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Posts Tagged ‘washington’

Last night was the opening night of A Year of Giving – the theatrical version of my year-long journey of giving $10 away every day to strangers while unemployed back in 2010.

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Holger D. (left) was my $10 recipient on July 14th. Photo: Dave Levin

The nearly sold out show was a culmination of a lot of hard work. Melanie Papasian provided us with a terrific script. Pat Miller of Rockville Little Theatre produced the show and got the very talented Sasha Brätt to direct the production. We had some serious setbacks in the last two weeks….losing two actors to injuries (not related to the show…there’s no circus moves or acrobatics in the in the play – it is part of the Fringe Festival so you never know!), but we managed to combine those two roles into one and find the amazing Devon DuPay who took on the daunting challenge of learning the entire piece in one week. You would never believe that she hadn’t seen the script before last week! In addition to her, Pat Miller and Steve Langley were phenomenal.

Miller shines as he portrays DC Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger who I gave my $10 to on Day 225. Langley did an amazing job portraying Ivory, a Street Sense vendor who I met on Day 49. He also portrays Knox, my first $10 recipient, who by total coincidence was shinning shoes outside the theatre – a special treat for the audience and Langley who portrays Knox in the show.

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The real Knox (left) from Day 1 poses for a photo with Steve Langley who portrays Knox in A Year of Giving. Photo: Reed Sandridge

For me, seeing Knox outside was amazing. I’ve seen him a few times since our first encounter on December 15, 2010, but to run into him on the day that the show opened, that made my day! I’ve invited him to be my guest at any of the forthcoming shows….but it seems theatre is not his thing. He says he may try to show up and shine shoes outside the theatre though to make a few extra bucks.

The other highlight was giving my $10 away to an audience member. Yep, you come see the show and you might just get ten bucks! Holger, originally from Germany, helps develop environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions with the goal of improving the quality of life of city dwellers.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the $10 – but promised to follow up with me once he decided.

Four more shows to go! If you’d like to attend you can purchase tickets for the following days:

Jul 17th 9:00 PM
Jul 20th 7:00 PM
Jul 22nd 3:00 PM
Jul 28th 6:00 PM

All shows are at the Goethe Institut – a block from the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro stop.

For more information on the show, visit our Facebook Page.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossing the Potomac River (Photo: Charles Hagman)

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

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

Ghost Bike

Photo by M.V. Jantzen

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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Year of Giving volunteer getting dirty!

If you live in DC and are not familiar with Hands on DC, check them out today!  Founded back in 1994 by a small group of friends who wanted to make a difference in DC public schools, this all-volunteer organization leads a variety of improvement projects at more than 30 area schools.  Their largest event is Work-a-Thon, held every spring.

I signed up to lead a team at the 2011 Work-a-Thon that was held April 29th.  I was joined by about a dozen Year of Giving volunteers.  We were part of a larger team that was assigned to Brent Elementary School, a Pre-K – 5th grade school located not even three blocks from the well-groomed lawn of the US Capitol.

When I showed up I was really impressed.  This school looked a lot better than I expected.  I have done two other school based projects this year and their campuses didn’t look anything like Brent.  A variety of gardens surround the brick building that sits across from Folger Park.  On the Southwest corner of the grounds is a really cool playground.  It’s got a special foam-like ground surface that helps reduce injuries upon impact.  So I’ve got to say that when I walked onto the campus I was thinking, “Did I miss the event?  Was it yesterday?  It looks like everything is already done!”

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The entire work group

But I was indeed in the right spot.  This school, which seems to be very progressive with their Museum Magnet Program, benefits from the fact that the staff and parents are very involved with all aspects of the school experience.  To give you an idea, check out something I found on their website: “Students, parents community members and Brent staff will collaboratively share leadership and accountability for empowering the highest quality of teaching and learning, everyday, in every Brent setting, for every student.”  We worked side by side several parents and staff members and I could tell that they really cared for their school.

Team Year of Giving quickly got to work on a variety of projects.  I, like most of us, spent the day weeding and mulching.  My brother and Jody planted a tree.  Kimon and Aster built a tee-pee!  So there were some interesting projects.

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Some of the Team Year of Giving volunteers

Everyone on the team had a great time.  I hope to do more volunteer projects where I have support from you guys!  Thanks to those who came out and helped make Brent Elementary look really fantastic!  Click here for more photos.

For those of you who were not able to participate in Work-a-Thon can make a donation to this great organization.  100% of your donation will be to secure supplies for service projects as well as to provide college scholarships through College Bound, a local mentoring and tutoring organization dedicated to supporting DC public schools students who want to attend college.

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Me and my bro Ryan

We are one month away from the Worldwide Day of Giving – if you haven’t signed up, and everyone can sign up, click here.  How many people do you think we can get to sign up in 30 days?!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. ~Helen Keller

DSC_0199.jpgThe above quote is particularly relevant to today’s post.  As you know every Monday I bring you a blog post of my weekly volunteer activities.  Today’s service project was one that I took part in along with more than 8,000 other volunteers throughout our nation’s capital.

For the past 18 years, Greater DC Cares has organized Servathon – two extraordinary days of service.  The first day corporations and their employees participate in region-wide projects that focus on schools, parks, and other community areas.  On the second day, individual volunteers join in.

I registered a Year of Giving team for the second day where we were tasked with working on several outdoor projects at the Maya Angelou Evans Campus here in DC – a charter school in Northeast.

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Volunteer team at Maya Angelou Evans Campus

As I drove up to the school on Saturday morning colorless skies grew heavy and rain began to fall upon my windshield.  I was hoping the rain would hold off until we finished our outdoor projects.  We were building a garden area; from constructing the wooden frame that would encompass the area to building benches and painting concrete slabs that would be used as a walkway.

I was in charge of building some of the benches which turned out not to be to be too difficult since all the wood came pre-cut.  Thankfully we could do this work indoors, but that wasn’t the case though for several other teams who spent hours in the rain.  Mud was everywhere.  The beautiful thing about working on these projects together is that despite the thick layer of wet earth that was slathered on our clothes and exposed skin, spirits were bright, friendships were forged and cooperation thrived.  Thanks to all of those who came out to support team Year of Giving!  Click here to see more photos from the day.

Check out the Greater DC Cares website for other volunteer opportunities such as Servathon.  Their next region-wide service day will be held on 9/11, but you can find hundreds of other volunteer opportunities throughout the year on their website.

DSC_0168.jpgDC Cares also holds an annual event called IMPACT Summit which focuses on volunteerism, service and philanthropy.  As part of the event, they present a series of awards to outstanding organizations and community leaders who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in volunteering.  If you know of any organization or individual who should be recognized, please click here to nominate them.

Enjoy your week…hopefully we will have a new kindness investor soon!

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Michelle - Day 277

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

On Day 227 of last year I introduced you to my 277th recipient, Michelle B.  With an infectious smile and a “let’s get it done” attitude, Michelle keeps the dining room at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in order.  The guests are warmed by her love and laughter but also know not to step out of line.  She’s in charge.  One of the things I most look forward to when I am going to volunteer at SOME is the opportunity to see and talk with Michelle – she’s awesome.

On a recent Tuesday morning after meeting up with Anthony from Day 67 for breakfast, I made my way over to Truxton Circle, a small triangular neighborhood that has lost its identity somewhat since the traffic circle for which it’s named was removed in the late 40s.  Somewhere between then and now it seems the area’s identity has also been lost, often being referred to incorrectly as Eckington or Shaw.  I frankly had never even heard the name Truxton Circle used very much until I started researching things for this post, but then again, I don’t frequent the neighborhood that often and neither do the majority of other middle/upper class Washingtonians.  In fact, the only reason that I go to Truxton Circle is to visit SOME and hopefully see my new friend Michelle.

SOME-2.jpgUnfortunately on this Tuesday Michelle wasn’t there, but that’s alright.  I got to speak with Dirk, the volunteer coordinator, who I have “known” via email but not in person until then.  After a career overseas working in foreign policy, Dirk came back to Washington looking to make a difference.

“I haven’t ‘worked’ a day since I’ve been here,” he remarks about his 15 months on the job.

Inside the dining room I get to work resetting tables for the 250 guests that filed through the doors that afternoon to get a sausage sandwich, beans, mixed vegetables and an apple.  It was not too hectic as we had a decent number of volunteers; even some young students from a high school in North Carolina were on hand to help.  Everything just sort of works.  The regular volunteers guide the new volunteers in a very proactive way.

“Want to help me wipe down these tables,” I overhear a veteran volunteer ask one of the students.

Back with Dirk, he explains that it would be impossible to provide the quality of services that they do without the help of volunteers.

“We need all types,” he says.  “Serving breakfast during the week is something that we can always use help with, but we have other needs too that you might not realize.  We need volunteers with skills in web design, landscaping and tutoring.”

When asked about the challenges associated with maintaining regular volunteers Dirk’s eyes widen. “If you feel the impact – a smile or a hug – then you show up the next day.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.

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I wanted to get my picture taken with Dirk.

Before leaving, I take several boxes of clothes that I collected at my birthday party back in January over to their clothing center.  Over one hundred items were given to me to be donated, many of which had sales tags still on them.

I left with my heart glowing; feeling that high that you get when you make somebody’s day.  SOME is doing terrific work not only with their dining facility, but also in the other services that they provide which they break down into three categories: emergency, rebuilding and stability.

Anthony told me that morning that “SOME is possibly the best” when it comes to providing comprehensive services to the homeless.   I totally agree and will continue to support them.

If you would like to volunteer with SOME, please visit their Volunteer Page.

If you would like to donate to SOME, click here.

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

A year ago this week I met a charismatic young post-grad student from Georgetown University: Alex S.  His story is one of my favorites and one that I tell over and over because I love how he thought outside the box and was creative and thoughtful with how he used the $10.

Here it is…

Originally posted on April 12, 2010

So this morning I heard the NPR story by Liane Hansen…it was great!  If you missed it, check it out here.

So I was walking around my neighborhood one night looking for someone to give my $10 to.  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  There really isn’t any scientific method, but more of an instinctive gut reaction that I have.  Something about the person makes them interesting to me.  Maybe they are dressed in an interesting way, maybe a pan-handler says something clever, or perhaps it’s just a nice bus driver.

Alex is sitting in a small park on a bench reading a book at about 9:00pm.  The dim light from a nearby street lamp is just enough for him to read his book: Negotiating Across Culture by Raymond Cohen.

Alex is dressed in a suit sans tie.  He looks comfortable and at ease with me approaching and sitting down next to him.  He is reading the textbook for his post-grad coursework at Georgetown.  In addition to his schoolwork, Alex also has a part-time job at a DC think tank.  As I explain to him my year-long commitment I learn that his birthday is December 15th (the day I started the Year of Giving).  Somehow I feel that I was meant to meet Alex.

When Alex isn’t studying, working at the think tank or taking in a night at local art galleries (that’s what he was doing this night) he gives his time.  He helps out at shelters and kitchens around DC.  He has volunteered several times atLoaves and Fishes, a ministry of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church that has been serving lunch to the hungry and homeless on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays since 1968.

Alex hopes to work in international development and policy in Africa.  This is no surprise given his vast international experience.  For a 24-year-old he has seen a lot of the world.  Check out the video where we talk a little about his experiences overseas.

The following is a letter that I received from Alex explaining how he used the $10.  Also, take note of the link to the study on kindness at the end…definitely worth a read.

Hey Reed,

I was really unexpected and nice meeting you the other night. I wanted to drop you a note to say that I really think your project is fantastic. I think it’s great that you have embraced the curiosity, generosity, and faith in other people that a lot of us aspire to. I too believe that there’s so many incredible and interesting people we encounter in our daily lives that we seldom take the time to stop and appreciate. I myself wish I did it more.

So, I told you I’d write you to tell you how I’d spend my money.  Basically, 10 bucks isn’t going to change what I can afford, or what some deserving NGO in the area could do if I gave the money to them.  But, what the gesture of yours can do is change something I do, particularly stopping to appreciate the people we see in our daily lives but maybe don’t stop to acknowledge or appreciate. So, what I decided to do was spend that money on some cookie supplies, bake some cookies and give them to people we don’t too often acknowledge – the guys who hand out the WaPo Express, the people who work at the Metro stations and the cleaning people and receptionist in my building on K Street.

Oh and I also thought you’d be interested in this article I came across on the kindness multiplier. Reminds you that an act of kindness has consequences you don’t see!

Cheers and best of luck,

Alex (109)

Thanks Alex.  What a thoughtful and creative use of the $10.  I would love to know how the people reacted!  If you haven’t already done it yet and can record it, it would be great to post here!  It was great to meet you…thanks for making this giving experience so special.

Update 4/9/2011

Alex attended the Year-End Celebration in December.  And he didn’t show up empty handed either.  Would you believe that he showed up with cookies to share?  What a thoughtful guy!

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

I’m looking for volunteers for four things.  Two of the items can be done anywhere in the world, so there’s something for everyone!

  1. On Saturday April 16th I am volunteering at DC Servathon, a city-wide volunteer movement.  I am leading a small team of people who will be working to make some improvements at the Maya Angelou Charter School.  We are in need of volunteers and donations.  If you are interested in volunteering making a financial contribution, click here.

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    Volunteers from MLK Service Day!

  2. On Saturday April 30th I am involved in another service day called Hands-On-DC!  We’ll be tackling a DC public school and need more volunteers.  Click here to sign up or make a financial contribution to provide college scholarships for underprivileged kids in DC.
  3. We need a new Kindness Investor on Year of Giving!  If you or someone you know is unemployed or underemployed and wants to spend seven amazing days investing in kindness let me know.  Click here for more details.
  4. The Worldwide Day of Giving is back!  That’s right, this coming June 15th is the second annual Worldwide Day of Giving.  Last year over a thousand people from around the world participated by giving $10 to stranger.  This year, you have an additional option for those who would prefer to volunteer.  Both options are a lot of fun.  Details can be found here or on the Facebook Page.  I need your help in spreading the word so that we can make this another amazing day!  Use your Facebook, twitter, whatever…just spread the love!

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Before I tell you about my amazing experience volunteering as a photographer – yep, a photographer – at a local event for individuals with multiple sclerosis, I want to do a shameless plug for two volunteering opportunities that are coming up…and I need you to come out and volunteer.

Servathon DCOn Saturday April 16th Team Year of Giving will help Greater DC Cares.  We’ll most likely be assigned to a local DC school or public park.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find Team Year of Giving!

Hands on DC Work-A-Thon: Similar to Servathon, this is a large city-wide initiative that focuses on improving DC Public Schools.  Click here to join…be sure to join Team Year of Giving!

 

Dr. Byrne, who turned 60 on this day, spoke to the audience on the power of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Speaking of volunteering, my most recent volunteer outing was with the National Capital Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis SocietyA Day of Healing was a half-day program that was offered, free of cost as I understand it, in conjunction with the local YMCA for people in the DC area living with MS.  An autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, MS affects approximately 300,000 people (mostly women) in this country.

 

I arrived a few minutes late, having promised earlier that I would arrive by 10am.  I somehow got stuck in the middle of a road race and couldn’t get unstuck for about 30 minutes.  Thankfully I had given myself plenty of time to get there.  When I finally did arrive I was greeted by Emily, a senior communications manager for the MS Society.

 

Adaptive yoga was a popular session

The day’s program started with a light breakfast, followed by an opening ceremony and group meditation led by Dr. Hugh Byrne who is an expert in mindfulness – the art of bringing a direct, non-judging awareness to our own experience, moment-by-moment.  I think this is mostly done through meditation, but it seems clear that you can do this throughout your day as well.

 

I was instructed to try to get some photos in the opening session of Dr. Byrne speaking and leading the group meditation.  First of all, I got to tell you that Dr. Byrne is your man if you want to meditate.  I wasn’t even really trying to meditate, remember my task was to capture images, and I was like a baby being lulled to sleep by his calm British accent.  But no time to relax, I have to get some photos.

Photographing people meditating is really awkward…second only to covering a funeral probably.  You have a sea of attendees all motionless with their eyelids closed; resting like heavy clouds.  The worst thing probably, besides the occasional hotel staffer who would make some noise, was the sound of me snapping pictures!  Anyway, I tried to be respectful and got through the session.  I don’t know if they will be able to use them though because basically it looks like an audience full of bored attendees who have fallen asleep!

 

Art proved to be a very relaxing activity.

Later the attendees had the opportunity to attend two of three break-out sessions that focused on yoga, nutrition and art therapy.  Somewhere in the mix there was a lunch too where Dr. Byrne would deliver the keynote address and talk about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and how it can positively affect those living with MS.

 

I weaved in and out of the break-out sessions trying to get good photographs despite the blah yellowish-gold colored rooms that were backdrops to the images I was to capture.  What is it about hotel conference rooms that dictate that they be painted this terrible color anyway.  All the while I have to be mindful of those with an orange circle on their badge.  That meant they didn’t want to be photographed.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m color- blind.  But I did the best I could!

 

Some people literally rolled up their sleeves and got dirty too!

Back at the lunch I set down my Nikon for a while and enjoyed the spread of food (who says there’s no free lunch!) and concentrated on Dr. Byrne’s presentation.  Let me tell you that I am not someone who is into meditation and yoga.  The only thing worse than sitting still for me is sitting still and getting blood work or a cavity filled (sorry Dr. Robinson!)  But I will say that I really enjoyed Dr. Byrne’s presentation and did allow myself to relax some too.

 

According to our keynote speaker, subjects in a recent MBSR study reported improved memory and empathy while reducing stress.  Now what was really astonishing was that when they did MRIs of these individuals the participants in the MBSR program showed increased brain density in the areas that deal with cognitive learning, compassion and introspection.  Furthermore they experienced a thinning of the brain matter that relates to stress and anxiety.  Nobody in the control group experienced such changes.  Now that is pretty phenomenal.  You might make me a believer out of this after all.

 

Adaptive Yoga Session

There were other impressive studies as well such as one done by researchers at UCLA that showed a slowing of the progression of HIV in patients who practiced MBSR.  Dr. Byrne, who was celebrating his 60th birthday on this day, left us with one clear message:  “Attitude is everything.”  What is the attitude that we bring to our current situation?  I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking and attitude and couldn’t agree more with his emphasis on this point.

 

If you would like to help the MS Society by volunteering or making a donation, please visit www.nmss.org.  And for those of you in the DC area, come out and join them at Walk MS on April 9, 10th and 16th.  Click here for more details.

 

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Before I share with you my amazing volunteer experience at Miriam’s Kitchen here in Washington, DC, I want to introduce you to a very important person at the Year of Giving.  His name is Kyle.

A photo of Kyle when I met him back in October of 2010.

Some of you might remember him from Day 311 last year when I gave him my $10 for the day after seeing him do a stand-up routine at a local open mic night.  He recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire and completed an internship here in Washington, DC at a talk news radio station.

The Year of Giving has grown and around the beginning of this year I realized I needed some help.  Kyle volunteered to be the Web Editor and help keep the daily blog posts coming.  In addition to volunteering with the Year of Giving, he’s currently looking for magazine or internet related journalism work in New Hampshire, Washington, DC or potentially other areas of the country.  Please reach out and let him know if you have any connections or ideas for him.  Although he has worked in news, I know that he is also very interested in music and film journalism.

DSC_0038.jpgSo back to today’s volunteer experience.  I was so impressed when I walked into Miriam’s Kitchen.  It was warm, not because of the ovens but because of the love.  I was almost immediately met by Ashley, the Development and Volunteer Manager.  She gave me, and the other 8-10 volunteers for the day, an overview of the 28-year-old organization.  “We like to bring people in through our healthy great tasting food,” she said going on to add that their guests usually stay and utilize the many other services available to their guests.  There was a station full of donated personal hygiene products, a security guard who also gives a hell of a sharp-looking haircut, case managers, legal assistance, access to healthcare, etc.  “A lot of our guests don’t have a physical address so we allow them to have mail sent here too,” she added.

I strapped on a blue or purple apron (I’m color-blind, so who knows which one it was) and was sent to help out Chef Tom.  He had me preparing some home-made chicken and duck stock.  After that I helped wash some of the items used earlier that morning and get them put away.  After the kitchen was in good shape it was time to go out and work the front side of the house.

The inviting dining room had about 25 tables, all with fresh flowers on them, some of them even had cards and games on them.  The walls were covered with art work from the guests.  “It’s a fun environment,” Ashley said as smiling staff members and volunteers started to greet guests making their way in out of the cold.  I was assigned to the personal hygiene station and got to interact with several of the guests who needed essential items such as multi vitamins, deodorant, toothpaste, shaving supplies, condoms, etc.  Everything of course is free for the guests; however, they are limited to receiving a reasonable amount of the items.

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Just one of the delicious items being prepared at Miriam's Kitchen.

Ashley then asked if I would help refill juice cups to those who were seated eating their lunch.  This got me circulating a bit more and I was able to spot some familiar faces: Jim M., Lionel and Bill C. I spent some time speaking with each of them and will update you in the coming weeks on how these 2010 YOGIs are doing.

Lunch came to an end and the dining area transformed into an art center with several of the guests busy working on projects.  Bill was working on a new painting.  “I’m not sure what it is going to be yet,” he told me as he applied some broad strokes to the canvas.  He showed me several of his pieces which were going to be highlighted in an art show being held the following day at Miriam’s.

DSC_0022.jpgMy shift ended and I cleaned up and said my goodbyes.  I walked out into the brisk afternoon, the sun warming my face as I headed north along 24th Street.  I was impressed by how well the staff seemed to know the guests.  “Yesterday we had 212 guests for breakfast,” Ashley told me earlier, “and our case managers knew all but three of them by name.”  Everyone there seemed happy.  It was almost family-like.

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Reed finishing up in the kitchen.

This appears to be a really well run operation.  That being said, they rely on support from volunteers and donations.  If you live in the DC area you can check their list of volunteer needs.  In addition to your time they need lots of items for their guests such as: gloves, socks, long johns, sleeping bags, jackets, yarn, crazy glue, Crayola markers.  If you would like to donate any of these items, reach out to me and I can see that they get there.  If you would prefer, you can also make a financial contribution.

Thanks to Ashley and everyone at Miriam’s!  You guys are awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My name tag from the seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

Photo: Maria D.

Meet Alex.  She’s a vibrant, young woman, full of life and energy.  She’s lived in Australia, Oregon, Chicago, and attended undergrad at Northwestern.  Alex has a passion for grapes, which is what has led her to her current gig as Director of Marketing and Communication for Washington Wine Academy, based out of Arlington, VA.

But it wasn’t a smooth transition – she was an unemployed, “freaking out” new graduate “loafing” around Oregon and came to VA on a whim to take a wine certification class after working at Winestyles in college.  Her instructor at WWA saw something in her that he wanted to snatch up, and hired her back in April 2010.

Alex’s gamble of moving out East from Oregon seems to have paid off as she loves her job – wine, people, events, what’s not to love?  Which brings us to her $10.  She knew immediately how she’d be spending it: “mmm, a giant coffee and a breakfast sandwich” while working her company’s event this weekend, a 1K Wine Walk.

When I asked her if she needed anything, she quickly responded, “No thanks, I’m perfect!  Well….(she hastily recanted) I could use an extra day before Monday!  Can you guys help me with that?”  Probably not…but thanks for your infectious smile and boundless energy, Alex!

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Thanks to the couple of people who have reached out to me after my “wanted ad” yesterday.  It’s with pleasure that I introduce to you our Kindness Investor for the next seven days!  Her stories begin tomorrow!
Name: Maria D.
Age? 27
Where do you live? Takoma Park, MD, near Washington, D.C.
Where were you born? Guildford, England
What’s the highest level of education you have completed? Juris Doctor
Do you have a family? I’m a single gal, but am very close with my sister Julianna, parents John and Catherine, and have a superstar half-bro named Ron

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? I am temping where Reed works, so I heard about it while he was recruiting some other potential Kindness Investors

How long have you been unemployed? Hmm, well I guess officially since graduating law school in May 2010 and moving to D.C. to look for a job in Oct. 2010
What happened? The market for newly minted lawyers sucks. Straight up.  I graduated knowing I wanted to be a human rights/civil rights non-profit lobbyist but no leads. So I took a leap of faith and am still finding my way while temping at World Wildlife Fund.
Do you currently volunteer? Yes, I am starting to volunteer with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (they do DNA exoneration for MD, VA, and DC inmates) and N Street Village (a women’s shelter and center), as well as other random events when help is needed.
Who have been your biggest influences? My mom and dad, who instilled a sense of social justice in me from an early age, and anyone else who has spoken out to help others when those in need had no voice. Also my Nonna, who emigrated from Sicily and started a life out of literally nothing.  Hard work is very important to me, as is appreciating life.
What is your favorite food? Tomatoes.  But as a dish, I’d say Capellini Pomodoro (angel hair pasta w/ fresh basil, tomato, olive oil, and garlic tossed together). Now I’m hungry!
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? After the bar exam, I had the privilege of going to Europe for a month. I went to Paris for a week and made friends with the woman who set up breakfast and cleaned the hostel. We had a mid-morning dance party a few times, which was pretty awesome. On the last day, she took the earings she was wearing out of her ears and gave them to me.  I kept them on for the rest of the trip…Well, until my ears started to hurt. Ha..
Describe your ideal job: My ideal job is working as a researcher and lobbyist at a non-profit engaged in tax policy reform that benefits low and middle-income families.

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A picture of Bob from my original encounter with him a year ago. (Photo: Reed)

Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I met Bob on the basketball court near the intersection of 17th and P Streets in DC.  Draped in layers of clothing and blankets Bob made me very nervous.  I remember his hands disappearing under the garments several times as he erratically moved closer to my face calling me stupid.  “Was there a weapon concealed beneath the sea of fabrics he wore?” I thought to myself as I held my ground.

It turns out that Bob suffers from mental illness and probably doesn’t pose a threat to anyone.  I have seen him a few times since our original encounter; however, I hadn’t been able to really talk to him until last night.  It was just before midnight as I headed home from a dinner at Birch and Barley on 16th Street with an old colleague in town for the week.

“Oh, yeah…you were the one who writes the stories,” he told me after I reminded him that I had given him $10.  “Well, ok,” he began to say nervously, “So, how have things been with you?”  I gave him a quick update on me and then tried to find out what he has been up to.

He was dressed in the exact same sweatshirt and torn slippers that he wore a year ago.  The aluminum foil, rags and plastic bags that covered his head were gone; however, he now had a small swatch of aluminum foil covering his nose.  It was held in place by a rubber band that wrapped around his head, forcing the skin of his upper cheeks toward his eyes.

I watched as he shot from the foul line.  Like my earlier encounter he sank basket after basket always shooting with just the right hand.  In his left hand he held a newspaper, bottle of water and the corner of the grey standard issue homeless outreach blanket.  His twelfth attempt wasn’t successful.  “That wasn’t a good shot,” he said as he released the slightly deflated ball, “I’m not concentrating.”  I apologized and offered that he probably missed the shot because I was talking to him.  He says that he believes that he has made 20+ one-handed shots from the foul line this century.  That doesn’t compare to his record of lay-ups in a row which he claims to be approximately 2,900.

The evening was definitely worthy of a warm jacket but the still air and bright light from the moon’s last quarter phase helped mitigate the temperature.  He seemed to be shooting a little hastily, albeit every time placing his toe exposed slippers in the exact same location.

“I think there is about four or five specific movements that I do and I try to do them exactly the same way every time in order to make a basket.”  He went on to explain that the key is to add a little bit of top-spin to the release.

Another photo from my original encounter with Bob in 2010.

I stood in silence and watched him shoot.  He’s truly gifted at being able to reproduce the same shot.  One of his attempts misses and I take the opportunity to ask him about the $10 I had given him.  I actually never asked him what he was going to use it for so I thought I would try to take the moment to find out.  He didn’t recall very well, after all it has been a year, but he said it probably went toward some food or bus fare.

My question about money must have triggered something in his head.  “Do you have a few dollars that you could give me,” he asked not taking his eyes from his target.  The shot missed and he walked over to retrieve the ball next to his cart holding his belongings.  I reached into my pockets and found some coins.  “I hate to ask you but I need to add a few dollars on my Metro card.”  I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it in his hand.

Shortly after I thought I should leave.  It was now close to 12:30 in the morning and I needed to get up early.  I shook his weathered hand and told him to take care of himself.  He returned the pleasantry and continued shooting baskets.  I watched him shoot as I excited the court.  He made three in a row before he slipped out of sight.

You can find my original post on Bob by clicking here.

 

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC.

When I started the second Year of Giving and invited others who were out of work or underemployed to pick up where I left off after my 365 day journey I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that a year was way too long to find someone who would continue the giving; however, I figured that I could easily find people who would commit to seven days of giving.  I was wrong!  I’ve had a hard time finding new Kindness Investors.  Can you feel me trying to nudge those of you who are on the fence about it?

As a result I am in a situation where we have no Kindness Investor for a few days; however, I figured I would take advantage of this time to give you some updates on some of the amazing people that I met last year.

 

This is Knox on December 15th, 2009.

The Year of Giving began on the afternoon of December 15th 2009.  On that chilly monochromatic day, I got rejected twice before finding Knox who accepted my $10 as he hawked his shoe shining services on the corner of 21st and P Streets in DC.

 

Fast forward 365 days and Knox made it to the year-end celebration on December 14th 2010.  There is a great photo of us from that event.

And then I ran into Knox on February 12th after I was volunteering with Yachad.  It was ten minutes shy of midnight when I heard the familiar voice reaching out to the alcohol coated passersby on 7th Street near Chinatown.

We chatted for a while.  “Business is good,” he told me.  And he said that he has been doing well.  He claims to have a handle on his addictions although I am not sure what that means…especially after he produces a bottle of shaojiu, an indiscernible clear white liquor that based purely on the label probably has never made it to any FDA testing lab.

 

One year after meeting him, I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient, . (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

Anyway, Knox is Knox.  He still thinks that I am some sort of event producer.  Ever since I invited him to the year-end party he thinks that I organize regular events.  He encourages me to throw another party soon and invite him to shine shoes.  I let him in on the secret that I am actually not an event planner…although I guess I could be as it seems that I am collecting professions these days.  He seemed disappointed but I promised him that when I throw the year-end celebration in December that he will again get an invite.

 

I updated his cell number in my phone, handed him the three dollars I had left in my pocket and said goodbye.  It was late and I don’t think I was helping his business a bit.

To read my original blog post on Knox that I posted on December 16th, 2009, click here.

 

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Before I get to this week’s post, I want to let you know about a great opportunity for those of you in the DC area to join me on a day of service.  Every year Greater DC Cares holds Servathon, an amazing event where more than 8,000 people come together to complete a variety of service projects.

This year the event is Saturday, April 16th.  Trust me, after you submit your taxes on the 15th, you will be ready to do some good!  I am leading a team and encourage you to sign up to join me.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find team Year of Giving!  We’ll do a half-day of volunteering and then meet up with all the other service teams for a happy hour (or two)!

DSC_0295.jpgYou will notice that this blog post shows Week 5 and 6 service days…that’s because I did two days of volunteering with this organization.  Yachad is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.

What I like about the work that Yachad does is that the volunteers work alongside the community members they are helping.  It’s a very small group and they do some pretty amazing work on a very modest budget.

In order to support their work, they host a film festival called Our City Film Festival.  Showcasing films that focus on our nation’s capital, the two-day event is a must see for DC residents and film enthusiasts.  Saturday evening things kicked off with a launch party followed by a day of films on Sunday.  I volunteered both Saturday evening and all day on Sunday.

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Christylez Bacon performing at the kick-off party.

Saturday was awesome.  The kick-off was hosted at RFD, a fixture in the Gallery Place neighborhood that features hundreds of beers.  The highlight of the evening was a performance by Grammy nominated recording artist Christylez Bacon, a progressive hip-hop artist who stunned audiences with his truly unique performance.  Keep an eye out for him and make it a point to see him if you can.

My job there was to basically do anything that Film Festival Director Kendra Rubinfeld told me to do.  Mostly I checked people’s tickets and took photographs of the evening’s festivities.  It was a little embarrassing when Kendra corrected me on the pronunciation of the word Yachad.  It’s pronounced “YAH hahd”, not “YAH shod” as I was walking around saying.  Thank goodness she corrected me before I went around butchering the name even more!

Then the next day the event moved literally next door to the Goethe-Institut.  There was fantastic line up of films and everyone that I met raved about the films and the event in general.  Kendra did an amazing job.  The evening wrapped up with the premier showing of TLC’s reality show DC Cupcakes.  After the screening, the stars of the show – Sophie and Katherine – handed out some of their delicious cupcake creations at a champagne reception.

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Sophie (left) and Katherine (right) pause for a photograph with Kendra next to some of their sensational cup cakes.use for a photograph in front of some of the tasty c

All in all this was a very fun two days of volunteering.  I was so impressed with this small but mighty nonprofit.  So many people think about helping rebuild communities when natural disasters strike like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, but Yachad president Roxanne Littner reminded me, “We have our own New Orleans right here!”  She’s right too.  There are plenty of communities in the DC area that desperately need support.  I am going to work on a future Yachad construction project.  If you too want to help them, click here to find out more information or drop me a note and I will let you know when I will be volunteering again with them.

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Mmmm...hungry now?

I can’t say enough about this organization and the professional manner in which the film festival was run.  I learned that the word Yachad means “together” in Hebrew, but based on the staff and other volunteers that pour their hearts into this organization, you could have just as easily believed it meant “love.”

If you would like to see more photos from the film festival, click here.

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Meet Petra!  She’ll be sharing her adventures of giving $10 away in and around Seattle, WA for the next seven days.

Name: Petra

Age: 54 years young

Where do you live? Seattle, Washington

Where were you born? Rural, northern Minnesota (but grew up in the Twin Cities- St. Paul/Minneapolis)

What’s the highest level of education you have completed? BA with additional certificates of completion in other continuing education arenas

Do you have a family? Single, never married, but do have a wonderful life – saving family of two furry critters – a dog and a cat

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? Huffington Post article-changed my life
How long have you been unemployed?
Technically, 8 years.  However, I have had myriad contract and freelance jobs; I began my own business but really wasn’t what I wanted to do…

What happened? I was working at biotech/pharma company (an amazing, rewarding experience) which was acquired by a larger Bio/Pharma company.  Most non-scientific staff were laid-off, including me.

Do you currently volunteer? Because of some complicated health issues over the past few years, I have not for a while. However, two organizations have been top of mind for a while and I’m preparing to approach them to offer my services.

Who have been your biggest influences? A dear friend who, after battling breast cancer for 22 years, passed away three years ago; a former boss who taught me both good business skills and what a fair, inspiring supervisor/mentor looks and acts like

What is your favorite food? Caprese salad!  As long as the tomatoes are ripe and aromatic,  and the mozzarella is fresh

What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? Unconditional love and compassion from my friends and family; when a friend spent her birthday driving me around town on a hot summer’s day to deliver important documents in an important step to help me plough through official red-tape; in the end, it/she helped save my life

Describe your ideal job:  A professional Kindness Investor; I dream of giving away – say $100  – to someone I don’t know, talking with them and then writing about what they might do with the money.  HEY!  Sounds like a full-time REED SANDRIDGE profession!  No, seriously.  I have thought about this for a long time- more than a year before reading about your endeavor, Reed.  To have the means to walk up to someone (as I follow my keen intuition) who could use – who really needs – a  C note right now, would be amazing.  And as you, Reed, have done so gracefully for more than a year, then take the time to invest in that person-to learn a bit about who they are – and then write about it/them … well, that is my heart’s desire.

Thank you for being an inspiration to me, and to so many others.  Let us hope and pray that your year-long “experiment” will become a daily practice for people like me…and many, many other Kindness Investors! Bless you, Reed!

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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…

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Filter Coffee House, 1726 20th NW, Washington, DC

It was the Sunday before my Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration on December 14th and I was scrambling to get everything done that I needed to do.  I had taken a break from my planning to meet up with a friend of mine who was visiting from Sao Paulo, Brazil.  We went to Maggiano’s for lunch and on my way home I stopped by a small coffee shop near my apartment called Filter.  Those who have followed the Year of Giving for a long time and have superpower memory might recall that I met Mark from Day 132 there as well.

I was sitting there having an espresso scoping out the café.  I really didn’t need a coffee, but I did need to find a recipient and given that it was raining outside I figured that finding someone indoors where it was dry and warm was much more appealing than talking to someone while becoming a human sponge.

I grabbed a seat in the cozy café next to two young ladies who were sitting to my left.  There are maybe 10 tables so often times you end up sharing a table with someone else.  I didn’t know if they were together or just sharing a table, but figured I would ask the one sitting closest to me.  It turned out they weren’t together and Meg, after pulling the earphones from her ears, agreed to accept my money.  The other girl at some point seemed bothered by the conversation, or just bummed she didn’t get the ten bucks, and moved.

Meg and her husband JD with the ten dollars

Meg is a 23-year-old who lives in Takoma Park, MD and came into the city that afternoon to go to a “good coffee shop.”  She was reading Wilkie Collins’ 19th century classic epistolary The Moonstone and listening to some music while she waited for her husband JD to arrive.  Meg does some really amazing work.  She works for an organization that helps resettle refugees from conflict areas such as Somalia, Sudan, DRC, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.  “It’s very rewarding,” she said taking a sip of her latte.

Meg and her husband got married this summer and moved here after having met at Oklahoma State University.  Now a bunch of my relatives went to OU and I thought that this would be a good thing to mention.  Little did I know that you don’t want to tell an Oklahoma State alum that you are partial to OU.  We made quick treaty and she went on to tell me that she and her husband had spent time living abroad in Egypt and really enjoyed it.  Having lived in Mexico, Spain and Brazil myself, I think the opportunity to live in another country, especially one where they speak another language, is extremely rewarding.

JD arrived covered with beads of rain from the lingering afternoon drizzle.  As it turns out he left his wallet in the car and asked Meg if she could buy him a coffee.  Meg smiled and slid the ten dollars across the table to her husband.

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The Year of Giving made AOL’s Top 10 Good News Stories of 2010!  Wow!  I can’t believe it.  Check the link above to read all ten amazing stories!

I was over in Southwest picking up the autographed baseball that the Nats donated for the fundraising auction when I decided to find somebody in the neighborhood to give my $10 to.  I first approached a female crossing guard who was braving the cold to make sure the intersection at First and M Streets was safe for school children.  Although she said she really liked the idea of the Year of Giving, she politely declined saying that as a city employee she could not accept any money.

Charmaine suffers from various illnesses and alcohol dependency.

I drove south on First Street a few blocks and found Charmaine walking down an ally near First and O Streets.  Dressed in sweat suit, covered by a white robe and black leather trench coat, Charmaine was walking west down an empty alley holding a plastic supermarket bag.

The 55-year-old told me that she was originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She has a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.

I get Supplemental Security Income in the form of disability.  “I suffer from pancreatitis, hepatitis c, high blood pressure and a chronic breathing disorder,” she told me.  “I also am battling depression and suicidal tendencies; I have schizoaffective disorder.”

It was about 3pm and I enquired about where she was going since she was still dressed in her robe.  “I just ran up to the corner store (I later found out that she went to the Friendly Food Market that didn’t look so friendly) to get me some more beer; you can probably smell it on my breath,” she said admitting that she probably shouldn’t be drinking because of the pancreatitis, but she struggles with alcohol dependency.  “I get two Keystones for $1.25,” she told me pointing to the white plastic sack she was clutching in her right hand.  I had a feeling she was going to tell me that she was going to use the ten dollars for beer too, but she had another answer.  “I’m gonna get me some food, soap and toilet paper; I don’t got no toilet paper to wipe my ass with,” she said showing me her toothless smile.

We were interrupted by a guy who was getting belligerent with us.  He had seen my SLR camera and took an unwanted interest in us.  I quickly tucked the camera back in my bag and barked back at him to leave us alone.  He kept on taunting us for a few minutes and then walked away.  “You gotta be careful,” Charmaine admonished, “a young boy was shot and killed just one street over earlier this week.”  I got the message loud and clear.  I gave Charmaine a quick hug, said goodbye and bee-lined it back to my car and got out of there.

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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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I asked if I could take Pierre's photograph and he said, "Why not, I am a handsome man!"

After attending a luncheon fundraiser for Room to Read that featured journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts, I hailed a cab and headed over to my office at 24th and M Streets.  I asked the cab driver how his day was and he responded, “Wonderful.  Every day is beautiful!”  I peered up at the name listed on the taxi permit fastened to the underside of the sun visor and saw that his name was Pierre.

I leaned over, grabbed my book bag and pulled my small notebook out to take some notes about this jovial character as we traveled the 30 blocks across town.

Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Pierre moved here in 1972.  “I remember it well, it was the year that Mr. Nixon had some trouble,” the 66-year-old said still smiling broadly.  “And the Dolphins won the Superbowl!”  He would know that too because he moved to Miami before moving to DC later in 1975.  He hasn’t been back to Haiti in a while though.  In fact, he isn’t aware of any family still living there.  “If I have some, I don’t know them.” 

“I’ve been driving a cab since 1984 or 85.”  He’s been lucky, he said, that he has never experienced any dangerous situations while driving his cab like Freddy, the recipient from Day 331 who was shot while driving his taxi back in the late eighties. 

I shared with Pierre that part of my motivation for this project was my mother, who passed away four years ago this month.  He told me that he lost his wife two years and eight months ago.  “We had ten children and 20 grandkids.  The oldest is now 46; I had her my last year of high school,” he said turning onto M Street.  “All but one of them are here in DC.  And the 20th grandchild was just born the day before.  “I was coming from the hospital when I picked you up,” Pierre said.  

I love this guy.  He had such an energy and esprit de vivre!  His ten dollars went to buying his lunch for the day.

“I really like what you are doing,” he said as I got out of his cab.  “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!” he said with his intoxicating voice.  

I hopped out and snapped this photo of him as he pulled away.

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There was a lot of talk earlier this week of a white Christmas here in Pennsylvania, but so far no snow.  I had a wonderful holiday with my father, brother and sister-in-law.  I got some great presents and had fun making cookies and playing bridge.  I am stuffed though.  No more food for me until Spring.

It's hard to see here but this is a photograph that I took of James sleeping. He leans slightly against the wall and his upper body slowly bends toward the earth.

Today’s recipient is going to touch your heart.  He’s 58-year-old James who has been homeless in DC for “six or seven years.”  I found him at the Chinatown Metro stop late at night while he slept standing up.  I observed him for about five minutes and then he began to fall over and woke up again.  I walked over to see if he was ok.

“Oh I’m fine, thank you,” James said forcing the words through the frozen air.  “I sleep standing up ‘cause I get cramps lying down.”  He later added, “The last time I slept in a bed was 1995.”  I can’t imagine that.  I was still in college at that time.

Through speaking with James it appears that he has some chronic health problems, but he refuses to go to the hospital.  “I don’t trust them,” he says softly.  

Everything that James owns sat in front of him in a cold metallic shopping cart which he keeps chained to him to ensure that nobody steals it while he sleeps.  “I have my clothes, soap, cleaning stuff, shoes, underwear, socks, a step-ladder,” he says continuing on to name some other items.  I notice that tucked on top of the cart was a Webster’s Dictionary that was probably 25 years old.  “Oh, that’s my dictionary,” he said rallying a bit of energy, “I like to read the dictionary.” 

James says that he doesn’t have any living relatives that he knows of.  His mother died in 1968 and his grandmother looked after him until she later passed away.  

James eyes rarely opened wider than this.

He seemed interested in US presidents.  He enthusiastically spoke about President Obama.  He seemed fond of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.  “Clinton was alright, he came out to a trailer park one time to meet the folks,” he started to say, “and Jimmy Carter was a good man too, he had nigger lips, did ya ever notice that?”  His comment paralyzed me slightly and I couldn’t even really come up with a response.  I’ve never liked that word and don’t use it myself.  It so often comes loaded with so much hate when it is uttered, but James said it with endearing admiration for the 86-year-old former president.

James tries to stay warm next to his belongings.

“I’m probably gonna get me a burger and a $0.65 senior coffee at McDonald’s,” he said motioning toward the ten dollars that was folded between his fingers.  Sometimes he hangs out there to stay warm, watch some television and treat himself to the occasional ice cream.

The air was so cold my face was hurting.  I said goodbye and shook his bare hand.  It was cold and stiff and I asked if he had gloves.  If he didn’t, I was going to leave mine with him.  “I’ve got some, they’re in my pocket, I’m just not wearing them right now.”  The temperature was plummeting and I urged him to go to a shelter, but he insisted that he would be fine.  I hope that he was right.  Street Sense’s Ellen Gilmer reported last week that 37 homeless individuals died this last year in the DC area.  Sadly many of them probably died alone.

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Merry Christmas!

Today is a day that we easily associate with giving; a day that we give gifts to our family members and friends as a symbol of our love and friendship.  As we approach a new year, let’s all make a commitment to think more about ways in which we can give to our family, friends and community.

Richard (left) and Paul (day 335) brave the cold to smoke a cigarette.

On Day 357 I was walking north on Connecticut Avenue when I passed a guy who looked just like Paul from Day 335.  Paul was the bike messenger who I met and then couldn’t find any of my notes from meeting him; not even his email or phone number.  Well, would you believe it, it was him!  Yes!  I found him.

He was standing outside a custom framing shop with his buddy Richard who works there.  The three of us chatted for a while and then I decided to give my $10 for the day to Richard.  He proved to be an interesting character!

“I like to make films,” he tells me taking a drag off of a cigarette in the subzero December afternoon.  “I’m doing a commercial for a record label now, but I’ve done some shorts and music videos too,” he adds.  He’s even recently bought an 8mm camera which he was eager to tell me about.

Now I’ve got to tell you that after yesterday’s recipient told me about his fetish to use heart monitors during sex I thought I had to ask Richard if there was anything interesting or unique about him.  I mean, after you hear about the heart monitor thing you can’t pass up the opportunity to top it.

Well, Richard’s answer doesn’t disappoint!  “I’ve been arrested twice within a five-day period in two different cities,” he says.  It turns out that he was traveling through Oklahoma City when he found himself in a supermarket and was arrested for shoplifting.  “I had some tea in my pocket which was actually mine, but they thought that I had stolen it,” Richard says.  He goes on to tell me that he had some cheese in his pocket as well.  “I’m not sure about the cheese though,” he confesses.  “That might not have been mine.”  As a result he was charged with larceny, got to spend 24 hours in an Oklahoma City jail and wear a bright-colored jump suit!  “All in all I probably spent $500 on that tea and cheese!”  Incidentally he said it was probably about a dollar’s worth of cheese.

Three days later Richard was leaving the South by Southwest Conference and Festival and driving through Brenham, TX when an officer of the law pulled the van over that he and his friends were traveling in.  “He pulled us over for a broken tail light,” he says, “but we ended up being detained for two hours while they searched the car and found a joint on one of the other guys.  So they brought us all down to the station.”  Well, the officer didn’t finish the paperwork and they had to spend the night in the jail.  “We somehow ended up in there for 36 hours.”    He smiled and said, “It’s bad man when you’re getting booked by some 18-year-old cop who is bitching and moaning about his prom.”  That being said, the Texas facility was apparently a lot better than the jail in Oklahoma City.  Their bail bondsman even brought them pizza when they got out of jail.

“So a few months later,” Richard goes on to tell me, “I traveled back down to Brenham to appear in court but at the last minute it was decided that we didn’t even have to appear!”

Richard said he was going to hold on to the $10 for now.  I thought he might be saving it for future bail money, but he advised me that it would be put toward some studio recording fees.  “I play the guitar and bass and am planning to get into the studio in January.”

I said goodbye to Richard and Paul and told them about the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration.  They said they would try to make it but I didn’t see them there unfortunately.

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

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

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

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

Alberto holding his ten dollars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Many people have told me how they were touched by what Alex from Day 109 did with his $10.  He was the Georgetown student who took his new-found money to the supermarket and bought supplies to bake cookies with and then passed them out to people that he saw every day but didn’t really know.  We all know these people; the receptionist at a doctor’s office, the convenience store employee, the bus driver, your mailman.  Well, today’s recipient used to be one of those people to me – a person I saw fairly regularly but never stopped to meet.  That all changed on December 3rd.

Today’s recipient wanted to remain anonymous.  I’ve agreed to call him “Ilyas” for the purpose of this blog post.

A few times a week I frequent a building here in town that has a variety of very pleasant staff working there, however, Ilyas made an impression on me.  He is always neatly dressed and very generous with his smile and kind remarks to people as they walk by.

Now 58, he told me that he was born in Pakistan.  He was a businessman there working hard to run a successful business and support his family.  In 2000, September to be exact, he had an opportunity to move to the US.  He had visited several other times but it seemed to be the right decision to move here given the questionable security in Pakistan at the time.

Fortunately he was able to continue his business from his new location here in the US, but after 9/11, demand slowed down and he made the hard decision to supplement his income with some additional work.  I say the decision was hard because Ilyas had never worked for anyone else but himself.  He first got a job as a teller at a bank, but he didn’t care much for that.  “There was a lot of pressure there,” he said referring to the nature of handling money all day.

He eventually ended up at the building where he now greets me on a regular basis.  He’s been there for six years now.  I have a special feeling inside me now when I see him.  I know more about him.  I know his name and how to correctly pronounce it.  I know a little bit about his life and his family.  He’s a proud father of three girls.  And I know that it is not only his smile that is warm and generous but also his heart.  He’s kind and gentle and very thoughtful.  It’s no wonder that I often see other people stopping to speak with him as well.

After chatting for a while Ilyas placed the ten dollars back on the counter in front of me.  “I can’t accept this,” he said showing me the same warm smile that I had become accustomed to seeing.  I urged him to keep it and reminded him that he could do anything that he wanted to with it.  After a bit more convincing, he decided to keep it and said that he would donate the money.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam and his ten dollars

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View from Tabaq of the Washington Monument keeping watch over DC.

On day 352 I headed over to Tabaq Bistro, the venue for my year-end celebration, to meet up with my friend Patricia who managed the entire event.  She’s a rock star and knows how to run events.  We went over a bunch of logistical issues about things you’d never dream of (i.e. will they have waiters or a buffet table, what kind of connection cables does their sound system use (1/4 inch if you were wondering), does the price quoted include serving plates and napkins, and the list goes on.  After an exhausting review of items, my head was sufficiently cloudy and we decided to get some food upstairs and figure out what we had forgotten.

We maneuvered our way up the two flights of dimly lit stairs to the upper level of Tabaq which has one of the best views in DC if you haven’t been there.  Its wall to wall glass gives sweeping views toward the downtown, the monuments and beyond.  We grabbed some space at the rather empty bar area and ordered a drink and began perusing the dinner menu.  Muhammara, that sounds interesting.  It’s a roasted red pepper and walnut puree.  We got one of those and chicken breast stuffed with spinach, cheese and peppers that glistened with thin layer of port wine sauce.  My mind swirled like the cocktails the bartender was serving up.  There were a myriad of things that had to still get done that day.  One of which was to deliver my $10 to some unsuspecting individual.

Rachel chatting with Patricia.

Our bartender was a young woman named Rachel.  Why not give it to her?  She was very friendly and frankly had the time since at the time we were her only customers.  The Connecticut native had been working there for about a month.  She recently graduated from American University with a degree in graphic design and photography.  My friend Patricia also went to American University here in DC and actually knew exactly where Rachel lived in Connecticut.  Small world…almost freaky.

Rachel mixes up the perfect martini.

The world is in fact small for Rachel.  She loves to travel.  Maybe it’s because her father is originally from New Zealand and she has always had the international bug.  Her father grew up in Auckland.  “I’d like to move to New Zealand some day,” Rachel says.  “Maybe try sailing or just hang out for a while,” she added.

At some point the conversation turned very technical focusing on the specific fonts she used to develop her website – which you can find here!  “I used universe font,” she started to say, “I tried to avoid gil sans and helvetica.”  Fonts…hmm, I can barely choose between wearing brown or black shoes in the morning much less what kind of font I am going to use on my website and documents.  Patricia and Rachel debated the finer points of fonts – the conversation gliding far above my comprehension.  I drifted in and out of the conversation while shifting my attention to the hearty portion of Muhammara that was still in front of us.

A cherry blossom photograph that Rachel made. For more of her work, click on the photo to visit her website.

Rachel stood close enough to get us something should we need it but not too close to make us feel uncomfortable as we ate.  “So what do you think you will use the ten dollars for,” I asked the camera shy bartender.  She paused for a moment and told me that she would probably use it to pay for the Metro or maybe put it toward a dinner she planned to make that week for a really good friend of hers.  “I’m thinking about making chicken picatta,” she said.

 

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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.

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