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Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

Photo: Sharon Elin
The Busy Box that John Adams of Bedford, Virginia, made for someone he didn’t know.

Today’s story is about the kindness of one stranger. But something I especially like about it is that it’s also an example of more than one person making the kindness happen. For the woodworker in Virginia to make something that an Alzheimer’s patient in North Carolina would enjoy, it required the patient’s sister to think up the idea and put out a request to the Reddit universe.

Cathy Free reported the story at the Washington Post. “John Adams has been anxious lately. The nuclear engineer and his wife brought home their newborn son shortly before the pandemic started, and working from home has been challenging.

“For stress relief, Adams, who lives in Bedford, Va., likes to scroll through social media looking at woodworking projects, and one of his favorites places is Reddit, where there’s a community dedicated to woodworking. About a month ago, a post jumped out at him.

“ ‘Are there any craftsmen here who would be willing to make a shallow cabinet for me so I can create a “busy box” for my brother with Alzheimer’s?’ it read.

“The poster, Sharon Elin of Mechanicsville, Va., near Richmond, explained that she hoped to attach several kinds of latches and hooks on the doors to provide her brother with something to fiddle with and engage his mind. Her brother had become more frustrated lately and had been wandering around his two-acre property in North Carolina.

“Adams, 31, knew right away that he was the person for the task. … He agreed to make the box, then he stayed awake in bed for hours that night coming up with a design for it.

‘I thought, “I can’t pass this up — it seems like fate,” ‘ said Adams. … ‘I had plenty of scrap wood waiting to be used in my shop.’

“After consulting on Reddit with Elin, Adams spent a weekend in his shop building a polished pine busy box. As he worked, he kept in mind Elin’s brother, a retired chemistry teacher he’d never met, hoping the box would engage him and bring him joy.

“Elin had mentioned that fidget lap quilts with buttons, pockets and zippers can help keep people with dementia busy and give them something to do with their hands when they become agitated. She said she’d noticed that as her brother’s memory loss progressed, he became more restless and could spend hours doing the same tasks repeatedly, often old habits, such as folding towels or arranging bird feeders on the porch.

“ ‘That’s when I started thinking that maybe a busy box would help,’ Elin said. … ‘He’s always loved tools and tinkering with things, and I thought he’d enjoy something that had hardware on it instead of some of the lap cloths I’d seen with zippers and Velcro,’ said Elin, 65.

“ ‘I could envision a “busy box” in my mind, but I had no idea how to make it myself,’ she said. …

“She and Adams messaged on Reddit about her idea, then he designed a box that he thought [her brother, Chad] Chadbourne would appreciate. … ‘Sharon initially said she wanted a cabinet, but then we agreed that something lightweight was better,’ he said. …

“ My wife’s grandmother is going through dementia right now, and my grandmother passed away from it about six years ago,’ he said. ‘I know that she would have enjoyed something like this. I thought about her a lot when I went into the shop to work on the box that weekend.’

“Adams said it took him about 10 hours to make and put the finishing touches on the busy box. Then on Sunday, he arranged to meet Elin in a store parking lot in Lynchburg, about 30 minutes from his house. Elin arrived with the latches she’d bought for the project, and Adams brought along his drill and attached them.

” ‘He put them on right there on the spot,’ Elin said. ‘I’m so appreciative of what he did for my brother. He didn’t want to accept payment. … It’s really been heartwarming.’ …

“Over the summer, Kathryn Chadbourne took [Elin’s brother] to a gerontologist. Tests revealed that he had middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease. …

“Before he lost his memory, Chadbourne had a small day lily flower farm that he’d started as a hobby on his property, and he carried a pair of clippers everywhere in his pocket, she said. As Alzheimer’s took hold and he began cutting flowers repeatedly, her sister-in-law replaced the clippers with a set of pliers to help keep him safe.

“ ‘It became important for him to have those pliers in his pocket,’ Elin said. ‘Being outdoors on his farm was calming and took him back to something he enjoyed doing.’ …

“Several people on Reddit told Adams how much they admired what he did — one called it ‘some Mr. Rogers-level kindness’ — and a few told their own stories of relatives with Alzheimer’s.

“Adams responded that Elin ‘caught me in a rare period where I had finished everything on my wife’s honeydo list for the year but still had some warm-weather months left and was itching for another project. Came across B’s post while doomscrolling reddit and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help!’ …

“ ‘We’re going through a stressful change, so this kindness is coming at the perfect time,’ Kathryn Chadbourne said. ‘My husband has always loved to do things with his hands. It’s perfect.’ ”

Here’s the follow-up on Reddit.

“A while back I posted on the woodworking subreddit for advice on finding or building a box I envisioned for my brother in the mid-stages of dementia — something he could fiddle with that was ‘masculine’ with hardware. Other Alzheimer’s busy toys are often geared toward feminine objects (such as a lap cloth with zippers, velcro, buttons, and furry textures). A big shoutout to u/vtjadams for volunteering and taking the time & materials to build this awesome unit!! I’m overwhelmed with admiration for his talent and gratitude for his helpfulness!”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: RVshare
RVs4MDs is a volunteer group that has been matching altruistic recreational vehicle owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing during the pandemic.

I’m grateful to people who witness some kindness in our troubled world and let the rest of us know about it so we don’t lose all faith in humanity. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t even matter how few people are involved in the example, just that there is a kindness plant growing somewhere.

At the Boston Globe, Leila Philip wrote recently about something her neighbor signed up to do.

“The text from my neighbor had come at 5 a.m., ‘Mother passed yesterday evening.’ … My neighbor had been caring for her mother, who had dementia for many years, and for the past three weeks she had been keeping vigil, not leaving the house and living mostly on oatmeal. When I offered to make her a rhubarb crisp, she answered emphatically, ‘Yes!’

“As I pulled into her driveway, I was startled to see an enormous motor home. Even more startled when my neighbor popped out, broom in hand. Was she already planning a trip?

“ ‘You didn’t know I had this, did you?’ she said, taking the still-warm crisp. Then she explained that she’d been waiting for an opportunity to list her Coachman with RVs4MDs, a volunteer group that was matching RV owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing.

My neighbor had just lost her mother, but there she was, cleaning her expensive motor home so she could loan it to someone else whose life had been upended by COVID-19. …

“Rvs4MDs began when two women in Texas saw a concrete way to help others. Within a week of their putting up their Facebook page, hundreds of people had joined as volunteers. … They have matched 1,500 RVs with nurses, doctors, EMTs, and paramedics. …

“Said Holly Haggard, one of the founders. ‘It has brought hope to so many.’ Her cofounder, Emily Phillips, agreed, ‘We didn’t realize it when we started, but in addition to helping medical workers, we were building a community. Nobody brings their politics to the group.’ …

“Barbara Ludwig is a professor of nursing with a specialization in critical care. An Air Force veteran, she did not hesitate when the call came in April to work in a COVID-19 unit, but she had a problem: Members of her immediate family were high risk, and she feared bringing the virus home and infecting them.

“Barbara was in the middle of searching for an affordable hotel room when she learned about Rvs4MDs. She posted about her situation and Krystal Muci responded, offering to loan her 42-foot-long motor home. Within days, Krystal and her husband had not only driven their RV to Barbara’s house outside Kansas City (a three-hour drive), but had found an electrician to do the needed electrical work and complete the hookup.

“When Barbara got off shift and walked into the RV, she found a gift basket and a poster of photographs of her family that Krystal had made. …

“ ‘Knowing someone had cared enough to do this for me, it brought tears to my eyes,’ said Barbara, ‘and it allowed me to focus on taking care of patients because I knew my family was safe. In my work as a critical care nurse I am used to dealing with mortality, but the amount of loss that was happening every day … it took a toll on me that I was not prepared for.’ …

“Now that we are six months into the pandemic, the unprecedented emotional toll it has had on the mental health of caregivers and health care workers has begun to emerge. Preliminary studies in Italy show that over one-half of health care workers there suffered some form of PTSD. …

“More than 192,000 Americans are dead of COVID-19. [Meanwhile] ordinary Americans like my neighbor and the many volunteers at Rvs4MD show how we can prevail — when we remember our American tradition of lending a hand, the transformative power of kindness.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Jen Andonian and Matt Shearer, both epidemiologists, recently got married at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Many group events are being put off because of the war against coronavirus, but recently I’ve been learning how weddings, Passover feasts, funerals, conferences, and the like are probably managed in other kinds of war.

Here are two wedding stories from the Boston Globe.

Liz Kowalczyk reports on Jen Andonian and Matt Shearer, who “had it all planned: her burgundy floral dress, his matching checked tie. They live in Cambridge, but chose Ann Arbor, Mich., where they met as graduate students, for their simple courthouse wedding ceremony in March with immediate family. A reception for 75 guests would follow the next day at her parents’ lakeside restaurant.

“Then the fast-moving coronavirus began spreading through the world — and the United States. Andonian and Shearer, both epidemiologists on the frontlines of COVID-19 — she at Massachusetts General Hospital, he at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — knew they could not ignore the risk of a large celebration. …

“When she told her coworkers at the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine the next day, a colleague joked: What about just getting married at the hospital? Her co-workers turned the offhand remark into an actual plan, executed in the midst of exhausting 12-hour workdays.

During quick breaks from setting up coronavirus testing sites and expanding intensive-care units, team members ordered flowers and vanilla cupcakes and devised a music playlist. Nurse Eileen Searle applied for a one-day state certificate to perform a marriage ceremony. …

“On Friday, Andonian, 30, and Shearer, 36, were married before a small group of disaster medicine colleagues, all wearing surgical masks and sitting six feet apart to prevent the spread of germs, as the sun streamed in from the windows high in the light-blue dome. It was a welcome but brief break amid the relentless arrival of patients ill with a relentless virus; the number of patients sick enough with COVID-19 to be admitted to Mass. General had more than doubled over the course of the week, to 61 on [March 27] alone.

” ‘This may not have been the wedding you wanted, but it is clearly the wedding MGH needed,’ began Searle, whose job includes training nurses to properly put on protective gear. ‘Thank you.’ …

“When they told their families about the plan to marry at the hospital, Andonian said they had mixed feelings. ‘Everyone was sad, but after seven years, they were ready for us to get married,” she said. …

“The couple arrived about 15 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., walking past a long table outside the Ether Dome set with cupcakes to share, a cake for them to take home, tiny colorful containers of bubbles, and a gift bag hiding a bottle of champagne. ..

“As Andonian waited in the hallway, Shearer stood between a white plaster statue of Apollo and a glass case containing an Egyptian mummy, part of a small collection of artifacts [in the MGH museum].

” ‘You ready?’ Searle asked.

” ‘Let’s do it,’ he said.” More.

Another Globe story detailed how a photographer that a couple had never met was determined to put together all the traditional pieces so that a soldier could “elope.”

Megan Johnson writes of bride Victoria Pass, “ ‘If you still want to get married, I definitely want to get married,’ said Victoria. ‘We gotta figure this out.’

“The couple decided they’d wed at Chicopee City Hall. But with none of their family and friends in the area, Victoria wanted to have a photographer capture the moment. They started making phone calls, and stumbled upon Dani Klein-Williams, a Northampton-based photographer.

‘They said they were just planning a very quick, no-frills elopement at Chicopee City Hall,’ said Klein-Williams. ‘I was like, “Okay, can you give me two hours? I’m gonna put something even more spectacular together for you.” ‘

“Klein-Williams called Blantyre, the Tudor-style Relais & Châteaux property in Lenox, Mass. … Within two hours, she got approval from Blantyre, which was already shut down for their annual winter closure. …

“Next, Klein-Williams called her favorite wedding planner, Tara Consolati, who also happens to be ordained. Though she had never performed a ceremony before, she was on board to officiate. Carolyn Valenti, a Berkshires-based florist, offered up a blend of snapdragons, hyacinth, and other blooms. ‘She said, “I have all these gorgeous flowers and they’re just going to rot and die,” ‘ said Klein-Williams.

By the end of the conversation, she discovered that Valenti had a house guest who could bake. Without her baking equipment on hand, however, they dumped the contents of an oversize can of tomatoes, sterilized the can, and used that as a frame for a small wedding cake, topped with berries and flowers.

“[Klein-Williams next] … reached out to Mike Murray of Summer Wind Wedding Films, who volunteered to live stream the event, so Victoria and Jerrod’s family and friends could follow along.” More.

Oh, the kindness of strangers!

Photo: Dani Klein-Williams
Victoria and Jarrod Pass eloped in the Berkshires after having to cancel their 60-guest wedding in Las Vegas. A photographer they hadn’t met, Dani Klein-Williams, was determined the couple should have all the traditional features of a wedding.

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Photo: Mevan Babakar
Years ago, a 5-year-old Kurdish refugee received a bike from a kind man in the Netherlands. Recently, Mevan Babakar, now an adult, tracked down the man known only as Egbert to express her lasting gratitude.

As we break our hearts over what is happening to today’s Kurdish refugees, it may be time for a story about the beauty that can occur when refugees are treated with respect and compassion. The story is also about the good side of social media.

Megan Specia reported at the New York Times in August, “Memories of a brand new bicycle — and the mystery man who gave it to her when she was a 5-year-old in a Dutch refugee center — have played out as vignettes in Mevan Babakar’s mind for most of her life.

“Ms. Babakar, now 29, said the generous gift from a man whose name she couldn’t remember had shaped her childhood. On Tuesday, she suddenly found herself reunited with the man whose face had flickered through her memories for more than two decades.

“And it all began on Twitter.

“ ‘I was a refugee for 5 yrs in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike. My five year old heart exploded with joy,’ Ms. Babakar wrote in a post on Twitter, before pleading with the internet to help her track him down.

“The photo she shared — a fading snapshot of the man that her mother had kept — was among a handful of belongings they had from that time. When he gave her the bike, she said, it made a lasting impact.

‘I remember feeling so special. I remember thinking that this is such a big thing to receive, am I even worthy of this big thing?’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘This feeling kind of became the basis of my self-worth growing up.’

“She and her parents fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish population in the early 1990s, which included a gas attack on a village near their home. Their journey took them to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia — where her father stayed behind to work for the next four years — and eventually to the Netherlands. …

“Ms. Babakar took a sabbatical from her technology job in London this summer to retrace the journey, and visited Zwolle to spend a few days attempting to piece together her scattered impressions of her time there. … While there, she wrote a Twitter post that she described as a ‘last-ditch attempt’ to learn more about the man who had struck up a friendship with her and her mother, and gave her the bike.

“Within hours, Arjen van der Zee, who volunteers for a nonprofit news site in Zwolle, saw the photo and recognized the man.

“ ‘I looked at the picture and immediately knew this guy who I had worked with in my early twenties,’ said Mr. van der Zee. … Mr. van der Zee made contact with the man’s family on social media, and they put the two in touch.

“ ‘He started to tell me that he remembered Mevan and her mother,’ Mr. van der Zee said. ‘He said he always told his wife, if there were people he wanted to see again in his life it was Mevan and her mother.’

“They quickly scrambled to arrange a meeting with Ms. Babakar, who was due to travel back to London in the coming days. …

“ ‘He was, I guess, equally overwhelmed,’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘It was like seeing a family member that you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was really lovely.’ …

“Ms. Babakar was ‘incredibly humbled’ that her story had resonated with so many people around the world — both fellow refugees and those who just felt touched by the tale. … ‘I think it’s really easy for people to forget or to feel really powerless in the face of these big, abstract problems that we hear about all the time,’ she said. “It’s really a comfort to remember we are all very powerful in the way that we treat others. Especially in the small acts, we are powerful.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Michael Falero
Seventh graders Daelyn Brown and Elaina Grady with their teacher, Justin Parmenter, at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, NC. After a traumatizing shooting at a nearby school, Parmenter launched an activity called Undercover Agents of Kindness. The results speak for themselves.

Like you and me, the folks of WNYC radio have noticed a certain lack of emphasis on kindness in the public sphere. Recognizing that there are always people reaching out to others somewhere, they decided to track down those obscure acts of kindness and feature them on the air. The station’s series taps the knowledge of listeners, who provide leads.

From WNYC: “We expect schools to prepare students by teaching them math and science and reading and writing. But what about teaching kindness?

“Justin Parmenter, who teaches Language Arts to seventh graders at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, decided to try. After a deadly school shooting at a nearby high school rocked the campus, he launched Undercover Agents of Kindness, an activity designed to gets his students out of their social bubbles and doing good deeds for each other.”

He writes at his blog: “I’d already been thinking a lot about the decline in positive interactions in our society and how we might more effectively teach character in our schools. … An adult simply talking about character or modelling positive behavior does not often lead to the changes we want to see in our children. There had to be a more impactful approach. …

“To increase interaction between students who did not normally talk to each other, I had students draw a random classmate’s name from a bowl.  After they drew names, I was shocked to hear some of them had no idea who the other person was –- even after being in class together for two months and in many cases attending the same school for years. Students had two weeks to perform an unexpected act of kindness for the other person and complete a written ‘mission report’ detailing what they did and how it went.

“Soon I began to see encouraging sticky notes on lockers in the hallway. Batches of homemade cupcakes and bags of leftover Halloween candy made their way onto desks in my classroom, as did origami, inspirational quotes, and hand-drawn portraits.  I heard compliments exchanged about all kinds of things. Students I’d never seen together started offering to carry each other’s books and musical instruments to the next class.  As the mission reports started trickling in, I read accounts of children studying together, inviting others to sit together at lunch, helping others put football equipment on at practice.

“However, it was my students’ reflections on the kindness activity that revealed its impact most.

Again and again they acknowledged that it was difficult and felt awkward to approach someone they didn’t know well and do something for them.  But almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves for doing it anyway and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”

WNYC interviewed the teacher with two of those students.

” ‘I always thought that people would just reject me if I ever started talking to them, but the truth is if you branch out, you’d be surprised at how nice people can be,’ Waddell student Daelyn Brown, 12, says of the kindness activity.

” ‘When someone does something kind for you or you do something kind for a person, it’s just like wow, I can do this so much and I can make so many friends and everybody would be so happy,’ adds fellow classmate Elaina Grady, 13.”

Listen to the radio report here. And please treat yourself to the wonderful student notes at the teacher’s blog, here.

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Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: SWNS
Annis Lindkvist, right, and her younger sister, Emma Åhlström, with Jimmy Fraser, a homeless Scot they invited for Christmas in Sweden. 

I have never been sure how to react to someone who is homeless, but I have learned smiling is better than walking past, head down.

Mother Teresa said to smile. A woman who runs an excellent Rhode Island homeless agency told me she doesn’t give anyone money but talks to people and tries to see if she can help with a referral or something to eat. A formerly homeless veteran told me he always talks to veterans and tells them where to find veterans services. Once he took in a stranger overnight. Some people will buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee.

Last week as I was talking to an employee of a refugee agency, I became curious about how he was led to his current work. He said, “One day I stopped walking past people.”

He didn’t initially look for refugee work, but he landed there after launching his personal outreach to homeless people and a subsequent stint in Americorps. He used to talk to people on the New York City streets, asked what they needed and delivered food, socks, and as many of their needs as he could.

So many good people out there showing kindness one person at a time!

This Guardian story about a Swedish tourist in Scotland who not only befriended a homeless man but invited him for Christmas with her family (and sent him airfare) is really over the top.

Libby Brooks writes, “A homeless man from Edinburgh has described the ‘incredible act of kindness’ of a tourist who invited him to spend Christmas at her family home in Sweden.

“Jimmy Fraser was begging on George Street in the city centre when Annis Lindkvist and her sister Emma, from Sagmyra in central Sweden, asked him for directions.

“They struck up a friendship and swapped numbers at the end of the trip, staying in touch by text before Lindkvist offered to pay for his flights so he could spend a week with her family over the festive period.

“Fraser, who became homeless following his divorce 13 years ago, said: ‘It’s weird, I know. I was begging on George Street and these two women came up to me and the next thing I knew I was in Sweden. People promise you things all the time on the street but they never materialise.

” ‘But I thought I’m going to go for it as it’s once in a lifetime. I couldn’t believe it anyway at first. People tell you “see you tomorrow, I’ll get you a drink” and then nothing happens. But this did happen, actually, so it was really weird.’

“The 54-year-old former security guard, who went to an ice hockey match, Christmas markets and midnight mass with his host’s family and friends, told the BBC News website: ‘It was a beautiful experience.’ …

“Lindkvist described her own doubts about issuing such an open invitation to a stranger. ‘We give money to charity every month but we have never done anything like this before,’ she said. ‘There were friends and family who thought I was really crazy, but I just opened my home to him and said everything that is ours was his too.’

“The 37-year-old, who works with dementia sufferers, said she had invited Fraser back to stay with the family again over the Easter break, and that he was ‘part of the family now.’ ”

More here.

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Refugees continue to be on my mind, and I can’t resist any story about ordinary, kind-hearted people who recognize that no one would leave their homeland on a dangerous, uncertain journey unless they were desperate.

Sam Warner at Huck magazine (“Huck celebrates independent culture – people and movements that paddle against the flow”) has examples of kindness from the past year.

“Where European governments have largely failed, individuals across the continent have stepped up to help the plight of  refugees in any way they can. Here are some of them.

“Two Dresden writers showed solidarity with the refugees by painting ‘welcome’ in Arabic on the side of a train carriage in the city. …

“As migrants arrived in Munich, they were greeted with applause from Germans waiting for them at the train station. On top of that, they were given food, water and toys for the children and people also held up signs that said ‘welcome.’

“While refugees were stuck in Hungary, a convoy of Austrian volunteers called ‘refugeeconvoy’ crossed the border to distribute aid and help refugees cross through Western Europe.  …

“Numerous Icelandic residents have joined an initiative to help the refugees, started by writer Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir. Her Facebook page Syria is Calling already has over 17,000 likes, using the slogan: ‘Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.’

“It encourages the government to take in more refugees, whose numbers have been officially capped at 50. It has also inspired American initiative Open Homes, Open Hearts US – with Syrian refugees, which aims to raise awareness across the Atlantic and lobby the US government to accept more refugees. …

“Outside Budapest’s main railway station, a group of volunteers set up a projector and screened Tom and Jerry for refugee children to watch. They had been barricaded outside the station by authorities for 48 hours … .

“Refugee Phrasebook is an online collaborative project that aims to give important vocabulary for orientation that can be distributed to refugees. Its collaborative aspect means that experts can improve and update the material as it goes along. The project has phrases in 28 languages.”

More here.

Photo: Thomas Rassloff on Flickr

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Germans who open their homes to refugees don’t necessarily think of it as that big of a  deal.

Josie Le Blond writes for UNHCR Tracks, “Wael and Ibrahim sleep in their hosts’ home offices, while Homam and Samira are sharing an artist’s home studio. Mohamad has his own room, and Mecid’s large family has been given an entire house to call their own. …

“Ibrahim, a 29-year-old Syrian seeking asylum in Europe, has slotted easily into the lives of his German hosts, Maximilian and Carolin. The couple, both journalists, offered him their spare room when they heard he was having a hard time finding accommodations in Berlin.

“ ‘I met Max when he interviewed me for an article. He invited me to stay if I had any difficulties,’ says Ibrahim, who fled fighting last summer near his home in the Syrian port city of Latakia.

“After five months moving between emergency shelters in Germany, Ibrahim was told he had to find a hostel. But an administrative problem meant he quickly found himself without a roof over his head. Ibrahim remembered Maximilian’s offer.

“What we’re doing is the least we could do.”

“ ‘It’s unbelievable, really. If it weren’t for volunteers offering their places, many people might be out on the streets,’ says Maximilian, 29. ‘What we’re doing is the least we could do. We have a three room apartment – it’s easy.’ …

“Weeks later, Maximilian and Carolin now view Ibrahim just like any other lodger. ‘At this point I don’t see Ibrahim as a refugee that is staying at our place,’ says Maximilian. ‘He’s more like a flatmate who joins us for football every Monday.’ ”

More here.

Photo: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett
Max and Carolin offered their spare room to Ibrahim, an asylum-seeker from Syria, after he struggled to find somewhere to stay in Berlin.

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Lately, there have been so many stories about kindhearted people tucked in among the opposite kind of headline that, at this rate, if I wait another week there will be too many for one blog post. A good problem to have, of course, but I think I’ll just go ahead and give you what I’ve collected so far.

First there was the woman who went to the Toys R Us in Bellingham and paid off all the layaway plans. Then there was the woman who did the same thing in another Massachusetts town.

Next was the widow who put her engagement ring and wedding ring in a red Salvation Army bucket hoping that, if someone bought them, the charity would receive $20,000. Another widow did just that. She also put out the word that she would like to give the rings back to the first widow.

On Cape Cod, a man believed to be an emissary of a grateful resident has been showing up in fast-food restaurants, asking the manager how many people work there, and dolling out that number of $100 bills. All those generous souls are anonymous.

If you’re not full to bursting yet, how about the homeless man in Preston, UK, who gave a student his last $3 to get a taxi after she lost her money? And how about the student herself, who then organized her friends for on overnight on the streets and raised over £20,000? Now the homeless man is getting an apartment and advising on ways to help the nonprofits that had helped him.

Sam Rkaina at the Mirror writes, “A campaign to raise money for a homeless man has raised an incredible £21,000 after it went viral. Dominique Harrison-Bentzen set up the appeal for an ‘incredibly kind’ homeless man called Robbie who offered her £3 for a taxi home when she lost her bank card on a night out.

“She set up a fundraising page to pay for a deposit on a flat for him and yesterday took part in a 24 hour sleep-out on the streets of Preston. The 22-year-old says she has been overwhelmed by the support from the public after the fundraising target was completely smashed.” More on that story here.

Photo: The Mirror
Dominique, second from left, and friends experiencing a night of homelessness to raise funds.

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Around the country, generous people have been “paying it forward”– doing a good deed for someone else that was done for them.

Only in this case, it’s more backward than forward because it involves paying for whatever the person behind you at the drive-thru has ordered. It’s become surprisingly widespread, according to Kate Murphy, writing at the NY Times today.

“If you place an order at the Chick-fil-A drive-through off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Tex., it’s not unusual for the driver of the car in front of you to pay for your meal in the time it took you to holler into the intercom and pull around for pickup. …

“You could chalk it up to Southern hospitality or small town charm. But it’s just as likely the preceding car will pick up your tab at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, N.D. Drive-through generosity is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.

“Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.” More.

I love the idea, but I think I missed something. Do you give the order taker an extra $20 and get the change when you pick up your meal at the next window? Or does the cost of the stranger’s meal have to go on your credit or debit card?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Drive-thru food outlet

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When Suzanne lived in San Francisco, she told me about a guy in the Tenderloin district who wanted to do something for the homeless people who were his neighbors. He would stop and talk to people, and eventually he decided to hand out new socks, because that was what was needed. Small. Not solving any underlying problems. Just making someone feel noticed.

Recently I did a web search to see if I could figure out who the guy was and write a blog post. I found someone in San Francsico who started doing similar small kindnesses, but I’m not sure it’s the same guy. (If you know, please tell me.)

The person I discovered in my search is the founder of A Good Idea. He and others who have joined him do random things that connect them with strangers in a way that is sometimes greeted with suspicion, sometimes with delight. (It’s San Francisco after all. People are ready to be surprised.) Volunteers may distribute fruit, cookies, hugs, or services.

“Jared Paul’s life changed after he chose meaning over money. He abandoned a successful six-figure sales career and started a nonprofit organization, A Good Idea, in the summer of 2008.

“ ‘In April of 2008, I went through a life transformation: The more money I made, the more stressed I became, the more my passions began to fade, and the more I stopped dreaming,’ says Paul, 33, who had flourished in a variety of sales positions for nearly 10 years.

“Amid dissatisfaction with his job and his personal life, Paul decided to dedicate himself to making a difference. So he reached out to people via Facebook and Craigslist and began an informal discussion group that met at the Red Vic Peace Café in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The meetings led to the birth of A Good Idea (AGI).

“ ‘A Good Idea is a vehicle for social change that connects people in need with people who want to help,’ explains Paul.

“ ‘One of our first events was called Intentional Acts of Kindness, where we would do acts of kindness to complete strangers,’ Paul recalls. ‘When the San Francisco Chronicle decided to do a news piece, we received over 250 e-mails from people who were inspired and wanted to be part of A Good Idea. That’s when things really took off.’ ” Read more.

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