.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children.  Feeding America goes on to report that 7.8 percent of seniors living alone were also food insecure. Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas all report more than 17% of their households facing food insecurity. Washington, DC checks in at 12.9%.  Least affected by this challenge is North Dakota that reports only 6.7 percent of households living with food insecurity.

I’ve been fortunate my entire life not to have to worry about where my next meal would come from, but as you can see above, many people in this rich country are not so fortunate.

One of the most impressive models for helping feed those in need is DC Central Kitchen.  Although I had been aware of this organization for several years, it wasn’t until July 27th of last year when I gave $10 to their founder, Robert Egger, that I started to realize how amazing this organization really is.  Check out what Robert did with the $10!  It will blow you away.

Two weeks ago history was made – at least for DC Central Kitchen.  At the DC Convention Center the largest specialty food and beverage show in North America was wrapping up.  Thousands of exhibitors filled the exhibition hall with their mouth-watering offerings.  From Theo Chocolate’s organic, Fair Trade-certified Madagascar sourced chocolate to melt in our mouth Spanish Serrano ham from Fermin, if you like food, welcome to heaven!  When the last attendees get ushered out and booths begin to tear down their displays, there would still be hundreds of thousands of pounds of perfectly good food and beverage products on the show floor.  For a variety of reasons, it’s often difficult for these companies to ship the food back to their warehouse so they simply leave it behind.

IMG_3735.jpg

Volunteers pour onto the show floor ready to work! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

That’s where DC Central Kitchen stepped in and seized and opportunity by working out an arrangement where they would pick up unwanted food and turn it into meals for the thousands of households in the DC area who depend on them for nourishment.

They assembled a small benevolent army of about 150 people made up of employees of the kitchen and volunteers like myself.  Our mission was to comb the aisles collecting food that the exhibitors had designated for donation.

It’s a bit of a race against the clock.  Perishable foods must be removed within two hours and then we only had about another six hours to collect the rest of the food and transport it across the titanic show floor while dodging forklifts and workers removing miles of carpet from beneath our feet.  Then we had to load all the food onto pallets and wrap them in cellophane so that they could be loaded onto waiting trucks.  To give you an idea of the chaos, keep in mind that the show floor is 700,000 square feet and has a wingspan that covers six city blocks!  So making a run from one side to the other was no easy task.

One funny moment was when I was looking for some large boxes and heard a gentleman with a distinct Spanish accent saying, “Look at that – I turned a hexagon box into a rectangular one!”

“I know this guy,” I thought.

He handed me a box and then I realized I did know him – well not personally, but it was famed chef and restaurateur José Andrés!  I’ve dined in his restaurants, watched him on TV and even prepared tapas from his cookbook but I had no idea of his newest talent of transforming unusable boxes into perfect containers for our collection.  There was no time to be “star-struck” though and I grabbed the boxes and headed off to collect more food.

IMG_3740.jpg

Volunteers packaged 150,000 pounds of donated food!

When the last pallet was wrapped we had collected over 150,000 pounds of food – the largest single food donation that Robert’s organization has ever received!  DC Central Kitchen shared the historic donation with DC Food Bank and other community organizations that help provide meals to area residents in need.

Week 27 DCCK.jpg

Some of the 150 volunteers who made it happen. (photo: dccentralkitchen.org)

Although this was an amazing day for DC Central Kitchen, this was not a typical day and the organization needs your support.  They are much more than a kitchen too – they provide training and jobs for the communities unemployed and homeless.  Click here to find out how you can volunteer or support them financially.

Read Full Post »

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge

Last year was an exhilarating daily adventure.  Every day I had a mission of finding someone new and sharing a small gift with them: ten dollars.

As you have already seen, the giving keeps on going this year.  Every week I will introduce you to a new Kindness Investor who will continue the ten dollar a day giving tradition for seven days.

“So you finished your year-long commitment and that’s it,” many of you have said to me.  Nope, not even close.

This year my personal commitments are focused around volunteering.  One thing that I learned while doing the Year of Giving is that what made every day so magical wasn’t the ten-dollar gift, but rather the time that I spent with each individual.  Time.  It is so valuable, yet we don’t treasure it as much as we should.  That’s why this year I couldn’t think of anything more valuable than to spend my time with others.

Each week I will volunteer in some capacity and share those experiences with you.  Why?  Because I hope to inspire you to volunteer as well.  I hope that you will speak to your employer about creating an Employee Volunteer Program, join your children in student learning service projects and become leaders for volunteerism in your own community.

Here is my first blog of my year-long commitment to volunteering!  I hope to blog about my volunteering every Monday!

Me going nuts with the sander

On a recent Saturday I spent the day helping Rockville Little Theatre build the set for their upcoming production of Translations, the acclaimed work of Irish playwright Brian Friel.  I showed up around 10:00am to the Theatre’s workshop that is tucked away behind some municipal buildings for the city of Rockville, MD.  “Quarters” as it is referred to is no foreign place to me as I spent many evenings rehearsing in this space when I performed in RLT’s productions of The Laramie Project and The Foreigner – I’ve done a little acting.

Pat Miller, the show’s producer, along with his wife Melanie were in charge.  Melanie was busy painting some of the backdrops when I arrived.  I went to work sanding and staining and spent most of the next six hours doing that.

A volunteer from a nearby middle school works on a large wall for the set.

There were probably about ten of us total that helped out.  Three of which were local middle and high school students who were completing Student Service Learning credits.  Menen, an 11th grader from Rockville, told me that she had more than 170 community service hours.  “I’m hoping to get a college scholarship,” she said as she maneuvered the power sander over wooden bench she was working on.

RLT has a variety of volunteer needs listed on their website.  “We’re an all volunteer organization,” Pat told me, “so quite literally the productions could not be possible without volunteers.”  And it’s not just the actors, they also need donations and lots of behind the scenes support as well; from publicity to construction.  “Community theaters really need to tap into the community in order to be successful,” he went to say.

And don’t miss the upcoming production of Translations opening on January 28th and running through February 6th.  Followers of the Year of Giving might even recognize the show’s director: Jacy D’Aiutolo.

This is a very important play for many reasons according to Pat:

Translations is first and foremost a beautifully constructed play with amazing use of language and an amazing story. In addition to being a great piece of theater, it’s also a very significant play for a number of reasons. Translations was the first production staged by the Field Day Theater Company, which was cofounded by Playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea who American audiences would know best from The Crying Game and V is for Vendetta. Unlike most Irish theater of the 20th century, which grew out of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, Field Day was founded in Derry, which lies just across the border in Northern Ireland.

Pat stains a bench that will be used for the show.

When the play was written in 1981, it was a particularly tense time during “The Troubles” and bombings were common both in Ireland and Great Britain. Guildhall, the theatre where Translations debuted was itself bombed repeatedly. The play, which deals directly with the subjugation of Irish language and culture at the hands of the British military, had tremendous resonance during this difficult time.  It also marked Field Day as a company that was striving to reestablish a cultural “fifth province,” which could unite a divided Ireland through its literature, poetry and theater. The work, that began with the production of Translations, continues to this day.

I hope you will come out and see the show – I’m planning on going this Friday.  As Pat reminded me, “In the end the most important people for a theatre company is the audience.”  So even if you are not able to volunteer with your local theatre go see a show.  There’s nothing like live theatre!

As a bonus, check out this behind the scenes footage of the making of RLT’s production of Translations:

Read Full Post »

Melinda met Nick while he panhandled at an exit ramp. (photo: Melinda T.)

Today I met a man named Nick.  Nick was standing near the exit ramp.  I felt drawn to give the $10 to him so I parked nearby and walked across the way.

Nick has been on and off the streets for a year now.  Nick was extremely skeptical to speak with me at first because he thought I was with the police and quickly pulled out his panhandlers permit to show it to me.  Perhaps I was just as skeptical as this was the first time I had ever approached a person standing on the streets panhandling.  I assured him I wasn’t with the police and he accepted that and then shared his life with me.

At the beginning of the video you see a quick shot of an ID.  This is Nicks ID showing that he is homeless, I never knew there was such an ID available.  He shared with me the views of inside the homeless shelter where he has spent a few nights and said the conditions there are awful and not a place for anyone to be but it keeps him out of the elements.  He invited me to take a visit with him to the homeless shelter however I declined that offer.

Nick said today was his first day out on the streets and he was there trying to collect money so he could purchase Christmas gifts for his children.  He was addicted to pain pills at one point and his life had went downhill since then.  He’s currently not addicted to anything and is trying to get his life back on track by getting a job so he can pay for a place to live and not have to sleep at the homeless shelter or jump from home to home sleeping on people’s couches.

I would have liked to speak with Nick a bit longer but the temperatures today were extremely cold and the wind we were encountering didn’t help.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

Read Full Post »

My very first recipient: Knox

Happy New Year!

365 days ago I embarked on an amazing journey.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would forever change my life.

When I started I had been out of work for 75 days, I was hungry for a job, at least that’s what I thought.  Looking back on it, I think I was searching for something even greater: purpose.

Sure, the first month without work is awesome.  I got loads of sleep, made it to the gym on a regular basis, read all the books that were on my list to read and made time to see friends and family.  But the second month brought with it changes.  I started waking up late and staying in bed watching television until midmorning.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of my skills were wearing away, oh no.  I was actually developing a rather impressive talent in guessing the showcase showdown price on The Price is Right!  By the way where do they get those people…I should be on this show.  Anyway, this need for a higher purpose in my life combined with my interest in philanthropy and the values my mother and father taught me as a child all collided.  I literally woke up one morning in early December with the idea of giving a different stranger a few dollars every day.

Writing the blog was a purely personal venture at first.  It quenched my thirst for a job-like activity.  Every day I would come home and write up the blog entry.  I had never blogged before and to be honest, hadn’t really followed anyone else’s either.  So I really had no idea what I was doing.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

I started on the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, she was a huge inspiration.  She guided me through all 365 days.

Every day was a unique adventure.  People always ask me who my favorite recipient was.  That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  So many of them were special in their own way.  Whether it was someone’s personal story that touched my heart or their creative idea of what to do with the ten dollars, every person left their own unique footstep along this year’s path.  And at some point what was a personal project turned into a movement and you joined me on the journey.  That moment was magical.  I received over ten thousand emails and comments from people all around the world who said that they were inspired; whether it be by my personal commitment or by one of the stories of the year-long cast of characters I introduced them to.

December 14th always loomed deep in the distance but before I knew it the day had arrived.  I decided to host a celebration with the goal being to reunite as many of the recipients as possible and put them together in one room.  In addition to introducing them to one another, it was also an opportunity for those who had been following the journey on the blog to meet the recipients in person.

Darrold, recipient from Day 189, picks a winning raffle ticket. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

It was bitter cold and windy on the 365th morning of the Year of Giving and my emotions were equally turbulent.  The excitement for the evening was met with a bit of sadness that this special year was coming to an end.  Sure I have some tremendous plans for 2011, but things would be different.   It’s like moving back to a place you once lived.  It’s never the same.  The magic isn’t easily created twice.

I spent all day on the 14th doing last-minute things for the event.  Thankfully my good friend Patricia Anderson had volunteered to take care of the brunt of the work and I was only left with a few minor tasks.  I ran a few errands and delegated a couple of jobs to my father.  The thing that took me the most time was editing the video that I wanted to show.  I have close to two hundred video files from the last year and I wanted to piece something together that would capture what this year meant to me.  I had never worked with video files before I started blogging and one thing that I learned is that it is a very time-consuming process.  A film editor once told me to benchmark one to two hours of work for every minute of final cut video.  I literally was editing until 10 minutes before I needed to be at Tabaq Bistro, the location of the event.  Miraculously I managed finish on time.  Click here to watch the video.

I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient from Dec. 15, 2009. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

I arrived and any plans I might have had for the evening were checked at the door. Events tend to just take over and you are then on autopilot for the most part.  It was very much like a wedding; lots of beautiful and emotional moments all blurred together.  Thankfully there are some great video clips by ABC-7 reporter Jay Korff and amazing photographs by Michael Bonfigli.  I encourage you to check out both of these links.

The year would not be complete however until I passed on the final installment in my $3,650 investment in kindness.  Who would it be?  There were several people at the celebration who I didn’t know, so they qualified.  But who?  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  It’s not a science, it’s much more of an impulsive decision.  Then I remembered the dozen individuals who were volunteering their time to work the event.  I knew some of them, but there were a few unfamiliar faces.  One of them belonged to Alyson, a 25-year-old DC resident who was busy working when I pulled her aside and placed the ten-dollar bill in her hand.

The final $10 changed hands during the event when Alyson H. became recipient #365. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

She works in congressional relations at the Peace Corps headquarters here in Washington, DC.

“I’m going to buy two raffle tickets,” Alyson told me.  Participants at the event could purchase raffle tickets for five dollars a piece for a chance to win some fantastic prizes from generous organizations and individuals (see list of sponsors) in the DC area.  All the money collected, about $2,200, is being donated to three amazing nonprofits: DC Central Kitchen, Street Sense and the Urban Philharmonic.  Each have played a special part in this year-long journey and it seemed fitting to mark this event with an act of giving back.

Unfortunately Alyson didn’t win anything in the raffle, but that wasn’t this Minnesota native’s real motivation.  She is just a giving person at heart.  In addition to her meaningful work with the Peace Corps, she takes time out of her busy schedule to do things for others.  In fact, she had recently volunteered at DC Central Kitchen.

So what now?  Well, for 2011 I have two big things planned.  First, the ten-dollar a day giving continues with other unemployed people signing up to be Kindness Investors and give a ten spot away every day for one week and then share their stories here.  It’s truly an amazing experience.  Later today you will start to get blog posts from Melinda from Xenia, OH, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

Elijah (Day 185) made it to the event, still not wearing shirts or shoes...and it was cold! (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

The other big project I am planning is to personally volunteer once a week for the entire year.  After reflecting on the previous 12 months I realized that the most valuable part of this experience has been the interaction with others, the time I spent with the recipients.  That’s what matters, to really care about someone else and their story.  So, I am going to be volunteering my time with some great nonprofits over the coming year and sharing the stories here on the Year of Giving! I hope you will follow along and drop me a note about how you incorporate volunteering into your life.

In addition to my personal commitment, I am challenging all those who are out of work to volunteer at least one day of their time.  We currently have 15 million individuals who are out of work in the US.  If we take an arbitrary hourly salary for each of them of $20 and calculate the value of each of them spending an eight our day volunteering, it comes up to $2.4 billion.  Now the average person is unemployed for six months right now, so double that amount and you get the total potential for the US for a year.  $4.8 billion is a seismic amount.  To put that into perspective, that is more than the economy of Zimbabwe!  Or three times the economy of Belize!  And we haven’t even mentioned the benefits the individual gets from volunteering!

I also want to work with companies to get them to create programs that encourage their employees to volunteer.  Imagine what we could do if we got just 20% of the active workforce to volunteer one day a year!  Anyway, check back in the coming weeks for more on this exciting new project.

Pierre from Day 359

Everything that I have ever done that was meaningful was sad when it came to an end.  So too is this moment.  The Year of Giving is not an earth shattering idea.  As Pierre from Day 359 put it, “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!”  He’s right.  What is unique is the experience that I have had.  When I started this project I thought that I might potentially change the lives of a handful of people, but I never thought about how it would change me.  I am forever changed.  I look at giving differently now.  It’s contagious and it has seeped into all aspects of my life.  I look at the homeless man on the street through a new lens now.  I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more valuable to stop and ask their name and how they are doing than it is to drop a dollar into their bucket.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but be reminded of some sage advice in Mitch Albom’s real-life story Tuesdays with Morrie. In the book, Morrie tells Mitch, The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  I did just that and today I have 365 new friends and a truly meaningful purpose in life.

It’s ironic that just when I thought I was reaching the end I’ve realized that in fact it is just the beginning!  It is truly a happy new year.  Stay tuned…

Read Full Post »

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam and his ten dollars

Read Full Post »

Jim has been homeless for more than three years.

So many of the 365 people that I have met have touched my soul.  They have made me think about things that I would have never had the perspective to ponder prior to taking this walk.  Jim, a 52-year-old homeless resident of Washington, DC, invited me into his world for a while.  Will you join me?

It was an abnormally warm November 30th.  Puddles filled the streets and sidewalks as water droplets still fell from rain covered tree branches from the late afternoon showers.  Tucked under a small awning in front of what used to be the Riggs Bank in DC – now PNC – was Jim.  His head didn’t move much at first when I called out to him, rather his eyes abandoned the crossword on his lap and found their way to mine.  He sat up a little bit, plucked the earphones away from his ears and offered me a dry piece of real estate next to him.

Mostly homeless since 2007 he credits not being able to find work as the cause of his current lack of regular indoor housing.  The biggest challenge he faces being homeless is not the cold or the danger, but finding a place to store his personal items.  “I lost all of my belongings…twice!”  He once tried to hide his things in Rock Creek Park only to find them gone when he came back.  “There needs to be some type of lockers downtown where to store things in,” he says, “I’d be happy to pay a reasonable fee for such a service.”

It’s a different paradigm living on the streets.  You become more in tune with some things.  “The saddest people out here are the schizophrenics,” Jim says.  “They don’t access all the resources that are available for them and they can’t keep schedules.”  We touched on a variety of levels of mental illness and I jotted down one of the things he said that caught my attention: “There is a certain charm that mildly psychotic people have.”

He told me about an “ex street boyfriend” he had.  “He once stole some ugly sunglasses and some eye cream; only a gay homeless guy steals eye cream!” he said appreciating the humor.

The air occasionally brought a chill with it and Jim slipped a blue knit hat over his head.  With the Express newspaper still in his lap he says, “If a crossword is too hard it gets to be like work and if it’s work, I expect to get paid!”  We laughed together.  Speaking of work, Jim did recently get a job at a Cosi for about a week.  “It was just not for me,” he said shaking his head slowly and watching some young people walk by probably on their way to a nearby coffee shop or bar.  “I felt like I had hundreds of managers telling me what to do.”

We must have sat there for about 90 minutes.  I shot some video that I have included here of Jim talking about where he is from, about being homeless, suffering from depression and finally he took me on a short field trip over to the Marvelous Market to do some dumpster diving.  His compassion and charisma impacted me a great deal. Check it out.

Jim plans to use my $10 to get some coffee and maybe a snack in the morning at Books-A-Million.  “I’ve been wanting to read God of Small Things,” he says about Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning novel.  “It appears to be a rich fictional piece that I might just end up getting lost in.”

I asked someone walking by to take our photo.

Through my conversation with Jim I learned that he knows Bill C. and Tommy N. who I gave $10 to earlier in the year.  As a final note, I have stopped by and left some food for Jim when I have seen him sleeping at his spot.  He also joined me at the Year-End Celebration which meant a lot to me!  Do check out the Lend a Hand initiative to see a couple of very simple things that you could get to help Jim out.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Deb Felz: singer, guitarist and songwriter

I never know where I am going to find my recipients.  Today I found Deb at the Potbelly’s where she was playing guitar.  It’s cool that Potbelly’s has musicians in there.  It’s not a place that you would expect to hear some great local talent, but Deb is pretty awesome.

I ordered their Uptown Salad and headed over to a table.  I was pretty sure that I had seen Deb before.  And then I figured it out, she was opening act at the Velvet Lounge the night I gave my $10 to Ethan, Day 128.  I just took a look back at that blog post from April and sure enough I even mentioned Deb!  

As I walked over to get my drink I asked her if she was in fact Deb Felz who had opened up for Ethan and Machines on Vacation.  In fact it was her, it’s a small world.  I sat down and started eating my salad and then it hit me.  She should be my $10 recipient of the day!  I waited until she finished her song and applauded, I was the only one, not because the others didn’t enjoy the music but because it is just not the environment where people are clapping for the performer.  But I did anyway. Then I went over and explained what I am doing and asked her to be part of it.  She set the $10 on the Fender amp that was to her right and started another song…I sat back and listed to about a half-dozen beautiful songs.  She finished and we pulled up some chairs to talk.

Deb plays as Adam gives me the "Who the hell is this guy?" look.

We were joined by her boyfriend Adam.  I noticed him while she was playing and I was photographing her.  I’m sure he was like, “Who the hell is this guy?”  I introduced myself to him and he was really nice as well.

Deb’s card says “singer, guitarist and songwriter.”  She is in fact all of these…and quite talented at each.  She does pretty much all original music.  I remember at one point some people at a nearby table asked her if she took requests.  “Not really.  I mainly do originals because I can’t do anything else,” she said warming the room with her smile.  Wow…there are a lot of people out there making music that can’t do anything original.  Her creativity started with writing.  “I’ve been writing as long as I can remember,” she told me.  “I wrote my earliest song around 9 or 10 and started guitar to put music to it when I was about 11.”  She doesn’t just enjoy the writing; she says that it’s something she needs to do.

She likes when people listen to her music and get something out of it that she hasn’t even thought of.  “All art,” she says “is for the audience.” 

Adam said that Deb has good Karma.  I’m not surprised after hearing what she intended to do with the $10.  “I’m going to give it to this one Street Sense vendor, she’s always by the Smoothie King.”  She ended up not seeing that vendor for a while so she gave the money to Kenneth B. from Day 30.  “He’s out there in all kinds of weather.” 

"Deb has pretty good karma!" - Adam

I particularly liked something she told me during our conversation.  She said, “The people who I admire the most are the people who have something to complain about and don’t.”  Well said.

Well, here are some links to Deb’s music.  I love it.  My two favorite songs are Pull and Meant to Be.  If you want to hear more of Deb’s music, just come to the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration next Tuesday…she’ll be playing live!

Deb’s website where you can listen to many of her songs for free

Video of Lovesick, Pull and one other song at Potbelly

Video of Raining in Baltimore at Potbelly

Video of Backwards at Potbelly

My video recordings have some annoying background noise that I can’t remove with my free software I use to edit.  Sorry!

Read Full Post »

I am not a huge music fan.  I don’t have libraries of music or walk around with earphones attached to my head, but I do enjoy live music.  It’s a little like sports.  I couldn’t care too much if I watch a game on television, but I really enjoy going to a game.  The energy that you feel when you are at a concert or a sporting event is simply not recreated in your living room. 

The other night I headed over to see my friend Michael play a little jazz gig.  They were playing at the Imani Temple on Capitol Hill.  Attendance was sparse but that didn’t affect the show.  They performed as if there was standing room only.  They had a special guest that evening, Denyse Pearson.

Denyse sang about seven or eight songs.  She has a beautiful melodic voice and I was really surprised to learn that she hadn’t been performing in years.  After the show I approached her and asked if she would accept my $10.  She agreed and even took some time to talk with me.

Denyse with her husband Lawrence who is also a talented musician.

Denyse started singing when she was five years old.  “My earliest recollection of me singing is sitting on my grandmother’s steps baby scatting,” she said breaking a smile and drifting off to her childhood.  “I used to sing as I slid down those steps.”  Her father was also a strong influence on her.  A Nat King Cole fan, he was also a gifted singer but “he never went as far as he could have,” she said.    

She followed her passion and her father’s footsteps and developed a singing career until she stepped aside in the 1990s.  “It just got little dangerous,” she explained, “going in and out of clubs late at night.”  She is hoping to get back into performing more now.  In fact, she said she was putting my $10 toward future recording costs.  

I will ask Denyse to update this post with upcoming concerts that she has scheduled so that those of you in the area can check her out for yourself.  In the mean time, you can take a listen to one of the tunes she did when I saw her.  By the way, that’s my friend Michael on piano…he’s also terrific.

And if you live far away and want to hear more of Denyse, why not order her CD?  I bought one and if you would like to get one, drop me a note and I’ll get you in touch with her.

Read Full Post »

Before I get to today’s recipient, I need your help to find two things.  First, I need a couple of people who are out of work who would be willing to take the same challenge that I have done this year for a week or two.  In other words to go out and give $10 away every day and then blog about it on the Year of Giving.  If you or someone you know wants to do this, please email me.

The other thing is that the Year of Giving is expanding!  We need a part-time intern for next year.  Someone who is a little web savvy and can dedicate about 10 hours a week to the project.  It doesn’t need to be for the entire year, but at least a 6 month commitment.  It will be an amazing experience, trust me.  Any interested people should get in touch with me ASAP and tell me why you should be chosen.

This is not good.

Now…on to today’s recipient.  This is really embarrassing yet it was bound to happen at some point.  I opened my journal up to the page marked Day 335 and there was nothing written there except the name Paul.  I had no idea who Paul was or where I met him.  How is this possible?  Then I went to look at my photos and figured out the photos immediately after Tyler were probably of Paul.  Bingo!  I was right.  I remember him now, he was a bike messenger I met on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan late one Sunday evening.  But where are all the notes about Paul?  How old is he?  What is his email?  What the heck did he do with the $10?  Hmmmm…I don’t know.  I know I wrote them down some place but I didn’t have my trusty Moleskine on me apparently.  I do have a video though…although it doesn’t tell too much either.

Paul powering up on some beverages at CVS.

I ran into Paul in front of the CVS that is next to the Safeway.  He was getting some beverages to take down to a restaurant down there street where his brother was waiting for him.  He had heard of the Year of Giving and was very friendly.  I told him about my losing my mother and he shared that his father had passed around this summer.  He talks about his dad and their relationship in this clip.  It’s clear that this was not easy for him to talk about.

Other than that, I can’t recall much.  The last couple weeks have been a complete blur.  I think he is in a band or DJs or something…who knows.  Hopefully I will find the little piece of paper where I jotted all the notes down.  And if anybody knows Paul…tell him to get in touch!

UPDATE: Jan 7, 2011

So I was doing some new year cleaning and found the paper where I wrote down the info on Paul!

When I met him he told me, “I’m coming back from a show that I didn’t go to.”  That kind of perplexed me, but then he explained that he went to a show where the band didn’t play.  “I ended up buying some CDs of the band,” he said referring to the metal band that calls themself Body Cop.

Paul is no stranger to music.  He plays bass and drums and even does some producing.  I asked him about musical influences.  “I’ve been inspired by so many but Brian Wilson, Myles Davis and Frank Zappa for sure.”   He has a website where you can listen to some of his work.

“I’m going to use the money for food,” he told me.  “I’ve been trying to conserve money lately.”  He said that he was lucky to have a job and enjoyed the flexibility of being a courier.

When we parted he said to me with so much enthusiasm, “It was really cool running into you.”  The feeling was mutual.

Read Full Post »

David is one of the most interesting and talented individuals I have met this year. (photo: Reed)

You know that I love the Street Sense organization.  Not only do I love what the paper and the organization stand for but I also have got to know many of their vendors and am honored today to call many of them my friends.

So when I heard about the Silent Auction benefit that Street Sense held to raise money for their organization, I made sure I was able to go.  It was a great event and they raised a record amount, but what I will remember most is meeting David.

He was asked to share some of his spoken word poetry at the event.  It was powerful.  David is so talented and brought the house down.  I knew he was my recipient of the day.  Here is one of the poem’s he shared with the attendees of the Silent Auction.

After he was done I approached him while he was by himself having a bite to eat from the delicious food that was generously donated by Fresh Start, a venture created by Day 225’s Robert Egger and the DC Central Kitchen.  David was so excited that I wanted to give him my $10 of the day that he started telling people around him.  His enthusiasm was beautiful.

David shared that he was released from ADX Florence, a level-5 Supermax prison in Colorado about 18 months ago.  “I shot a few people and threw them out of a window,” David told me picking at some fresh grapes on his plate.  “I had to serve my sentence there because of the violent nature of the crimes,” he went on to explain.  It was an odd juxtaposition.  In front of me stood this kind smiling man with a deep warm laugh who was sharing this information that didn’t seem to jive with the gentle giant in front of me.  He seems to be on the right track now; focusing on the positive.

Going through old photos I realized I had seen David once before. Here is a picture I took of him at the David Pike Awards. That's David on the left with Sam Ford of ABC7/WJLA-TV (phot:Reed)

David was homeless before serving his sentence and is homeless again.  One good thing is that he just was able to rent a storage locker.  “That’s a problem when you don’t have anywhere to keep your stuff safe,” says David.  He explained that he needed to go buy a proper lock for it.  “It costs $11, so I’m going to put this $10 toward the purchase of that lock!”  I happily reached in my pocket and handed him one more dollar to fully cover the cost.  He gave me a $100 smile.

David told me a story that I haven’t forgot.  While in prison he befriended another inmate who was illiterate.  Since David was good with words, this other inmate would have David write letters to his lady friend.  David would read the letters that she would write and tell him what she said and then write back to her.  “I was getting pretty interested in her,” he told me.  Here he was vicariously falling for another guy’s girl all because some guy couldn’t read or write… that’s movie material!  And a message for the kids, stay in school so other guys don’t steal your women while you are incarcerated!

I want you to watch David perform two of his other poems.  They’re powerful and deal with heavy subjects. 

David could use your help.  He would like to find additional employment.  “I’ve been cooking for years,” he said, but he would like to find something where he has more community engagement.  I was very impressed with this man.  He is one of the most interesting and talented people that I have met this year.  Although he is not always at the same location, often times you can find him selling the Street Sense at 13th and Pennsylvania in northwest DC.  Go visit him and tell him I sent you!

Read Full Post »

Kyle (aka Kevin) on the left with his friend Chris. (photo: Reed)

I met two guys that totally cracked me up!  I was at the Social Safeway in Georgetown when I ran into these guys talking football.  They were hanging out at the Starbucks Café that is inside the Safeway.

After some short discussion on who was going to accept my $10 they decided on Kevin.  Kevin told me that he was 21 and lived in Maryland.  Wearing a tie, he told me that he had come from work at a DC museum.  A few days later he emailed me and confessed that his name was not really Kevin and he didn’t work at the museum he told me about.   “Frankly I don’t tend to trust strangers so I made it up,” he wrote in the email.  Now, I kind of had a feeling that Kevin wasn’t his real name because he had referred to himself in a story as Kyle, his friend Chris called him Kyle, and his email had the name Kyle in it!  Hmmm.  He’s a good guy and just not able to lie very well.  That’s a good thing!

Well, I am sure I have received plenty of false names from my recipients.  I mean be honest, would you trust a guy who walked up to you and offered you $10.  You would think that there was some sort of catch, right?

So Kyle is originally from Philadelphia and is an Eagles fan.  “I liked McNabb and I didn’t like that they traded him,” he told me referring to Donovan McNabb being traded to the Redskins.  Although an Eagles fan, he owns a Michael Westbrook jersey.  Westbrook used to be a wide receiver for the Redskins.  I found out about the jersey because apparently when the Redskins played the Eagles back on October 3rd, my man Kyle bet his buddy Chris, who was with him at the Safeway, that if the Eagles lost he would drink as many shots of Grey Goose as the Eagles lost by AND, here is the kicker, eat a portion of his Michael Westbrook jersey!  Yes!  Well, Chris says that he chickened out on the shots and eating the jersey.  Instead he wore a McNabb jersey for a day. 

So this whole thing about betting and money lead to a discussion about what Kyle was going to do with the $10 he now had in his hands.  You guessed it, he put up a $10 bet with Chris on the following Monday night gave between the Vikings and the Jets.  His buddy Chris claims to be a die-hard Jets fan but Kyle says that Chris is just jumping on the band wagon.  They are doing well…in fact they are tied for first place with a 5-1 record.  Anyway, check out this video to see these two go at it about their bet.  I love these guys!  Chris’ comment about “guys wearing a suit” is hilarious the way he delivers it.

Oh yeah and Kyle said that if they won, he was going to frame the $10.  On the day of the game he sent me an email and said, “I’ve kept the $10 stored in my house hidden from the rest of my family and Chris is going to come over today to see the game. Hopefully I get to keep this money!”  As it turns out, the Jets won 29-20 and Kyle lost the $10 and did some shots of Grey Goose.

I wonder what their bet will be for the upcoming Redskins – Eagles rematch here in Washington on November 15th!  Maybe Kyle or Chris will give us an update on here.

Read Full Post »

American flags welcome the cars as they come around for the start of the race. (photo: Reed)

In the US, NASCAR is second only to the NFL in terms of televised audience for sporting events.  It claims 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales making it one of the most brand-loyal organizations in the world.  So when my friends Tom and Tressa invited me to go to the Sprint Cup Series NASCAR event in Richmond on September 11th, I couldn’t say no.

Here is something I found amazing.  Compare Football to NASCAR.  When my buddy Chris invites me to a Washington Redskins game I feel like owner Dan Snyder is always trying to get more money out of me some way.  As if the $75 ticket I paid wasn’t enough.  Ok, I’ll be honest.  I don’t think my Chris, who has season tickets to the Redskins, has ever accepted a dime for the tickets he gives me, however, I am sure he’s paying Mr. Snyder.  They charge $50 and up for parking, beers are $8, a sandwich is $10, there’s even been talk about making fans pay to tailgate!  In contrast, NASCAR, which was started by Bill France in 1948 and still family owned, has a different approach.  Perhaps this is what makes their fans so loyal.  When we arrived at the Richmond International Raceway in Henrico County, VA, parking was free!  What’s more, you were allowed to bring your own food and beverages into the stadium.  Heck, the only other thing you really need to buy while you are there are earplugs.  And those are provided at the track by the Boy Scouts in exchange for a donation.  

From left to right, Josh, Roger, John, Turner and Jim (photo: Reed)

Anyway, speaking of food and beverages, we decided to do a little cookout prior to the race.  A few cars away I spotted a group of five guys enjoying a few beers and laughs and wandered over there to find a recipient for my $10.

Instead of splitting the $10 five ways they choose for Roger, the president of a commercial real estate construction company in West Virginia, to receive the money.  I later found out that the five men didn’t know each other before the race.  Roger was there with a colleague of his, Josh.  The two of them met John and Turner there tailgating.  Jim wandered by at some point and made friends as well.  It’s amazing what a little Budweiser and 45 cars speeding around in a circle can do to bring grown men together.

Roger said he was rooting for the #88 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Turner favored the FedEx car driven by Denny Hamlin.  Jim worked for Ford for many years but said he was a fan of Chevrolet’s cars.  None of them appeared to be die-hard fans of any one particular driver, just fans of NASCAR.

Roger told me some crazy stories about him having a condition he called “sleep terror.”  I looked it up and found it to be more commonly called night terror, or pavor nocturnus, which according to Wikipedia is a parasomnia disorder that causes people to wake up abruptly from their sleep.  This is often accompanied by gasping, moaning or screaming while they are waking.  It is often nearly impossible to fully awaken a person experiencing a night terror so most individuals end up settling back into deep sleep and have no recollection of the episode.

Roger told me about a time when he was 17 and his parents finally woke him up in the middle of the night after they heard noises coming from the kitchen and found him there alone with a kitchen knife.  “I thought I had a tick,” he told me.  “I was trying to get it out.”  Luckily his parents were able to wake him up and nobody was injured.  Think this sounds crazy, check out two other stories Roger shared with me.  I also included a short scene from the race…its hard to appreciate the speed and noise on video, but trust me they’re moving fast and it’s deafening!

Now it sounds to me like some of his sleep terror could be a result of the 12-packs of beer that are involved.  Who knows? :)

I asked Roger what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going get something for his kids.  “I’ve got one that is eight and the other is ten,” he told me as he tucked the bill away in his wallet. 

Before leaving he told me that he thought of something that I could put on the Lend a Hand section.  “I’d like my friend Josh here to get a chance at singing country music,” he said of his colleague who had joined him for the race.  Josh enjoys singing but was a little shy at the moment to belt out some tunes in the middle of the beer drenched field.

Roger's favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 34th at Richmond. (photo: Reed)

It was getting close to race time so we said our goodbyes and headed over to the track.  I admit that I don’t know the first thing about NASCAR or any motor racing sport for that matter.  I mean it took me a while to realize that former football coach Jimmy Johnson wasn’t driving the #48 car.  That would be Jimmie Johnson, a difference of about 30 years and 50 pounds.  It would have been impressive though had it been him.  And hey, you can’t fault me too much thinking that with all the talk about Joe Gibbs’ racing team.  Speaking of which, the Gibbs team went on to take first and second place in that night’s race.  First place went to Turner’s pick, Denny Hamlin in the #11 car.  His teammate, Kyle Busch, finished second in the #18 car.  As for Roger’s hopeful, Dale Jr., he finished a disappointing 34th.

Read Full Post »

Every Labor Day they hold the Granger's Fair.

I decided to drive up to my father’s house and spend the Labor Day weekend with him.  On Saturday I made the two-hour drive from Washington, DC to Mechanicsburg, PA.  Having grown up there and returned home countless times, I am very familiar with the route.  I made my way through Dillsburg and then turned left onto York Rd. and drove about a mile.  Then a right onto Williams Grove Rd.  It’s only about 5 miles from there to my dad’s house.  I hadn’t gone even a half mile when I saw a sea of farm equipment sprawled out over a field to my left.  A little further I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Steam Engine Hill.”  I decided to pull in and see what was going on.

“Dad, I’m going to be a little late for dinner, I’ve stopped up here at William’s Grove Park at a tractor exhibition or something,” I told my father on the phone.  I paid $3 to park and got out of my car and started to walk around.

photo: Reed

There were hundreds of tractors.  Sometimes you would look down an aisle and not see the end.  There were all kinds too: large, small, new, old, shiny, rusty, diesel, gas, kerosene, etc.  They had a parade at sunset and all the tractors were lining up getting ready to do a lap around the fairgrounds.  I came across a guy atop a tractor that was waiting to get into the parade and I decided to introduce myself.  We talked for a little while but he was reluctant to accept my $10.  “I’m actually not the owner of this tractor,” he told me.  That didn’t really matter to me, but he said he would rather pass on the opportunity.  I walked a short distance away and saw a large old tractor that was inching its way forward in the parade.  

Dave's parents paid $75 for the tractor in 1972. (photo: Reed)

Dave was at the wheel of a 1928 Farmall Regular, a four thousand pound American made tractor.  I yelled up to him and asked if he had a few minutes to talk and he said, “Sure come on up.”  I climbed up onto the tractor and tried to find a secure place to stand.  Dave recommended that I sit down on the side of the tractor to ensure that I didn’t fall off.  Probably a wise call.

 “Hang on,” he hollered over at me.  “I’ve got it floored.”  Thankfully maximum speed on one of these guys is only three or four miles an hour. 

photo: Reed

A mechanical engineer, Dave works as a project manager for a firm near his home in Millersburg, PA.  “As a mechanical engineer this stuff really impresses me,” Dave says looking over at dozens of parked tractors.  

I asked the 51-year-old how old he was and smiled and said, “Old enough to know better, too young to resist.”  He is married and has three grown daughters.  His passion for these vintage tractors and interest in engineering was not been passed on to his girls it seems.  “I thought my oldest was going to be an engineer, but she turned out to be mathematically challenged,” Dave tells me with a grin.  Although his daughters weren’t at the fair, his parents, wife and brother were all there.  In fact I saw his father and brother driving some of the other tractors they own.  That’s right, Dave owns several tractors, but I get the feeling that this Farmall is special.

He said he would probably put the $10 toward parts and supplies for his tractor.  “It’s getting harder and harder to find parts for it.”

Dave allowed me to go through the parade with him.  It was a great honor.  I got literally a front row seat to the entire parade!  We drove by main part of the parade and they announced Dave’s name and the tractor’s make, model and year.  “There’s no judges, no prizes,” Dave says.  “We do this because we love it.”

We made our way to the end of the parade and dismounted the classic row farming tractor.  He points out that the original wheels were steel and although it runs on gasoline now it originally ran on kerosene.  

Dave's brother Justin gives him a ride on a Wheel Horse tractor. "That was the first thing with a steering wheel that I ever drove." -Dave (photo: Reed)

Dave’s brother Justin came over and said hello.  I took some more photographs of them and their tractors.  They drove away on a small Wheel Horse tractor.  Justin drove while Dave hitched a ride in trailer that it was pulling.  I waved goodbye and headed on my way to my dad’s house.

I was really late by this time…thankfully he wasn’t upset.  He was just happy to see me.  Gotta love my dad!

Here is great video of me talking with Dave as we rode in the parade.

Read Full Post »

I invited Bob to a coffee at a nearby coffee shop so Bob could sit down and rest his back. (photo: Reed)

I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street.  I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was.  I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.

“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared.  “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.”  There was something special about Bob, I don’t know if I knew exactly what it was immediately but I did perceive something really unique.  I have to admit that when I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze.  But I would soon find out that he has been sober for nearly 25 years.

Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him.  It’s one of the most moving videos I have shot of any of the people that I have met.  Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships and 20 nervous breakdowns.  His vulnerability and genuine candor will touch you.  I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend.  He too was in awe.

Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days.  Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state.  I definitely caught Bob on a good day.  No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted.  Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked.  I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day.  If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!

Ruth is Bob's birth mother. Ann was the mother who raised him. Bob would like to know what happened to his birth mother Ruth Lucas (photo: Reed)

He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s.  “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts.  After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year.  I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK.  “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked.  Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!”  He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.
At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob.  “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry based coffee-house.  She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that.  “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered.  “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote.  It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter.  I love her so much.”  He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her.  He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained.  He says that she has an alcohol addiction.  “There is always hope, look at me.  It took me 30 years though.”

I spent almost two hours with Bob.  I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute.  I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life.  “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross.  “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”

I caught a rare smile. Bob will use my $10 to help pay his rent. (photo: Reed)

I hope that you took the time to watch the video above.  It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery I think they will find it very insightful.  One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video clip that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait.  It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process.  They want what they want when they want it.  They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month.  It doesn’t work that way.  You got to be patient.”

As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought.  “Tell someone today that you love them.”  Invaluable advice.

Read Full Post »

I have hit the streets every single day for the past 225 days searching for someone to give my $10 to.  This journey started out during a difficult time for me.  For the first time since I was 12 (stop calling the Department of Labor, I was a paper boy!) I was out of a job.  Through the Year of Giving I meet so many other amazing people who are in similar situations and every day they look for work or someone who will give them a chance.  Today I met a person who does just that!

Robert (photo: Reed)

Robert Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the nation’s first “community kitchen”, where unemployed men and women learn marketable culinary skills while donated food is converted into wholesome meals.  Pretty cool, eh?

At 52, Robert’s life has taken an unlikely course for someone whose dream 30 years ago was to open the quintessential nightclub in the country.  Back then he worked in clubs and bars and even got to see the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen play in what is now the Darlington House in Dupont.  As we walk east along E Street, Robert explains how in 1989 he cooked up this idea to feed the poor after a volunteer experience.  20 million meals later, he and DC Central Kitchen have done a lot of good and given over 700 men and women full-time employment as well!

In one of our tangents, Robert explained how two men covered the entire country painting Mail Pouch signs on barns. One went and made the deals and the other followed painting he barns.

I had seen Robert once before.  He spoke at an event earlier this year and I was so impressed at how he sees the world.  He can take 5 random subject ingredients, toss them together and come up with a coherent message that is meaningful and memorable.  It’s no surprise that he spends a great deal of his time speaking to groups around the country about harnessing nonprofit power.

He was born in the little town of Milton, Florida (population about 10,000) nine months after his parents tied the knot.  “I was a wedding night baby!” he says with a wide grin that reaches outside of his goatee.  “1958 – me, Madonna, Prince and Kevin Bacon!”  Can you name three famous people who were born the same year you were?   I don’t think I can.

One thing you definitely notice about Robert is that he speaks fast.  Trying to walk and jot down notes was nearly impossible so I busted out the Flip camera.  Try to keep up…

As he arrives back at the DC Central Kitchen, a young woman named Becky walks by.  Robert snags her and beams as he tells me what a great job she has done leading their job placement program.  “We placed 20 out of 21 candidates in our last class” Becky says and then hustles back to work.

As she slips out of sight I shift back into my list of questions for Robert.  Before I could even get my next thought conjured up in my head another team member, Quinn, walks by.  Robert pulls him aside and says “I know exactly what I am going to do with this $10 and Quinn here is going to make it happen!”  Quinn’s face looked like most people’s face when I tell them I want to give them $10…a little confused.  But he goes with the flow and Robert explains how giving the $10 to Quinn will impact thousands of people in the DC area.  This is cool, check it out.

Not only is he the President of DC Central Kitchen, but he has parlayed his success as a social entrepreneur into two other related ventures, the Campus Kitchens Project and Fresh Start Catering.  On top of that he founded a political action group that represents the voice of social enterprise and non-profits called V3 and wrote a book (which I just bought!) called Begging for Change that is a plea for reform for the 800 billion dollar non-profit sector.

The guy is busy and keeps an insane calendar, but the chaos of his schedule puts him in front of people all across this country.  And when he is in cabs or waiting for a plane to depart he is updating his twitter and facebook status.  Hopefully you will get the chance to speak with Robert one day – it’s invigorating.  My suggestion if you see him, and you want to try to get him to sit still for a second, is to offer him big-ass margarita made with Herradura Tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice.  Drop me a line and let me know if it works!

Read Full Post »

Eric fights to protect the right to affordable housing in the District (photo: Reed)

Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest.  On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock.  Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific. 

He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel.  Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital.  Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story 

This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though.  Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks.  If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before.  They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others.  That’s quite a family.  They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them! 

Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida.  As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement.  He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey.  In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time.  That was not the only tragedy of 1994.  On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.  

In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods.  He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist.  He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally. 

Eric at Parcel 42 aka Tent City DC at 7th and R in NW (photo: Reed)

He walked and hitchhiked most of the way.  He told me several amazing stories about his journey.  One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening.  There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance.  When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church.  Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night.  He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers.  They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him.  He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA.  When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20! 

Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open.  He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open.  Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter. 

Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates.  He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter.  This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.  

With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation.  He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals.  Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.  

Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food. 

I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents.  The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative.  Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.

Read Full Post »

Carlton sometimes does as many as 10 paintings a day (photo: Reed)

Carlton is sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America along Dupont Circle, his feet extending over the edge of the curb and into traffic.  His right hand, covered with paint, swiftly dances over the canvas of a landscape of a far off mountain accompanied by some trees in the foreground.  He pops up and talks to a man who approaches him.  He displays another painting that he has next to him to the man.  They talk for a few minutes and then the man takes his wallet out and pulls a twenty from it and places it in Carlton’s hand.  In exchange he hands him the painting.

I decided to go up to Carlton and ask if he would accept my $10.  He was genuinely curious about what I was doing.  We chatted about his past, the present and the future.  It was a pretty memorable evening.

photo: Reed

At 45 Carlton has been through a lot.  But painting here at Dupont Circle brings his story full circle.  You see it was here about 10 years ago that he used to sleep in the park and panhandle in front of the CVS.  He was a homeless out-of-work drug user.  One evening he went into the park and shot up with some dirty needles.  He suspects it was that specific night that he contracted the HIV virus.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea, but the addiction had blurred his judgment.  It reminds me of Rob from Day 117 who said, “The thing about addiction is that people continue these behaviors in spite of catastrophic consequences.”  Anyway, he went years without knowing he was infected until he started to get quite ill and lost a considerable amount of weight.  He went to the hospital and found out that he was HIV positive.  He says that his health is good these days thanks to three little pills that he takes every day.  He says he knocked his drug addiction although still drinks alcohol which I could smell on his breath.

It was only about a year and a half ago that Carlton started painting.  “I didn’t want to panhandle no more” he said.  He got started when a woman left him some paint by the bench where he was sleeping.  He decided to give it a try.  “God taught me,” he answers when I ask if he was self-taught.  The reason he chooses to paint at Dupont Circle is that he hopes that some of the same people who used to see him strung out years ago will see him today and realize that he has talent and that he has improved his situation.  He talks to me about why he likes to paint landscapes, how he has deals with being HIV positive and being homeless:

With the money that I gave him he said he was going to buy some colored paints.

Here is another few minutes of my conversation with Carlton. I asked him how others can help him and I thought his answer was beautiful.

I really enjoyed talking with him.  As it got late and he finished his last painting he said that he needed to catch the Metro.  “Hey, why don’t you take this painting” he offers as he pushes the painting you see in these pictures toward me.  I told him that I couldn’t receive anything in return for the $10 but I did appreciate the gesture.

 
If you would like to find Carlton, he is often at Dupont Circle in front of the Bank of America during the afternoons.  And sometimes he is there at night, like today.  His paintings range from $20 and up, depending on the size and type.

UPDATE: I ran into Carlton on June 1, 2011 and visited with him for a while.  You can read about my latest encounter with him by clicking here.

Read Full Post »

OK, I am really behind now on my blog posts. My computer is dead. My brother and I spent all day trying to fix it yesterday. I think the hard drive is shot. It might take me a couple of days to confirm that and then get the problem completely fixed or get another computer. Thanks to all who offered to lend me laptops. Maybe some company out there will be inspired to give and help me out with a new one! Feel free to send letters to your favorite laptop manufacturer!

Before I share with you Day 181′s recipient, I would like to update you on Kenneth B (Day 30). Kenneth has been selling the Street Sense newspaper at the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro for two years. Unfortunately I recently learned that Kenneth will have to miss about a month or two due to some medical problems. I see him all the time and he loves serving his customers. I went to visit him the last day before he took time off and he shared with me some financial concerns that he had due to the month or two that he will be out of work. If you would like to help Kenneth out (or any Street Sense vendor out for that matter) you can send a donation to him via Street Sense’s website. In the special instructions field, please indicate what percentage of your donation you would like to go directly to Kenneth and the great team over at Street Sense will make sure he receives it. Thanks for keeping Kenneth in your thoughts.

Ashley at Starbucks at the corner of Connecticut Ave. and R Street (photo: Reed)

So Day 181 was the Sunday before the Worldwide Day of Giving. As I passed the Starbucks near my house I saw a young lady sitting on their patio studying flash cards. I haven’t seen somebody using flash cards for years. Full of intrigue I stopped and introduced myself.

Ashley is a 22-year-old recent graduate of the George Washington University and is studying to take the GRE exam. Tonight she is focusing on her vocabulary by studying words like “dirge,” disabuse” and “dissemble.” I took a shot at about a half-dozen words and was embarrassed at how dreadful my vocabulary knowledge was.

Ashley is quite smart. Although she plans to leave for a Peace Corps assignment this fall, she wants to take the test now while her education from GWU is still fresh in her mind and then use that score to apply for graduate study upon her return from her stint overseas. I think the test results are valid for five years.

I asked her what interested her about the Peace Corps. “I love exploring. I want to serve my country and be a good diplomat of the United States.” Ashley was actually supposed to have already left for her tour however her plans got delayed several months after a less than perfect Lasik eye surgery. She explained that she very well may have to have additional procedures to correct the situation. “I think I am going to opt for “PRK” which is much more painful.” Sorry to hear that Ashley!

In the mean time she picked up a second job at a restaurant. I asked which one and would you believe it was the same place I had chose to hold the Worldwide Day of Giving celebration two days later! Small world.

When she is not working, this native of Rapid City, South Dakota likes reading, good food, good wine, coffee, dancing and exploring other places. She has traveled extensively and tells me a little about her trips to Syria, UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Thailand. With all the travel it’s no surprise that she has picked up some Arabic and even some Spanish.

I asked her what she was going to do with the $10 and she said that she was going to give it to somebody on the Worldwide Day of Giving. And she did! Not only did she give her $10 to a young man named Aziz on June 15th, but she invited him to join her at the Get-Together we had in DC that evening. Aziz came and I got to meet him as well!

Update July 30, 2010: I finally was able to upload the video that I shot when I met Ashley.

Read Full Post »

Today was a very busy day for the Year of Giving blog due to Elizabeth Barr’s story that ran on AOL.   I received over 100,000 hits and approximately 50,000 unique visitors to the site.  In the last 10 hours I have received nearly 800 emails and comments, many of them incredibly inspiring.  So many of you have shared how the Year of Giving and the people I have met have touched your lives.  Thank you.  Almost a hundred people today have pledged to give $10 to a stranger on the Worldwide Day of Giving (June 15th) and share their stories with us here.  About a dozen people have vowed to start their own Year of Giving.  Others have offered to help those on the Lend a Hand page, thank you!  One gentleman even offered to help a woman who posted that she needed a computer by sending her a good used computer!  This is what it is all about; watching the Year of Giving take on a life of its own. 

All of that is terrific!  There has been something that happened today that bothered me though.  I am completely supportive of good intellectual debate and discussion, however some of the comments about Katy (Day 111)  ripping up the $10 went too far in my opinion.  After more than 20,000 views today, there were several slanderous comments against Katy that I feel are not in the spirit of the Year of Giving.  One comment that I thought represented my feelings after reading the comments was by a poster that goes by the name Saw.  

He who is without sin….cast the first stone. How is poor Katy going to feel when she reads all the unkind reviews of her action? Does she deserve such harsh judgment? How are the people leaving cruel comments any better than Katy? Aren’t they much more interested in that $10, than the pain they might cause her? 

I agree with this statement completely.  As a result of this I have temporarily closed the comments section for Day 111.  There are more than 325 comments already on the subject and I think her decision has been thoroughly debated.  I am not sure we can come up with an angle that hasn’t already been covered.    

Back to Day 123.  Last Friday I found Jen sitting in the grass in Dupont Circle.  She was killing some time before she had to start her shift at a local restaurant.  She said she was in a bit of a bad mood and thought that she would hang out in the park for a while and get herself in a better state of mind before clocking in.  

Jen relaxing in Dupont Circle (Photo: Reed)

 

Originally from Pennsylvania, she was familiar with my hometown of Mechanicsburg.  The twenty-something is a graduate of the George Washington University where she studied anthropology and dance.  Wow…what a combo.  What direction would I go if that was what my undergradudate degree was in?  Well, she might have found herself in the same predicament as she has decided to go to grad school to study Latin American and Caribbean studies.  I might be going out on a limb here, but that might be influenced by the fact that her fiancée is Brazilian! 

Given Jen’s current financial situation, she has given more of her time than money to others.  She has volunteered as an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor.  She planned on volunteering two years with the Peace Corps but it looks like she won’t pursue that now that she is engaged. 

I asked her what she was going to do with the $10.  She said she would give it to someone else.  “Maybe I will leave it as an extra tip for a waiter.”  She agreed to comment here after she has given it away and share with us the fate of the $10. 

Jen told me she was planning a trip to the west coast where she was going to drive the coastal highway from LA up to San Francisco.  She hoped that someone reading my blog would have some good tips or links to good Websites to help her plan the route and things to do.  So if you have any tips/suggestions for her, leave a comment here!   

Want to know a weird coincidence…Jen knows several of my other recipients!  My world is becoming smaller!!! 

UPDATE [April 22, 2010] 

I received the following email from Jen today and wanted to share with you: 

I’ve been meaning to write you, just to give a little more feedback on what I thought/think about your project. 

Honestly, it took a couple days for it to sink in.  After I spoke with you, I went straight to work, worked a 7-hour shift, left, went home, slept a bit, then went back the next morning for a 15-hour double, so I honestly didn’t have time to think about it until Sunday.  I was supposed to meet a friend for brunch, but she overslept, and I kinda needed some alone time, so I grabbed a book and took myself to brunch at Tonic.  As I predicted, I ended up leaving the server an extra $10 on top of a normal tip. 

It was funny – I felt like I had to get rid of the $10 as soon as possible.  It wasn’t mine, and I had to get rid of it as soon as possible before I was tempted to keep it.  Plus, being in the restaurant industry myself, I know how nice it is to feel like your time and work is appreciated when someone tips you a little extra.  There were a lot of other ways I could have given away the $10 – donated it to a local charity or cause I believe in, used it to buy lunch for a homeless person, or something along those lines.  I’m not really sure why I decided to give it away on the fashion I did – I guess it was just quick and easy, and I could (temporarily) brighten up someone else’s day. 

Anyway, you’re trying to build community through inspiration.  Stepping back, doesn’t it kinda suck that you have to give $10 a day in order to do that?  Like, is that the only way to build community and inspire people?  I mean, this whole thing isn’t about the money – it’s just the common thread with everyone you talk to. 

All the same, if you had approached me in Dupont and just wanted to talk, I would have been more than happy to share…but probably would’ve just brushed off our interaction afterwards and never thought about it any further.  You’re reaching out and giving back when you reached a juncture in your life where you should have been doing the opposite, and I think that’s a very powerful message. 

Anyway, kudos on your work.  I hope your project continues to grow, bring further insights to others as well as yourself, and, hopefully within the year, reach a grand final culmination.  Please stop by my restaurant anytime you want to chat :) 

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 322 other followers