Archive for December, 2009

Today is New Year’s Eve.  Not my favorite holiday.  I don’t know why, but somehow I think it is overrated.  There is so much build-up to something that to me always turns out to be rather anticlimactic.

By the way, before I forget, I have started to manually update the statistics page.  Although it is not what I envisioned, it is a start and I hope to improve it soon.  But for now, you can start to get an idea of some of the quantitative data that I am collecting.  I hope to update it at least once a week.

I was up early this morning…then took a nap and would you believe it slept till 1pm!  This was not good, as I had agreed to meet with someone at 1pm, so I woke up to my phone ringing, dashed into the shower and ran out the door.

After my meeting, I was walking home and thought I would jump into a coffee shop to give my $10 away.  It was cold outside and writing in my little journal while it is cold and drizzling is not a good mix.

I found Christopher sitting by himself barricaded behind his laptop doing prep-work for a 10am call that he agreed to do for his employer tomorrow morning.  That’s right, he is going to be on a conference call for work on New Year’s Day.  Give this man a raise!  (or a day off!)  Christopher is a technology and strategy consultant with PWC

I asked the soon to be 32-year-old what he was going to do with the $10 and he paused and thought for a minute.  His pensive face gave way to a smile and he said, “I am going to add the money to a donation that I am going to make to a group called FAIR Fund.” Earlier in the day, Christopher had met a woman who worked for FAIR Fund.  According to their website, “FAIR Fund works internationally to engage youth, especially young women, in civil society in the areas of anti-human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention.” I thought this was a very noble and altruistic decision.

I later learned that his decision to give the $10 to a deserving cause was not out of character.  A past Peace Corps volunteer based in Querétaro, Mexico, Christopher understands the value of giving.  Having lived in Mexico myself, we swapped stories about our experiences and found a lot of commonality.  In fact, Christopher knows something about blogging too!  He used to have a movie review site called the Mad Black Critic, where he would give very structured feedback on films so that potential viewers could determine if it was worth their money.  For example, he had a category called “social contribution factor” that would evaluate the social impact (positive or negative) that a film might have.  All in all an interesting venture. 

I enjoyed meeting Christopher.  I love that he chose to use my $10 to support such an important cause.  I hope that he will keep in touch and be inspired to continue his altruistic behavior.  Happy New Year everyone!  Be safe.

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I got up early and went down to the Unemployment Service Center in NE Washington.  As you might recall, I have been struggling to get them to pay my benefits.  So far I have not received a dime.  I went on Monday, but apparently I got there too late.

So this morning, I made sure to get there early.  I arrived at 8:30 and was out of there by 10:15.  I met with Ms. Bonham.  She was friendly and took care of my situation and hopefully I will start receiving my unemployment benefits.  Thanks Ms. Bonham!

I thought it would be great to find someone at the Unemployment Office to give my $10 to.  There were some people right outside the office who I suspected had just left.  I approached a woman waiting for the bus.  Nadine, a 32 year-old living in Columbia, MD is originally from Cameroon.  She actually was not at the Unemployment Office, but was waiting for the bus to get to her job as a Home Health Aid.  You might recall that Davitia from Day 14 was also a HHA.

Nadine was all bundled up.  Her head was just barely peaking out of her hooded coat.  She has been in the US for five years and says she is happy here.  Even in the winter.  “I don’t like the heat,” Nadine said.  “I really like the cold.”  I found this ironic given that her homeland of Cameroon probably never gets below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with the exception of the upper parts of Mount Cameroon.  Want a bit of trivia?  Cameroon’s name is derived from the Portuguese word for prawns or shrimp, Camarões.  Back in the 15th century, the Portuguese landed on the shores of the Wouri River where they found a large supply of prawns and crayfish and named it River of Prawns (Rio dos Camarões).

Anyway, I asked Nadine what she would do with the $10.  She said that she would put it toward her school savings.  Nadine needs to finish about six courses to get her Licensed Practical Nurse certification.  I hope she gets back to school this year and finishes her studies.  Jameela, from Day 7, is an LPN now trying to get her RN.  Maybe she can give you some tips or advice. 

By the way, I am going to start adding some video to the blog…stay tuned!

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Yesterday was the birthday of my friend Scott.  I had theatre rehearsal until about 10pm and then I headed down to Arlington, VA to meet up with Scott and some others.

We ended up getting a bite to eat at Bob and Edith’s Diner.  I noticed that it was after midnight and I thought I could give my 15th installment of $10 away.

At the table next to us, sat two young ladies deeply engaged in the type of conversation people have when they haven’t seen each other in a long time.  I cautiously approached them and explained the Year of Giving.  J.J. wasted no time in saying that her friend Sam should receive the $10.  Sam accepted although she later said she was highly skeptical of our intentions at first.

Sam is a 24 year-old resident of VA who originally hails from NC.  She is an artist and fashion designer.  I asked what she was going to do with the money and the conversation begun to whirl.  I believe the final verdict was that the money would some how be spent on someone else.  If Sam checks this out, she can update us.

Sam says she has a natural tendency to help others and really cares about others’ feelings.  She attributes this generous and caring trait to her mother.

It was getting really late and although neither Scott nor I had to work on Tuesday, my internal clock was telling me that I needed to get some sleep.  We left Bob and Edith’s with our stomachs full and satisfied with another successful day of giving.

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Today was a mixed bag.  Several positive things happened, but also some frustrating setbacks.

I have been battling with unemployment.  For some reason they have not paid me a dime since I filed back in September.  I have sent letters, emails, called them, all to no avail.  So, finally I decided to trek over to the closest center that they have which is on Rhode Island Avenue in NE.  I get over there and wait in line to get to the front desk only to find that they stopped letting new people in 11 minutes earlier.  So, once again, I am shot down by the unemployment office.  I will be back tomorrow or Wednesday at 8:30 am to guarantee that I get to speak to someone.

On the positive side, I got two updates from previous recipients of the Year of Giving and I heard back from two different organizations with whom I have been interviewing.  The updates were from Davie (Day 5) and Jenny (day 13).  Davie is doing well.  He used the $10 toward a bus ticket to NYC and is doing well there.  He still plans to come back to DC in January.  He was very gracious for the gift and even offered to do something in return, however, he said he wasn’t sure what that would be but said he was really good at giving mohawk, chelsea, undercut, etc. style haircuts.  Not sure how I would look with one of those, but who knows! 

You might have also seen that Jenny posted a comment.  She promises to keep us posted on her journey during the Year of Giving.

So on my way home from the failed Unemployment Office visit, I stopped at the Giant at the Rhode Island / Brentwood Metro station.  On my way out I saw a woman with a cart full of groceries waiting for someone to pick her up.  Davitia, a 32 year-old resident of NW, is a Home Health Aid.  She visits people, mostly elderly, in their homes and helps them with some of their basic routine items.  She is very kind and I am sure she brightens the day of the people that she serves. 

I got a chuckle from the response Davitia gave when I asked if she would accept the $10.  She snapped her neck back slightly and said something like, “Heck yeah!”  She smiled and I gave her the $10.  She said that the money would probably go to her Metro SmarTrip card.  Interesting that Jenny said the same thing yesterday.

I asked Davitia what she had purchased and she had the usual things to feed her family.  She has three children, so you can imagine the amount of food they go through to fill their growing bellies.  I was glad to meet Davitia…she brightened my day.

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I ended up putting off my giving today until late tonight.  I traveled back from Pennsylvania, went to my theatre rehearsal, and then made it downtown to my place and unloaded my car with my bags and Christmas gifts.  I dumped everything just inside the door and then grabbed my little notebook and $10 and went out to find somebody at about 10:30 pm.

When it’s late, I prefer to find people inside or near well-lit areas; otherwise people are often reluctant to talk.  I decided to head over to Kramerbooks.  It’s open late, it is an excellent place, and I thought I would find someone interesting there.  I meandered through the book-lined labyrinth inside but did not find anyone that I really felt like approaching.  Then I spotted a woman outside peering through the front window.

Jenny, a 26 year-old recent masters recipient in the area of public health, was waiting for the 42 bus.  She was inquisitive about what I was doing, however, agreed to participate rather quickly.  I gave her the $10 and asked her what she planned to do with it.  She said that all her money was earmarked for bills, rent, etc.  She had about $13 of spending money to her name.  Now she had $23.  She said she would initially hold on to the money until Wednesday when she started a waitressing job.  She needs to have a “bank” of $30 in cash to make change.  Once she gets some money from the job, she said she would use the money to add to her Metro card to help her get to/from work. 

Her professional goal is to find a job in global public health.  Maybe something with USAID, etc.  Those jobs are hard to come by according to her.  I think she has a good shot though, as she has a solid education and already done work in Africa in the public health field.  So if anyone out there can help Jenny out or give her some tips on getting a job in this field, leave a comment, I know she would appreciate it.

As we started to depart, I asked her to check out the blog and keep us posted on how her new job goes as well as her job search for a career in global public health.

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The day after Christmas.  It’s always a bit bitter-sweet.  I am always a tad disappointed when I wake up on December 26th and am not greeted with gifts neatly wrapped in colorful paper waiting to be claimed.  It’s kind of like the last day of a wonderful vacation.  Sure the vacation was great, but it’s painful to accept the return to reality.  

Anyway, my father and I got up and went out to run some errands.  Along the way we went to the post office to send my health insurance provider a check for $5.40.  Somehow THEY sent me the incorrect invoice last month and then adjusted it leaving me owing them (adjustments somehow never end up in your favor) $5.40 by Thursday to avoid “termination of the participation in the Plan.”  

The post office was quite empty.  I for some reason expected it to be rather busy.  We were greeted promptly and helped to send our letter: Priority with Delivery Confirmation.  The post office has become rather confusing.  There are all these different types of envelopes, small forms to sometimes fill out, and options to decide.  If I am sending something other than a regular letter, which I do so infrequently now, I have no idea what I need to fill out to ensure that it gets there, not necessarily the fastest, and that I get some type of confirmation.  Let’s not even venture into the area of if I want insurance or not on the value of the contents contained.  For these reasons, I urge our current Post Master General, Jack Potter, to simplify the process or have one line that is just for questions, because I often wait in line for 20 minutes only to find out that there is a small yellow or white piece of paper that I didn’t fill out.

So, I got everything resolved and decided why not give my $10 today to the nice man who helped us at the Post Office.  I would list his name and basic things about him as I normally do, but I don’t want him to somehow get in trouble for any reason for taking my gift.  I have heard about crazy things happening at the post office, so I am not taking any chances.   We’ll call him “Phil.” 

Phil said he was going to use the money to grab some lunch.  It was just before noon, so my $10 came at the appropriate time!

Thanks for participating Phil.  I hope you had a great lunch.

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Merry Christmas everyone.

Today was wonderful.  We got up early to exchange gifts since my brother and his fiancée Mandy had to get on the road to visit her family in New Jersey.  After exchanging gifts and hugs we had some breakfast and even managed to squeeze in a game or two of bridge before Ryan and Mandy had to leave. 

My father and I worked on straightening up the house some and decided to catch a movie.  We went over to the Camp Hill Theaters on Simpson Ferry Road to see Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  Inspiring movie, although I think director Clint Eastwood’s other recent works are a notch above this one.  My dad really enjoyed it.  As we exited the theater I looked for someone to give the $10 to.

I found 26-year-old Mike from Mechanicsburg.  He was standing alone next to a bucket of popcorn and two large drinks.  Mike had just finished seeing Sherlock Holmes, which he gave a thumbs up for.  He was waiting for Avatar, the new film out by James Cameron.  As he seemed to be a bit of a movie fan, I asked him what his favorite all time movie was.  He settled on the 1995 hit The Usual Suspects.  Fine choice I might add.

Mike was not sure what he was going to do with the money.  Said he would probably spend it on himself in some way or another…something to eat or something he needs to pick up here or there.  I reckon there is a chance he stays for a third film today :).

So, counting today, I have completed 11 days of giving…353 more to go!  I find it interesting that none of the recipients have commented on the website or sent me a comment.  I think that hearing their point of view would enrich the project tremendously and I encourage any and all of the recipients who might wander back to the site to check in.  Let us know if you ended up spending the money the way you thought or if you changed your mind.  What type of reaction have you received from those with whom you have shared your story? 

By the way, I followed up with an email to our Scottish mate David, who we were introduced to on Day 5, however, I have not heard back from him either.  I was hoping to meet up once more with him before he heads off to Afghanistan.

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It’s Christmas Eve. (Actually, its 1:30am on Christmas Day now, so Merry Christmas.)

I am in Mechanicsburg, PA. 

It is about 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I am at my father’s house with my brother and his fiancée.  We spent the day talking, playing cards, watching Star Wars (it’s been on all day), doing last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, listening to Christmas music, and eating lots of food.  My dad was a real hero today too.  He insisted on getting the grill out tonight to cook the steaks he had bought.  Yes, outside.  He does make some of the best steaks I have ever had, but when the grill has ice sickles on it, that’s a sign that we should use the indoor oven.

Anyway, my brother and I decided to go out and see how the central Pennsylvanians would react to my project.  Frankly, it was not as easy as you would think to give away $10 here.  We went to a pharmacy and approached three people.  All of whom said no to participating in the Year of Giving.  One didn’t even want to talk to me.  Another took the web address and said he would check out the website.  The store manager declined saying that there were others more deserving of the money than he.

So we left and headed across the street to a video rental store.  Since they were open we thought we would try to find someone who was working on Christmas Eve and give them the $10.  We walked in the store and immediately found Matt behind the counter.

A white 27 year old physics grad student at Penn State, Matt is originally from Boston.  He said he plans to concentrate his studies on Newtonian physics and would really be happy if someone would recommend him for the MacArthur Fellowship – aka the Genius Award which is given out each year to 20-40 people in the US of any age and working in any field who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  While you are at it, you can recommend me too!  Aside from the recognition, you get a cool $500,000.

Matt said he didn’t have much planned for the end of the year.  As a Buddhist he said he would not be celebrating much except for New Year’s Eve, which he planned to have a few drinks.  St. Patrick’s Day, he said, was really his favorite holiday.

So the big question.  What is he going to do with his $10?  Matt plans to buy some Marlboro Menthol Lights in the short 72mm hard packs.  I had no idea that there were so many options with cigarettes.  Now, I can honestly tell you that this is the first time in my life that I have ever given money to someone to buy cigarettes.  I am vehemently opposed to smoking.  Just a note to those who do smoke this type…check out this review of them on rateitall.com.  I don’t know if the info there is true or not, but there is a claim there that those specific cigarettes have “a ‘salt’ (not like the kind you eat) in them that allows the nicotine to be absorbed by the very sensitive skin in you tongue, cheeks, throat, etc.”  Matt, I have a great suggestion for a New Year’s resolution for you :).  You can do it!  BTW, congrats to my friend Aimee who just celebrated one month without smoking.

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Today was a hectic day.  I had to run a bunch of errands.  On top of that I had a job interview, theatre rehearsal, and then I had to drive to my dad’s place in Pennsylvania. 

I ended up waiting to give away my $10 until I got on the road.  I cut it close too…I found my recipient at 11:35pm.  I stopped at a gas station / convenience store in Thurmont, MD.  I went in and saw two employees in their late 20s or early 30s and asked them if either would be interested in participating.  The guy who was mopping the floor originally said he would participate.  I asked him for his name and I think he got spooked and he said that maybe I wanted to ask his coworker.  I did, and Jack accepted my $10.

Originally, from Prince George’s County, MD, Jack lives in Thurmont now.  In addition to working at the convenience store, he is also an artist.  He likes designing tattoos too.  I asked him how many he had and he replied, “Just a couple.”  

I was in a hurry and these guys were working, so I didn’t want to bother them.  Jack said he was going to buy some scratch-off Maryland Lottery tickets with the $10.  I have faith that he is going to get some money too!  He said he won $13 earlier that day and once won $500. 

Jack, let us know if you ended up winning anything with the scratch-off tickets you bought?

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Well….yesterday something happened that I hadn’t prepared myself for.

I tried unsuccessfully to give the $10 to a woman with a small child leaving the Takoma Park Metro.

Later, I boarded the Metro around 10pm and decided to approach a man sitting by himself to see if he would accept my $10.  Kevin, a 50-year-old African-American father and grandfather, was a bit suspicious when I explained what I was doing.

He pondered over it for a few seconds and then said “sure.”  There was a benevolence about him that I initially detected but which later was further revealed.   He explained how he tries to incorporate “giving” into his daily life.  He thanked his mother for instilling those values in him.  He mentioned that he had just given some food to someone this week who was asking for help.

Kevin told me that he was going to give the money to someone else.  I explained that that was exactly one of the intended consequences of my work; to inspire others to give.

He and I talked about why people give or don’t give.  We both agreed that when it comes to giving to a panhandler for example, that it is often less based on a conscious decision and more based on a feeling that you have at that moment.  Maybe it’s how they approach you or something they say that triggers you to give.  Of course there is the exception of those who always give or never give.

The train pulled into the station and Kevin stood up and expressed his thanks and offered me his hand.  I shook his hand only to find he had palmed the $10 and given it back to me.  He quickly went to the door and said, “I told you I was going to give it to someone who deserved it…I just did!”

Well…Kevin, I was not expecting this.  I was kind of shocked.  I didn’t know how to react.  Before I could really move, he was gone.  A woman who was in the car, Josephine, had been watching what was going on and came and sat down next to me.  Unaware of how much she had overheard or seen, I explained what I was doing.  She was very nice and I would have really liked to have spoken with her more, however, I myself had to get off at the next stop.  During our brief encounter she did tell me about an article about an altruistic gentlemen from Montana named Ben Kennedy that was in yesterday’s New York Post.  It’s worth a read.  I wish I could have encountered him and learned how he would have used my $10.

Anyway, back to the story.  So there I was on the escalator out of the Metro.  I still had my $10 and I was left with the question of whether I should keep it or not.  I say that people can do anything they want to with the money.  His choice was to give it to me.  I still felt like I should give it to somebody else. What do you think I should do in these situations?

I could have given it to Josephine.  But now she was gone too.  I headed on foot through the slushy streets a few blocks east.  I was headed to the apartment of my friends Chris and Karrin who had traveled to Omaha to spend Christmas with Karrin’s family.  I was going to pick up their dog Ruben for the night and take him to Little Rascals dog kennel the following day.  Ruben was a lot of fun…such a well-behaved dog, made me want to get one.

Just as I arrived at their apartment, I found a potential recipient.  Betsy was from DC, well Iowa originally, but has been here for “a really long time.”  A white woman about 30, Betsy works at a well-known coffee establishment.  She has an MBA and worked the corporate world for a while but has chosen to take a break from all of that.  She was rather fascinating.  She said she stopped for me because she thought I was a lost tourist.

I asked her what some good coffee joints were in the area, and she quickly brewed up some answers.  In addition to her own establishment, she highly recommended Buzz in Alexandria, Swing’s by the World Bank, and Baked and Wired in Georgetown.  Acording to Betsy, Buzz has phenomenal baked goods as well.

Betsy accepted my $10 and said she was going to go to the mini mart and buy a couple of Totino’s frozen pizzas.  She confessed that she probably eats pizza at least 2-3 times a week.

I gave Betsy the web address and told her to check it out.  We exchanged holiday pleasantries and went on our ways.  Off to pick up Ruben!

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First of all, I want to thank everyone for their comments and interest in the Year of Giving.  Monday was the 6th day the blog has been live and I have had almost 300 visitors to the blog and over 550 hits.  Thanks to all who have left comments or sent me personal notes of encouragement.  I urge you to share this site with all of your friends and family members.

Yesterday I was invited by my good friend Chris to go to the Redskins game.  My brother, Ryan, and I were to meet up with Chris and his coworker Anna at the New Carrollton Metro and then drive over to the stadium.

Ryan and I met up at Metro Center and were going to catch the Orange Line out to New Carrollton.  There are 13 stops, so I figured I could try to find someone to receive my $10 today!

Jameela was sitting right next to us, so I thought I would start with her.  I realized I didn’t have $10 on me, so I had to borrow money from Ryan until I could repay him later that night.  Good thing he was there!  Now armed with his $10, I started talking to her.  Jameela, an attractive thirty-something woman originally from Brooklyn, was bundled up in a white snow suit.  I asked her which stop she was getting off at because I wanted to make sure we had some time to talk.  She said she was getting off at Minnesota Avenue, which was about 7 stops away and I figured we had enough time.

She quickly asked me if I was a journalist.  I started to answer “no” and then found myself saying, “Well, kind of I guess.”  I mean I am not a journalist that is trained and gainfully employed in the traditional sense, but I am journaling about my experience which I guess makes me a journalist of some sort.  Unlike some of the other people I have approached, she was not skeptical of my intentions.  She accepted the $10 and revealed a beautiful, big smile.

Jameela is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at a DC long term care facility.  She is working on becoming a Registered Nurse (RN).  I didn’t realize that there was much of a difference, but after doing a quick research on the web I found that there appears to be a variety of additional skills and responsibilities associated with being a RN.  She says she loves working in her field and serving as the eyes and ears for physicians.  Although often stressful work, she says that the benefits of helping others in this profession is personally rewarding.  She mentioned that she did some work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center working with veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Working with quadriplegics and those with mental illness due to their service gave her a greater appreciation for her life.

So what is Jameela going to do with my $10?  She said that she was going to add it to her savings that she was using for Christmas gifts for others.  Specifically, she said that she would probably put it toward an iPod nano for her god-daughter.  I noticed that we were at the Stadium Armory stop which meant that Jameela was getting off at the next stop, so I needed to wrap things up.  I asked if there was anything else that she wanted to share and she said that she has started writing three books and nearly finished one of them.  Hopefully one day she can finish them all and get them published.  I wrote the blog address down for her and she tucked it away in a pocket of her winter outfit.  I have asked a company to sponsor some business cards that I could hand out with the blog address on them, but I have not heard back from them yet.

After she got off, my brother and I debriefed how it went.  This was the first time he has been with me when I have given $10 to someone so I wanted to get his input.  Overall, he had some good feedback.  However, one item he pointed out was too funny not to include here.  I mentioned that I liked that she intended to use the money to do something for someone else.  He responded, “Yeah, she seems like a really nice woman…I mean she is going to buy an iPod nano for her gardener!”

God-daughter.  Not gardener I told him. 

Oh, and the Redskins lost.

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I couldn’t stop thinking about my chance encounter with David yesterday.  It was a real pleasure to meet him.

So, yesterday set the bar pretty high.  With the snow storm here, some of my holiday shopping plans got canceled yesterday and I needed to head out to do some shopping.  Daniela also needed to still get some gifts, so we decided to head out around 4:00 pm to go to Pentagon City Mall in Virginia.  I am a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so this was not an easy decision as the Steelers game started at 4:00 pm as well.  They have lost their last 5 games and I really wanted to see them get their act together.  They ended up winning tonight by one point in what turned out to be a nail-biter.

As we got to the Metro, we saw a man sitting on the ground with a white Styrofoam cup in front of him.  You have got to be kidding me.  It’s 30 degrees and he is sitting on the ground.  We walked past him and then Daniela convinced me that I should choose him for my person today.  So I did.

Anthony is almost 60 years old…although I think he looked a little younger.  Granted I said that about Knox (Day 1) too.  Maybe that just means I am getting older!  He was sitting on the sidewalk, a few wet newspapers between his corduroy pants and the snow.  He had a two plastic grocery store bags behind him nestled in the snow. 

Anthony sits on the frozen ground and panhandles

A native of Bethesda, MD, Anthony has been homeless here in DC since loosing his job in 2000.  I was pretty shocked when he told me that he had been on the streets that long because Anthony, despite sitting comfortable sitting on the frozen ground in sub freezing temperatures, comes across pretty well.  He had several jobs in the past with household name companies such as Safeway, Marriott, a local country club, and Greyhound bus lines.  He eventually had some alcohol related issues that lead to his departure from driving for Greyhound.  He agreed with me that it was totally reasonable for them to let him go due to his drinking problems.

Anthony is light-hearted and soft-spoken.  He made us laugh several times as he spoke about his times working at the country club when they would have some fun hitting golf balls before the course opened up while they were supposed to be clearing twigs and branches.  His eyes lit up suddenly as he recalled the routine occurrence of seeing foxes dart across the greens in the early hours.

Anthony pulled out the two bags behind him.  One was a six-pack of Natural Light that was literally sitting on ice, the other had some miscellaneous items.  He offered me a beer, which I declined.  He made some excuses for his drinking, mainly that it keeps him warm.  I bet in the summer it helps keep him cool J.

He began to open the other bag and said that he had something for his mother, whose birthday was on Wednesday.  It was somewhat of a birthday/Christmas gift.  As he explained what he had got her and untied the bag, the word “egg” came out of his mouth and I was sure he got her some eggnog!  But it wasn’t, it was an egg custard pie.  He also had some Christmas cards in the bag that he wanted to sign and give to his family to distribute.  He said, even on the streets you don’t escape sending some Christmas cards. 

Anthony said he was going to use the $10 for two things.  You probably guessed that some was going to go to getting some additional Natural Light at some point.  You are correct.  In addition he said that he would be able to take public transportation this week to meet up with his sister.  

Anthony doesn’t have a lot of contact with his family anymore.  “It’s hard.  I don’t want to embarrass them, and I understand that they need to keep a little distance.” He planned to drop the pie and the Christmas cards off to his sister.  I wish I would have asked him about any family he might have had.  It was so cold, and I was squatting on the ground to speak with him, that I forgot to ask several things that now I wish I would have. 

Anthony seemed ok with his being homeless.  He has obviously conditioned himself.  He admitted that he might end up dieing due to his illness and inability to stay sober and escape from the streets. 

I asked if I could take his picture and he said “sure.”  Then he removed his GW hat and asked if I thought he looked better with it on or off.  I said it was up to him and he decided to leave it on.  As I started to stand and stretch my legs I asked him where he would go tonight.  He said he would probably head to St. Luke’s as the temperature was to creep into the low 20s tonight.  He thanked me and said that I had been very gracious.  I shook his hand and we wished one another a happy holiday and I left.   If you come across Anthony, say hello…he is a kind and gentle man.

These experiences are definitely causing me to appreciate my life and family more this year than any other.

UPDATE: June 16, 2010

After more than six months without seeing Anthony, I came across him sleeping in the middle of a park around midnight.  I didn’t know it was him, but saw someone who didn’t seem to be breathing and had no belongings with them laying motionless on the ground.  I checked to see who if they were ok and it turned out to be Anthony!  He seemed intoxicated, but happy.  He remembered me and we talked for a while.  Here is a short clip.

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Davie manages a smile despite the ice sickles that have formed in his beard.

Today’s recipient embodies the very spirit of the mission that I set out to serve.  I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed meeting with Davie.

I had mixed emotions about heading out today to find a recipient due to the eight inches (and counting) of snow that has fallen.  Daniela and I decided to venture out and see who we would find.  The first person we approached declined to participate, she said she was very skeptical of any type of “offer” that she receives from people that she does not know.

A few minutes later we saw a Street Sense vendor.  Street Sense is a newspaper which serves as a vehicle for elevating voices and public debate on issues relating to poverty while also creating economic opportunities for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.  David, a Scottish lad from Glasgow in his twenties who came here to pursue the “American dream,” was sporting an ice sickle laden beard.   I explained what I was doing and he agreed to accept my $10.

I could probably write a year’s worth of blogging just on Davie.  What an interesting person he is.  He left Glasgow back in the spring and arrived in Baltimore and made his way to California.  Then he decided to make his way back east.  With virtually no money, he managed most of his journey by bus, hitchhiking, walking, and whatever else you could imagine.  He arrived in DC in early October and is living on the streets near 14th and H.  Davie is joining the US military to go serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Aside from paying fairly well, there is a program that you receive US citizenship if you complete so many years of service, I believe Davie told me it was four years.  He hopes to depart in a few weeks.

I asked Davie what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going to put it toward a bus ticket to NYC to complete some things he needs to enlist and go abroad.

As I said, I could go on about Davie…but will just make a brief list of the interesting things I have learned about him.

  • Davie spent almost five years in the Légion Etrangère (French Foreign Legion).  As part of his training, he spent 6 months in French Guiana for jungle training.
  • Davie’s grandfather served in Heinrich Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst, the nazi intelligence organization.
  • Davie has no family that he knows of.  He has two brothers that were more than 20 years older than him that he doesn’t know very well and has not seen or heard from in years.  His parents were killed in a highway accident and he explained his uncle was killed as a result of sectarian violence in Glasgow.  Davie, a catholic and self-confessed former hooligan, was injured in sectarian violence.  His leg was slashed with an ax years ago.
  • Davie admittedly said that he refused to interact with Protestants in his homeland almost all of his life; however, rather recently he overcame some of his feelings and established some relationships with some Protestants in Glasgow.
  • As those of you who are aware the fierce sectarianism that exists in Glasgow, you might guess that he is a die-hard Celtic (this is soccer, not the NBA!) fan.  Their “enemies” are the Rangers.  He let me know there was a match between the two clubs on January 3 and advised of the severe violence that was sure to occur.
  • Davie use to follow the Celtic team around Europe…occasionally being ejected, arrested, or sent home.  There was a certain amount of passion that Davie exhuberates when he speaks about the Celtic club.  He reminisced about his youth days when the anticipation of physically attacking the other club’s fans would burn inside him.  I use the word “passion”, but it was clear that his passion took the form of rage and violence.
  • He not only sells Street Sense, but is a published author for them.  He has three 3 articles published in the December 9-22nd issue, including a poem.  One of his articles talks about what a typical day is like for a homeless person in DC and there is even a picture of David there.  He is a good writer and I strongly encourage everyone in the DC area to pick up a copy of this issue!  For those of you not in DC, it should be available online in February.  They have a delay so that they do not lose sales of the print version.
  • Davie does not panhandle.  He doesn’t believe in that.  He feels that you should earn your money legitimately.
  • Including my $10, he said that he has $23 to his name.
  • Davie has been beat up and mugged several times in the US.
  • His favorite spot in the US is Montana.  He loved the scenery and the crystal clear water coming down the mountainside.  His least favorite place was Albuquerque, New Mexico where he was mugged several times in one evening!
  • He is ineligible for the US Air Force due to his tattoo on his neck.
  • Sometimes Davie sells single cigarettes on the street just to get some money to get by.
  • He does not drink or do drugs…well, he smirked and admitted in his rather mild Scottish accent that he has a beer every 2 months or so to “keep the kidney stones away!”  Back in his youth, he said he was quite a mess and spent some time in juvenile detention centers.

I feel like I could go on forever….but I have to bring this to a temporary closing for now.  We were chatting in front of a Starbucks that had closed do to the weather.  There was something sharply ironic in standing with a man who has $23 to his name and watch dozens of Washingtonians nudge by us only to see that the Starbucks was closed and hear them grumble that they can not get their $5 Skinny Hazelnut Latte with soy milk.

Snow blanketed the DC area

We finally stopped our chat, as it was very cold and the snow was making my little 5” x 3” notebook nearly illegible.  I wish everyone out there could spend time with Davie.  He is an eccentric fellow who reminds me a little of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) in his abandonment of material goods in exchange for his exploration of the US.  I got his email address and begged him to keep me posted on how things go.  He uses the internet at the public library, which was unfortunately closed today due to the snow storm.  I hope he comments here for you all to get a taste of who this very interesting young man is.  I will keep you posted on his adventures as well.

UPDATE Jan. 25, 2010: You can see a video update with Davie on Facebook.

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Day 4 – Julie

Another cold day.  Were supposed to get 6-12 inches of snow over the next 24 hours or so.  Should be fun.

I found today’s $10 recipient on my way home from the gym.  Julie is a 30 something professional.  She stood, feet firmly planted on the curb with her eyes fixated on the busy street in front of her.  Next to her sat a rather large wrapped box…about 2’x 2’. 

I don’t know why I picked Julie today.  Maybe it was the curiosity of what was in the box.  Maybe it was because she was standing still…I realize now that this makes people easier targets for me.  If someone is moving I either need to convince them to stop and talk to me or walk and talk all while assuring them that I am not a creepy stalker.  She was also standing alone…I have hesitated to approach couples, groups, etc. to avoid having to decide which person to give the $10 to.  I guess I could divide it up…that’s an idea.  Or give them the option.  Anyway, I am still new at this so cut me some slack.

Anyway, back to Julie.  The thirty-something resident of DC quickly told me that she was waiting for her husband to pick her up.  I sensed that she was pretty skeptical of me…we spoke for less than 10 minutes and I am certain that she was convinced that there was some catch or I was out of my mind…although she might be right about the latter.  It also probably didn’t help that I was wearing bright red nylon work-out pants, on my way home I noticed some small children staring at them in an almost hypnotic trance – perhaps they thought I was an off duty Santa Claus. 

Anyway, she folded the two five dollar bills into her hand while fighting off a look of befuddlement.  She wasn’t sure what she would do with the money.  She explained that she might be leaving tonight to drive to St. Louis for the holidays.  FYI Mapquest says that is a 13 hour and 43 minute drive covering 862.26 miles!  Wow.  They either better have gotten on the road right then or probably waited until Sunday if the storm is going to be as bad as they say.  When I pressed her again about what she was going to do with the money, she said probably that it would be spent on coffee at some place on the road to St. Louis.

Julie seemed like an interesting person…the type that had our meeting not been so weird that you would spend more time talking to.  She even mentioned that her and her husband have a wedding band.  My brother is getting married in February…maybe he needs a wedding band…I bet I could get them to give him a good deal…at least $10 off J.  I wished Julie well and as I was leaving she stopped me, extended her right hand, asked me my name, and thanked me.  You’re welcome.

Day 4 is done…and the snow is on its way.  In case you are wondering, I forgot to ask her what was in the big box.

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Today was cold.  I thought I would look for someone who was living on the streets.  It didn’t take me long before I walked by JR.

I have actually seen JR before…probably even given him some money too.  As I walked by, he charismatically asked me for some help.  I asked if I could sit down and talk to him and he grinned revealing a warm albeit almost toothless smile.    

Originally from DC, JR said he was in his 50s and has been on the streets for about 15 years.  He said he got on the streets after 20 years of “being in trouble.”  He sometimes stays at St. Lukes or the La Casa shelter.  He commented on the pros and cons of each.  “St. Lukes kicks you out at 6am…and its cold that early.” 

He had cane leaning against his leg and showed me his knee…the right knee noticeably larger than the left.  He said it was full of fluid and he needed to get it drained.  Then he pulled out his left hand from his coat and revealed his thumb which he said was cold “due to anemia.”  His hands looked tired and leathery and the left thumb felt more like a Popsicle.

JR says he is going to get some chicken soup and maybe a beer with the money.  I told him about Knox’s fondness for eggnog and he too divulged a soft spot for the concoction.  Although he was going to spend the $10 on himself, he said that he once found $300 next to an ATM.  Upon finding it, he claims to have shared a few $20s with some friends. 

He must have asked three more times for more money before I left.  However, I am not too worried about JR.  He is a brilliant salesman at heart.  He must have got $4 plus a cigarette from others during the 15 minutes I sat with him.  He said some days he brings in close to $100.  He deftly manages conversation with me as he scopes the passing foot traffic and tries to lure contributions to his paper cup in his right hand.  He even told me that he was interviewed on MTV’s The Real World Washington, DC.  I believe him too.  He is quite the showman.  I have a feeling that today was not the last we will hear about JR.

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Day 2 – Paulina

Today I spent most of the day trying to get Year Of Giving up and running.  This blogging software is pretty user-friendly, however, like many things some tasks have somehow taken longer than expected.

So today I went searching along the U Street corridor of DC.  I first approached a woman who was waiting for the bus.  Just as I started to speak with her the 96 bus headed toward McLean Gardens rolled up and she slipped away.  I thought about just jumping on the bus…but I had no idea where McLean Gardens was and didn’t quite have time to do exploring this afternoon.  Strike 1.

My second attempt turned out to be a failure as well.  A nice woman who would have probably been very appreciative had we been able to communicate.  She spoke French, I tried some spanish and portuguese and even a few words in French, but she wasn’t impressed with my French skills.  Strike 2.

My third and ultimately successful attempt came at about 4:30 pm.  I spotted Paulina, a tiny hispanic woman in her 50s, crossing the street with one hand holding a tattered bag and the other clutched tightly around the small hand of three-year-old Dominic.  Our conversation quickly turned to Spanish (phew, that language I have covered) and I explained what I was doing.  She was a little timid but ultimately accepted the $10.

No more than I had put the money in her hand, she proudly told me that she was going to give the money to the church.  I think Dominic, although a little confused, was a bit disappointed with the decision :).  I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t hesitate a bit with her altruistic decision.

Paulina politely thanked me and said that God would take of me.  I thanked her, smiled, and said good-bye.

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So yesterday I started the Year of Giving. My first day of a year-long journey into exploring the act of giving and the meaning of altruism.  I chose December 15th as the starting date.  It marked three years since my mother died from heart disease.  She was one of the most generous people that I have ever known; rarely ever doing things for herself…with the exception of getting her hair done, which she really liked.  She always thought of others first and certainly serves as an inspiration to me.

I had a rather busy day yesterday, ironic for someone who is unemployed right now.  In the morning I went to the gym, tried unsuccessfully to get an actual human being from the unemployment office on the phone, and did some job searching.  Before I knew it it was noon.  I grabbed a quick lunch and hustled down to a meeting.  As I navigated my way down Connecticut, I wondered if I would see someone that I would feel compelled to give my first $10 to.  I was running late and decided to do it afterwards.

After the meeting I had about a half hour to find the first person of my Year of Giving!  I decided to check out Dupont Circle…I met a guy there named Jerry once (more on him some other day) and thought he would be a good recipient of my first $10.  He wasn’t there, but I did see a man sitting by himself who looked really lonely…so I approached him.  Now I had to figure out what I was going to say.  I think I said something like, “Hi…can I sit down here.  [long uncomfortable pause then while I figured out what the heck to say next] Then I just kind of blurted out, “I would like to know if I could give you $10.” He asked me to repeat what I had said.  I did, then he looked at me funny and got up and left.  Strike one.

I then started walking South where I spotted a man standing by the bus stop on Connecticut Ave.  He appeared to be in his 60s.  I don’t know what drew me to him, but I thought I would make my second attempt.  I was a bit nervous and asked him which bus came by that stop.  Then I explained that I was starting a year-long project to give $10 to someone every day and that I wanted to give my $10 for today to him.  The gentleman, I later found out that his name was Ed, responded without hesitation that he could not accept my offer and that there were many people more deserving of the money than him.  This was precisely one of the things that I hoped would happen.  That people would think of others before themselves!  And although I was thrilled that this happened, I still needed to find someone and I was running out of time before I needed to go and pick some friends up and give them a ride to Silver Spring.  So strike two!

Knox braves the cold to make a few dollars shining shoes.

Then I spotted a man on the corner of 21st and P with a small bench and some shoe shine equipment.  I approached Knox, a black gentleman bundled in winter clothes with just the knot of his neck-tie sticking out of his jacket.  He later told me he was 50 years old, he looked much younger.  I asked him if he would accept my $10.  He hesitated and then agreed.  He struggled to come up with an answer when I asked him what he was going to do with my $10.  The alcohol that enveloped each of his words gave me a hint though of where it might go.  I explained that I was not going to judge him on what he chose to do with the money, that it was his and up to him what he wanted to do with it.

We chatted for a while…he spoke of the struggles that he has had and his attempts at staying sober.  “I’m about 50/50,” he said when I asked how his sobriety was.  He said he occasionally goes to AA meetings, but admitted that there had been times he had got himself some eggnog before the meetings.  Eggnog!  What?!  The last thing I would think of that a guy who wanted to get his alcohol fix for the day would want is eggnog!  I laughed…and he assured me that the eggnog was good.  He told me that he was probably going to buy some eggnog with the money.  Oh well.

I explained what I was doing.  He smiled at one moment and said, “maybe some of your readers want a shoe shine!”  Please visit Knox at the corner of 21st and P if you need a good shoe shine or want to know anything about eggnog.

I had to get going.  Before I left, I took a picture of Knox in front of his shoe shine stool and wished him well.  I told him to stay healthy and he said he would try…and warned me of the dangers of eating chocolate bars and “peanut chews.”

UPDATE: February 23, 2011

I caught up with Knox in 2011 – click here to read the update with him and see how he is doing.

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