Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2011

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

We’re without a Kindness Investor for a while it looks like.  As always, if you know someone who would like to take on this exciting seven-day adventure, drop me a note.

For the rest of you I’d like to share some tools that I use for volunteering.  So for the next couple of days I will do a blog post each day on a resource for finding volunteer opportunities.

Here's a cool video of Sparked Co-Founder and CEO Jacob Colker talking about Sparked and the impact it's making.

The first one is one that every single one of you can use!  Sparked (www.sparked.com) claims to be the world’s first microvolunteering network.  What’s microvolunteering you ask?  Well, the folks at Sparked define it as volunteering that meets four main criteria.

Convenient
It’s volunteerism that fits into your schedule when you have time – typically (but not necessarily) via an internet connected device such as a personal computer or mobile phone.

Bite-sized
Volunteer tasks are broken into small(-ish) pieces, so that you can complete a task in the time you have available (whatever that time may be).

Crowdsourced
The nonprofit that needs help asks a large(-ish) group for assistance.

Network-managed
The time demands of the manager (e.g. a nonprofit staffer) are reduced by distributing as much of the project management and quality review as possible to the network of micro-volunteers. This work management method differs from a top-down model of project management.

I’ve signed up for Sparked and have already completed my first project, which didn’t take me long at all.  You can read my blog post about using Sparked to help the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.  What is brilliant about Sparked is that you can volunteer when you have time all from the convenience of your computer.  You can help nonprofits in dozens of areas, but here are a few to give you an idea: accounting, blogging, copywriting, data entry, marketing, research, social networking, translating, etc.

All this talk (ok, I’m writing not talking, but you get the idea) about microvolunteering has got me thinking.  As you know, the Worldwide Day of Giving is coming up on June 15th!  This year you have an option to volunteer if you would rather do that then do a $10 kindness investment.  If you are busy and don’t have time to get out and volunteer on that day this is your perfect option.  I want to see how many people we can get to do microvolunteering projects on June 15th with Sparked!  Right now they have 2,642 volunteer opportunities on their website.  Wouldn’t it be cool if all of us Year of Giving followers could get enough people to volunteer that day that we could complete every single task they have on their site?  Wow…that would be amazing.

You better start spreading the word fast!

Read Full Post »

Michelle - Day 277

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOME-3.jpg

I wanted to get my picture taken with Dirk.

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I just spent the better part of an hour being treated to a stream of consciousness as only a nonmedicated schizophrenic can dish it out.

Today is my last day in my first week as a Kindness Investor (yes, I’m hooked.  I’ll be back again in May).  I had originally intended to try my husband’s idea and go down to the McDonald’s in the nearby Wal-Mart to find a recipient.
But first I had to make a deposit in the bank two blocks from my house.  Actually, it’s across the street from the McDonalds where I met Michael B. (Day 68).  When I left the bank I saw this gentleman sitting on a park bench.  I needed to run home and get my ten.  I decided if he was still there when I got back, he would be my recipient.

Well, he was gone.  I played a hunch he hadn’t been waiting for the bus, so I decided to walk east on Madison towards a little public square where sometimes the homeless tend to congregate.  Sure enough, he was sitting there.

“Are you the man I just saw sitting up the block about a half hour ago? Across from the bank?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Oh good.  Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yes.”

I plopped down, careful to keep his bag of newspaper scraps and black canvas backpack tied together with several belts between us.  I asked him point-blank if it would be ok to give him a ten-dollar bill.

“Well sure,” he said.  “It’s always ok to give me ten dollars.  Do you want me to do something for it?”  

It was the perfect opening.  I started to explain about Reed and the Year of Giving blog.  However, after about three seconds he interrupted me.

“I do mostly art.  It’s my gift.  It gives me peace.”   He had taken out a scrap of paper.  It looked like the back of a checkbook, with the calendar year printed on one side.  He folded it in half and taking a pen from his backpack, started to draw on it.

“All the power is from God.  Life is an adventure.  Basically I get my peace from the artwork.  God gave me this gift to give me peace.  I’m a multimedia artist.  Do you know Julie Bell?  Frisette?  Bell does science fiction.  They’re good. They’re some of my favorites.”

I didn’t interrupt.  Probably what I had to say wasn’t going to make much sense to him anyway.  Instead, I paid attention to what he was drawing.  I saw a few sweeps of what looked like long hair, so I thought perhaps he was drawing me as a way to impress me.

Finally he held it up.  “Judas Iscariot,” he pronounced.  Well, I’ve been called worse.

“Is that who you were…”

“No, John the Baptist,” he corrected himself.  “See?”  He pointed out the fierce gaze in the eyes on the paper, which contrasted oddly with the artist’s own deep brown eyes.  His weathered face appeared to be about sixty as his hand went back to drawing, and his mouth back to talking.  “John the Baptist.  Always telling the truth.  That’s what he did.  So tell me your story?  What were you saying?”

I got another three seconds into the saga of YOG when he broke in again.  He’d added a helmet with a flag and horn, and a pointy beard.  “Kubla Khan.  Fu Man Chu.  Or maybe a Knight.  I draw like this.  It’s called layering.  You know about layering?”

This was basically the rhythm of our conversation.  He would free associate off of some word I’d just said, eventually coming back to asking me to finish my story.  Finally I started asking him questions.  I figured he was a vet.  He told me he was in special forces and was in Desert Storm.  Before he got out of the military he was doing peacekeeping work in Afghanistan.  I’m telling you the short version.  There was a lot of meandering around the inner terrain, if you get my drift, but I suspected those two bits of information had some validity.

He’s from Chicago, although he claims to have lived all over the country, gone to countless high-end schools, graduated from top art institutes.  He not only draws.  He writes, takes pictures and is a percussionist.  He has a very high IQ.  How high?  Nobody would tell him.  But he went to Montessori, he told me, as if that were proof in itself.  He stuttered and stumbled over his words, and sometimes sounded to me like a child at play, boasting in imagined exploits.

I started to feel a little motherly towards him.  Who knew where he was?  Who was reaching out to him?  He has children he claims he sees now and again.

“How do they find you?”

“Oh, they just do.”  A lot of his answers were like that.  Vague and mysterious.

“Do you ever go over to Hines?”  Hines VA Hospital is just a few miles from my house.

“I’ve been over there.  I’ll go back sometime,” he said nonchalantly.  But I doubt it.  I don’t think he’d take well to anyone offering solutions so unmanageable to a man in his condition as a roof over his head, medications he’d have to take daily, a pension that would make him a target for robbery.  He looked very fit to me, and handsome in a rugged sort of way.  He probably manages street life as well as can be expected.

“So what are you going to do with the ten I gave you?”

“I’m going to buy art supplies.  Paper and crayons.”  He pulled some crayons from his backpack.  “See these here?  They’re cheap, but I’m going to use them to add texture to this picture.”  He started applying shades of gold and green.
“He has a very warm aura, doesn’t he,” I commented.  I was beginning to think he was drawing a self-portrait, because he seemed to me warm and likeable, despite his mental illness.

“Yes!  You can see it, can’t you?  What do you think that is there,” he said, pointing to the throat.

“It looks like water to me.”

“He’s rising from the water.  He was probably an Aquarius.  I like white water rafting.”

We shared an unexpected moment of silence.  Then…

“Life’s an adventure.  I like parasailing too.  Hang-gliding.  Gliding in planes.  The planes, gliders you know, have no engines.  They glide over the mountains and it’s quiet and I sang to my girlfriend up there.”

I took his picture holding the drawing, because he didn’t want people to see his broken teeth and uneven beard.  He handed me the drawing as a gift with a message written on the back.  It reads:

Rose,

My bibliogenetic is God’s Tool engraven image Artisian, Well of Faith and Brush of Great Gift to myself, to others.  Visual Applause.

Johnny Flash

I walked home thinking of him singing to his girlfriend in the wild quiet above the world.  I wondered what he sang to her.  I hope she remembers him.  I know I will.

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I decided to go do my “reverse panhandling” at Starbucks in River Forest as it is a favorite haunt for both my husband John and myself.  In the evenings it quiets down, making it a nice place to read or write.  Tonight I found out it’s also a nice place for a gathering of women who share a common hobby:  knitting.

This Starbucks has a cozy corner tucked in the back away from the fray.  A coffee table sits on a worn Persian rug and is surrounded by three burnt orange wingback chairs.  Most people covet this prime real estate, myself being one of them.  When I arrived, I headed back there immediately, only to find one chair taken by a studious young man reading a Bible.  A silver-haired woman sits knitting in another.  The third chair holds a wicker basket stuffed with yarn.
I eyed the chair and the woman eyes me.  These are the words in the cartoon balloons floating over our heads.

“You’re not taking that chair!”

“I don’t want that chair!”

“Yes you do, and you can’t have it!”

I really don’t want the chair, and besides, it’s pretty obvious she’s holding it for someone.  What I am thinking is,“Hmmm, is she the one?  I don’t know.  She’s guarding that chair like a pit bull.”  She really is a bit intimidating.  Maybe I better approach the Bible reader instead.  I mean, what could go wrong there?  A Bible reader is bound to be interested in the YOG project.

Trying to make up my mind, I once again eye the Bible reader, the chair, and the woman.

The woman eyes me back.  I think I detect a certain fierceness in the click of her knitting needles.  Suitably daunted and uncertain about bothering the young man, I decide to wander the length of Starbucks looking for someone else to draw my attention.  But I don’t want to leave my Asus unattended, so I return to home base—a table just outside the coveted cozy corner.

Well, I have two reasons for finally deciding to approach the silver-haired knitter.  One, I could’ve wasted all night looking for the right recipient.  Two, I’m overcome with an unreasonable need to reassure her I don’t want her chair!  I don’t steal parking spots either!

“Hello, excuse me,” I begin timidly, “is someone sitting here?”

“No, but they will be in less than fifteen minutes,”comes her firm reply.

“Oh, that’s ok, I don’t want the chair,” I swear, barely resisting the temptation to finish with “cross my heart and hope to die.”  She explains she meets here weekly with a group of women friends numbering from six to fifteen.  They gathered to knit, share knitting patterns and shoot the breeze.

Then I ask her if she’d be willing to hear about a project that might interest her.  I’m starting to think that’s not the best pick-up line because it seems to arouse suspicion when my goal is to inspire generosity.  I would probably feel the same way.  Whoever approaches somebody with the sole purpose of giving away money?  My assumption would be this project is probably going to cost me something.

She is gracious, though, and allows me to tell her about Reed and the Year of Giving blog.  When I finish, she tells me she’s struck by the notion anyone would be interested in what she was going to do with the money.  It seems odd to her.  She’s also adamant she doesn’t want to be involved in something she has to perpetuate, as if it were a “living chain letter” of sorts.  I assure her this is not the case.

She’s clearly ambivalent, and I don’t want her to feel pressured.  I’m on the verge of trying to find a graceful way to bow out when another member of the group shows up.

“Glenyss!  We have a project to consider,” she says, gesturing to me.  “This is right up your alley.”

Glenyss pulls up a chair and listens while I explained it again.  The silver-haired knitter is right.  It is right up her alley.

“Oh sure, we can take the money.  We can find a charitable knitting project and use the ten to buy the yarn for it.”
I actually have a friend who is involved in “competitive knitting” but I’d never heard the phrase “charitable knitting.”  I ask Glenyss to tell me more and she explained she’s been involved in a number of charitable knitting projects, both personally and through her church.  For instance, in 2008 Iowa was flooded for the entire month of June.  Her church knitted caps and mittens because, “no-one was thinking about winter coming, when they’d discovered they’d lost the caps and mittens in the flood.”  So this way, they would be prepared.  How wonderful it must have been for those families to have one less thing to worry about during that difficult time!

A few more women show up, including Marion, for whom the chair had been reserved (she tells me with a pat to the bum “I have no padding so I need a soft chair”).  The other is Lori.  Lori wants to hear about the project too.  The project brought a big smile to her face, and I sense I have finally made the sale (boy, whoever thought you’d have to go to so much effort to SELL ten dollars?).

“So, shall I give you the ten dollars,” I ask the group of four knitters.

“Sure, we’ll take it,” Glenyss speaks for the group, reaching her hand out for the money.

The silver-haired knitter—whose name I finally learned was Debbie—doesn’t want her picture on the web, so I suggest they display their knitting projects and I will take a picture of their work.

What you’re looking at here is beautiful sweater for a young child, a gorgeous woman’s white cardigan and the start of a knapsack.  Debbie is making it.  It brought back a bittersweet memory for me.  My grandmother had once made me a knitted knapsack that I adored.  I loved it because it was cool and reminded me of her.  Then, my apartment was robbed and only two items were taken—a ring which cost five dollars, and the knapsack.  It’s been over twenty years and I still miss it!

Thanking them for their time, I return to my little writing post.  The group has grown from four to nine while I write this.  I overhear conversations about knitting quickly give way to more personal stories interspersed with jokes, laughter and the occasional display of a project for the generous admiration of all.  Their words knit one, pearl two a soft, warm shawl of goodwill and friendship around them which spills out to wrap around me as well.

As the evening draws to a close the women start to leave, one by one.  A few wish me goodnight and good luck with my project and I’m tempted to say, “It’s your project, too.”  But that’s not for me to decide.  They have the ten-dollar bill.  What they do with it is up to them.  Still, I’d like to think it has added a unique stitch to their evening.  I hope it won’t get dropped. 

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I gave ten dollars to forty-eight year old Michael B, from Cicero.  I found him while I was walking around my neighborhood on a gorgeous day.  The weather is behaving itself, acting like a spring day should act, so lots of people are out “taking in the air.”

Michael was sitting on the curb outside McDonald’s, next to his blue bike.  Initially I’d thought to go into McDonald’s and find someone so I at first passed up Michael.  Inside I found a scruffy-looking middle-aged man drinking a cup of coffee by himself who let me explain the Year of Giving to him before refusing to take the money.

“You should find someone who really needs it,” he said.  Frankly, he looked to me like he really needed it,  but I took him at his word.

“Well,” I replied, “you could take it and then find someone worse off to give it to.”  He considered that option momentarily before again refusing politely.  I sensed I had hurt his pride.  Thanking him for his time, I left in search of another stranger.

Michael was still there, sitting quietly on the curb listening to his iPod.  He had a worried look on his face, and seemed absorbed in his thoughts.  As I approached he got up and started to unlock his bike.  I asked him if he had a minute to talk about a project and he said yes warily.  So once again, I explained the Year of Giving and my role in it.  

“Well, who wouldn’t want ten dollars for nothin’,” he joked.  “But what do I gotta do to get  it?”

“Nothing,” I said.

He looked taken aback.  I wondered if he thought I was trying to sucker him into a change-making scam.   I guess I looked too innocent for that sort of business because he started to act more curious than suspicious.

“So when is this supposed to happen,” he asked.

“Right now,” I replied cheerily.  “I’ve got the money right here in my back pocket.”  For some reason I felt like the Flying Nun at this moment, swooping in to save the day.

I saw a smile finally brighten his face.  “Sit right down, then,” he said, waving his hand in the direction of the curb as if he were ushering me into his office.

I handed him the ten as I sat.  He took it from me reluctantly, saying, “It don’t matter.  The money don’t matter.”  Once again, I sensed pride was at stake here.  I asked him right away what he planned to do with his ten.  He said he would use it to pay for transportation to work later that day.  I asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m a welder,” he replied with some pride.

“How’s business these days,” I asked.

“Terrible,” he replied, “just terrible.”  Michael went on to explain to me how his field has been railroaded by temporary hiring agencies like Manpower and Benchmark Staffing.  “You go to Careerbuilders.com and you look for welders or tool and die jobs, and you won’t find one—not one—that isn’t handled through an agency.”

The cost to Michael has been high.  Recently he was hired to do a job for $13/hr that would have paid him $25/hr a few years ago.  His income is now a fraction of the $70K he used to make, and as a result he’s been battling foreclosure for the past eight months.  Jobs for Michael only last a few months at a time, and then he is again on unemployment.  Sometimes that gets tricky.  For instance, he had listed his resume with 75 (yes, 75) different temp agencies.  One of those agencies reported to the government that he now had a contract with them, even though they had not supplied him with any work.  His unemployment was cancelled because of the meaningless contract.

Lack of health insurance is another problem.  Temp agencies rarely provide it.  Michael’s health is ok, but this past year has been tough due to a cold he has been unable to kick.  I could hear the rattle in his chest as we talked.  Occasionally he had to stop our conversation to cough.

“It’s from the public transportation,” he explained.  “I have to ride the trains and buses all the time now and there’re full of homeless people.  Homeless people are just livin’ on them, and they’re sick.  They’re coughin’ and sneezin’ and spittin’ on the floor.”  A look of disgust came over his face.  “I get better for a little while and then it just comes back again.”

I asked Michael about unions,  “Aren’t they helping?”

“They said they would help me.  I belonged to three unions, and I paid my dues.  I kept paying them until I couldn’t afford to anymore and then I gave up because they weren’t doing anything.  They were just sittin’ on the bench.”

In addition to the nagging cold, I could hear the exasperation in his voice. I share his frustration.  It seems to me the recession has settled into middle America like a lava flow slowly hardening around its ankles.  It has been enough to put anyone into a foul mood and I wished then and there I could do more for Michael.  I thought it might help if I got him talking about what has helped him survive this difficult time in his life.

“I’ve always had to fight,” he replied.  He went on to tell me about moving to Texas as a child.  His father promptly bought a fancy car and left his mother there with five kids.  Michael never saw his dad again.  Later they moved back to Chicago where he lived until he was sixteen.  “Then my mom kicked me out because she had all those other mouths to feed.”

“Michael, I’m sorry,” I said.  “That sounds really tough.  I can see you’ve had to fight to survive a lot in your life.”

I hoped I sounded genuinely sympathetic and not like I felt sorry for him, or like I wanted to smack his lousy parents for making him feel unwanted and unloved.  But Michael, I could tell, was not going to feel sorry for himself.  “The Lord gives me strength for it,” he responded.  “He has a plan for me somewhere along the line.  Besides, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

These are the gritty slogans that keep Michael going, and frankly, I’m amazed he can live on such thin soup.  He told me sometimes he gets inspiration from watching Joel Osteen on TV.  I can’t say I get inspiration from a man whose greatest struggle in life is deciding whether to live in a really big house or a mansion.  However, I am moved by Michael, who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his modest home, his health and his dignity as a skilled working man.  We stood and shook hands.

“Well, Michael,” I said, “I better let you go.  I know you have to get to work.“Good luck with…with.”

Michael laughed as together we both finished the sentence together“…with everything.”

Michael climbed on his bike, and I turned and walked towards home, wondering if a ten-dollar band-aid could possibly fix anything.

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I found my teens today on St. Kitts!  Our ship arrived around 11am and we disembarked an hour later.  I didn’t have an excursion today so I ended up taking a so-so tour of the island by taxi, which ended at Frigate Bay, a rock black sand beach.  I took a half-hearted dip and dried out at the bar where I had a Ting (similar to Seven Up) and a chicken roti.

I was served by an ex-pat who had left America with her husband six years ago.  She was originally from New York.  She and her husband lived on a boat for three years.  Then they decided to settle on St. Kitts, but she doesn’t think they’ll stay there forever.  She’s written a book about their adventures which is supposed to be published by McGraw Hill in May of 2012.  You never know who you’re going to meet, do you?!

She said St. Kitts was very expensive, and several times referred to financial worries.  Her husband was working construction on a nearby hotel, which afforded him health insurance.  But she had none.  She seemed like a good person to give ten dollars.  So I explained the whole deal to her, and she happily accepted the ten dollars.  Just then a few people came up to buy some beers.  While they were finishing their order, it dawned on me I had not left myself enough money to get a taxi back to the ship!

Good grief, the embarrassment!  Here I am a Year of Giving Ambassador and I had to ask for my money back!  She was good natured about it, though, and as it turned out it seemed to be for the best.

When I got back to port I hoofed it on to the boat, unloaded my stuff and grabbed a ten from the safe in our room.  Then I hoofed it back out to the port’s shopping plaza.  Someone walked by with a huge waffle bowl of ice cream.  I asked where she got it and she pointed down a certain street.  I walked in that direction when suddenly, just up ahead, I spied five teenagers walking away from me.  Perfect!

They seemed relaxed as they chatted and ambled on some distance ahead of me, so I increased my pace to catch up with them.

“Excuse me,” I blurted to their backs, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

They all turned to look at me with surprise.  They were willing to listen as I explained to them my mission.  When I’d finished, I said I could give one of them the ten, if they wanted, or I could split it five ways.  They were fine with receiving the money split five ways.

One reason I was interested in giving to teenagers is that teens are still so idealistic and inspired.  I thought for sure they would be supportive of the Year of Giving philosophy.  Several of them commented something along the lines that what I was doing should happen more often.  So I think I was on the mark, and made sure to write down the website address for them.

I used my slightly battered digital camera to briefly film each one of them.  It was a lot of fun playing junior documentarian.  Unfortunately when I played it back later I couldn’t understand much of what they said because background noises garbled their speech.  So what you’re about to read is mostly true, some part best guess and one, and a bit pure invention.

This much is true.  All five of them are sixteen.   They all belong to the fifth form, which I took to be roughly analogous to our senior high.  They were all excited to be graduating to sixth form in two months which would allow them to move on to college or other goals.  The mix was three boys and two girls, and they all seemed to be good friends.  They were excited because their school had won the St. Kitts interschool championship for sports.  Tomorrow would be a school holiday to celebrate and there would be a “motorcade,” as one boy described it, “with lots of cars honking and people cheering.”  

I didn’t get this boy’s name.  However, I did find out he is a cheerleader and the school mascot.  The mascot is a cheeto…a large, orange cheeto.  He’s a tall, handsome boy so I’m sure he makes a very dignified cheeto.  The others in the group described him as a “natural born salesmen” and deferred to him as the leader of the group.  He responded modestly to their praise, but I could tell he was an ambitious young man.  He told me he hoped to major in electrical engineering, and was planning on saving his two dollar jackpot for the time being.  Since school is free in St. Kitts, he won’t need to save it to pay off a hefty education debt, thank goodness!

Chez, whose name I did get correctly, wants to major in IT.  I assured him that was a good choice because it was lucrative.  He agreed with a big smile. He planned on buying a soda with his two dollars “because it’s hot!” He’s a practical sort, I think.

Hasia (I think that’s his name but not certain) is going to major in economics.  He seemed the most excited about getting the money, and was clearly the spiritual one of the group.  When I started to hand out the money he said, “We have received a blessing from God!”  Later, when I gathered them as a group to take a picture, he said, “We should all be smiling because God has given us a gift!  We should have a big smile on our faces!”  He’s also the one who suggested they all shout “Ten Dollars!” when I snapped the photo, a variation on saying “Cheese.”  He planned on saving his windfall.  I have a hunch he might give it to his church or a charity.  Just a hunch.

Tahira, the smaller of the two girls, was the only one of the group who didn’t have plans to go onto college.  Well, that may be true of Tamika too.  She was too shy to be interviewed.  We all decided as a group she was speechless with joy over the two dollar boon.  Tahira, however, wants to get a job after school.  She’s interested in being a pilot because she likes to travel and would like to go to Africa.  Another career possibility is the spy business.  She sees them on TV sit-drams and thinks their lives look very exciting.  She didn’t know yet what she wanted to do with her double sawbucks.  She’s the imaginative one of the group, so I suspect she needed time to ponder the many possibilities available to her.

I asked them how it felt to receive money from a stranger for no reason at all.  They all thought it was “weird,” a word I found to be just about right, since the root of the word comes from the word “wyrd,” which means “fate” or “destiny.” And you never know what chance encounter may change your fate or destiny.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they would try to change someone’s fate or destiny for the better through the Year of Giving, or in some other way.  If I could roll these five bright kids into one, I bet I would come up with an ambitious, practical kid full of faith, hope, gratitude and imagination.  This kind soul would be speechless with joy at the way life can surprise you with grace.  What kid like that wouldn’t go out of his or her way to make someone else’s day a little brighter?

This kid would be like my cruise-mate Carol who a few minutes later treated me to a delicious waffle bowl of sour soup ice-cream.  I told her I’d pay her back on the ship, to which she replied, “No worries.  I’m good.”

They would also be like Chuck, a man on my cruise whom I’d never met before, who a half hour later saw that I didn’t have the money I needed to buy the perfect souvenir for my mother which had finally manifested at the last possible second—a coconut shell carved into the shape of a pig with ears that actually moved (no accounting for taste)— and bought it for me.

They might be like the tall, lanky fellow with waist-length dreadlocks who heaped adorable monkeys on my shoulders as I raced back to the ship moments before it was leaving and when I told him, “I’m so sorry!  I’ve absolutely no cash left on me,” insisted on taking a few pictures anyway, even though he knew with the end of the cruising season next week his opportunities to make money were about to dwindle sharply.

And I know they would be like Hasia, who tossed a “God bless you” over his shoulder to me in a lovely West Indies lilt as we parted ways.   And God—who is not outdone in generosity—did.

Read Full Post »

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I cheated and gave away $20.  That’s because the first encounter so annoyed me I had to find something to leave a sweeter taste in my mouth.  It was my first lesson in detachment, I think, because clearly I was attached to how the gift giving made me feel.

We’re in Barbados today.  I went on a bike and swim excursion.  We were taxied by Mike, a local, to the highest point on the island.  Barbados is a lovely island, well-festooned with bougainvillea, ginger, and other flowers.  So even though we were passing many homes just as poor as on the previous islands, I was lulled into a sort of stupor by the colorful displays and couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures.

Mike taught us that half the homes here are made of cement, and the other half are wood.  The wooden houses are called chattel (meaning “possessions”) houses and slaves used to be called chattel.  When the slaves were emancipated, some of the former owners allowed them to build houses on pieces of land they owned but the owner could evict them at any time and take possession of whatever property could not be taken away.  So the former slaves learned to build houses from wood which could be taken apart in a single day and carried elsewhere.

Our bike ride was a six mile downhill trip.  We saw a beautiful waterfall and the country club where Tiger Woods was married.  Then Mike picked us up and drove us to a local beach.  On the way, we passed some of the richest real estate on the island.  He pointed out one particularly exclusive condominium community called The Sands.  I asked him if anyone famous lived there.  He replied, “They must be famous if they have $18 million to buy a condo.”

Our beach was a tad less upscale but seemed popular with locals and tourists alike.  The was a bar and small restaurant at our beach and when we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a woman standing by the open hood of her taxi, testing the radiator cap to see if it was cool enough to take off.  I wondered if she would be a good person to give my ten dollars.  It was not what I had intended.  I’d left the boat thinking I’d like to find some teens.  I had a hunch they would have a pretty interesting response to a ten dollar bill.  But I decided a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush and, once we’d embarked, I sought her out.  

At first Monica thought I wanted a taxi.  Lots of taxi drivers were standing around, hopeful as sparrows flitting around the edges of a picnic.  I explained I was part of a project called the Year of Giving, and wondered if it would be ok to give her ten dollars. I could tell right away Monica was a wary sparrow as she had a look in her eye that said, “What’s the catch?”  I assured her there were no strings attached.  I would just like to know what she would do with the money, and maybe take a picture.

“Well, ten dollars doesn’t buy much,” she said.  “I couldn’t hardly buy a pack of coke with that!!”

I was taken aback, not only by the cost of coke, but by her lack of pleasure.  I soldiered on bravely, and enquired into the cost of food in Barbados.  “Oh, yes!  Food is very expensive.  You can buy one small bottle of coke for $2.25. That’s all.”

“So what will you do with your ten,” I asked after handing her the bill.

“Oh, I’ll buy something to eat I think,” she said nonchalantly.  I had a feeling she was really hungry.  I tried to engage her in more conversation, but it was like pulling teeth.  She told me making a living as a taxi driver was great in the winter, but in the summer it was very hard.  In the summer you get maybe one cruise ship a week.  So she has to budget her money carefully to make it last all year.  She also told me she owned her cab, and that she was responsible for all its maintenance.  When I saw her earlier with the hood of her car up, she explained she was just checking the radiator.
Monica is 67 years old.  I asked her when people retire.  She said 65, but she couldn’t afford to do it.  She is single with no kids.  She was clearly one tough broad, and I think not a little jaded by a career of ferrying around rich visitors to her island.  So maybe my ten wasn’t as appreciated as much as I would have liked.  On the other hand, maybe the real gift for her was to be able to speak frankly about how it felt to be under-appreciated and under-tipped, expressed so well in that little snipe, “Ten dollars doesn’t buy much.”

Well, I left Monica and toddled off to the beach for a bit of a wade.  We had less than an hour and I decided to spend it walking and praying the rosary.  My Lenten observance this year is to pray a rosary a day.  I decided to offer it for Monica.  I’d like to say my motives were pure, but I think a part of me was hoping I could strong-arm God into changing her attitude.  But I have to be honest—as I sit here writing this, I think I’m the one who got the attitude adjustment!

The bonus ten went to Clare.  I found Clare at the end of the beach—well past where most of the tourists hung out—sitting splay-legged with a bucket between them.  She seemed to be peeling some thing which she dropped into the bucket.  I was so taken by her I grabbed my camera right away and shot a few pictures, trying to include what looked to be a makeshift outdoor home a little ways behind her.  Too curious to resist, and still a little fed up with Monica, I approached her.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

She gave me a toothless grin and replied, “Clare.”  Well, that got me.  I love St. Clare, St. Francis of Assissi’s first female follower.  I’m born on her birthday, as a matter of fact.

“Clare,” I said.  “I love that name!  Is that your home back there?”

“Yes, it is.  I’ve been living there twelve years now.  No one else lives with me.  It’s all mine.  I got a dog.  She’s big with babies right now.”  All this in a rush, and straightforward as a child.

“What are you peeling there,” I asked noticing that her hands were badly damaged.

“Onions.  Them are potatoes back there and a couple of eggplants.  I have a friend in town who is a professional and when he has food that’s just a little old he brings it out here for me.”

“Clare, what happened to your hands,” I asked.  She explained that fourteen years ago someone had thrown a bottle into her house which exploded—I assume a malatov cocktail—and her house was destroyed.  She got out but over 95% of her body was burned.  The culprits were never found.  I wondered why she was here and not with family.  According to her, her family lived on another Island, and she’d come here when she was twenty years old, over 40 years ago.  She didn’t want to go anywhere.  This was home.

She also said she had a son in New York who was a “big police sergeant” but he never sent her money.  That was the only time a shadow of a frown crossed her face.  Otherwise, she was ebullient and her eyes sparkled with diamonds.  My mind wanted to charge her with a diagnosis of mental illness, but my heart saw she had a radiant energy that made her shine with a resilience and joy which I and Monica, in our relative states of wealth, lacked.  It was a reminder to me to be grateful for my blessings, meager as they sometimes seem.

Before the fire Clare used to work on the plantations.  Her job was to cut and carry sugar cane on her head and throw it onto the trucks which carried it away to turn into sugar.  Now she still feels useful.  “I help the tourists now,” she exclaimed.

“How do you do that?”

“I keep the robbers away.  They see me sitting here knowing I’m watching the beach, and they leave people alone.”  She took obvious pride in her volunteer position.

By then I was kneeling in the sand with her, searching through my backpack looking for my money.  I wasn’t going to bother explaining what I was up to.  I just wanted to give her ten dollars.  I found it and gave it to her.  She stuffed it in her bra and with sincere gratitude said, “God bless you!”

“What will you do with it, Clare?”

“I will buy my dog some food.”

Clare had a watch on her left wrist and I noticed the time was getting short.  Standing, I told her I had to go.  With her permission I took a few pictures.  Finally it was time to leave.

“Wait!  Before you go!  Tell me your name!”

“Rose,” I said.  “Like the flower.”

Taking my hand, she said, “I love you, Rosie.”

“I love you, Clare.”

And Monica, you crusty old broad, I love you too.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »