Posts Tagged ‘church’

-Blog post by Mike B., a Kindness Investor from Cromwell, CT

To describe Latora, my recipient of the $10 for today, what I would say in one word, is radiant.   Her demeanor, her speaking, her vibe she was giving off, all just had that warm glow.

I woke up to about 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground and the knowing I was going out in it to give away the $10.  Always the multitasker, I was thinking I’d take a few pictures of this winter wonderland around as well and immediately thought of a favorite spot for doing just that.  The Connecticut River runs through the state and makes for many wonderful photo opportunities, especially after a fresh snowfall.  So I headed out to a local boat ramp in Rocky Hill where the CT River ferry also is located.  The ferry doesn’t run and the boat ramp is closed in the winter, but it’s still a great place to park and get out a bit and take some pictures.  Surely I’d find someone there to take the $10.   No luck on finding someone though, so it was off to Plan B, another great place for pics, the Middletown Harbor.  There’s always someone there.  Again, no such luck, and so it was onto another option.  I was heading to Office Depot to pick up something and there’s a Starbucks close by for a quick cup of coffee and hopefully I would find a willing person in either of those two places.

I spotted Latora in Starbuck’s who was making sure her hair looked its finest in her compact mirror.  She spotted me as well looking at her and smiles broke out on both our faces.  I mentioned to her that she looked fabulous and she said that was a good confirmation. We started chatting and she said yes, she would accept the $10.  A self-proclaimed journal freak, she said she would take the $10 and either buy another journal, or “sow the seed into someone else’s life.”  A very creative and expressive person, Latora is a dancer, a poet and a current student at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy.  She just started at the school, but loves it already.  She is very involved in her church, the Grace Worship Center Church in Hartford where she performs “liturgical dancing” or praise dancing. I had never heard of that form of dance so I asked her what it was.  It’s an act of worship for her and incorporates some jazz and ballet influences.  She is a poet as well and as I said to her, she is not only a child of God, she is a Child of the Arts!  It seemed to me, whatever she did, she went in 100%, not holding anything back. Keeping a journal was important to her as a journal is “an inventory where you are in the thought process,” and you never know when the “idea of brilliance” will come. I love that!  We continued our conversation for a little while longer, touching on the topics of giving (sowing the seeds and reaping the harvest), poetry (every word you say is speaking into someone’s life!), and music, (singer Melissa Etheridge! -she liked her voice and the lyrics of her songs.)

Latora gave me this flyer for her church.

I gave her my Kindness Investor card; we hugged and said we would connect again.  I have left each recipient so far with a very nice feeling, but with Latora and her infectious effervescence, I found I couldn’t stop smiling for quite awhile afterwards.

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Today I went to donate blood and was on my way home when I saw a man named “Happy Pappy” standing on the side of the street when I was at a stoplight. I detoured around and parked at a nearby McDonald’s and headed across a few streets then under a bridge to speak with him. I explained the project to him he accepted the $10 and said “Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses”. The next words he spoke almost left me speechless. Pappy said, “would you like to know what I think about those on unemployment, I think they have got too used to the check coming to them without having to do anything that they just don’t want to work. There is work out there, I’ve mowed lawns, painted houses”.

Pappy decided it was time for him to head to McDonald’s to warm up. I walked back across the way with him and sat in a nearby McDonald’s and we sat and talked for an hour until he said he needed to go.

The conversation with Pappy was very broad. He is 61 and a Vietnam War Veteran and showed the scars on his legs from where he was hit with shrapnel. He has been married twice and has children. Currently he was renting a room nearby but has been on and off the streets for 12 years. He spoke of coming home from Vietnam and working as a Publisher at the local Veteran’s Hospital and then having to return to the Veteran’s Hospital for nearly 2 years of rehabilitation therapy after being in a car accident and didn’t know if he was going to ever walk again.

He’s attempted suicide twice, and showed me the scar across his neck from his most recent attempt in 2001. Pappy attends church 7 days a week and spoke of the 3 different churches he attends service at. He shared how he has been on many prescription drugs due to illnesses, one of those being Hepatitis however he decided to heal himself through God and garlic herbs rather than healing himself through pharmaceutical companies.

He spoke of getting caught panhandling without a permit which has a fine of $154, he went to court and his punishment was making him wait 1 year to get a panhandling permit so he is still on the streets with no permit. He says he has figured out the best place to stand where he can see in all directions and if he sees the police he folds his sign up and walks away, so far this tactic has worked for him.

Pappy said he was going to use the ten dollars for food.

Unfortunately the picture I took of Pappy wasn’t clear. I’ve tried going back to his spot but was unsuccessful in finding him.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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I am not a huge music fan.  I don’t have libraries of music or walk around with earphones attached to my head, but I do enjoy live music.  It’s a little like sports.  I couldn’t care too much if I watch a game on television, but I really enjoy going to a game.  The energy that you feel when you are at a concert or a sporting event is simply not recreated in your living room. 

The other night I headed over to see my friend Michael play a little jazz gig.  They were playing at the Imani Temple on Capitol Hill.  Attendance was sparse but that didn’t affect the show.  They performed as if there was standing room only.  They had a special guest that evening, Denyse Pearson.

Denyse sang about seven or eight songs.  She has a beautiful melodic voice and I was really surprised to learn that she hadn’t been performing in years.  After the show I approached her and asked if she would accept my $10.  She agreed and even took some time to talk with me.

Denyse with her husband Lawrence who is also a talented musician.

Denyse started singing when she was five years old.  “My earliest recollection of me singing is sitting on my grandmother’s steps baby scatting,” she said breaking a smile and drifting off to her childhood.  “I used to sing as I slid down those steps.”  Her father was also a strong influence on her.  A Nat King Cole fan, he was also a gifted singer but “he never went as far as he could have,” she said.    

She followed her passion and her father’s footsteps and developed a singing career until she stepped aside in the 1990s.  “It just got little dangerous,” she explained, “going in and out of clubs late at night.”  She is hoping to get back into performing more now.  In fact, she said she was putting my $10 toward future recording costs.  

I will ask Denyse to update this post with upcoming concerts that she has scheduled so that those of you in the area can check her out for yourself.  In the mean time, you can take a listen to one of the tunes she did when I saw her.  By the way, that’s my friend Michael on piano…he’s also terrific.

And if you live far away and want to hear more of Denyse, why not order her CD?  I bought one and if you would like to get one, drop me a note and I’ll get you in touch with her.

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Day 269 – Doris S.

Doris driving my Jetta. You can't see it well, but VolksWerks is in the background. (photo: Reed)


I told you recently that my car has had a bunch of problems.  Well, I finally bit the bullet and took my car to VolksWerks, a VW/Audi mechanic in Falls Church, VA.  I needed to get some work done in order to pass DC’s emission tests.  I dropped the car off early Friday morning.  Like a lot of places, they offer to drop customers off at nearby Metro stops.  Doris, the office manager, gave me a ride in my vehicle over to the East Falls Church Metro station.  On the way I figured I would give her my $10.  I mean, this is an interesting scenario.  Someone I don’t know is driving around in my car!  So, I pulled out my $10 and asked if she would accept it. 

She agreed and had a few questions about the Year of Giving.  

“I know exactly what I am going to do with it,” Doris said as she turned onto a side street.  “I’m going to give it to my church, the Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean.” 

Doris shared that she had recently started dating a man who was really interested in her church. “I did nothing to cause that, he just did it on his own,” she explained.  “I’m going to donate this $10 to my church on behalf of him and his soul.”  She explained how beautiful it was to see him growing with his faith.   

Honda Shadow Spirit 750cc


It was early and we were stuck in some morning rush hour traffic.  I asked 32-year-old Philadelphia native to tell me about herself, what kind of things she liked, hobbies, etc.  She told me that she recently got a motorcycle.  “I got a Honda Shadow Spirit 750cc.”  I don’t think I could ever own a motorcycle.  My brother has one, but I can’t ignore that no matter how safe you are some other idiot can hit you and you just don’t have as much protection as you do in a car.  This is all coming from someone who has 100+ jumps as a skydiver…then again, I haven’t done any skydiving for almost ten years, so maybe I’m just becoming more of a chicken as I get older. 

In addition to being a motorcycle enthusiast, Doris has something else in common with my brother.  They both went to Drexel University in Philadelphia.  She studied music there.   

She also has completed a couple triathlons.  She even did one while coping with a foot injury.  Wow… that must be really hard. 

My 2000 Jetta has seen better days. (photo: Reed)


We arrived at the Metro station and I thanked her for the ride.  I traveled back into DC and went on with my day.  My car was not done that day, so I had to go back and pick it up the following day.  It cost me about $500 to get the emissions issues fixed on my car.  Just another reason for me to consider getting Zipcar!

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John at the corner of 34th and Massachusetts Ave. (Photo: Reed)If you’ve ever driven by the Vice President’s official residence here in Washington, DC, then you might have seen this man.

His name is John Wojnowski and every day for the last 12 years he has been holding signs on the northeast corner of the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 34th Street in Northwest DC. I myself have seen him many times during the afternoon rush-hour, but last Wednesday I decided to stop and meet him.

He is a simple man; his entire outfit purchased from thrift stores. He stands about 5’7” and holds his sign for hours on end. For the next two hours, I listened intently to John as he shared his life story with me.

Born during wartime in Warsaw, Poland in 1943, his family moved to Milan, Italy in 1947 where he spent most of his childhood and attended Jesuit school. When he was 15, he says he was sexually molested by a Catholic priest.  He shares with me intimate details of the account. The traumatic event changed John’s life.

Before the molestation, he says that he was a happy 15-year-old. Even in pictures, he says there was a marked difference before and after the incident. He later moved to Canada and eventually ended up in Washington, DC in 1965.

Through all of this time, he says he had turned inward and shut out others. He shied away from girls and led an unhappy life. In 1968 he went back to Poland where he said he “married the first girl he met.”  He is now separated from his wife, but keeps in regular contact and says that they are good friends.  His children are grown and although it sounds like he doesn’t have a close relationship with them, he talks very proudly about them.  He says that he was not always the best husband and father due to the emotional stress he suffered over the years.

According to John, the molestation stifled his entire life.  He didn’t really even make the connection that his social and personal struggles were a result of the assault. It wasn’t until he learned in 1997 of a Catholic church pedophile scandal in Texas that he started to recover the memory of his tragic past. “After becoming aware of the damage, 39 years of misery, I wrote to the Vatican embassy. I was ignored. I made a sign with a big question mark and stood outside the nunciature.”

And so he started in 1998 to protest in front of the Vatican’s nunciature to the US, which is an ecclesiastical office of the Roman Catholic Church. Basically, it’s a diplomatic post of the Holy See, whose representative is called the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States and has a similar rank as ambassador. I always thought he protested there because it was across the street from the Vice President’s house, however, come to find out that he is actually standing directly in front of the nunciature.

Over the years, John has had many signs. Here are just a few of them:


Copy of the 1997 letter to the Archbishop

John shared with me so many different facets of his time in front of the nunciature. He gave me a copy of a letter he sent to the Archbishop of Washington, DC. He showed me a tired piece of paper detailing every interaction he has had with the apostolic nuncios (currently Pietro Sambi) over the years. Next to each interaction, he has written the time, date, and what happened. It was sad to see that many of the interactions ended in the nuncio calling John stupid or an imbecile.

So I asked John what it was that he wanted? I was surprised to hear that all he wanted was financial retribution. I tried to hide my disappointment. I’m sure that many other victims, surely thousands, see him as the voice for those who have been sexually abused by members of the church. I asked him, “If the Catholic Church gave you appropriate financial compensation, would you still come out here tomorrow with your signs?” His eyes widened. “No, that’s all I want.”

This got me thinking. Maybe he needs to take a new approach. Since it wasn’t clear to me what he wanted, maybe the Catholic Church isn’t aware either. I suggested he change his signs to reflect what he wants. His signs don’t foster an open environment where he and the Church could openly talk. Maybe you say that the Catholic Church would never offer a financial settlement, I don’t know. John claims that a few years ago a priest came out of the nunciature and told him that he had no case because of the statute of limitations.

John holds his banner during the afternoon rush-hour (Photo: Reed)

I don’t know what you think about this whole thing. I invite you to leave your comments. Do you think he is going about his crusade in the right manner? What would be the most effective way for him to get the financial reparation that he feels he deserves? If he continues with the signs, what would be the most effective message?

You might think John is crazy. You might think he is wasting his time. After spending two hours with him, I can tell you that he is extremely passionate about this. Many times he struggled for words. Sometimes it was because he didn’t know the right English word for things (his first language is Polish), however, many times language wasn’t the issue. His emotions were so strong that he simply couldn’t express his true feelings. I feared that he was taunted by many of the people who walk or drive by. The truth is that I didn’t see any of that. In fact, many cars would honk and give him the thumbs up and shout praises to him. I know that must help motivate him to travel the hour each way every day, taking two buses, and then enduring the elements for hours.

John has received numerous death threats, but that hasn’t stopped him.

“Do you think I should give up?” John asked softly.
“You are so passionate about this,” I said. “You need to follow your heart.”

His mouth tightened a little and his eyes sunk to the ground, his head nodding slowly. He stood in silence – no words were need. We both knew that he would never give up.

John will use the $10 to make copies of some of the materials he hands out to people who stop and speak with him.

You can read more about John on his website or visit him in person every day from around 4:30pm until dark at the corner of 34th and Massachusetts in Northwest DC.

UPDATE: April 23, 2010

I met with John on Wednesday and he asked me to post this quote from Winston Churchill.  (I have also seen this quote attributed to John F. Kennedy, not sure who originally said it) “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

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