kindness activist

kindness activist

Friday, July 13, 2018

Parking Kindness

Matt Pauli is a cool guy.  He is sweet, smart, funny.  Oh, and he is a CLOWN.  Like, a literal real life clown. 

You miiiight not want to call Matt if you have brick work to be done...
Matt clowns at Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.  He works for Healthy Humor, an organization that sends clowns into children’s hospitals around the country (full disclosure:  my sweetheart also works for Healthy Humor – it is a great organization). 

Anyway, recently Matt went to work at the hospital and went out of his way to park in a kind manner.  I don’t think he thought of it in that way, he just thought he didn’t need to get in or out his passenger door, so why not make things easier for other people in the parking garage.  Here’s how he put it, “There are two parking spaces in the garage at Johns Hopkins tightly tucked in between two concrete pillars. When I parked for my clown shift, I put my car as close to the pillar on the passenger side as I could, as I didn't need access to that door.”

There is the first kind action in this story – Matt parked considerately, leaving space for whoever decided to pull in next to him.  When I asked him if he often parked that way, he explained, “…it is as much about trying to minimize the chances that someone will scrape against my car while trying to squeeze into a tight spot as it is about anything else.  I have seen SUVs parked in the spaces between the columns straddling the lines to ensure that no one can attempt to park next to them.  Because of the columns, the spaces are just a little more narrow than standard.  I get very frustrated when I see a single car in two parking spaces.  I was taught that one of the responsibilities of driving is that you have to follow all the rules.  Fitting one car into one space seems like an easy one to follow and failing to do so makes a driver look not only rude but incompetent, in my mind.” 

Yes Matt, that makes total sense.  The rules of the road also apply to the garage, but still, many drivers do not follow them.  But you did, and you went out of your way to squeeze close to the column to let another driver have a wider space.  It might not have felt like you were doing anything special at the time, but honestly you were.  You were being KIND, and really, isn’t that an easy thing we could all do if we took a moment to think when we pull into a parking spot?

But that isn’t the only kind thing that happened…  Matt said, “When I came back at the end of my shift, I saw that someone had left a note on the door of my car. I thought, ‘Oh crap, that’s never good’.  I was afraid that someone had scraped my car trying to get into the space next to me.  I was ready to get very frustrated and angry.  But I was mistaken in that assumption.”


Kind note - simple gestures like this mean a lot
After reading only half the note, Matt really wanted to show it someone.  He rushed to find his co-worker, but she was already pulling out of her space.  So, as he drove home he thought about taking a photo of the note and sharing the story.  Within an hour of posting it on Facebook nearly 100 people had “liked” it or commented.  This simple gesture really resonated with people.

Isn’t that terrific?  Someone took the time to notice, write the note, and put it on his car.  And this was not just a person going grocery shopping – this was a person who was going to the hospital for a family member to get a serious treatment.  Isn’t is so kind that they wrote a note of thanks?  I think Matt expressed it perfectly by saying, There are too many things that can bring us tension. I'm a little in awe that this person chose to express the release of some tension to a stranger.  And that action can serve as an example to me to release some of my own tension."

I am guessing the next time Matt parks at the hospital he will have a smile on his face remembering the blue note...
How many times have you been tempted to (or actually did…) leave a note on a car with a COMPLAINT?  “Thanks for taking up 2 parking spots, jerk!” or “Hmmm, failed driver’s ed, did you??”.  But have you ever taken a minute or two to write a POSITIVE NOTE for someone??  The note the stranger left for Matt now hangs on his refrigerator. 

This story shows two easy ways to be kind – things most of us could do every day if we thought about it:  be a considerate parker, and leave positive notes for people.  Keep a pad of post-its in your glove compartment or backpack to be ready – I dare you! 

Spread a little kindness.  We all know the world could use more of it.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Statue of Kindness

Not gonna lie, I am finding it difficult to see the kindness in the world lately.  There is SO MUCH negativity, so much anger, so much destruction, so much snarkiness.  All of that can be blinding, at least for people who wear their hearts on their sleeves like me. 

So today I am writing a Kindness Activist piece in the hopes that by sitting down and putting my thoughts on "paper" I will be more able to see the KINDNESS that I know is still out there (just hiding from my view).

My cousin Brenda* is one of the kindest people on the planet and often uses her social media to spread information about causes – dogs that are missing, children that are sick, veterans that need help.  Last month she posted something about a statue being stolen from a grave site in Omaha.  And if that isn’t sad enough, it was taken from a CHILD’S GRAVE.  It hurt my heart to think about what that poor family must have thought – they showed up at the grave site for Mother’s Day to find the statue for their little boy was gone.  What kind of mean person does that??

Brayden's grave, with the sweet baseball boy statue before it was stolen
The post had a link to the story on a local news channel:  Local News Story Link

I watched the clip of the story and decided to see if there might be a way to help.  I had a photo of the statue, so I searched online to find a store that might have the same one.  It turned out that Nagel’s Landscaping in St. Paul, Minnesota had it!  I called and they said they could ship it for us.  Of course, it was not a light item to ship, so not cheap. 

Replacement located!  Now how to buy it....
I couldn’t really afford to pay for the statue and shipping myself, so I reached out to friends on social media and in a Facebook group about Kindness.  Before I knew it, we had enough to cover everything!  A complete stranger in the FB group gave a large donation (THANK YOU so much Donna!) and between 7 others we got it all covered. 

Before I could get all of that organized, someone else had gone to the cemetery and replaced the statue with a different one, not quite the same as the one that had been stolen.  Apparently, they cemented it down so that no one could take it (alas, that also means it can’t be replaced with the exact same one that used to be there…).  We decided that even though the grave site now had a new statue, the family might still be happy to get one that looked the SAME as the one that used to be there. 

Replacement ball player, arrived in Nebraska safely!
So, I called the company in Minnesota and they shipped it to my cousin in Nebraska.  She then delivered it to the family, who were overjoyed to get it.  Brenda reported that the mom and her sister cried and hugged her (which is good, as Brenda is an excellent hugger).  The word is that if I get to meet the family the next time I go to Omaha I am scheduled for a hug, too!

The new statue now lives in the family’s garden, where it is a safe and a daily reminder of their little angel. 

Facebook message from the family
This story is a good reminder, to me at least, that even when it feels like the world is full of sadness, if you look hard enough you will see a ray of kindness peeking through.

Thank you note and a photo of the beautiful baby
Be kind.  Please. 

* Here is another Kindness Activist piece featuring my cousin Brenda that I wrote early on in this project.  Like I said, she is super duper kind, and is deserving of many feature articles about her!  83 Pairs of Kindness

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sunscreen Kindness

Steve Phan is an interpreter in the Washington DC area.  You would think that since I also fit that description, he and I would run into each other from time to time.  Alas, we do not, but I enjoy his antics via Facebook very much.  You see, not only is he an interpreter, he is also, as he so aptly tags himself, the #1PageantPhan.  He loves, no, he adores pageants.  He judges them.  He is friends with lots of beauty queens.  He watches and re-watches the national pageants (he buys the DVDs!).  Do you know the people you see in the background of some shots during the Miss America Pageant, the folks seated (or standing and jumping) in the audience waving flags for their favorite beauty queens?  That’s STEVE.  Be sure to tune in to Miss America September 9th, you might catch him in Atlantic City waving a big Maryland flag and grinning from ear to ear.

Here's Steve!  Look for him in the audience of the Miss America Pageant.
Not only is he a Pageant Phan, he is also a super kind person.  For example, he sends his friends greeting cards all the time.  Oh, and Steve doesn’t send the .99 cent Trader Joe’s cards either!  This guy shops for his stationary goods at Papyrus!  (If you haven’t been in a Papyrus, let me just say, they are not for those of us on a budget.)

But the kindness Steve is being recognized for here is not for being nice to pageant contestants.  Nor is it for keeping the US Postal Service in business with mailing cards.  No, it is for sunscreen.  Meet Steve, the Sunscreen Kindness Activist.

Steve is a timeshare owner and recently visited Palm Desert, California for five days. He is a frequent flyer so knows the TSA rules, but tried to buck the system by packing three 5 oz bottles of sunscreen in his carry-on bag. He told me, “I know the restriction is for 3-oz containers, but I was hoping they would let me take 5-oz containers with me. After all, what’s a couple of ounces?”.  Yeah, right Steve.  Of course, the TSA confiscated all of his sunscreen at the airport, forcing him to pop into the Target in Palm Springs to pick up a pack of two 8 oz sunscreens that were on sale.

Steve (I am guessing slathered in sunscreen) at Joshua Tree National Park
The building next to his timeshare was undergoing renovations and Steve watched the construction crew work day in and day out in the above 90-degree temperatures all week.  He used some sunscreen but realized near the end of his stay that he had a whole unopened bottle left.  Having learned his lesson with the TSA, he knew he couldn’t bring the bottle back home with him.  So that’s when he decided to give it to one of construction workers!

He told me, “I saw a construction worker get in his truck. I grabbed the unused bottle of sunscreen and approached his vehicle. He rolled down his window, and I explained that as a timeshare owner, I appreciated the work he and his colleagues did. I said I was leaving the next day, had an extra bottle of sunscreen, and wanted to give it to him.

The worker was shocked and said, ‘For me?’

I said, ‘Yes!’

He then asked, ‘For free?’.  I think he couldn't believe I was not selling it to him.

I responded, ‘Yes, thank you for all the work you do,’ as I gestured towards the building being renovated.

He grinned from ear to ear, accepted my gift, and said he would use it the next day.”

Isn’t that great?  I can just picture the construction worker, staring at Steve holding out the bottle of sunscreen with a big smile on his face.  What a surprise that must have been!  Steve said that he was really glad the sunscreen wouldn’t go to waste, and that the recipient would use it immediately. 

“I have been the recipient of so many kind acts by others that I wanted to pay it forward. I believe there is so much unhappiness in the world that if I can help someone smile with a small act of kindness, then perhaps I can do my part to make the world a better place.”  I totally agree with you there, friend.  Seemingly small acts, like sharing sunscreen, can mean so much to the recipient!

Here's Steve on vacation TAKING A WEBINAR for work. 
Steeeeve - vacation is for resting!
Remember how I mentioned Steve sending cards to his friends?  It turns out that he, like most other Kindness Activists I have interviewed, learned that from his parent.  “My mother, who has since passed away, taught me to do kind things for others. One of my fondest memories of her is watching her pick out the perfect card for a friend. She would take her time pouring through various cards at the store to find the one with just the right sentiment. She often mailed cards to friends just because she was thinking of them. I follow her example, and my work locker is chock full of cards and stationery which I use to write my friends just because.  A few weeks ago, I was missing my mother as Mother's Day was approaching. I decided to mail Mother's Day cards to the many influential women in my life in honor of my mother. It brought me great joy when they e-mailed, texted, and posted on social media about receiving my card.”

I bet your kind gesture made those friends’ Mother’s Days even more special this year.  And what a sweet way to honor your own mom. 

And it turns out that not only does he DO kind things, he JOURNALS about it.  “For my birthday last November, I had asked my husband to give me a copy of a kindness journal I had seen in a museum gift shop. I have been using the journal's prompts to regularly reflect on showing kindness to others and the kind acts others do for me.”  I love that journal!  And I totally agree that taking time to reflect on kindness serves to bring even more kindness into your life.  That’s one of the reasons I started this Kindness Activist project!

Steve's journal - isn't it great??
As he often does online, Steve closed his communication to me with something pageant related.  “One of my favorite quotes is from Miss Canada 1995, Lana Buchberger, who said, ‘Never stop experiencing life. From experience, you learn to grow. By growing, you learn to give. And by giving, you let others experience life.’ “

Thanks for being a shining example of kindness Steve.  You made that construction worker’s day a lot brighter with your gift, and being willing to share your story here reminds us all that sometimes we don’t even need to go very far out of our way to be kind to someone – if we just keep our eyes and hearts open opportunities for kindness are all around.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cooking (and Cultural) Kindness

Have you ever thought of kindness as cultural?  A Kindness Activist I recently met (online) eloquently explained her take on kindness, and after seeing what she had to say, I have been thinking a lot about it!  But I am getting ahead of myself!  First, meet Avanie:

The newest person to be named a Kindness Activist - Avanie!
And now, meet Joanna: 

The lovely Joanna
Joanna is my Facebook friend, a fellow interpreter who used to live in DC but moved to Seattle years ago.  We keep in touch on FB, and a couple of months ago I saw her post this:  There are some amazing people who live in my community. I responded to a neighborhood message that Avanie posted on Facebook several months ago. Her goal is to spread kindness and knowledge about her culture through teaching cooking no cost. She invited 10 (or so) strangers into her home and taught us how to make an Indian comfort food dish. I left happy and wondering how I can pay it forward. Oh, and this was her 6th cooking class!”

A photo from the free cooking class Joanna attended - doesn't it look delicious?
Suffice it to say, the post and the photos piqued my interest!  A neighbor offering free cooking classes to complete strangers definitely fit the title of KINDNESS ACTIVIST!  So, I contacted the teacher, Avanie, and was honestly overwhelmed by her lovely and generous spirit.  The first thing I thought when I read her answers to my questions was, “Wow, I really wish she was my neighbor!!”  But the more I took in what she told me, the more I realized, I had it wrong.  Instead of wanting her to be my neighbor, I wanted to be more like her to MY NEIGHBORS.  

Here are some of the insightful things she told me:

Avanie moved to America in 2008.  She is married to a non-Indian, white American and they have a 4 year old daughter.  As someone who grew up in another culture, I think Avanie can look at America with “fresh eyes”, something we need, to give us all a fresh perspective.  One thing she noticed is this, “I feel our country suffers from a similarity bias.  We don’t want to hear perspectives of people that think any differently than we do.  We cannot achieve anything by siloed thinking.  I want to find common ground, bring people together, to discuss how to positively bridge divides.”  Inspired by one of her daughter’s books, “Same, Same, But Different”, she starting thinking of things that people across all cultures and political persuasions might enjoy.  Common grounds she came up with were; food, music, and art.  She is not artistic, but did learn to cook at age 24 and enjoys it, so she went with FOOD! 

Avanie posted in her neighborhood Facebook group, offering to open her home to teach 10 – 15 people some Indian dishes.  Her first class was April 2017, and she has done at least 6 more since then (plus one bigger class at a different facility).  Around 100 neighbors have taken her cooking classes, and many, many more are on an ever-growing wait list to attend!!  She tries to offer a class every month.  “My cooking classes are focused on Indian food, mostly because I am Indian so I can cook Indian food from memory so it is easier.  I am thinking of expanding these to guest cooks for other cultures to be showcased.”

And lest you think Avanie lives a simple life with loads of free time available to do things like teach strangers to cook, she is busy!  She works, travels, and of course has her own family to tend to as well.  “There will never be enough time or money.  You have to carve it out.  You have to prioritize it.”  She likes the idea that some of the neighbors who have taken her classes are considering starting teaching their own sessions.  That doesn’t surprise me, because I haven’t even been lucky enough to take one of Avanie’s classes but even from across the country I can tell how inspirational she is!

What a beautiful, happy family
When I asked her what the goal is for her classes, the explanation was perfect: “My goal is for neighbors to know each other.  I will think it is successful if I can walk around (my community) and know most of the people.  I want to bump into neighbors at coffee shops and grocery stores.  I believe when you know someone on a personal level your biases and stereotypes about them are busted.  I grew up Hindu in India, but I went to a Catholic school and my close friends were all different religions.  Speaking and writing in four languages fluently was normal.  I believe the next generation that can fluidly transition across a global culture will be successful.  I can offer my multi-racial kid that through culture, language, and travel, but I want to give that to the entire community she is growing up in.  I want to fight the current hate filled political world with kindness.”

Isn’t that the most eloquent explanation of COMMUNITY you have ever heard?  And the brilliance to think beyond her home, beyond her family, into the entire neighborhood, is beautiful.  Because teaching diversity, kindness, and culture in your own home only goes so far. But if the messages of kindness can spread throughout the town, then perhaps our world can begin to change.

“Teaching the classes makes me feel hopeful,” Avanie told me.  “Hopeful that people can embrace diversity regardless of ethnicity.  Did you know in Seattle segregation laws by neighborhood associations which prevented people of color from buying homes were not even illegal until 2005?  People have mistaken me for the gardener and are shocked that I helped pay for half of our home LOL.  It is very uncomfortable living in Seattle as a brown person, but I refuse to self-segregate.  I know it is also uncomfortable for white people when they feel guilt.  I am going to stand my ground and hopefully be an example to people – white, brown, and all other shades – to realize that being uncomfortable is ok.  We need to seek it out.  It is the first step to normalizing our future global world.  We need to stop being so politically correct that we ask no questions in fear of retribution.”

Kindness Activist, cooking teacher, and all-around lovely human being in action!
As with almost every Kindness Activist I have interviewed, Avanie’s kindness is not limited to the action she is being recognized for here.  She hosted a baby shower for neighbors, learned to make Chinese dumplings so that a friend with a new baby did not have to miss out on the treat during Chinese New Year, made food for her dog walker recovering from surgery, surprised a crying neighbor with a pot of chai, and funded her sister’s applications to doctorate programs so that she could become a doctor and work to cure Parkinson’s Disease (which their mom suffers from).  When speaking of these kind acts (and many others), Avanie’s basic philosophy of life came through, “…personally, I would say I do what is right.  Others have told me when I have done things that it is unusually kind, but to me, there is no other way.  I don’t have a “kindness checklist” in my head.  Why kindness isn’t the norm, I have no clue.”

She continued, “I wonder sometimes why the USA is so formal.  I am married to an American, but this cultural difference eludes me.  Why is kindness a “checklist”?  That is so weird to me, why it wouldn’t be impulsive?  I typically force kindness, from what I have gathered, onto my recipients by just saying, “I’m doing it” instead of asking if I can (unless I have never met them).  I wish it would be ok to ask for help.  I ask my neighbors to water my plants or pick up my packages when we travel, and they always do.  My oldest neighbors tell me they are glad we bought this home 2 years ago.  I find it amusing and rewarding.”

Avanie, I bet ALL of your neighbors are glad you bought your home!  You obviously bring much kindness, love, and happiness to your community.  Your story has inspired me to strive to be a better neighbor and try harder to build a more cohesive and understanding community.

“Giving and receiving kindness are both equally important to building a community.  The giver gets a lot more out of it than people realize.  Givers feel accomplished and happy,” she said.  So true.  That perspective reminds me of the funny song in the Broadway show “Avenue Q”, where the characters (puppets) sing, “When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself!”. 

As if she hadn’t already inspired and taught us all enough, Avanie summed things up with, “As humans, the key to happiness is gratitude, and making a difference to someone else’s life.  It need not be more complicated.  Kindness = Happiness.  If you want to be happy, do something for someone else.”

THANK YOU for your inspiration and your kindness, Avanie.  You are indeed a Kindness Activist. 

Bonus photo of more of the tasty food from the cooking class!
P.S. – I must close things out with a hilarious quote from our interview.  I was telling Avanie about my visit to India and the amazing people I met there and things we saw, and she told me (of her kindness), “In India what I do would be normal so maybe it’s less crazy.”  😊

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Thompson Family Kindness

I firmly believe that doing, witnessing, and receiving acts of kindness makes a person’s life better.  When I feel “down”, if I purposely open my eyes and look for kindness, or better yet, go out into the world and do something kind, I cheer up.  I feel more alive.  I feel engaged with society. 

It was in that vein – the spirit of GET INVOLVED, BE KIND, and FEEL GOOD - that I set about organizing a big holiday time kindness! 

I had seen photos going around of people leaving scarves tied to trees and things with little notes telling people to feel free to take them.  So, I decided to do a project like that with my whole family in Omaha. 

First, we needed WARM THINGS TO GIVE AWAY.  To find those, I cleaned out our closets and asked my family to do the same.  I also posted to a neighborhood list serve called “Buy Nothing”* to see if anyone on there had anything they could donate for the cause.  As usual, my fellow “buy nothing-ers” jumped in to help out, and BOY did they help out!  Soon I had piles of coats, scarves, fleece shirts, mittens, hats, and gloves - 109 different items to be exact!**  I washed them all up and packed them in a big box bound for Omaha.  I also printed little tags (written in English and Spanish) – one for each item.  Then we headed for Nebraska, where my sisters and niece added even more items to the collection!

Getting organized with some of the warm items soon to be shared!
This was a project that the whole family could get involved with and help – from the youngest to the oldest.  We thought the tags would be more special if they had drawings on them, so the family artists set about decorating them.  They were lovely!  The drawings made the items feel more like GIFTS to people who needed them than “donations”.   The two oldest family members were in charge of making a hole in each tag and tying on a pretty ribbon.  Those were then pinned to each item.  
Sherry making pretty drawings on cards
Evelyn was in charge of ribbons
Annette making the cards pretty
Table full of artists

My dad was in charge of punching holes

Kemper is a great artist

One of the cards - isn't it sweet?
Jordan attaching tags to items
We picked December 23rd for the giveaways, right before the holidays, and decided on two shifts so that more schedules could be accommodated.  It was a cold day, so we bundled up.  My niece even baked cookies to hand out with the warm clothes (those cookies were a huge hit!!).  We relied on the locals to know some places to leave items.  We wanted to make sure that people who needed them would find them and feel comfortable taking them.

SHIFT ONE - my niece Ashlee, great niece Tallis and 2 great nephews Kemper and Ryker, friend Jeannie,
my nephew Nate, me and my sister Annette (plus David, who was behind the camera)
The giveaway was lovely!!!  We put a super warm fleece shirt and hat (and cookies!) under an underpass that my great-nephew and great-niece had noticed a homeless man living.  We hung items around a big park area downtown.  We put things outside the public library (and handed some things out inside the library, got in a bit of trouble for that…  But hey, the group of homeless teens who got some of our things inside really loved them!).  When we were leaving the library after shift one, we put several items under the Christmas tree.  But when we went BACK to the library on shift two, a librarian returned those things to us and said we were not allowed to leave them there…  Oops! 
Organizing things to give away

Nate, teaching his son Ryker to share and be kind.  I love that all ages got involved!

See Diesel, the dog?  The guys at the shelter
loved him and wanted to keep him :)

The Emergency Shelter was happy to have warm
clothes to share with their clients

That’s ok, we just took them to other spots!  We put some outside a women and children’s shelter.  We put some under a Christmas tree at that shelter and gave some directly to the moms there (who were very appreciative).  We tied a couple things onto an RV that appeared people were living in it. We took items to a big homeless shelter (where Diesel, the chihuahua that came with us, was very popular!).  We left some things in bus stops where we knew people would have to wait in the cold – we put them all over!  It was nice to see that when we were driving around during shift two, we drove by some of the spots we left items earlier in the day and they had already been taken! 

Shift two (minus David, who was behind the camera again...)

We tied warm clothes everywhere 

Sharing is KIND

I am so happy that my family all got involved in this big kindness project.  It felt good to be out in the community.  It felt good to share some warmth on a cold, cold day.  It felt good to be KIND. 

David giving a parking meter a hat :)

Scarves - clean, warm, and FREE
Gloves, free for the taking if you have cold hands

Waiting for the bus can be cold, especially if you are not dressed for the weather. 
We hope that some people who needed extra layers happened on this bus stop.
*Buy Nothing: if you have not joined a Buy Nothing group in your community, check and see if there is one!  Buy Nothing is a group that believes in a SHARED or GIFT economy.  If you have something you do not need, you list it in Buy Nothing and someone who wants it comes and gets it (for free).  It is fabulous!  Freecycle is a similar group.  I highly encourage you to get involved with one or both! 

**We gave out 109 items.  It broke down to:  5 shirts, 1 pair of long underwear, 5 coats, 26 pairs of mittens/gloves, 22 scarves, 20 adult hats, 25 children's hats, and 5 fleece shirts.  :)