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Archive for January, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Today I found myself at Speedway Gas Station; I walked in and stood near the coffee station with clear view of the front door.  I had decided the next person who walked in the door I was going to give $10 to.

Marvin and Melinda

In walked Marvin G.  He was in there to get a Sugar Free Vanilla Latte for his wife and they were out of it so he was trying to figure something else to get her.  I approached him a told him about the project I was working on and he was amazed at the generosity.

When asked what he thought he would do with the $10 he asked if he could give it back to me.  I explained he could give it back to me but I would have to give it to someone else however if he wanted to give it to someone it was his to do with as he pleased.  He said he would figure out something to do with it.  When asked if there was anything he needed he said he didn’t need anything however it would be wonderful if his grandkids that lived in Phoenix, Arizona would come visit again because he really misses them.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

 

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Day 4 – Mike

Mike with Melinda's dog Max at Lowe's. (photo: Melinda T.)

The Lowe’s in our area allow well-behaved dogs in the store so today I was doing some shopping with my dog Max.  Max was dressed as Santa Claus and enjoyed the extra attention.

He is a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International and has put in many hours at Summit Academy in Xenia, Ohio.  The students there take turns reading stories to him.

As we walked in the store, Max was greeted by many workers but was also greeted with a hug by a young boy whom attends Summit Academy and has read many stories to Max.  Walking through the store we met a man that worked at Lowe’s named Mike.  He went to Max and was petting him and I decided this is the man my $10 will go to today.

I explained to Mike the project I was working on and he was totally blown away.  I love seeing the reactions of people when I tell them what I’m doing.  Mike gave me the biggest hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “God will surely bless you.”  Mike wasn’t sure exactly where the money was going to go but spoke about how he buys one lottery ticket each week so he may use the money for that.

Max hard at work at Summit Academy. (photo: Melinda T.)

As I was walking away I heard Mike say to another man in the area, “that was totally unexpected.”  It’s the unexpected reaction of people that makes this so rewarding.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Day 3 – Brandie

I was doing some grocery shopping today and Brandie had approached me while I was going down the aisle to help her pick out some BBQ sauce.  I shared my insight on the ones I liked and she was appreciative of that.

Even though Brandie had approached me first I figured, while I’m here speaking with her on BBQ sauce I might as well carry the conversation further and tell her about my project.  I gave her $10 and she was so more than grateful.

Brandie is a single mother of 2 boys ages 1 and 3.  She anticipated the $10 would probably go toward bills or perhaps toward the groceries she was accumulating in the cart.

-Melinda from Xenia, OH

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Day 2 – Trey B.

This week's Kindness Investor, Melinda, discovered the Year of Giving from an article in the Dayton Daily News.

It is funny how each day you try to find the perfect person to give $10 to.  Today I was driving and saw Trey B. jumping through drifts of snow and I knew right then, that’s the man I’m going to give $10 to today.  I turned around went to the next intersection and parked and waited on him to catch up.

At first Trey wasn’t too sure about me and kept his distance but quickly warmed up to me realizing I was no threat.  When giving him the $10 he was overwhelmed and said God will bless you and everyone else who participates in this project.

What an awesome feeling knowing I made his day just as much as he made mine.  Trey had recently moved to Ohio from Alabama to be closer to his family.   He said he was probably going to use the money toward something for his new house.

I didn’t keep Trey too long as it was so cold outside and it was clear he was on a mission to get home where it was warm.

-By Melinda T. from Xenia, OH


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From the moment I found out I was going to be the first person to kick-off the second year of giving I was confident the first $10 I was going to give away would be to someone I met in the hospital as today my father was having a defibrillator put in.

I had a long day in the inpatient waiting room sitting beside my mother and was watching the people come in and out of the waiting room.  Not that there is a right or wrong person to approach for the $10 but I just didn’t see anyone else that day in the hospital that I felt was the one for the day.

The Milkhouse in Richmond, IN

Driving back to my parent’s house that evening I still had the $10.  I passed by the Milkhouse in Richmond, Indiana and decided whomever was working there would be my first person.  I pulled in and was greeted by a man named John.

John had always lived in Richmond and enjoyed his job however the cold weather months he didn’t find it quite as enjoyable.  John was blown away by the $10 and really didn’t know at the time what he may do with it.  He mentioned possibly getting a few snacks.  I didn’t have the chance to speak with John as long as I would have liked because he had customers to wait on but I enjoyed the little time we had.

By Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Melinda T., our first Kindness Investor for Year 2 of the Year of Giving!  I conducted a brief interview with her and would like to share it with you so that you can get to know her better.

Name: Melinda T.

Age: 31

Where do you live? I live in Xenia, OH.

Where were you born? I was born in Richmond, IN but grew up in New Paris.

What’s the highest level of education you have completed? Some college.  I’m currently taking college courses for nursing.

Do you have a family? I’m married.  No kids, but three dogs.

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? I heard about Year of Giving in an article in the Life&Arts section of the Dayton Daily News.  This article was published in the paper on Sunday December 12th.

How long have you been unemployed? Since the fall of 2009.

What happened? I worked in sales for a company that relocated its office in Vandalia, Ohio to its Headquarters in Norcross, Georgia.  I have been on unemployment since then.

Do you currently volunteer? Yes.  In the past I have done volunteer work with people with special needs.  One of our dogs helps children with autism and ADD at a local organization here in Xenia.  I took Max (the dog) in and the children would read to him.  This has been proven to help the children tremendously.  One day there was a boy there named Bobby who was having a horrible day and they brought him down where Max was and Max got him calmed down.

Who have been your biggest influences? Both of my parents.  They live in New Paris, IN on a grain farm where they lease their land to other farmers.

What is your favorite food? Seafood, especially crab.

What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? Volunteering….it comes back two-fold.

Describe your ideal job: I want a job where I can feel that I am really helping people.

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My very first recipient: Knox

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre from Day 359

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

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

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

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