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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Wow…I am still thinking about Bob from Day 251, aren’t you.  I wish you could have been there with us for the entire conversation.  He was really amazing.  Today’s recipient is equally impressive.  Read on! 

These two guys opted to decline the $10. (photo: Reed)

Day 254 started with two refusals.  First two guys who were sitting on the grass in front of an office building at the corner of 19th and O Streets said “No” because they were deep discussion.  Then I wandered down 19th Street a little further where I found William, a US Post Office mail carrier.  He was sitting in his truck grabbing a bite to eat and said that he was too busy.

I kept on walking down to the corner of 19th and M Street.  I looke across the street to see if Anthony was there, but I didn’t see his smiling face.  It was around there that I ran into Christina carrying a clear container of salad from Mixt Greens and a Netflix movie envelope.  She seemed skeptical of my motives at first, but agreed to accept the $10.  We walked west down M Street as we talked.

Christina poses for a picture with her pricey salad. (photo: Reed)

I find out that she works at a nearby NGO and is on her lunch break.  “This salad cost more than $10,” she tells me as I hand her the $10.  I asked her what she got in her salad, I mean for that price I was hoping that she at least got some truffles or Beluga caviar or a TV.  I mean I once heard of a salad at the Hemel Hotel in London that had Almas golden caviar, Beluga caviar, kreel-caught langoustines, Cornish crab and lobster, plus Florette baby leaf salad tossed in some super expensive olive oil with grated truffle placed in a basket made from courgettes, red peppers and potato and decorated with gold leaf…all for the low price of US$982! 

She was carrying a DVD so maybe they gave her that.  Nope.  Just a salad.  “I think this might be my first and last salad from there,” she says.

I asked her what about her made her unique.  She paused and thought for a moment and said, “Well, I am a brain cancer survivor.”  I swallowed and tried to think of something to say.  She told me that they removed the tumor in July and that she was currently going to chemotherapy every two weeks.  “I feel good now,” she says with a smile.

“How did you find out,” I ask trying to imagine how many things most go through your head when you learn this.  She says that there wasn’t a lot of time to think about anything.  They operated almost immediately once they had found the malignant tumor.  We arrive at her office.  I continue to ask some more questions without realizing that I was now completely focused on her bout with cancer and there is a lot more about Christina and I only probably have a few minutes more before she needs to go up to her office.

Christina loves to travel – especially internationally.  She has a passport full of stamps to prove it too.  Croatia, Thailand and Italy as some of her favorite places.  “Did you go to San Gimignano in Italy,” I ask.  It’s one of my favorite places on the planet.  She had in fact visited the tiny hilltop village.  She fondly recalls some of her memories from her trip.  The small town where there was only one phone booth with a line of people wrapping around it outside.  “We also saw this woman who had this really nice flower garden.  She ended up inviting us in and made us try all these different types of homemade grappa.  One was made with oregano, another with thyme…”  As she is telling me about her trip I can’t help but slip into the memory of my own trip there and how much I enjoyed it.

photo: Reed

She also tells me that she loves movies, hence the DVD in her hand.  “Shoot,” she says looking down at the red and white Netflix envelope.  “We got talking and I totally forgot to drop this off at the post office.”  I had already taken a good chunk of her lunch break so I offered to go and drop it off.

We say goodbye and I start walking back toward the post office when I shout back, “What movie did you get?”  “It’s True Blood,” she says referring to the hit HBO series starring Anna Paquin. 

I got an email a few days later from Christina letting me know that she had donated the $10 to Mercy Corps for their Pakistan flood relief efforts. 

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

 

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

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

Jon (photo: Reed)

 

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

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

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

Jon attends to some customers (photo: Reed)

 

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

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

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

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

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

photo: Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela’s tide is turning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: Reed

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

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

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

 

Tent City DC at Parcel 42 (photo: Reed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: Reed

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

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Carlton sometimes does as many as 10 paintings a day (photo: Reed)

Carlton is sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America along Dupont Circle, his feet extending over the edge of the curb and into traffic.  His right hand, covered with paint, swiftly dances over the canvas of a landscape of a far off mountain accompanied by some trees in the foreground.  He pops up and talks to a man who approaches him.  He displays another painting that he has next to him to the man.  They talk for a few minutes and then the man takes his wallet out and pulls a twenty from it and places it in Carlton’s hand.  In exchange he hands him the painting.

I decided to go up to Carlton and ask if he would accept my $10.  He was genuinely curious about what I was doing.  We chatted about his past, the present and the future.  It was a pretty memorable evening.

photo: Reed

At 45 Carlton has been through a lot.  But painting here at Dupont Circle brings his story full circle.  You see it was here about 10 years ago that he used to sleep in the park and panhandle in front of the CVS.  He was a homeless out-of-work drug user.  One evening he went into the park and shot up with some dirty needles.  He suspects it was that specific night that he contracted the HIV virus.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea, but the addiction had blurred his judgment.  It reminds me of Rob from Day 117 who said, “The thing about addiction is that people continue these behaviors in spite of catastrophic consequences.”  Anyway, he went years without knowing he was infected until he started to get quite ill and lost a considerable amount of weight.  He went to the hospital and found out that he was HIV positive.  He says that his health is good these days thanks to three little pills that he takes every day.  He says he knocked his drug addiction although still drinks alcohol which I could smell on his breath.

It was only about a year and a half ago that Carlton started painting.  “I didn’t want to panhandle no more” he said.  He got started when a woman left him some paint by the bench where he was sleeping.  He decided to give it a try.  “God taught me,” he answers when I ask if he was self-taught.  The reason he chooses to paint at Dupont Circle is that he hopes that some of the same people who used to see him strung out years ago will see him today and realize that he has talent and that he has improved his situation.  He talks to me about why he likes to paint landscapes, how he has deals with being HIV positive and being homeless:

With the money that I gave him he said he was going to buy some colored paints.

Here is another few minutes of my conversation with Carlton. I asked him how others can help him and I thought his answer was beautiful.

I really enjoyed talking with him.  As it got late and he finished his last painting he said that he needed to catch the Metro.  “Hey, why don’t you take this painting” he offers as he pushes the painting you see in these pictures toward me.  I told him that I couldn’t receive anything in return for the $10 but I did appreciate the gesture.

 
If you would like to find Carlton, he is often at Dupont Circle in front of the Bank of America during the afternoons.  And sometimes he is there at night, like today.  His paintings range from $20 and up, depending on the size and type.

UPDATE: I ran into Carlton on June 1, 2011 and visited with him for a while.  You can read about my latest encounter with him by clicking here.

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MLK Jr. Avenue, Southeast DC (Photo: Wikipedia)

It was a Monday as I walked along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia, part of DC’s Southeast quadrant. My neck turning red as the sun’s heavy rays beat down on me. The bricks of many of the houses and buildings along my path no longer hold the rich red color they once did.

Isaac walked by me as he headed toward the Metro which was about five blocks away. Something about him struck me and I doubled back and caught up with him and asked him to accept my $10. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me as if I had just spoken to him in a foreign language. I sometimes forget how unusual this year-long commitment is. Sharing that he has heard of my project either in the Washington Post or on the local news, he agrees to be my 182nd recipient.

The 32-year-old was on his way home from a trade school where he is learning the fundamentals of carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. With less than a month left of schooling he still is unsure of what he will do when he finishes.

Our conversation takes us back in time to when Isaac was a high school student at Chamberlain High School in Southeast. As a young adult Isaac got involved in some things he shouldn’t have which culminated with him receiving a three-year sentence at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution for cocaine distribution related charges. Released in February of this year, Isaac is trying to pull his life together. “Things happen in prison you know, but you just mind your own business and try not to get in the middle of nothing,” Isaac says of his time in the Pennsylvania penitentiary. While an inmate, he tried to improve himself by completing his GED and taking computer courses. “I would like to get a job working with medical records or something like that.” He goes on to say that he has been thinking about enrolling in the University of Phoenix to further his education.

My conversation with Isaac covers the whole spectrum of life. He shares with me that he might be a father. There is a DNA test in progress to determine whether he is the father of a soon to be three-year-old girl. I did the math and determined that if he did father the child then it must have been right before he was incarcerated. “I don’t know. The test will tell,” he says.

As the weight of the world settles on his shoulders, Isaac is also faced with finding a job. Areas which he says that he would be interested in working are: food service, home or office cleaning, building maintenance, handyman and inventory restocking.

My heart literally hurt when he told me that he was going to buy cigarettes with my money. I try not to judge people on their decisions of what to do with my $10, but to buy cigarettes is a painful reminder of the heart disease that took my mother’s life. I felt the same way when Matt from Day 10 told me he was going to get some Marlboros. I have been against smoking ever since I can remember, but I have to accept his choice. I hope some day you are able to quit Isaac.

I finished asking questions and took a few photos. I walked with Isaac all the way to the Metro station. I really enjoyed talking with him. He is smart and easy to relate to. As we entered the Metro station I asked him where he was heading. “I’m gonna stop by my mother’s house.” The thundering sound of the Metro train coming into the station erased all other sounds. He shook my hand and disappeared into the crowded Green Line train headed for Branch Avenue.

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