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Archive for January, 2010

I got a little behind in my posts and I will try to catch up.  Day 39 was my birthday.  It was a rather calm and peaceful day.  I had the opening of the play that I am in, The Foreigner

After lunch I was walking down Connecticut Avenue and got cornered by some folks trying to get people to donate to C.A.R.E.  I patiently listened to “Sandra” talk about the importance of donating, especially now given the crisis in Haiti.  In fact she says she is from Haiti…well, her parents are from Haiti and she studied some in High School there.  I asked how her family was and she said that everyone that she knew was thankfully ok. 

I let her finish her pitch and then threw my curveball.  I explained to her the Year of Giving and told her that I would like to give my $10 to her, and then she could do anything she wanted to with the money.     

Sandra is not her real name, but she was very concerned that her name might get on the Internet…so we agreed to use this pseudonym.  She goes on to explain that she was born in Canada and moved to DC about 18 months ago.  “I didn’t do much for a little more than a year, then I got this job about two months ago” she explained. 

Since the 27-year-old interacts with the public every day about so many important causes I was interested in some of her experiences, however, she said that nothing really stood out.  I couldn’t believe it…how could you spend two months interacting every day with the public and not have a list of stories.  I have been doing my Year of Giving for 39 days and when I get asked what interesting experiences I have had, I can hardly wait to tell people about Anthony, Kevin, Jenny, Gilles, David, etc… the list goes on.  I pressed her a little more and she did recall seeing Robin Williams on the streets of Georgetown recently.  No, she didn’t ask him to donate if you were wondering.

I circled back around to the $10 and asked her what she planned to do with it.  I was wondering if she would donate it to C.A.R.E. since she was so passionate about me contributing to the organization.  She said she didn’t want to do anything with it today.  She was just going to put it in her pocket and think about it.  Later, she said she would use it to buy lunch one day next week. 

A parking enforcement officer walks by and she recalls that earlier that day she had given a man 50 cents to put in his meter and he said to her, “Thank you.  Something great is going to you today!”  She looks at me and says, “He was right!”

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So today is my birthday!  I am 36 today.  No big plans…since opening night of my play is tonight.

Yesterday was another busy day filled with last minute errands for the play, resolving unemployment issues, job searching and interviewing, updating the Year of Giving, etc. 

I found myself again close to midnight and still holding on to my $10.

I dropped off a friend from the theatre and then decided to head over to the area around 14th and U Street and find someone.  I had NPR on my radio hoping to hear some more of a report that I heard earlier in the day by Laura Sullivan  on our prison systems.  I really like her journalistic style.  When you hear one of her reports you feel like you are there with her.  Maybe I can get her to check out my blog and give me some tips on writing 🙂

It was raining and I thought I would find a place indoors to give away the $10.  I found myself in front of Bus Boys and Poets, a hip urban joint that I have frequented a few times.  It was open and there was a parking space out front. 

The place is pretty cool.  It is part book store, part coffee-house, part restaurant, part bar, part… meeting place.  I think the poet for which it is named, Langston Hughes, would be proud of the place.  My eyes scanned the bar and saw two young women working on a computer together, a female bartender wiping down the liquor bottles, and a guy who looked like he could line up against the Steelers’ James Harrison and hold his own.  Hmm…I could easily go chat with the girls, but I am more intrigued by the linebacker-like individual.  I mean what’s the worse that could happen?  He could crush me with his forearm?

Allen turns out to be a soft-spoken guy.  He does love his football though.  He stammers a little as he tells me that he is a Redskins fan.  There is that look that a sports fan gives you when they open up and tell you that they love a losing team.  You have to respect that.  That doesn’t happen much in other areas.  I mean you never find someone saying, “I love that mutual fund that is losing me lots of money” or “Even though Dr. Wilson has killed many of his patients, I still love’em!”  Sports is different.  A fan is a fan is a fan, it doesn’t matter what their record is, they are still going to show up and cheer them on.

The 22-year-old from Montgomery County, MD was in DC to film a band.  You can see some of his video work on YouTube searching for abseven4.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he said he was going to put it toward gasoline.  Allen will be using quite a bit of gas as he plans to go back to college.  He has about two years left to finish a Sports Management degree at Bowie State University.

Allen dropped out of school a couple years ago but after struggling for a couple years he realized he really wanted to go back to school and get his degree.  He may be starting as soon as Monday, but that depends largely on the financial aid he hopes to receive.  If he doesn’t have everything he needs, then he will have to wait until the fall semester most likely.  I hope he finishes his degree.  It will be an amazing gift for him.

I chat a little more with Allen and realize that I need to get home and get to bed.  When I walked in the door, I discovered my place was cleaned up and there was birthday gift from Daniela waiting on the counter.  Thank you!  That was so nice.

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I had a great day today.  I was so busy that I ended up not giving away my $10 until the very last minute, literally.  I got home from my theatre rehearsal at 11:35 and walked up near the Metro to see if I could find a recipient.  I asked a woman who I passed on the way, but she said, “I think I am going to keep walking.”

I spotted three people who looked a little lost just outside the Metro entrance.  I asked them if they needed help…they said they thought they were ok, but were a little turned around.  The trio said that they were headed to the Carlyle Suites Hotel – I had no idea where that was so I wouldn’t have been much help anyway. 

Since I was chatting with them and they seemed friendly, I thought I would ask them if one of them would like to participate in the Year of Giving.  The two men and one woman talked internally a little and said they were up for it if I was willing to walk and talk. 

The two men graciously said that their female colleague should be the recipient.  Suzanna, a young sophisticated woman from Oakland, is a web graphic designer for the company where the three work. Who knows, maybe she could help me develop a better website for the Year of Giving.  She also says that she is a jazz singer…although apparently for now the IT job will have to pay the bills.

I asked her how she was going to spend the money and she said that she had been thinking about that since I gave her the money.  “I am going to buy a knish in NYC.  How many knishes can I get for $10?”  Her two colleagues determine that she can probably buy three for $10.  “So, I will buy three knishes in New York.  One for me, one for my friend, and one for someone on the street.”  I thought that was a cool that she planned to use part of the money to do something nice for someone that she didn’t know. 

Although Suzanna was weary of giving me her email address, she promised to take a photo of the Yiddish dumplings and send it to me.  I hope she makes good on her promise.  It would be nice to post it here. 

We were getting close to their hotel and I asked her what her reaction was when I approached them with my project.  Suzanna first said, “Well, I wasn’t too skeptical because you seemed normal.”  Phew, someone thinks I am normal.  Yes!  That however quickly turned into, “Actually, I wasn’t really worried, I mean, I was pretty sure that I could take you.”  What?!  Do I look that meager and weak?  That doesn’t bode well for how convincing I will be as a villain in the play that I am performing in. 

Well, we got to the hotel and I was surprised that I didn’t know it, it is not too far from my condo.  I asked them what they thought of it.  Suzanna and her boss both said that it was very nice.  The other gentleman seemed a bit bitter.  It turns out that he got screwed on his room. (I bet he is not getting one of those knishes in NYC either!)  But all in all they said it was a decent place.  They quoted a price of roughly $120/night which is an excellent rate, so might be an option for those of you who travel to DC.

I shook their hands…said goodbye and was on my way home.  I checked my phone and saw that the time was 12:02 am, so I made it just in time!

Let’s hope Suzzana is a woman of her word and follows up!

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I have been so impressed with how many people I know who have opened up their wallets and hearts to help those in Haiti.  Maybe it is because technology has made it easier for us to make contributions, maybe it is because many of us remember our own times of need and how much it means when someone offers to help.  Regardless of the reason, I am impressed.  I have also seen the generous side of many people after they have learned about the Year of Giving.  Thanks to all of you who have offered me support and encouragement.

Today I struck out three times before finding a willing recipient of my $10.  I first approached a city worker.  There is an area of DC called the Golden Triangle.  That district has workers dawned in bright yellow vests whose job it is to help people find where they are going and keep the area clean and safe.  I doubt they get paid very well and they offer a great service.  The first person I approached said he was not able to accept money while he was working.  So, I went on my way and saw a Latino man leaving a bank with a chef’s outfit on.  I approached him and he seemed very skeptical of my intentions.  He said he was working and could not talk to me.  I gave him my card and kept on walking.  Then I saw another Golden Triangle employee and thought I would see if I got the same answer as his colleague.  Sure enough, he toted the company line.

Three refusals…wow.  One more and I will have a new single day record.  I walked by a man sitting on a park bench next to a guitar case.  Bill was dressed all in black and sporting dark sunglasses.  He looked cool and relaxed as he enjoyed his coffee on this warmer than average Tuesday.  I sat down next to him and explained what I was doing.  He smiled easily and said he really liked my project. 

Bill playing a few songs at Dupont Circle

Bill has been playing guitar for 45 years.  He tells me that he has played and worked with all kinds of people in all kinds of places.  From street corners to now mega-star Alicia Keys.  Yep, Bill did some work for Alicia Keys when she was a young teenager.  He says he likes any kind of music, “from the 50’s to Smashing Pumpkins.”  He credits the Ink Spots, the Platters, and all of Motown as influencing factors.

In recent years, Bill has not been so fortunate.  Playing some gigs here and there and getting some extra cash on the street.  He entertains the public in front of the Starbucks at Dupont Circle and the North and South Dupont Metro entrances.  On a good day he says he brings in over $100.  On a bad day $15. 

If you want to check out some of Bill’s music, you can find him on MySpace.  The site is outdated and doesn’t look like it has been updated in a few years.  I asked Bill if he had family and he mentioned 7 brothers and sisters.  On the MySpace page you will also find what looks to be a blog post by Bill in 2007 asking for help finding his two children that he apparently has lost touch with.  Sad.  He is such a nice guy.

So I asked Bill what he was going to do with the money and he said it would go to food and utilities.  I get the feeling he is not paying rent right now and tries to give as much as possible to his roommate, a fellow musician. 

Bill pulled his guitar out and tuned it.  His fingertips tell the whole story; the hardened skin from years of sliding his fingers up and down the guitar.  He plays a couple tunes and even breaks into some vocals as well.  It would have been a beautifully serene moment had it not been for a certifiably crazy man screaming on the next bench over.

Before I left I asked Bill what his all-time favorite song was…Moonlight Serenade.  For those who live/work/play near Dupont Circle, keep an eye out for Bill and say hello.

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This morning I went down to the Washington Post’s office to volunteer with Greater DC CARES to prepare food for Martha’s Table, an organization that helps at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in the community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities.  I was part of a team of youth and adults from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  I used to work for the Alliance, a terrific organization started by the American Heart Association and former President Clinton’s Foundation.

We spent the morning working as a team to do several service projects.  Our group prepared over 2,000 sandwiches to be handed out by McKenna’s Wagon.  The youth that were part of our team were part of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Board, 25 amazing kids from across the country who inspire their peers to make healthy behavior changes and to become leaders and advocates for healthy eating and physical activity.  They quickly figured out good systems that allowed them to work more productively as a team.  Despite some minor help from us adults trying minimize the amount of jelly on the carpet, they pretty much handled it all.  What an amazing group of young people.  Thanks to my friend Kim for inviting me to be a part of this special day.

In addition to the food we prepared, the other teams participating produced 600 burn kits, 1,000 first aid kits for search and rescue teams, 500 basic toiletry kits for the homeless, and hundreds of cards and letters to be sent to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Great work by everyone!

While I was volunteering I heard about a wonderful woman named Gwen who drove the bus for the Alliance’s group.  As we left the building, I found Gwen and asked her if she would accept my $10!  Her face lit up and she gladly accepted.  The 54-year-old has a face that glows with energy.  I don’t think I saw her not smiling the whole time.  Born near the RFK stadium, she now lives in Largo, MD with her mother.  She has a 32-year-old son who works for Metro and four grandchildren.  

Me giving Gwen $10. Check out the video of this on the YoG Facebook Page. Photo Credit: John Wilson

My friend Daniel told me that yesterday he had asked Gwen if she knew where they could get some food.  She didn’t hesitate and opened her bag and offered a pear that she had brought for herself.  What a nice person to offer up her own food to someone else.

So I asked Gwen what she was going to do with the $10.  “I am going to put gas in my car!” she quickly replied.

Almost everyone had loaded up on the bus at this point and I didn’t want to hold the group up, so I quickly said goodbye and headed back home to write about the experience.   I am planning to go to the Embassy of Haiti at 5pm tonight for a candlelight vigil.  If you are in the DC area and would like to attend, go to 2311 Massachusetts. Ave., N.W. or check out the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee’s page on Facebook.

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Day 34 – Aminta

Today was one of those days that I waited until the end of the day to give away my $10.  I got home from my theatre rehearsal and headed out around 10:15pm to find someone.

I saw many people, but didn’t feel compelled to give anyone the money.  I don’t know why.  I am often asked to explain how I pick people.  There is really no secret formula.  It is more spontaneous than thought-out.  Some people think that I only look for homeless individuals.  That is not the case.  In fact, I think it is just as interesting to learn what someone who makes a six-figure salary is going to do with the money as it is someone who is homeless.  Granted, I feel better about giving the money when I know that it gets used for something that has value to someone else. 

Tonight I found Aminta sitting alone on a bench at a bus stop waiting for the D6 bus.  She was eating a slice of pizza from a big slice pizza joint.  I felt bad interrupting her, but I figured if she had time to eat a slice of pizza she probably had time to chat with me for a few minutes.  I explained what I was doing to the 27-year-old and she accepted my $10.  Usually the people I approach, especially late at night, appear a bit nervous or uncomfortable but she was very calm and relaxed. 

Originally from Puerto Rico, Aminta works at Target and has been in DC for about three months.  Her mother, who was living here in DC, got the swine flu and she moved her to take care of her.  In a weird twist of events, she arrived here on her two-year wedding anniversary and ended up separating from her husband on precisely that day.  “We are still great friends,” she told me.

I asked her what she planned to do with the $10.  She said, “I am going to save it for one year and then we can get together and figure out what to do with it then.”  Interesting answer.  I scribble my John Hancock on the bill and date it in some attempt to mark the bill as the one that I gave her. 

I see the D6 pulling up and tell her that I think her bus has arrived.  She gathers her things, accidentally dropping her to go box of pizza on the ground.  Thankfully, the pizza stayed inside the box.  We shook hands and went our separate ways into the night.

It would be interesting to meet up with the recipients at the end of the year.  Maybe we can throw a little party or something?  Would be interesting to see who would come.  Perhaps some people who have followed the blog would come as well as some recipients.  I will keep that idea in mind.

By the way, I have not forgotten about Mark from Day 29!  I am going to follow up with him tonight to see what he has decided to do with the $10.

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I was on my way to help construct the stage for the theatre production that I will be performing in starting January 22nd.  [For those of you in the DC area, come see the Foreigner at Rockville Little Theatre.  Details can be found here!] 

I was heading up to Rockville, MD on Georgia Avenue where you turn off to Veirs Mill Road and saw a woman standing on the median with a sign that said, “Not homeless yet.”  I made a u-turn and parked at a Baptist church, crossed to the median and went to speak with her.

As I walked up to her, she crossed her arms in an “X” shape and said, “Oh no!” as if she was trying to keep me away from her.  What the heck?  This has never happened.  Was I wearing my Montgomery County Police Department hat?  I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Your shirt….you a Redskins fan?”  I was wearing a Washington Redskins shirt.  It was then I noticed her Dallas Cowboys hat.  Oh lord…my second Cowboys fan here in DC that I have encountered in my Year of Giving.  I explain that I am actually a Steelers fan and we form a truce.

Dana, a 47-year-old single woman living in Maryland, says she is at the Georgia Ave. / Veirs Mill Rd. location almost every day from 9am to at least noon.  She claims to have hit financial turbulence two years ago when her mother passed away and left her with a house that still owed more than $60,000.  She says that she was unable to make the mortgage payments and the house entered into foreclosure.  She offers to show me the foreclosure papers that she has in her bag, but I didn’t think that was necessary. 

She says she is looking for work.  “I will scrub floors, clean toilets, whatever!” she says.  She gets by with the money she collects at this intersection now.  A Wonder® Bread truck rolls past and she hollers out, “Hi honey!”  She goes on to say, “Sometimes the driver gives me some leftover bread and pastries.”

This got me thinking.  I asked her what was the best thing she had received from someone driving by.  Her answer intrigued me.  Instead of saying a dollar amount or some material good, she said that the most valuable thing that she had received was encouragement from those that speak with her. 

She says she will use the $10 for food. 

Dana is very likeable.  She has been hardened considerably by her life experiences, but that doesn’t keep her down.  She is very positive and optimistic and smiles often; revealing that she has almost no teeth left.  We chat for a few more minutes as cars wiz by us on both sides.  She probably notices my slight fear of standing only 3 feet away on both sides from cars traveling 40 miles an hour.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her with her sign.  She agrees, but the camera on my phone doesn’t work.  I told her I would try to see her some day next week.  I thanked her for her time, wished her good luck, and said goodbye.

If anyone would like to reach Dana or help her, please let me know.

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