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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge

Last year was an exhilarating daily adventure.  Every day I had a mission of finding someone new and sharing a small gift with them: ten dollars.

As you have already seen, the giving keeps on going this year.  Every week I will introduce you to a new Kindness Investor who will continue the ten dollar a day giving tradition for seven days.

“So you finished your year-long commitment and that’s it,” many of you have said to me.  Nope, not even close.

This year my personal commitments are focused around volunteering.  One thing that I learned while doing the Year of Giving is that what made every day so magical wasn’t the ten-dollar gift, but rather the time that I spent with each individual.  Time.  It is so valuable, yet we don’t treasure it as much as we should.  That’s why this year I couldn’t think of anything more valuable than to spend my time with others.

Each week I will volunteer in some capacity and share those experiences with you.  Why?  Because I hope to inspire you to volunteer as well.  I hope that you will speak to your employer about creating an Employee Volunteer Program, join your children in student learning service projects and become leaders for volunteerism in your own community.

Here is my first blog of my year-long commitment to volunteering!  I hope to blog about my volunteering every Monday!

Me going nuts with the sander

On a recent Saturday I spent the day helping Rockville Little Theatre build the set for their upcoming production of Translations, the acclaimed work of Irish playwright Brian Friel.  I showed up around 10:00am to the Theatre’s workshop that is tucked away behind some municipal buildings for the city of Rockville, MD.  “Quarters” as it is referred to is no foreign place to me as I spent many evenings rehearsing in this space when I performed in RLT’s productions of The Laramie Project and The Foreigner – I’ve done a little acting.

Pat Miller, the show’s producer, along with his wife Melanie were in charge.  Melanie was busy painting some of the backdrops when I arrived.  I went to work sanding and staining and spent most of the next six hours doing that.

A volunteer from a nearby middle school works on a large wall for the set.

There were probably about ten of us total that helped out.  Three of which were local middle and high school students who were completing Student Service Learning credits.  Menen, an 11th grader from Rockville, told me that she had more than 170 community service hours.  “I’m hoping to get a college scholarship,” she said as she maneuvered the power sander over wooden bench she was working on.

RLT has a variety of volunteer needs listed on their website.  “We’re an all volunteer organization,” Pat told me, “so quite literally the productions could not be possible without volunteers.”  And it’s not just the actors, they also need donations and lots of behind the scenes support as well; from publicity to construction.  “Community theaters really need to tap into the community in order to be successful,” he went to say.

And don’t miss the upcoming production of Translations opening on January 28th and running through February 6th.  Followers of the Year of Giving might even recognize the show’s director: Jacy D’Aiutolo.

This is a very important play for many reasons according to Pat:

Translations is first and foremost a beautifully constructed play with amazing use of language and an amazing story. In addition to being a great piece of theater, it’s also a very significant play for a number of reasons. Translations was the first production staged by the Field Day Theater Company, which was cofounded by Playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea who American audiences would know best from The Crying Game and V is for Vendetta. Unlike most Irish theater of the 20th century, which grew out of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, Field Day was founded in Derry, which lies just across the border in Northern Ireland.

Pat stains a bench that will be used for the show.

When the play was written in 1981, it was a particularly tense time during “The Troubles” and bombings were common both in Ireland and Great Britain. Guildhall, the theatre where Translations debuted was itself bombed repeatedly. The play, which deals directly with the subjugation of Irish language and culture at the hands of the British military, had tremendous resonance during this difficult time.  It also marked Field Day as a company that was striving to reestablish a cultural “fifth province,” which could unite a divided Ireland through its literature, poetry and theater. The work, that began with the production of Translations, continues to this day.

I hope you will come out and see the show – I’m planning on going this Friday.  As Pat reminded me, “In the end the most important people for a theatre company is the audience.”  So even if you are not able to volunteer with your local theatre go see a show.  There’s nothing like live theatre!

As a bonus, check out this behind the scenes footage of the making of RLT’s production of Translations:

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Good morning!  Today has got to be a better day than yesterday…I just wish I had a few more hours in the day.

I hope to send out the invites via email today for the Year-End Celebration…still waiting on the venue to send over the agreement.  At the event we will have a small auction of a couple of items to raise money for some awesome charities.  If you know of something that would make a really cool auction item, something that could generate some interesting bidding, and you have a way to get it, please let me know.  I am also seeking items to give away to the attendees when they leave.  You know in one of those “thanks for coming” bags.  If you have a contact that could get something interesting for us to give away, please let me know ASAP.  It could be t-shirts, could be books, could be Flip video cameras….whatever!  We would need about 250 units.

Also, I heard some people were sending emails to the Ellen show to suggest that she include the Year of Giving in her 12 Days of Giving.  If you want to send Ellen a suggestion…click here to submit your message!  I even broke down last week and emailed her and asked for some help making the Year-End Celebration happen.  No response yet.  Not even the standard, “Thanks for your email.  We get lots of mail so …. ”

Molly holding the Sherman Alexie novel on the Metro. (photo: Reed)

Well today’s recipient threw me for a loop with what she did with the $10!  I met Molly 100 feet below the bustling city of Washington in our Metro system.  I was at the Tenlytown station waiting to board a Red Line train to take me back to Dupont Circle.  Molly looked like she was waiting for the same train so I thought I would ask her to be my recipient.  

Molly, who just turned 27 a week ago Saturday, is a researcher at an environmental institute here in DC.  She’s originally from Seattle which is maybe why she’s reading Native American author Sherman Alexie’s 1998 novel Indian Killer – it takes place there.

Within a minute the trained arrived and we boarded the subway car.  “I’m heading over to Capitol Hill,” she tells me as the doors close.  I looked at my watch; it was 10:20pm.  I had about eight minutes until my stop.  I hastily explained the project hoping to find out more about her, but frankly I didn’t learn much because there just wasn’t time.

She told me she was living on a tight budget so I thought the $10 would come in handy for her.  “I’m applying to law school,” Molly said suggesting that maybe she would use the money to help pay the application fees.  “Or who knows, maybe I will buy some drinks on my birthday?”  Ah, yes…I almost forgot, she was going to NYC to celebrate her birthday.  Well, ten bucks wouldn’t have gotten her very much there.  Then again law school application fees are hundreds of dollars probably, so really not much help on either front.

The metro screeched into Dupont and I nearly lost my balance as I furiously crammed notes down in my little Moleskine book.  I said good-bye and headed home. End of story, right?  Wrong.

So a few days later I got an email from Molly.  Here’s part of it:

…[it] was a rather rushed and, on my part, flustered conversation about what I would do with the money. Well, since then I’ve been thinking about that interaction a lot. And I’ve been thinking about the ten dollars a lot, too. For some reason, I can’t seem to spend it. And I can’t seem to stop obsessing about the best way to use it.  In fact, it’s starting to drive me a little crazy. So, if you don’t mind, I think I would like to donate it back to your project. Would that be possible?”

I think it is great that this experience has caused her to stop and think about it.  To think about different ways it could be used.  Certainly I didn’t want to stress her out, but she really pondered what to do with it.  Anyway, we are meeting Thursday and she is going to donate the money back to the Year of Giving and I am going to use it to help me pay for the Year-End Celebration.

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

There is SO much to be thankful for today.  Here’s just a few things…

the last 36 years 327 days ■ my amazing family ■ loyal friends ■ love that I feel ■ my job ■ my home ■ my sight ■ my hearing ■ my sense of taste ■ my sense of touch ■ my sense of smell  ■  asymptotes  ■   the ability to run  ■ our differences ■ our similarities ■ sleep ■ spell check ■ rain ■ nature ■ sun, moon and the stars ■ mornings ■  evenings in San Gimignano ■  laughter ■ children ■ gardens  ■  trust  ■   history  ■ spices  ■  caipirinhas  ■   tacos  ■   hugs  ■   music  ■   the 33 Chilean miners  ■   language  ■   my mother’s recipes – especially stuffing …

I could go on…but I if I did, we would never get to know about Meghan…and her friend John!

She looks sweet and innocent, but Meghan was ready to club me with her 1/2 steel bike lock had I been an attacker.

So on a cool evening I wandered over to Dupont Circle to see who I would find.  I immediately saw Meghan sitting next to a bicycle on the east side of the circle but I decided to make a lap around the fountain to see if I found someone who caught my attention.  Nope.  It was Meghan.

The 28-year-old from Richmond has been in DC for almost six years.  She has a government job which she says that she doesn’t enjoy very much.  “I’m waiting for a friend and where going to go for dinner,” she told me when I asked what brought her to the circle that night. She said she would probably put the ten dollars toward the evening.

As we were talking her friend John showed up.  It’s cool how they met.  They both worked for years for the same agency on the same floor but didn’t know each other.  Then on a trip to Spain Meghan found herself in a cozy little tapas joint in Sevilla.  John, who also happened to be in Sevilla on vacation, happened to come over and talk to her and it turned out they worked together!  Now they are great friends.

“She’s one of the funniest people I know,” John told me.

Meghan, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood, changed her mind and decided to give John half of her ten dollars…who knows, maybe that compliment literally paid off!  “He’s great,” she told me.  So then something happened that had never happened so far this year.  John said he wanted to give me his five dollars!  What could I do but accept it.  I’ve put that five dollars toward covering my costs for the Year-End celebration on  December 14th!

“I saw you walk around the fountain twice and then come over toward me,” Meghan began saying, “I was ready to hurt you with my ½ inch steel bike lock!”  Phew…good thing I made a good impression!

Me, Meghan and John. Meghan holding her $5, me holding the $5 that Meghan gave to John and he passed on to me!

Here is a quick story to make you feel good on Thanksgiving!  John told me that he was at the American Museum of Natural History New York City this summer when he found $70 on the ground.  “I turned it in to the information desk figuring someone had dropped it,” he explained.  He gave them his information as well and would you believe four months later they called John and told him that since nobody had claimed it that they were going to send it to him.  Wow…can you believe it?  It gets better.  “I told them to keep it and consider it a donation,” John said humbly.  I love it!

We’re getting ready to sit down for dinner now.  I was in charge of making two stuffings…one a regular bread stuffing full of celery, sausage and sage that my mother used to make…it’s my favorite.  The other is a cornbread stuffing that my grandmother (Dad’s mom) used to make.  I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, but do take a moment to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for.

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A couple of weeks ago I told you that I had given my $10 to celebrity…well today is the day that you find out who I ran into.

Willie Geist on MSNBC's Way Too Early with Willie Geist

An unscientific statistic that I came up with tells me that somewhere between 16-17 million people wake up and tune in to morning show programs.  I occasionally turn them on while I am getting ready, but most the time I listen to NPR.  Anyway, I watch them enough that I know a little bit about each program.  Well, I was surprised when I stopped in my local book store and found one of the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe there.

It was the likeable and funny Willie Geist who also hosts Way Too Early with Willie Geist which is on immediately before Morning Joe for all those early birds who are up at 5:30am.  I haven’t seen that program yet…I rarely am up at 5:30 and if I am I doubt I am checking what is on TV.  Anyway, he was making an appearance at the Borders Bookstore at 18th and L Streets in DC. 

“Hmmm….would he take my $10,” I thought.  What the hell, let’s give it a try. 

Reed talking to Willie.

He was talking to a large crowd about his newly released book American Freak Show.  A long line formed to meet him and have him sign books.  I decided to wait around.  Then I noticed that his wife Christina was there.  I checked with her to see if she thought Willie would be game for my ten bucks!  She was lovely and told me that he probably would be thrilled to be a part of the Year of Giving.  Interestingly enough, I think I remember a comment in the bio section in his book that says that he and Christina met in the sixth grade or something like that…she was helping him with his homework.  Willie’s a pretty smart guy so I’m guessing he just wanted to find a reason to spend some time with a smart attractive girl like Christina!  Anyway, they’ve been married for seven years, have two children and live in New York.

So I finally get to meet Willie.  I asked him to sign a copy of his book for my father, which he graciously did.  The book is pure satire and a fun read.  It kind of reminds me of the concept of the Onion.  It takes real people and creates completely fictional occurrences, like Sarah Palin winning the 2012 election and delivering her inaugural address from the WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Ice Palace in Tampa.  He also has a fantastic chapter on former governor Rob Blagojevich.

Jimmy "The Rent is 2 Damn High" McMillan

I asked Willie if there were any individuals that he felt got left out of the book.  There were two that got their 15 minutes of fame after he had already sent the book for publication.  “It’s too bad that I didn’t get to include Christine O’Donnell or Jimmy McMillan – ‘The Rent is 2 Damn High’ guy,” Willie explained unable to hold back a chuckle as he envisioned the stories that he could create about those two.

I explained the Year of Giving to Willie and asked him to accept my $10.  “Oh, I couldn’t accept your ten dollars,” Willie said.  “I would just give it to someone else who needs it or donate it.”  I assured him that he could do that and he accepted it.  

Willie had been there now for a couple of hours and it was after 9:00pm.  “I’ve got to get up in about four or five hours to do the show,” he explained.  He looked as if it had been a long day.  I imagine it was too…he probably got up around 3:00am, did his shows, took the train down to DC, made some appearances and now was focused on getting to his hotel.  Accompanied by his wife, three-year-old daughter Lucie who had been so well-behaved all evening, and a few personal friends, Willie slowly made his way to the front of the store.  I wished him luck with the book and said goodbye to him and Christina.

Willie said he would pass the $10 along.

By the way, I did a little research online about Willie and thought I would share the following with you.  Now 35, he was born in Evanston, IL and graduated high school in Ridgewood, NJ where he was the captain of the football and basketball teams.  He went on to graduate college from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  His little sister is an accomplished documentary film producer (Crazy Love, Black Magic, Ring of Fire) and they are the great-grandchildren of Herbie Lewis who led the Detroit Red Wings to two Stanley Cup victories.  Check out Willie’s satirical video blog on msnbc.com called Zeitgeist!  Oh and I love this.  On MSNBC’s website it reports that he is proficient in Microsoft Word. Well done, my friend!

Note: If you live in Miami and want to meet Willie this weekend, he is scheduled to be at the Miami Book Fair this Saturday.

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Dane fishing in the waters of Valley Creek in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Reed)

While I was visiting my friends up in Pennsylvania we decided to go for a hike in Valley Forge.

Along the hike I spotted Dane doing some fishing in the Valley Creek.  I couldn’t resist trying to give my $10 to a guy wading knee-deep in the water.  I yelled over to him and he made his way to the shore and I handed him the money.  I’ll chalk that up for a first: Gave $10 to person in the middle of a creek!

I honestly thought there was a 50/50 chance that I was going to fall in the creek, because to be able to get close enough to Dane to give him the $10 I had to maneuver down part of the bank where I placed one of me feet on a branch and the other on a rock that jutted out from the bank.

Me photographing Dane along the banks of Valley Creek. (photo: K. Kanelakis)

I asked him how the fishing was.  “I haven’t caught anything today,” he told me.  I realized that if I didn’t scare the fish away when I yelled over to him that my friends two boys were taking care of it as they proudly dumped as many rocks as they could into the creek.  When Dane is not fishing, he is looking for work in journalism.  A graduate from UNC, he hopes to find work in Sports Radio.

Here is a little bit of our conversation…

Later that evening Dane was heading to game six of the National League playoffs.  Sorry the Phillies lost Dane.  I was impressed that four or five hours before they threw out the first pitch Dane was chilling in creek doing a little fishing.  

He said he was going to use my $10 get some Mountain Dew.

If anyone can help Dane find a job…leave a message!

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photo: Reed

I live nearby a cozy wine bar called Veritas at the corner of Connecticut and Florida.  The other night I was meeting a friend there for a drink.  We grabbed a table in the outside terrace and were greeted by our personal sommelier Fred. 

Now I am a bit of an accent junkie.  I love trying to figure out where people are from based on their accents.  On top of that I have a bizarre condition that makes me want to imitate the accent of the people with whom I am speaking.  Ok, it’s not really a condition, but we seem to make everything else a condition or disease, so why not this, right? 

Fred moved the US from England about 10 years ago. (photo: Reed)

Anyway, Fred had an interesting accent.  Sometimes I thought he was British other times I thought he was Africa or maybe he was from the States…who knows? I was perplexed.  It turns out he is originally from the United Kingdom.  “I’m guessing you’re a Manchester United fan,” I told him.  “He grinned widely and said, “Absolutely.”  As for the accent he says, “The more I drink or the more I watch football (and he’s not talking NFL), the more the English accent comes out.”

The Royal Palace...this is possibly where the $10 ended up. (photo: Reed)

He brought us our bottle of wine and I asked him if he would accept my $10.  He readily agreed.  I asked him how he was going to use it and he said, “You see that place across the street?”  I turned all the way around to see the Royal Palace, a questionable looking “gentlemen’s club” that from the outside oddly resembles a Chinese take out joint.  “It’s going right there!”

He laughed a little and disappeared back inside.  I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking.  A while later we went to pay.  We couldn’t find Fred and it seemed as if he had left for the night.  Or maybe he seriously took off across the street to the Royal Palace!  What category would I put that in?  “Something for themself” or “Gave the money to someone else?”  Hmmm…I’m guessing the latter.

Fred apparently cut himself pretty bad. (photo: Reed)

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I gave my $10 away on Michigan Ave between Randolph and Lake (photo: Reed)

So today I broke a 293 day streak.  It was Monday, October 4th, 2010 and I failed to give away my $10.  Well, sort of.  I gave it away a few minutes after midnight.

As you might remember I got to Chicago on Day 293.  On Day 294 I was in meetings all day and then went to a work related dinner.  By the time dinner was over and I said goodbye to my colleague, it was almost midnight.  I had just a few minutes to find someone.  I headed east on Washington Street toward Millenium Park.  I was about five blocks away so I hustled down there.  On the way I saw a woman walking by herself. I tried to give my $10 her but she refused.  It’s particularly difficult to give to women by themselves during the middle of the night.  

I got to Michigan Avenue and decided to walk north.  The cold wind off the lake made it feel like it was in the 30s.  I later saw that the low that night was 45, so I probably wasn’t far off.  I was glad I had brought a light jacket along on my trip.  I checked my watch and saw that it was now about 12:15am.  Dammit, I failed to give it away before midnight.  I slowed down now and took my time.  The streets were a far contrast to the bustling foot and car traffic that filled them during the work day.  Taxi cab headlights lit up the shadowy office complexes that surrounded me. 

Alexander captures one of Phaze's pieces (photo: Reed)

Between Randolph and Lake I saw two guys sitting on empty milk crates playing chess.  I slowly approached them.  They ignored me…talking trash trying to distract the other’s next move.

Alexander finally noticed me and I said hello.  I wasn’t sure what to think.  All of a sudden I started realizing that it was probably not a good idea to just be venturing out in a city that I am not familiar with after midnight.  Although I go to plenty of unsafe areas of DC, I usually know where I am, have someone with me, and know exactly what I am going to do if I get into trouble.  Here I found myself not really knowing where I was and not knowing what to expect with these two guys.

Behind them were several cans of 16 ounce Steel Reserve 211 beer, some plastic grocery bags and a bicycle with a hooded sweatshirt draped over it.

Alexander told me that he was released from prison on August 18th.  “I’ve been in and out of prisons and correctional facilities since I was 13,” the 55-year-old told me.  Although he seemed harmless, there was something a little unnerving about reaching into my pocket and taking out my wallet in front of a life long criminal…but I did it anyway.  I gave each guy $5.00.

I started to take some notes and they both got very suspicious.  I mentioned I wanted to take some photographs too and they became even more skeptical.  “You are a cop, man.” Phaze told me.  He was convinced that I was with the police.  I showed them my DC driver’s license, but that didn’t help, now they thought I was with a federal agency.  You’ll love this though.  Alexander chimed in, “No, no, no.  He ain’t no cop.  You know what he looks like.  He’s a sorry ass public defender, that’s what he is.  And I should know, I’ve known a few of them.”  I loved that.

They stopped talking with me and redirected their attention to the match at hand.  

Alexander showing me his picture and poetry in StreetWise. (photo: Reed)

“You ought to buy one of his magazines,” Phaze, the 29-year-old chess challenger said to me breaking the silence.  Alexander reached over into one of the plastic bags and pulled out a copy of StreetWise, a street magazine similar to the Street Sense newspaper we have in DC.  These papers/magazines are designed to give employment opportunities to the homeless and poverty-stricken as well as provide valuable insight into the challenges they and others in their situation face today.  I am a big fan of Street Sense so when I saw that he was a vendor for StreetWise, I had to buy a magazine.  “They’re two dollars,” Alexander said. 

While I was searching for a few bucks Phaze shouted over for me to look at the last page.  “Check out whose picture is in there next to their poetry,” he told me.  It turned out to be a photograph of Alexander next to three poems that he had written.  When I get caught up with my blog posts you will meet a Street Sense vendor named David on Day 304 who is a former convicted felon who also took up writing and poetry while in prison.

Phaze before he started to spit. (photo: Reed)

In my wallet I had two $5 bills and a ten.  I gave him five knowing that there would be no change.  He tucked the money away and went back to the game.  Phaze knew his moves were numbered.  “He is really good,” Phaze said about Alexander’s chess ability.  “He usually beats me.” 

I am not really sure what Phaze does.  His passion is spitting or spoken word poetry.  It’s a cocktail of poetry, hip-hop and rap all mixed together.  After being defeated at chess, he asks me to buy one of his CDs.  He keeps trying to get me to buy the CD for $5.  In an effort to convince me to buy it, he gives me a sample of it.  On this video you can see Phaze, whose full name according to him is Phaze Da King, spitting.  At the end he gets a little bothered by my videotaping and hits the camera out of my hand.  It’s all on video.  Check it out!

I was ok and so was my camera.  After getting him to settle down some, I gave him $5 for his CD.  It doesn’t play in my CD player so I need to take it to a computer that has a CD tray so that I can listen to it.  

Spitting was not Phaze's only means of expression. (photo: Reed)

So what do you think these two guys told me that they were going to do with their respective five dollars?  Well, Alexander told me that he was probably going to use it to buy some more magazines to sell.  “Or I might use it to buy me some food before that…or a toupee!” he said letting out a deep laugh.  I looked over at Phaze and asked the same question.  “I’m gonna hold on to it and give it to my son who is supposed to be born on January 1, 2011,” he said.

It was now about 1:00am.  I was tired and had to get up early in the morning for more meetings.  But my night was not nearly over.  As I was leaving I met another guy named Michael who met Alexander while they were in prison.  As it was now after midnight, I decided to make him the recipient of Day 295 and will share his incredible story with you tomorrow!

Here is a short video of Alexander.

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