celebrate kindness

Posts Tagged ‘homeless

  
Today was an amazing day!

I presented a session at the EdTech Conference held at VCU in Richmond, VA titled “Bring JOY to the Classroom with Passion Projects” where I showcased passion projects of first graders in my school. (For my presentation link, and more information about passion projects, click here.)

The session went well, with lots of laughter and joy scattered about (thanks to everyone who tweeted out comments on #edtechrva – you ROCK!) I loved learning more about the passions of the session participants (shown on this Padlet) then sharing the passions of our students. When the session ended, many participants stayed behind to continue the conversation and ask more questions which was great!

Just this week, I noticed another class diving into passion projects, with a random act of kindness theme:

  
Of COURSE, I wanted to sponsor a student! What a wonderful project that would have a direct impact on others! I contacted the teacher on Twitter for a mailing address, then stopped by Walmart to pick up a couple pair of socks. Today, after the conference I put passion projects into motion as I mailed off my contribution.

  
  
It brings such joy to my soul to know that young people are investing their time and creativity into helping others. What a divine purpose indeed! I’m also thankful for teachers like Mr. Leonard who recognize the power and potential of embracing young students’ passions.

A shout-out to all the fantastic people who helped organize and facilitate this year’s EdTech conference! Thanks to your hard work, educators such myself can learn, grow, and share the wonderful things we are doing in and out of the classroom! Kudos!

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If you haven’t gotten your milk and bread yet, you are running out of time. With an enormous snowstorm barreling across the East Cost today and tomorrow, a State of Emergency already in place, you can rest assured there will be lots to talk about in the coming days.

Bread. Milk. Water. Check.

My social media feeds have been filled with reminders all week:

“Bring in your pets!”

“Stock up on supplies!”

“Make sure you have plenty of water if the power goes out!”

What about those who never had power to begin with?

For the past month I’ve been purchasing basic supplies in preparation for the storm. But unlike many, my supplies are not for me, but for strangers who might need them. Several friends noticed and made donations of their own and together we were able to assemble eight fully-stocked blessing bags for the homeless.

My friend, Cindy, came over this week and we sorted all the items, making sure to equally divide what we had collected into separate bags. My cousin Michele had bought thick, warm gloves and hats to go with the blankets Stacie and Suzi donated. I added spoons to the peanut butter Cindy bought (perfect for scooping out and spreading across the crackers.) Even my son got inspired, donating his own school bag and offering to help us organize. It was exciting to think that eight people would receive our surprise of blankets, hats, gloves, water, peanut butter, crackers, hand warmers and more.

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I decided to add playing cards to help them pass away the boredom (thanks Deb for the idea!) and some conversation hearts to make them smile. I even threw in a few dollars and some mints that a coworker had left in my RAK jar at school (thanks Krista!)

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I also added a hand written note to each bag. Everyone needs a reminder they are loved.

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After packing up the bags on Monday, Cindy and I hit the streets on Wednesday to give away our surprises.

We drove towards the city, our eyes looking for people sitting on the streets or anyone looking cold or hungry. The first gentleman who caught our eye was sitting on a plastic crate near an intersection. He carried a sign describing his plight, upper-case letters scrawled across to catch our attention. Even though he was wearing a coat, hat, and gloves, something nudged us to roll down our window and hand him a bag.

So we did.

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I don’t know this man and I don’t know his story. And sadly, since I was now approaching a green light at the intersection, I didn’t have time to say much more than “Stay warm for the storm. God bless.”

We drove on.

When was the last time you drove into a city and really saw how the surroundings changed before your eyes? Large two-story homes surrounded by manicured lawns gave way to ramshackle row houses with tiny front porches of rotting wood. Windows with bars. Alleys. Sidewalk cracks. Graffiti. Welcome to the city.

Homeless people often gather in Monroe Park, so we decided to head there. We parked and put all our bags in a cart, pulling across the sidewalks looking for anyone who we could bless with basic necessities.

We walked. And walked. And walked.

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Unbelievably, we didn’t see a single homeless person in the park.

Maybe it was the police car cruising nearby that forced them away. Maybe it was the throngs of college kids leaving their classes at VCU that kept them hidden from sight. Perhaps, just perhaps, they had found somewhere warm to stay in this bitter cold.

Perhaps.

We walked towards Broad Street, still searching for someone to bless. Cindy and I chatted about the irony of always seeing homeless people down this way, but not on a day when we have something to give. That’s when it stuck me – every day I have something to give, even if it’s just a smile of kindness.

I made a silent promise to do better.

At some point Cindy and I realized our attempts were futile. We had to change our game plan. Our faces and ears were already numb from the cold and we needed to head back to our car before the sky shifted to darkness. We decided to leave the bags in places that might be discovered by someone who needed it. Did it really matter who received our kindness? Maybe it wasn’t really up to us to choose the recipient. Maybe our purpose was simply to pack the bags and go.

I had my notepad of RAK cards and safety pins with us, so we attached one to each bag. In this day and age you can’t just leave a closed bag on a sidewalk without everything thinking you are a terrorist. I wanted a passerby to know that our package was safe. No terrorist leaves their website URL and Twitter handle on their packages.

We sprinkled the city with kindness as we walked back to our car.

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Even though our mission didn’t go as planned, we still enjoyed our RAKs, knowing someone out there would be blessed with kindness. When the last bag was placed, we took a quick selfie then made our way back to our car to head home, a little more thankful for all that we have.

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As I left the city and drove down the winding paths of my hometown, I had to laugh when I saw this church sign. As if I need confirmation that today was, indeed, a planned event.

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I really do enjoy God’s little whispers on my heart. 🙂

A special thanks to the following people who also followed the whisper on their hearts to donate to this special RAK. We will do this again, so if you would like to donate to the cause, please let me know!

Stacie Taylor – blankets

Suzi Tapper – blankets

Lori Cross – bags

Amie Boothe – bags

Emily Cleaton – bags

Daniel Letter – bag

Krista Miller – mints

Michele Payne – hats and gloves

Cindy Ashburn – peanut butter, crackers, Oreos and hand warmers

For those interested in making their own blessing bags, here’s a list of additional items we added: spoons, water, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, soap, candy, playing cards, money, and handwritten notes. Next time I hope to add socks, tissues, and small wet wipes.

Be blessed, my friends, and stay safe in the storm!

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Live today repay quote

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan

I’ve seen this quote again and again posted in my favorite social media sites and it gives me pause each time I see it. Instantly I think of grandiose actions: paying off someone’s Christmas gift layaway at Walmart, giving a struggling family one month’s rent, hosting a huge Thanksgiving dinner for military personnel who can’t be with their families during the holidays. Oh, how I would love to do these things! To be able to bless someone in such a way that they can never repay you… wow. That could be considered the ultimate random act of kindness.

Winter is now upon us, the cold snap biting through layers of warm clothes wrapped around my body. I am not a fan of winter. If I had my way, I would stay in my warm home from Thanksgiving to Easter, only peeking out my head like a groundhog to see if spring was indeed six weeks away. The mere mention of winter weather makes me shiver with goosebumps on my arms. I absolutely hate being cold!

So you can imagine my delight in discovering Starbuck’s “Buy One, Get One Free” promotion on steaming hot holiday drinks a few weeks ago. Two for the price of one AND I can stay warm while blessing someone else, too! Awesome!

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My RAKs are simple RAKs. I’ve never had the financial means to do the extraordinary RAKs like others, so I do little things here and there in my own way to brighten someone else’s day. When I see something I can get for free, my first instinct is to grab it, then give it away. Sharing is fun!

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On this particular cold afternoon, I decided to bless a stranger on the street with a caramel brulee latte. I could only imagine how cold it must be to stand outside, hours at a time, waiting and hoping for meager donations kind people may give. Now I know there are many out there who would like to debate the issue of panhandling, and I will admit that there are times when I really just want to drive from one location to the next without a reminder of those more unfortunate than me. But this day was different.

I drove for a bit heading towards the city, surprised at the lack of people asking for help on the street. I could see tree limbs bending in the wind, fall leaves rustling across the ground. It really was a cold day. Maybe even too cold for the panhandlers.

Then I saw him. Like others I’ve seen in the past, he held a sign in his hand. “HOMELESS PLEASE HELP ME” written in large block letters. I could even see words he had written on the side. “Drug Free. Alcohol Free.” I guess it was his way of reassuring any generous souls that he wouldn’t abuse donations given.

As I pulled a little closer in the traffic by the stoplight, I took notice of details. His sign looked new, still white as snow. He wore a heavy coat, zipped up the front. He looked pretty well dressed for a homeless person and his face seemed free of dirt and grime. As he turned to the side, I could even see he was wearing name brand jeans.  It was in that moment I did something that I swore I would never do.

I judged him.

In the millisecond it took for me to process all this information as my car inched through the turning lane, I kept driving. I didn’t make eye contact. I decided to look for someone else who needed more help than him.

Four left hand turns later, I was back where I started, driving down the same road still looking for a homeless person to bless with a hot drink. I saw the same man with the sign, but this time I heard the whisper on my heart:

“Him.  Yes, him.  Give him the coffee.”

I pulled into the turning lane and once again waited at the stoplight. I caught his eye and motioned for him to come towards my car. I opened my window and held out the still steaming cup of coffee along with a Starbucks bag filled with napkins. I smiled as he approached my car.

“Hi there. It’s really cold out here and I thought you might like something warm today. Be blessed!” His hardened face broke into the sweetest smile and I knew in that moment I was forgiven for my previous judgment. “Thank you. Thank you so much,” he replied. As he reached for the coffee, his bony fingers brushed mine and they were ice cold. Stiff. Frozen by the chill of the day.

And then I saw his coat.

The huge winter coat with the fuzzy hood that looked so warm and cozy from a distance was actually quite worn, with tattered edges on the bottom. The color was faded by weather and life, the side ripped from armpit to waist. Stuffing the color of gravel billowed from the rip. This coat, and this man, had seen better days I’m sure. He took the coffee and napkins, walked past my car, then turned around to take a sip of the warm drink.

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I snapped a quick photo from my side mirror then drove home in humbled silence. A cup of coffee. Such a small thing, really. Didn’t cost me a dime. (I used a gift card to purchase my drink – thanks Kristy for your RAK to me!) Here I had set out to bless a stranger and ended up being the one blessed in return with a reminder not to judge those around me.

I don’t know his story. I didn’t even ask his name. But he was the one God wanted to bless; I was merely the messenger. While I’m sure this doesn’t qualify as a grand act of generosity, it still felt great to give to a stranger who could never repay me. Since he can’t pay me back, maybe he can pay me forward, by sharing kindness with someone else.

It only takes one to start a domino effect. Be the domino. You are destined for greatness. Go and do good in this world!

One of our favorite family traditions is visiting Krispy Kreme when the children receive their report cards.  “One free doughnut for every A” is the incentive Krispy Kreme offers and they never disappoint! Ever since our daughter started Kindergarten eight years ago, we have made the trek across town to the only Krispy Kreme restaurant around, to watch the doughnuts transform from gooey round balls to puffed up delicacies.  We love staring at the baked doughnuts sliding down the conveyor belt with sweet anticipation of seeing them being smothered in warm, slick icing.

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Yes, a visit to Krispy Kreme is quite the treat for our family indeed, especially because we don’t live nearby.  This past week we piled the kids in the car, report cards in hand, and made our way to this little piece of heaven on earth.

Traveling side roads, main roads, and interstates, we finally approached our destination.  My son piped up from the back seat,”Mommy… what does that sign say?”  He was pointing to a girl standing on the side of street who was holding up a sign asking for help.  “We don’t need rocks, we need socks!” declared the sign.  She was a bit disheveled in her mismatched layers of clothes, trying to keep the biting wind away from her bare skin.  “What does that mean, Mommy?  I don’t get it!”  Well, I could have spent the next two hours talking about that sign and the greater issues in our society that the sign represented, but I answered simply, “I think she just wants a little bit of help, sweetie.”

We turned into the Krispy Kreme parking lot and made our way into the restaurant, but the image of the girl holding the sign wouldn’t leave my mind.  When was the last time she ate?  Had a shower?  I noticed that there was a dog sitting by her feet.  When was the last time he ate?  As we made our way through the line to the front display with all the different varieties of sprinkled and iced donuts, I knew exactly what I needed to do.

The Krispy Kreme worker checked off the A’s on the children’s report cards and packed the free glazed doughnuts into a sturdy box to take back home.  Each child also chose one “fancy” doughnut of their choice which we purchased with milk to be consumed now.  I pointed to the red, pink, and white sprinkled heart-shaped doughnut in the front and asked, “May I have this one to go?  With a coffee and a cup of water, too?”  Gathering napkins, cream, sugar, and a stir stick, I told my husband, “I’ll be right back” and walked out of the front door as my children made their way to the back of the store with their dad to eat their special treats.

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“Excuse me.  Hi,” I said to the girl on the street corner, who was leaning over rubbing her dog.  “Hi!”  she reponded, eye opening wide.  I held out the drinks and doughnut.  “Your sign made me smile.  I wanted you to have these.”  Her smile was bright and cheerful despite her clothes and surroundings.  “And the water is for your dog,” I added as an after thought.

I caught movement from the corner of my eye and turned to see two more people on the corner, another young girl and an older gentleman, hunched and worn with age.  “Oh no!” I exclaimed.  “I didn’t know you had friends with you!  I thought it was only you!”  The second girl came closer and showed me the dog she had hidden inside her coat.  “I have a dog, too!” she said, proudly drawing attention to the little scruffy head peeking from within.  “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!  I only brought one doughnut and coffee, thinking there was only one person here!  I am so sorry!”  The girls laughed, still smiling, with the first girl easing my embarrassment.  “Oh, it’s OK.  This is my sister.  We can share.  It was nice of you to bring us a treat!”

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As I turned to make my way back to my family, nestled in the warm restaurant devouring their doughnuts with sticky fingers and milk-stained mouths, I heard the girl offer her doughnut to the older gentleman who had stayed hidden in the shadows.  “Pat, you want part of this?  You can have some if you want.”  Almost out of earshot, I heard Pat respond, “No, no, girls, you have it.  I get me something soon.  You eat.”

It almost broke my heart.

As the tears started to sting the corners of my eyes, I pushed open the door to Krispy Kreme and sat with my family.  “What did she say?”  “Was she excited?”  “Did the dog drink all the water?”  The kids had dozens of questions, clearly interested and concerned at the same time.  After retelling my random act of kindness, I couldn’t overcome the simple lesson I myself had learned from the experience.  These girls, whose lives were obviously more challenged than mine, had received an unexpected surprise and yet were willing to share it with someone else who might be more in need than them.  Priceless.

In that moment, I knew I had more to do.  I got back in line, purchased two more doughnuts, coffees, and waters, and made my way back to the street corner.  I wanted to bless both sisters and their older friend, Pat.

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“Hi.  I’m back.”  I held out the treats as an offering for forgiveness.  “Now you don’t have to share!”  They were surprised by my return and the older girl exclaimed, “Oh wow!”  I pulled out the cream, sugar and stir sticks from my pocket.  “Stay warm and know you are loved.  Be blessed!”  I quickly turned and walked away before they could see the tears inching out of my eyes yet again.

I know there has been a lot of conversation and debate within our local community about homeless people standing on the sides of streets, signs in hand, asking for help or handouts.  In this moment, it didn’t matter.   None of it made a difference to me.  It was simply a moment in time where I saw an opportunity to bless someone else with kindness.  I could have just as easily purchased doughnuts and coffee for a stranger in the restaurant.  I wasn’t there to debate the legalities of their actions, nor their purpose or intent.  All that was important was that I acted on my heart and did what I felt was the right thing, in the right time.

This random act of kindness is dedicated to Caroline Previdi, age 6, whose neighbor told the Associated Press that “Caroline was always wanting others to smile.”  I can relate.  It really does brighten your day to know you made someone else smile.  I hope there’s an endless supply of pretty sprinkled doughnuts in heaven for this sweet little girl.  I also hope her parents know that her legacy lives on with this simple act of kindness.

Be blessed, my friends, and never let an opportunity pass to bless a strangers.  I promise you will be more blessed in return!


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