kindness activist

kindness activist

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Equality Kindness

Sometimes opportunities to be a kindness activist just show up at the doorstep.  Some people notice them, others don’t.  Ashlee did.  But would you know what to do, could YOU be as amazing an ally as Ashlee is, if you were to make a friend that needed someone in their corner to fight for them??  I think we could all take a KINDNESS LESSON from Ashlee.

This is Ashlee.  She teaches first grade in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ashlee, a Kindness Activist Extraordinaire
She has always been an advocate for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer) equality.  Heck, she has taken her children to march with her in the Pride Parade since they were tots!
Ashlee's kids ready for the Pride Parade when they were little

Ash and her son at last summer's Pride Parade, our theme was mermaids :)

And this is Kyawpah (sounds like Jaw Paw).  She is from a people called Karen, from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma)*. 

Kyawpah, all dressed up for a birthday party
8 year old Kyawpah came to America in 2015 and was lucky enough to end up in Ms. Ashlee’s first grade class in Omaha, Nebraska.  She was a quiet student, probably because she didn’t know English.  And she was often an unhappy student.   Her name on the school roster was not Kyawpah (the name she told them was hers) – there was confusion on the first day of school because they could not find her on the official list.  Then it turned out that there was a MALE name for her on the roster, but she calls herself the female name Kyawpah, because the “pah” part means “flower” in her native language. 

Kyawpah came with her family to the USA from a refugee camp.  She would come to school dressed as a boy, but would tell everyone that she was a girl.  She would sit very quietly in class because she knew NO English.

Ashlee worked through a translator to talk with Kyawpah’s parents.  They explained that ever since she was 2 years old, she had been dressing as a girl at the refugee camp.   They had tried to stop her from dressing that way, but couldn’t.  She would sneak out, steal clothes from other girls, and dress how she wanted to.  Her parents requested that the school “fix Kyawpah in the American way” so that she would stop being a girl.  Ashlee, though the translator, told them that they have a beautiful child, and that she is strong willed, determined and persistent.

Kyawpah would often come to school dressed as a boy (as her parents requested) but then peel off layers to reveal secret girl clothes underneath.  When Ashlee would see her in girl clothing she would make sure to compliment her on how beautiful she looked.  Kyawpah knew NO English, couldn’t speak one word, but she knew which bathroom pass was for the girl’s bathroom and she used it often J.  It almost seems to me like that was one way she tried to explain to those around her what she must have been trying to scream – “I AM A GIRL, I can’t tell you in your language, but please help me, I need someone to  support me.  I am a girl!”  The school thought it would be best if she used the bathroom in the nurses office, but Ms. Ashlee would have none of that and fought for little Kyawpah to be able to use the restroom she most identifies with, the girl’s, and won.

Ashlee quickly recognized that if Kyawpah was allowed to identify as a girl she was a MUCH HAPPIER student.  She would hold her head up, interact with other kids, assimilate into the American culture more, and learn.  She has a little nervous tic that comes out when she is forced to dress as a boy, and she was uncomfortable so would just keep her head down.  Ashlee went back to Kyawpah’s home with the translator and explained that to her parents that their child was HAPPIER and functioned better when she was allowed to be who she is.  This time the parents understood and said that their goal is to have a happy child, so they said that they support the school and Kyawpah and no longer force her to dress as a boy.

As Ashlee puts it, “I looked at her like any other child.  She just truly wanted to be HAPPY.  I need to make a successful environment for ALL children, no matter their gender or sexuality, that doesn’t have anything to do with it.  They are HUMAN BEINGS and I need to provide a safe learning environment for them.  That’s what I did for her, just like I would do for any of my students.”
Ashlee and Kyawpah, who is rocking a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt :)
She now comes to school dressed as who she is, and is not forced to hide her girl clothes under layers to peel off.  She loves painted fingernails, make-up, high heels, and skirts.  She uses the female restroom, loves to hang out with her classmates, and is learning some English. 

From what I have seen, Ms. Ashlee is her best friend at school.  Ashlee has done soooo much for her!  The most obvious, of course, is being her advocate with the school system and the parents.  But Ashlee has gone above and beyond to make Kyawpah feel welcomed and happy.  With the parents’ permission, Ash has taken her shopping for clothes, which she loves!!  I got to meet Kyawpah when she was invited to Ashlee’s kids’ birthday party.  Ash had gotten matching outfits for her daughter Tallis and Kyawpah – it was so sweet.  And Tallis let her friend play with the brand new Barbie make-up doll that she got as a birthday present.  You should have seen Kyawpah’s eyes light up when she brushed that Barbie’s long hair.  J

Kyawpah had to move out of Ashlee’s classroom into a second grade class because of her age, but all of the students in Ashlee’s class love and embrace her.  They don’t understand the concept of transgender, but know and accept their friend as a girl.  They have asked Ashlee if she is a boy or a girl, and Ashlee’s response is that they should ask HER directly, but what she feels in her heart is what she is.

Ashlee in her classroom.  She is an amazing teacher.
Ashlee goes and picks Kyawpah up from her house sometimes and keeps her for a few hours, shopping and playing.  Her parents do not know any English yet but are happy that their child has a friend.  They stand in the window, smiling and waving at Ashlee when she comes over.   And Kyawpah is learning more and more English – she can say her A B Cs and, like most little girls her age, loves to sing “Let It Go”  from “Frozen” (which I imagine she has watched a million times…). 

Ashlee recently spoke at a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)* meeting in Omaha to tell Kyawpah’s story.  It was very well received and I am sure inspired and helped the people who were fortunate to hear it.  I wish that there were PFLAG meetings in the Karen language so that Kyawpah’s parents could meet others who have transgender children and understand that they are not alone.    

I worry about what will happen to Kyawpah when Ashlee isn’t there to be her advocate.  Other schools and teachers may not be as accepting or kind.  My wish is that her parents, who see what a difference this acceptance has made in their child’s life, will fight for her rights.  Ashlee explained, “The hard part is, wherever she goes, on paper, she is a male.  Right now everything is hunky dory, she is fine and happy.  But at some point she will go through puberty…  And when she goes to another school, if they identify her as male, kids might harass her…”.  I hope that the children and adults she meets as she grows up will be open minded and accepting.

“The whole thing was, the school administration wanted us to treat her like a male.  The parents wanted us to treat her like a male.  But she wasn’t going to allow it – bottom line.  She wasn’t allowing anyone to treat her like a male, or call her a male.  Or keep her out of the girl’s bathroom. It wasn’t happening.  So without her strong feelings of knowing in her heart and mind that that is what she was, and being new to an American school and culture, it could have been such a devastating experience for her when she got here if it didn’t go the way it did.  But the kind of sickening thing about it is – people were more concerned about what OTHER PARENTS would say over the child’s well being.  That was disheartening…  Because HER HEART and well being is just as important as somebody else’s.  People said, ‘What if parents call and say that there is a boy in the girl’s bathroom??’…   But the thing, many of us have BEEN in the bathroom when there was a transgender person in there.  A transgendered person doesn’t have a SIGN on them that says ‘I am transgender and I am here to go in the opposite sex bathroom’.  They are doing what is right for them.  It is sad that our world still has so much work to do… ”

Ashlee’s advocacy with school officials and Kyawpah’s parents made a huge difference in that little girl’s life.  She is now happy and able to focus and learn.  Her identity is accepted without question and she can be who she is.  She tried to tell the world since she was 2 years old that she was a girl, and when she happened into Ms. Ashlee’s class someone finally heard.

When I told Ash that Kyawpah was lucky to have found her, she choked up and said, “She is not the lucky one, I am lucky to have found HER.”.  I say, they are both lucky and are a perfect match.  Thank you for being such an advocate for equality, Ashlee.  You are most definitely a KINDNESS ACTIVIST.  Your supportive and kind actions with Kyawpah have made a huge difference in not only HER LIFE, but also her parents’ lives and the other students who see your open heart and mind.

For more information about the amazing group PFLAG, see: PFLAG link
For more information about caring for LGBTQ youth, see HRC’s helpful site:  HRC link
For more information on the Karen people from Myanmar, see Karen/Myanmar link
Bonus photo for anyone who read allllll the way down here to the bottom!
Here is our whole family at the Pride Parade in Omaha, Nebraska - summer 2015.
 Love is definitely greater than hate.  

DO YOU KNOW A KINDNESS ACTIVIST??  Please tell me about them!  Email me at  And click "like" on the Kindness Activist Facebook page, please.  

Clean House Kindness

In November 2011, Felicia was newly separated from her husband.  She had three young kids, a stressful job, and was just starting to learn to navigate “solo” in the world (insert deep breath).  But she also had some super supportive friends who were bound and determined to make this transition easier for her.  Here is what she told me:

Felicia and kids in Disney - she thought THIS was the big event.  Little did she know what was waiting for her back home...
“Despite the challenging times, I had planned a Disney trip for my three kids and me. It was my first big adventure as a single parent. We spent a wonderful week in Florida, during my birthday week  (WINNING!!) and returned home to a most wonderful surprise.  A group of 10-15 of my close friends had gotten together and coordinated a mammoth effort to clean my home and give it a bit of a makeover. They greeted us as we pulled into the driveway.  I had no idea what was in store - I just thought they were welcoming us home with balloons and flowers. But then they proceeded to walk me through the house and show me all of their hard work. It looked like a model home, staged for the real estate market! Every room had been cleaned and re-organized and all of the clutter was gone. And the best part was – there were love notes left in various cabinets and drawers throughout the house, to remind me how loved I was.”

SURPRISE!!  Welcome home to your clean, love filled house!!
Isn’t that an amazing and kind surprise???  Her friends are awesome!!  They were people from all areas of her life - her family (Mom, sister and sister-in-law), sign language interpreter friends new and old, close girlfriends who had been supporting her through the separation, even some friends she had known since elementary school.  They all got together to make her life not only cleaner, but less stressful and more full of love.

When I asked her how the big surprise made her feel, she said, “I was speechless...awed...humbled.  I felt like I had just won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes!  It was like they were standing at my door with a big check for me. I was surrounded in so much warmth, love and support. It was truly the most amazing kindness I had ever experienced.”

Facebook status after the big CLEAN HOUSE reveal :)
I asked Felicia to consider how her friends must have felt after surprising her.  She explained it so well, “When someone is going through a difficult time in life - divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, etc, people often don't know what to do or how to help.  I was at one of the lowest of the low times in my life, and while I knew I had an amazing support system in place, people didn't know what to DO for me.  This was how they could help - they sacrificed their time (and their hands and knees) to scrub my house from top to bottom and make it a warm welcoming place for my kids and I to return to. They wanted to help and they sure did. They showed their love and support. I can only imagine how such a selfless act affected each and every one of them.”

The main premise of this Kindness Activist project is that when we hear about kind things that others do or receive, we are in turned inspired to be kind.  So I wondered if RECEIVING this amazing, generous kindness made Felicia want to “pay it forward” and be kind to someone else.  I was not surprised when she said, “ABSOLUTELY!  Most definitely!”

She says, “While I have always had a giving spirit, I was in a tough spot and really couldn't even take care myself.  But this act of love reminded me that I was going to be ok and that I was strong. It revived me.   There hasn't been another experience in my life that parallels this act of love and kindness in terms of the power it had to lift my spirits and make me feel loved. I am still humbled by the kindness they each contributed to.  And I know today as much as I did then, that I am a lucky girl and that I have some AMAZING people in my life!”

This photo of Felicia and kids captures it perfectly - L O V E.
Well Felicia, I agree with you.  That was an awesome gift of kindness that your friends and family gave you.  Thanks for being willing to share it with us and inspire OTHERS to be kind. 

If YOU have given or received kindness, please tell me about it!  I would love to be inspired by your story.  Email me at .  And “like” Kindness Activist on Facebook!  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Donating Kindness

As I mentioned in a recent entry called "Cashier Kindness", I sort of have a thing for Trader Joe’s.  Last year I reviewed one TJ’s product every single day and went to TJ’s everywhere I feasibly could (I ended up visiting 24 TJ’s stores in 11 states (plus one District J ) (and I am going to Palm Springs soon and have “visit Trader Joe’s on my list of things to do there, of course!).  You can find all of my reviews (and fun photos) at Trader Joe's 365.  Anyway, in many of the stores I have been in, I noticed big signs about Trader Joe’s donating in their communities. 

New York City has a Trader Joe's JUST FILLED WITH WINE, lucky ducks
Trader Joe's Indianapolis

Trader Joe's Columbus, Ohio, I am here to visit you!

I always assumed when I saw the donation signs that they meant the stores donated things like bananas about to go off, or dinged up cans of corn.  But I decided that maybe I should go talk to someone at a Trader Joe’s store to get the details about what all this DONATING they do really is.  

If I had paid attention and really READ this sign when I saw it in Ohio I would have
understood more about Trader Joe's donations!!

Check it out - this is the donation sign at the store on U Street in Washington DC!  20,000 MEALS, folks!!
I started my questioning at the location we usually go to at Bailey’s Crossroads (Northern Virginia) but the guy working at the customer service stand was totally not into it.  He was bored, a bit stand off-ish, and really just didn’t have that whole Trader Joe’s vibe goin’ on…  He basically told me they donate because it is a corporate initiative and they give things that are non-sellable (approaching the sell by date, cracked, or open). 

Well, I wasn’t gonna let that one duddy employee spoil my view of TJ’s donating.  I knew there had to be more to the story, so I kept hunting.  This time I went to the Clarendon, Virginia store and talked with KIM, who was fabulous.  Kim GETS IT and was more than happy to talk with me about all the good that Trader Joe’s does in the communities where they are located!

Oh sure, parking is sort of weird at the Clarendon Trader Joe's, but once you get in they are WELCOMING!  :)
First off, check out this number:  in 2014 TJ’s Clarendon donated $412,748 worth of goods!  That is a LOT!  And Kim is really very hopeful that when the 2015 numbers are all tallied they will come in even higher.  Trader Joe’s corporate has a term for this donating, they call it NEIGHBORS SHARE.  And TJ’s Clarendon shares A TON!!  Basically they give away anything you see at the store – flowers, items like meat that are almost at their sell by date (which is different than “use by” dates some other stores have), dented cans, bananas that are still perfectly good but have a couple spots on them, fresh bread like baguettes at the end of the day, bags of things that might have gotten ripped (which they re-wrap to close but cannot sell), and the thing I found most interesting; EGGS!!  At TJ’s they are super careful about checking your eggs.  When they ring up your items they open your egg carton and make sure none are cracked.  If an egg is cracked, they ring a bell and someone rushes up a new carton of eggs for you.  But I never stopped to wonder, “Gee, what are you going to do with the carton that now has 11 good eggs and 1 cracked one?”.  Turns out what they do is DONATE that carton!  Because when you think about it, minus your one cracked one, that is 11 perfectly good eggs! 

A SERIOUSLY KIND STORE - Trader Joe's Clarendon (Northern Virginia)
So, all of these perfectly good but unsellable items are boxed up.  Things that need to be cold are placed in special refrigerators.  It is all really organized.  Then, twice EVERY DAY, an organization called Celestial Manna comes and picks up everything.  I had never heard of Celestial Manna, but check out their website, they look amazing!! Celestial Manna Website    They then take everything back to their main location, where they go through and sort it!  They then donate the items to several charities that help people like Veterans, victims of human trafficking, homeless shelters, a battered women’s shelter, and senior citizens.  So by the Clarendon Trader Joe’s giving everything to one centralized clearing house, it actually reaches many, many different organizations and helps loads of people!!!! 

Kim explained that each TJ’s location chooses who they will Neighbor Share with and that she is really happy with the arrangement her store has with Celestial Manna.  She said that they are great about coming in to pick everything up and are doing so much good in the community. 

Celestial Manna is a terrific partner - getting food and other donations where can best help people who need them
So THAT is the type of donating I always thought Trader Joe’s must do.  But Kim explained that there is actually even MORE. 

They also give things to non-profits and charities on request.  Groups like churches, schools, and others send in letters to their local TJ’s and explain what they are looking for.  Kim said her store has given pumpkins to schools, things for the usher recognition at the Kennedy Center, items to churches, and even things for the Folklife Festival (which is a huge event in our area).  She said they often make up bags or baskets of items to give to organizations.  For example, let’s say your child’s PTA is having a silent auction.  Contact your local TJ’s and ask if they can help out!  Their donation coordinator will most likely give you a smile and a gift bag to auction off!  Kim said each store varies in how many donation requests they get, but she and her teammates work hard to fill them! 

A sweet thank you note from someone who received a donation

Some groups who receive donations are so thankful that they send in original artwork as a thank you!!  :)

So I always knew Trader Joe’s was cool.  I knew they have good products at cheap prices and are friendly and make me feel at “home” in their stores.  But I didn’t know they were so KIND.  Now that I learned how much they give back to the communities they are in through their Neighbor Share program, I am even happier to give them my grocery shopping dollars. 

The "Gives Back to the Community" board at the Clarendon store

Thanks for being a corporate Kindness Activist, Trader Joe’s.  What you give back to the world is appreciated.

Do you know a Kindness Activist, be it a person or a company, that I should feature??  Please tell me about them!  Send me an email at: .  And while you are at it, “like” Kindness Activist on Facebook, would ya?  J

Friday, March 18, 2016

(Little Free) Library Kindness

Have you ever been taking a walk and come across a tiny wooden LIBRARY in a neighbor’s yard??  I have, and boy was I was intrigued!  I went up and checked it out and learned that they are called “Little Free Libraries”.  They are an amazingly kind trend that has spread all across the country, actually, around the WORLD!!  As of January 2016 there were over 36,000 registered Little Free Library book exchanges – some in every single state in the USA and also in 70 other countries!!!

“Just what ARE Little Free Libraries (LFLs)??” you ask.  Well, first off they look like this:

Classic, simple, elegant

Or this:

Color, wild, and zany

And one of the ones in my neighborhood looks like THIS:

BEAUTIFUL and matches the house!
They are small (usually) wooden repositories for BOOKS of all kinds.  The LFL librarians (also known as stewards) keep them stocked.  And here is the best part – the books are not to LEND, they are to TAKE!  So it is neighbors sharing books with neighbors!!  Isn’t that fabulous??  They function on the honor system – so if you take a book today, it sure would be nice if you brought back a book (or 2 or 3) the next time you are in the neighborhood.  J

Ever since I saw a LFL a couple of years ago I have thought it would be awesome to have one.  We live in an area with a lot of walking traffic and I think if we put up a LFL it would have a lot of users!  Alas, real LFLs do not come cheap…  The most inexpensive one on the website is $149, and if you spend any amount of time perusing the choices of LFLs you will undoubtedly decided you “need” one of the fancier models.  I mean, just LOOK at the “Modern Two Story”!!  

Isn't this a cool design??
The official website explains that it is understood that not everyone can afford to purchase a “real” LFL and makes some great suggestions about repurposing other items and turning them into free libraries.  I may do that someday.

But in the meantime, I am lucky to have a few LFLs within walking distance of my home, so I decided to contact Michael Rhode, a LFL “librarian”,  to learn about why he has a LFL in his yard.  Here is what he told me:

Michael's LFL in the snow!
“First, one has to be a booklover. That leads one down all kinds of paths.  I had read about them (LFLs) in the Washington Post, and thought they were interesting. A few months later, I needed an idea for Christmas so I bought one for a family gift for Christmas 2013. The family may not have completely agreed with the thoughtfulness of the gift. My daughter and I painted it and opened it up in February 2014.  Now that it is up and running I do most of the upkeep and swapping out of the books when something is just not moving. My wife arranges the books so people can actually tell what's in the library.”

Michael and his daughter painting their LFL
When I asked him how having the LFL makes him feel, he told me, “Well, selfishly, it's a way to see new books that other people put in, and to move on books that I don't want. Also, everybody knows it as an Alcova Heights (Arlington, VA) landmark now. In the end though, I love books, and love sharing them, and can't bear to see unwanted books, so it's a feeling of satisfaction.”   

I was curious if users of the LFL left him thank you notes, and he said that they do not, but that many people thank him in person.  And when I asked him to speculate on how his library makes the people who benefit from it feel, he said, “Most people seem to think it’s right neighborly”.  J  I say, if you are lucky enough have a LFL that you frequent in your neck of the woods, take a moment to write or draw a little thank you and put it in the library! 

I wondered how much WORK it would take to run a LFL, and he assured me that once you build one and get it all in the ground, there is not a lot involved.  He explained that the things you have to focus on most are “overflow” – i.e. having TOO MANY books for your library, and having books get “stale”.  He gives stale books to our local county library for their annual sale.

Rain, snow, or sun - the LFL is a good addition to the neighborhood
Of course, since he is so involved in the library, I had to ask him what his favorite book is, right?  He told me, “I read so much that I don't have a favorite book anymore I'm afraid. I'd recommend “The Art of Richard Thompson” of which I'm an editor. As a teen, my favorite was Roger Zelazny's five-volume fantasy story “The Chronicles of Amber”, and that still has a place in my heart.”

I think purchasing, putting together, installing, and RUNNING a LFL for your community is an act of kindness.  It shares not only books, but joy with the neighborhood, free of charge!  But Michael doesn’t look at his library as a kindness.  He said, “Well, I don't really consider it kindness, but it's fun and it makes people happy. Anyone who likes to have a nice chat about reading with someone new on a sunny day should consider putting a LFL up. I love to find a new one, and will often go out of my way to stop by and check them out.”

Thanks for helping the neighborhood have things to read, Michael!  And maybe you have inspired some others to put up a LFL in their yard!!  If you want to learn more about LFLs or see where you can find one near you, visit:  Little Free Library website

Michael, thanks for making Arlington a better place.  You might not look at your LFL as an act of kindness, but I sure do.  I say you are a Kindness Activist!!  Thanks for having a positive impact on our community.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Flat Tire Kindness

This is my dad. 

Dad on the beach on Sanibel Island, FL
He showed me one of the earliest examples of kindness that I can remember.

When I was growing up, our Christmas tradition was to celebrate Christmas EVE at my paternal grandparents’ house, Christmas MORNING at our house, and Christmas AFTERNOON at my maternal grandparents’ house.  We all lived in the same town, Omaha, so it was possible to celebrate 3 Christmases over the course of a 24 hour period.

Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa Thompson's house circa the early 1970s
One year my dad and I were out rushing about late in the afternoon on December 24.  I am not sure what we were doing, I can’t recall, but if I had to guess I bet we were getting a last minute gift from him to give to my mom.  J  I remember going with him when I was little to a store called Younkers at Center Mall and he would tell a sales clerk Mom’s favorite color (pink) and size and she would pull together an entire outfit – pants, sweater, jacket, scarf – and put it in a big box with pretty tissue paper for Christmas.  So I am guessing that this December 24th outing with just the 2 of us was one of those secret gift getting expeditions.

Dad at our house for Christmas, 1970 (see the little rocking chair in the background?  I still have that!)
What I DO remember about the outing was us in the car on the way home and coming across someone with a flat tire.  It had already turned dark, which meant that we were actually due at Grandma and Grandpa Thompson’s house to eat dinner and open gifts.  Other cars were rushing by the car stranded on the side of the road with the flat tire, but my dad PULLED OVER.  I remember thinking that we did not have TIME to help, but Dad said that indeed we did, that in fact we NEEDED to help this person.  They were probably trying to rush to some holiday event, too, and needed assistance.

So we stopped.  And he got out and helped them change their tire.  And we were late for the Christmas Eve celebration, but the world did not stop turning because of it.

In fact, the world got just a tiny bit better.  Because I learned the lesson from my dad that sometimes you need to sacrifice a bit, put yourself out some, to be kind and help someone else.  And that being kind mattered more than sitting down in time for dinner or opening a pile of gifts. 

Dad holding me - 1966.  He had great hair then, didn't he?
It sounds corny, but that lesson was a great Christmas present.  I don’t think I ever thanked him for teaching me by example that night, and I doubt he even remembers it, but I sure do.  THANKS DAD.  I think of you changing that flat tire often when I see someone who needs help and for a fleeting second I wonder if I should be the one to pause my life and offer assistance. 

My wedding day - hug from Dad

At Dad's birthday party

Thanks for the lesson, Dad.  I love you.

Old time Christmas with my mom and dad.  That outfit was probably the one he gave her the Christmas before!!
This is exactly the type of outfit I remember him getting for her.

One last Dad photo - with a huge halibut he caught in Alaska!!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Blooming Kindness

I escaped to the United States Botanic Garden this afternoon.  If you are ever in Washington DC on a cold winter day, THIS is a perfect escape.  It is warm and full of bright, blooming, beautiful flowers and amazing plants.  I happened to show up at just the right time of year, too, it is ORCHID SEASON at the Botanic Garden!  Nothing could be prettier.

Don't you agree that being surrounded by flowers like these makes for a great place to sit and write?
Nature has some lovely colors in her pallette

I brought my laptop with the plan of sitting among the flowers and writing up a piece or two for this Kindness project.  Little did I know I would witness a Kindness Activist in action!!  As I was sitting and writing, a volunteer walked by.  I looked up and made eye contact with Susan (who has the same name as me!), who had picked up an orchid bloom that had fallen off the plant.  She showed it to me and it was absolutely gorgeous. Then she GAVE IT TO ME!  What luck! 

I could sit and stare at orchids all day long...
That action, plus her smile, and the fact that her name tag told me she was a VOLUNTEER and not an employee, made me realize that I might have just met a Kindness Activist!!  So of course I asked if I could talk with her about this project.

Susan told me that she has volunteered at the Botanic Garden for 5 – 7 years.  She comes in once a week and talks with visitors.  Usually she is in charge of talking about cacao (which is an amazing tree!) but now because it is orchid time, orchids are her subject.  

This is the cacao tree, Susan's normal subject to explain to visitors
As we were talking a woman and her son (who looked to be about 11 or 12 years old) came up and Susan talked with them about the banana tree (which she taught them is not a tree at all – it is an HERB!  What looks like the trunk is actually LEAVES and if you were to cut a banana tree trunk, you would not see “rings” like you would with trees).  She explained that banana plant so well and made it so interesting that even the pre-teen boy was totally engaged!  J  She also visited with some other people about the garden in general and orchids.  And then she took time to talk about kola nuts to a visitor.  She is a very welcoming person and a great ambassador for the Botanic Garden!

This is the banana "tree" Susan explained about.  Isn't it so exotic looking???
When I asked her why she chose to volunteer at this particular place, she explained that she used to live in Baton Rouge and was a Master Gardener there.  She was going to do the Master Gardener program in DC when she moved here, but decided to take the training to volunteer at the Garden instead.  She ALSO is a volunteer docent at the Kreeger, a DC Art Museum (her background is in Art History).  And there is one MORE – she also works with children who are behind on their grade level reading at Garfield Elementary School in DC!  She goes to the school and helps them read.

You heard that right, she volunteers at THREE different places.  We sat and calculated the number of hours that she spends each month volunteering, and we tallied around 26 hours.  Isn’t that amazing generosity?  She said the secret to her volunteering is that she LOVES everything she volunteers for – plants, art, and reading.  Her passion for the subjects mean the volunteering is fun!

Susan talking to a visitor about the Botanic Garden.
When you think about it, we ALL have knowledge or a passion about SOMETHING that we could share with others.  And really, we all have TIME.  Granted, some of us have stressful, time consuming jobs or children/elders to take care of, but if we really examined our lives, I bet we ALL HAVE SOME TIME available that we could use to volunteer.  Maybe we couldn’t volunteer as much as Susan, but she could definitely be an inspiration to the rest of us.  What about volunteering an hour every month?  One hour every month giving back to the community.  Maybe serving food at a homeless shelter.  Maybe helping at a local library.  Or maybe, like Susan, being a docent at an Art Museum.  The point is just to be an active part of the community we live in and give back.

Another gorgeous orchid
P.S. – as we sat and talked more, when Susan mentioned that she gives an hour long tour of the Botanic Garden every week, I realized that I recognized her!!  I have been on her tour before!  And I learned a lot.  Thanks for talking with me today, Susan, and thanks for the tour a couple years ago.  You are a terrific Kindness Activist.  I promise I will be back to the Botanic Garden and I will bring visitors with me.  J

Do you know a Kindness Activist I can feature?  Tell me about them.  Email me at: .  

To learn more about the US Botanic Garden see here
To learn more about the Kreeger Museum where Susan is a docent, see here