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Archive for August, 2010

This made me laugh today.  Apparently I have made the top 10 list of weirdest hobbies!  My daily gifting landed me in third place behind a guy who takes photos of himself pretending to be dead and another guy who tries to get in the background of various newscasts.  Here’s the part that shocked me though, I managed to beat the 84-year-old English woman who knits woolen boobs.  Now that is really something!

Paul holding Kiko who turns one year old next Wednesday! (photo: Reed)

Anyway, after four days of dog sitting you would think that I had my fill of dogs, but it seems that was not the case as I gave my $10 to a guy with a dog on Day 238.

I walked by the Cosi on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street in DC and saw Paul sitting at a table outside with Kiko, a black mixed lab.  It turns out that he was just waiting there for his girlfriend, Kristen, who had gone into Five Guys to get their dinner.  “Their burgers are good, not as good as Ray’s Hellburger over in Rosslyn, but they’re good.”  He also said he likes the Vietnamese Pho 75 that is next to Ray’s.  I have to agree, I like both of those spots too.

Kiko, whose name was inspired by the Kikkoman brand of soy sauce, is a rambunctious young pup.  They found her abandoned on the side of the road in Fayette County, West Virginia.  Although they don’t know exactly how old Kiko is, they guess that she is about a year.  In fact they have made September 1 her birthday so she will be celebrating her first birthday next week!  As she was a rescue dog Paul said that she came with some challenging habits to break.  “She’s a cross between a piranha and a beaver – I mean other than a Kevlar vest, she will chew up just about anything.”

Paul picked Kiko up and posed for some photos.  The 35 pound dog hammed it up pretty good and even later showed off some things she has learned to do.  Unfortunately my camera kind of spooked her so I didn’t get to see the complete repertoire of tricks.

Kiko politely shakes Kristen's hand. (photo: Reed)

Speaking of tricks, Paul had a trick of his own that he showed me.  He has the unique ability to snap his fingers with his pinky fingers.  I have never seen anyone do that.  “Neither have I,” said the 29-year-old Dupont resident, “I even listed it on my application for Georgetown where they asked about special talents.”  Paul ended up getting accepted to Georgetown so for any of you prospective college students, start practicing now so that you can add this to your admission application.  It apparently works!

I asked him if there was anything he could think of that I could list on the Lend a Hand section of the website.  He light-heartedly said, “A healthy supply of Belgian beers would be nice.”  All you Belgian and Belgian style brewers out there, please send Paul a six pack of you best beer.

Paul said that his ten dollars would somehow go to Kiko.  “Maybe a toy or some treats,” he told me.  I later got this in an email from him:

Instead of being put toward a new toy or a bag of treats for her, your “donation” covered 5/8 of the $16 fee charged by our dogwalker for her 30 minute session with Kiko today. Not cheap, right? If you want to reap windfall profits, dogwalking is where it’s at…”

Thanks for the update Paul!

So before I left, I got to meet his girlfriend Kristen.  She was very nice and we chatted for a while.  I felt bad though as their delicious burgers were getting cold so I said goodbye and walked home.

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Jon gets a fresh delicious pretzel for a customer (photo: Reed)

 

On Sunday I said goodbye to Sweetie and Manassas and headed back to DC. On the way home I stopped at the Tyson’s Corner Mall. I got to admit that I have almost no willpower when it comes to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I succumbed to the cravings and walked over and got a pretzel. My favorite one is the jalapeno, but they didn’t have that at this one so I just got the original. Mmmm…it was devoured in about two minutes.  

As I was eating I thought that maybe I could give my $10 to the guy who sold me the pretzel.  I walked back over and introduced myself to Jon and explained what I was doing. He said he would accept my $10 and I chatted with him while he prepared the place for closing, after all the mall was closing in about 10 minutes.  

Jon (photo: Reed)

 

After four months working for the pretzel gods, Jon says that the original pretzel is the most common. “We also sell a lot of almond pretzels,” he says. I never knew they sold almond pretzels but he says that they are quite popular with Asian Americans. Which is interesting, because when I used to live in Brazil they had pretzel shops there too, but they never sold salted pretzels, mostly sweet pretzels. Brazilians like salty snacks; I’ve always thought that the original pretzel would be very popular there.   Maybe they would like the almond pretzel!  Anyway.  

Jon comes across as a professional, charismatic guy. I was a little surprised that he was working in retail at the mall. He shared with me that he had been convicted of felony drug charges in the past and it was hard to find work. “I was sentenced to 15 months in Arlington County jail,” he tells me although he later explains that the majority of the sentence he served in a rehabilitation center. “That’s in the past now.  I’m clean now. I was at a point in my life when I needed change,” Jon said.  

Now he is focused on other things. He realized he had to exchange his old lifestyle and friends for a new lifestyle that would allow him to live a productive life. When he is not working he says that he enjoys going to the gym, playing sports and rooting for the Redskins. He has also invested time and money into getting his A+ Certification for computer systems. He has done all the coursework he needs he just needs to take the final exam. He got interested in computers at an early age and has been building his own computers for the past four to five years.  

Jon attends to some customers (photo: Reed)

 

A family walked up and ordered three pretzels. “We have a special that if you buy two you get the third one free,” he told her. That made them so happy. 

I learned that three nights a week they give their leftover food to a shelter program. Very nice. I am not sure why they don’t do it every night but I suspect it might present some logistical challenges.  

“So what do you think you will use the $10 for?” I asked him. He didn’t waste any time to blurt out, “Bus fare!” He sometimes uses a scooter, but relies heavily on the bus system. “Right now my scooter is in the shop actually,” he said. “It was supposed be ready the other day but now it wont be ready until tomorrow at the earliest – that’s the kind of stuff that used to set me off when I was using, but now it doesn’t really bother me.”  

One of his colleagues showed up from the other location that Auntie Anne’s has in the mall. I told him that I would let him go and packed up my stuff and tried to figure out how I was going to get out of the mall because some of the exits were now closed.  Jon told me how to get out and thanked me and I wished him a good night. He smiled and said, “Thanks, I will. I’m actually meeting my mother for dinner!”

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Chilean president Sebastián Piñera holds up a message from the trapped miners. (photo: Hector Retamal/AP)

Have you been following the 33 miners trapped in a mine in Chile.  Well, yesterday after 17 days trapped 4.5 miles inside the winding mine, rescuers received a note written in red paint that all 33 were alive!  VIVA CHILE!  That is awesome.  Now the challenge.  It will take up to four months to get them out…but they are able to send some supplies down to them.  Read more about this here.

This is the same shot I took the yesterday but at night (photo: Reed)

Back here in the US, I was on my third day in Manassas when I decided to go to the historic downtown and find my recipient of the day.  I had gone to dinner down in Springfield with some old work colleagues and then drove back and stopped downtown.  It’s a charming quaint looking place where you see the same police car driving around the town a couple of times during the same evening (either that or they were suspicious of the “guy from out of town walking around giving money away and taking pictures.”)  The flag lined streets are nestled with small shops, restaurants, bars, a hotel and even a barber shop.  It’s in front of the Royal Cuts Barber Shop on Center Street that I found Alex and Breanna sitting on a bench.

I am not sure how well they knew each other.  At first I figured they were a couple, but then it turned out that they were just friends, or maybe even acquaintances, who had attended the same high school.

Alex and Breanna chilling in front of Royal Cuts Barber Shop (photo: Reed)

I asked them what someone should see or do in Manassas and they said that they really didn’t have a good answer.  “There’s not much to do here except go around town and look at the plaques,” they said referring to the historical markers that are peppered around the city center.  Alex said to check out a place called Tommy’s.  “It’s pretty good and they got some pool tables,” he added.  I looked them up later on the internet and it seems to be an interesting place.  They describe the atmosphere as a “sports bar” that is also “family friendly” and welcomes cowboy hats! 

I asked them what they liked to do and they both said they enjoyed writing.  “I have a freakish imagination,” Alex says.  “I write short stories, sci-fi and fantasy but it’s not very good.”  Breanna says she also likes to write and is equally self-deprecating of her talent.  Alex also admitted to a severe music addiction saying that he likes all kinds of music, “80s, 90s up to today.”

We chat some more and before too long before a friend of Breanna’s who just got off work stopped by.  I’m going to take the liberty to change his name and call him Mike…I think you will understand once I explain more. Anyway, I had asked Alex and Breanna to share with me something interesting or funny about them so when Mike arrived I thought better yet, I’ll ask Mike to give me some funny story about the two.  Mike thinks for a second and then says, “Ok, well, I guess I could share this with you but it’s pretty embarrassing.”  Mike proceeds to tell me a story that had nothing to do with Alex and Breanna at all.  It was story about him that had to do with masturbation! 

I was looking at Breanna and Alex and they were looking at me and none of us knew quite what to say.  “I don’t think he understood your question,” Breanna said.  Yeah, I’d say that was a safe assumption.

Anyway, it was a bit awkward for a minute or two and then Breanna left with Mike and I stayed behind with Alex. 

Intersection of Main and Center Streets at night (photo: Reed)

I’m glad I decided to hang out a little longer and chat with Alex because he shared his own personal struggle getting a job.  That meant a lot to me given my own 285 day search for employment that I had gone through since being laid off last year. Alex didn’t graduate when he should have because he failed a civics class.  It started off ok but then the teacher had a stroke and they had a slew of substitute teachers in and out of the classroom and he just didn’t do well and ended up failing.  Until he finished the class and got his diploma it was really hard to find a job that would pay anything decent. 

Alex found himself graduating as the country slipped into a depression.  The job market turned south and he was left knocking on doors, literally.  “I walked door to door at one point looking for a job,” he told me.  I asked him if he could share the story on video and he agreed.  His heartfelt story shows how determination on a rainy day can lead to opportunity. Anyone who has thought about giving up on finding a job should watch this!

So, what the heck happened to the $10, right!  Well, I asked Alex what he was going to do with the money and we realized that Breanna had ended up with the money!  Somehow I must have missed that when she left.  Perhaps I was distracted by the masturbation story.  Anyway, I have emailed Breanna and hope to get an update on the $10 soon.

We said goodbye and I walked through the streets of Manassas passed dozens of dark storefronts until I arrived at my car.  I went back and took Sweetie for a walk before going to bed.

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Railroad tracks run through picturesque downtown Manassas (photo: Reed)

I’ve enjoyed taking care of my friends’ dog Sweetie.  She really likes going for walks.

While in Manassas I thought I would go and relax a little at a local coffee shop so I looked online for a good place and found some good reviews for a place called Jess Presso.  It was over off of Liberia Ave. and I looked all over for it but couldn’t find it.  I double checked the address and found that there was another business operating where it used to be.  There was a Starbucks in the same plaza so I thought that I would head over there and maybe do a little writing or see who I would find there to give my $10 to.

Starbucks on Liberia Ave. where I met Joshua (photo: Reed)

As I waited for my dopio espresso, the perky cashier explained to me that the place I was looking for had closed.  “It wasn’t that good actually in my opinion – my friend worked there,” she said.  Well, at least I didn’t miss anything.  I got my espresso, added a packet of Splenda and stirred the murky water while I scanned the shop.  There was a guy sitting in a comfy chair working on his computer who caught my eye. 

Originally from Oklahoma, Joshua moved here two weeks ago after spending the last three years living with his wife at the home of his in-laws in Hawaii. 

Joshua spent nine years in the navy as a submarine sonar technician before leaving the military back in May.  Then he spent two months combing the internet for a job.  Being out of work for an extended time will “make your eyes bleed,” Joshua states shaking his head.  He is thankful for the job opportunity he received despite having to leave his wife in Hawaii for a while.  Pregnant with their first child, they decided that she would stay back in Hawaii with her family until after the arrival of the baby in January. 

Joshua doesn't have internet access at his apartment yet, so he often visits Starbucks to connect. (photo: Reed)

From politics to foreign cultures to immigration laws to the economy; we talked for nearly two hours.  He told me that before joining the navy he worked for a small lending company in Oklahoma.  He used to go in person to do the collections and had so many sad stories of people getting into situations that they were unable to easily get themselves out of.  He says that he felt bad for many of the people that he had to go and pressure to make payments.  He says that they weren’t like the aggressive maniacs you see on TV, but their goal was to recover the borrowed money.  “I definitely learned one thing; never co-sign anything unless you’re prepared to be solely responsible for it.” 

Despite being submerged for up to 45 days at a time sometimes, he said that he really enjoyed his time in the navy.  “A difficult part that a lot of guys don’t know before they enlist is that even when they are at port they have to “stand duty” one out of every four nights.”  That means staying aboard the ship away from family and standing guard.  As he and his wife start their own family they felt that a civilian life would allow them to spend more time together.

Joshua is living in an apartment for the time being but hopes to purchase a house.  On this clip he talks to me a little bit about the importance of home ownership in the US and how cultural backgrounds play a big role in shaping our views of what type of living arrangements we choose.

When I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 he replied that he was going to “get some stuff for the apartment.”  He smiled and said, “Today I bought a microwave, but that is about all I got, well that and an inflatable bed and two camping chairs, but that’s it.”

After almost two hours of talking I realized I completely hijacked his time there and we both packed up and left – I think Starbucks was closing anyway.  As we got to our cars, I thanked him for his service to our country and for the enjoyable conversation that evening and said “Goodbye.”

UPDATE Aug. 23, 2010: I got an email from Joshua today letting me know that the $10 went toward a futon which is already being used by a friend from his Navy training days who is visiting!

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If you are in Washington, DC, join me today at the Shakespeare Theatre Family Fun Fair from 10:00-2:00 downtown near the Verizon Center.  It should be a fun event for the whole family.

photo: Reed

I was recently dog-sitting in Manassas, VA for my friends Tressa and Tom.  It was nice to have a new community for a few days to share the Year of Giving with.  On my first day there I headed over to Costco to get some items that I needed.  As I was leaving I saw a man sitting with his child.  I asked him to be my 234th recipient but he preferred not to participate.  His name was Jeremy.

I then headed over to the Giant grocery store on Sudley Rd and picked up another couple items to have on hand for my weekend “getaway” in Manassas.  I was still looking for someone else but just didn’t seem to see the right person.  About a block away from the Giant there was a Family Dollar store.  I drove over there and saw a woman coming out of the store.

I parked quickly and ran over to Angela who was now loading her purchases into the car.  She was very friendly and open to talking with me.  We talked for about thirty minutes and I have thought about her and her story every day since.

Angela has overcome many challenges in life (photo: Reed)

Angela is a 35-year-old single mother of five kids!  The oldest is 17 and the youngest is seven.  Unfortunately she doesn’t have custody of the children right now because the father (they are separated) had nearby family that would be able to help raise the children.  Angela’s closest family members are in West Virginia.  She works two full-time jobs right now as a certified nursing assistant in order to be able to support herself and make payments to help with childcare of her children.  “I have been working as a CNA for 14 years now,” She says.  “I like what I do; it’s like taking care of family.”

As we talked more I discovered that just how difficult of a time it was for Angela when she and her husband separated.  It set off a series of events.  She got depressed and ended up losing her job and later her home.  “I slept in my car for a total of six months to get back to living in an apartment,” she told me.

Angela shared this very emotional moment with me in this video clip.  It’s heartbreaking to see and hear her describe such a difficult time in her life.

Angela has her own apartment now and wants to go back to school to get her nursing degree.  She also wants custody of her children.  “It’s really hard,” she admits.  I think it’s important that Angela pursue her nursing degree so that she can have a more stable financial situation, work fewer hours and have a more active role in the lives of her children.  The challenge with that is to be able to juggle nursing school while still working enough to make ends meet.  If you or anyone you know is a career counselor at a school that might be able to speak with Angela and give her some guidance on how to successfully manage all that, please contact me so that I can put you in touch with her.

As I said earlier I think about my conversation with Angela every day.  Meeting her and learning about her story really touched my heart.  It’s people like Angela that I meet that make going out and giving my $10 away every day worth it.

Angela in front of the car that she lived in for six months (photo: Reed)

She was tired and had worked all week.  Angela told me that she was going to run in to the Aldi supermarket and get some groceries with my $10.  I gave her a hug and walked back to my car and just sat there for a while thinking about how difficult it must have been to lose her husband, her children, her job, her house and live in her car.

Her determination and perseverance remind me of a quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” 

Angela’s tide is turning.

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Ishmael sits with his boots that someone gave him during the snow storm this winter. (photo: Reed)

People always say that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.  Meet Ishmael.  He’s 49 and was born and raised here in Washington, DC.  Now homeless, he wants more than anything an opportunity to be gainfully employed.

It is kind of a vicious circle though.  We all know that it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job.  Prospective employers often think that you have something to offer simply by the fact that another organization hired you.  I know that when I was working I would get recruiters calling me regularly about other jobs.  When I was out of work for 285 days, my phone didn’t ring near as often.  And if you are homeless, there is a good chance you don’t even have a phone so it’s that much more difficult.  You don’t have a computer or even a safe place to keep your clothes and belongings. 

I found Ishmael as he escaped the sun’s hot rays beneath a tree in the small triangular park that is surrounded by noisy streets of New Hampshire, 21st and M.  I sat down next to him and gave him the $10.  He was very grateful for the act of kindness and said he was going to use it to buy some food this week.  I think he knows that many people probably think that someone in his situation would use it for drugs or alcohol.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that he didn’t have any substance abuse problems.

“I got to this situation because I didn’t get myself together,” Ishmael explains.  “However, when you lose your job or your house for four or five years, you come back and work so much harder for an organization.”  Ishmael also said that he understands that he needs to be patient.  “My time will come.”  He recorded this short message that talks specifically about what kind of job he would like to find and the commitment he will make to that organization. 

Ishmael’s last job was cleaning mail bags at a large building.  Just by talking with him I could tell that he understood what was important in his work: quality, efficiency, attitude and following established procedures. 

He turns 50 this next February 12th and hopes to be in a different situation by then.  Can you help him?  Let me know.  I am going to reach out to Robert from Day 225 and his DC Central Kitchen to see if there might be something he could do there as he said he had experience in the food service industry. 

photo: Reed

By the way, if you don’t have job leads for him, you can also help him out with gift cards to Safeway.  You can send them to me and I will get them to Ishmael.

As we said he goodbye, he said, “You aren’t like most people.  You are progressive and open-minded.  All I need is someone like you who is willing to take a chance on me.”

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I met a friend for lunch over near Union Station and then decided to walk back home. It’s about 30 blocks so I knew I would find somebody! I stopped by So Others Might Eat (SOME) and picked up some information and then kept on snaking my way over to Dupont Circle. I came across a nice guy who was originally from Mexico out walking a couple of dogs. He took my card but said he preferred that I find someone else…so on I went.

 

Tent City DC at Parcel 42 (photo: Reed)

I decided to stop by Tent City DC.  When I arrived at the abandoned lot at 7th and R Streets I didn’t find anyone there.  I walked around, yelled “hello, anybody home” but no voices came from any of the tents. Just then two young girls yelled over to me from outside the fenced in area where I was standing. “Hey, why are you guys staying in these tents?” I walked over and explained to them that I was not one of the people staying in the tents, but that they were protesting the fact that Parcel 42 was being earmarked for development into luxury condos instead of affordable housing like what was promised by the mayor’s office a few years ago.

I told them about my project and asked if I could give them my $10 for the day.

Shaquan and Cierra next to Tent City DC in the Shaw neighborhood (photo: Reed)

 Cierra is 17 and Shaquan is almost 16.  They are high school students who are working this summer at a youth camp.  They are also two of the 463,000 children living in foster care in the US.

Shaquan has been in the system since she was three and has been in and out of group homes and families all of her life. “The system has got a lot of problems,” Shaquan says. “Every time you go to a new place you got to go through the whole screening process again.” Cierra has only been in foster care for about five years but even in that relatively short amount of time she has been shuffled between 6-8 families. Right now they are both living with Cierra’s sister for the summer, but soon they will go back to a foster family or group house.

They say that some foster families are only in it for the money. “They get a lot of money from the government and we don’t see any of it,” according to Shaquan. I played devil’s advocate a little and reminded them that the families also have a lot of costs that they may not see directly. The agreed that that was probably true, but they still felt like there were some inequities there.

I was deeply sadden as I talked to these smart, articulate young women. They have been forced to grow up much faster than others. They have felt unloved and unwanted at times and suffered through the pain that accompanies those emotions. “It’s hard,” Shaquan starts to say, “I used to blame other people for my actions, but I can’t blame nobody but myself. You got to keep your head up!” She went on to say that she was adopted by a family years ago and she “messed it all up.” She was referring to a woman named Ms. Theresa. I learned that in addition to adopting Shaquan, Ms. Theresa had also opened her home to Cierra. “Man, I wish I was back there now. I didn’t know how good I had it, but I messed up again,” Shaquan says.

I asked them what they were going to do with the $5 that each of them had in their hand. “Probably give it to someone else,” they said. “If I see a homeless person and I got money in my pocket, I give something,” Shaquan says.

photo: Reed

This was one of those days that I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who I had met for a long time after the goodbyes. Both of these girls have so much to offer the world. They are smart. They are charismatic. They are strong yet sensitive and thoughtful at the same time. They are beautiful young women who have not had the easiest path to get to where they are today and admitted to having made some poor choices themselves. What impressed me most was their attitude. They could have said “poor me, why me?” But they didn’t. They accepted responsibility for their actions and their lives and were living in the present making the best out of the cards that they have been dealt.  Keep your head up!

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