Holiday perspective

Every year a group of people at Cargill organize an opportunity for Cour employees to adopt a family for Christmas. My friend Jaime does this every year and has talked about how rewarding it is for her and her family, and this year, I was inspired to do the same.

My family of four was forwarded from Perspectives, a multi-service agency whose services provide prevention, intervention, and recovery programs for vulnerable, at-risk families and children whose lives have been derailed because of addiction, homelessness, and/or mental illness. I was provided a list of their names, ages and what they’d like for Christmas; the single mother is 29, and she as three girls from ages 6 months to 8 years old.

When I first received my family, I thought about the time I was a single mom with two boys under the age of five. I made enough to cover the necessities, but I had to count pennies to provide anything extra like taking the kids to a Disney movie. I can empathize with these families to some extent; however, I’m fortunately that I’ve not had issues with mental illness and/or addiction. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be not only for the children, but also for the parents struggling to provide a well-balanced and healthy life for their children.

Their wish lists included clothes, Michael Jackson poster, mattress pad, Lion King DVD, Disney toys and shoes. I remembered how much my boys disliked getting clothes for Christmas, even though they were needed, so I tried to balance clothes (need) with toys (want) – for Mom as well. I enjoyed shopping for them, especially since my kids no longer want gifts, but instead ask for money – leaving the floor beneath my Christmas tree very bare!

As I wrapped and bagged the gifts for delivery, I wished my adopted family happiness worth more than Christmas gifts, and I said a word of thanks for nonprofits, like Perspectives, that make the world a better place.

Happy Holidays.

Personal notes provide a connection to the impact

I used to work as a fund raiser, and as a result, know what it takes to write a donation letter. For example, did you know that a handwritten donation letter will raise more money than a printed one? Also, since most people scan letters, the most important part is the “P.S.” I recently received a handwritten note card from People Serving People (PSP), and I wrote my donation just 10 minutes after opening it. 

The note card was addressed to me from a tutor in the after-school program at PSP. She said she was raising money to purchase school supplies for the tutoring program, and if I donated only $10, she’d have enough to support five kids through the school year.  I felt like she was personally reaching out to me, and as a result, I felt the connection back to the five kids my donation would support. 

A few weeks later, I received a personal note from the tutor to say thank you, and she told me what topics she was currently teaching the kids. I felt rewarded — and connected — in knowing that she took the time to write a personal letter sharing how I’ve helped her tutor the kids.

Cheers to Cheerios

Cheerios and USO postcard

Cheerios postcard to send "cheer" to military families

I love Cheerios because they are one of the few breakfast cereals that have almost no sugar added, and they taste good on their own. In fact, I snack on them, probably something I picked up from when both of my boys were little. Also, when I was potty training the boys, I used to throw Cheerios into the toilet and say: “Shoot the Cheerios!” They loved the game, and I loved that I could stop buying diapers.

Cheerios not only taste good and serve as a potty training resource, but also the company gives back to the community. Currently, Cheerios is in partnership with the USO, sending “Cheer” to military families to thank and encourage them for their commitment to our country.  Specially marked boxes of Cheerios cereal feature “Cheer” postcards, which can be cut out and mailed to military families through a partnership with the USO.  Even more, for each postcard received, Cheerios will donate $1 to the USO to help support programs for military families.  Cheerios has already donated $150,000 and will donate up to an additional $100,000 based upon the number of postcards received by November 30, 2012.

All I had to do was cut out the postcard, write a note, stamp it and put it in the mail. Voile’. The USO gets a $1 donation, and I’ve made a deliberate act of kindness by thanking a military member on Veteran’s Day.

Three cheers to Cheerios and military families!

Your unwanted clothes and household items can help educate, connect and empower people affected by epilepsy

Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota donations

We made four trips to donate to the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota drop-off truck in Champlin.

I’ve been saving the leftovers from our summer garage sale because I thought I might try to sell the entire lot of clothes and household items on Craig’s List. Instead, I loaded up the car four times and hauled everything over to an Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota donation truck. Note: They don’t accept golf clubs!

The Epilepsy Foundation provides programs and services that educate, connect and empower people affected by epilepsy.  For more information about programs, call 651.287.2310 or visit the website.

A book that made my day: “Life as a Daymaker”

It’s fall, and my hair was a mess. Was it the leftover red-based color from last winter or the half-head highlights from this summer? Who knows, but my hair felt bipolar and needed a fix. My regular hair stylist wasn’t available, so I picked a new salon and colorist with no reference. I set up an appointment at Juut Salonspa.

Juut Salonspa is an Aveda salon, so you can imagine the overwhelming smell of lavender, chamomile and 20 other herbs when I walked in the door. Sadly, I’m allergic to sage-based herbs, and I always walk out with a scratchy throat and face. This time, I walked out with a happy head of hair — yes a scratchy throat and face — and a book. The receptionist told me that because I’m a first-time customer, I get a copy of Juut Owner David Wagner’s book “Life as a Daymaker.” Usually I’d get a coupon and a shampoo sample, but a book? I was intrigued.

The book I received as a new Juut Salonspa customer

I put the book on the table when I got home, which has David’s photo on the front cover — long locks and big smile. I assumed it was a book about his salonspa (Is that a new word?) and why it and he are so brilliant. All night he kept looking at me from the table, and I finally walked over, picked up the book, looked at David on the cover and said, “Okay, I’ll at least read the back, David.”  I turned the book over and under the title it said, “Daymaker: a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.”  I kept reading:

You have stumbled upon a simple yet profound idea that could change your life. You don’t need money, yet you provide wealth beyond your imagining. You don’t have to be spiritually inclined, yet it’s the ultimate spiritual behavior. You need no formal education, yet it’s an act of great wisdom. Your political views don’t matter, yet it can make you the most powerful person in the world. You can affect people as profoundly as have the President of the United States, the Pope, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. Because whenever you have someone else’s attention, your actions can convince them that the world is a cold, frightening place, or that it is full of love and joy. Just be kind.

I am not religious, in the traditional sense, but I believe in the power of kindness, love and compassion. Perhaps that is my religion: idealism?  If so, David Wagner and I would go to the same proverbial church of kindness because in his book he shares examples, some that I’ve done or experienced myself, of how each person can make a ripple of positive energy. For example, he talks about the power of simply smiling and saying “Hello,” or holding the door for someone.

The Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” My mantra isn’t quite as eloquent, but it ultimately the same: “Kill ‘em with kindness.” (Right now, the Dalai Lama, David Wagner,  and my kids are probably rolling their eyeballs.) Hey, it works.

In “Life as a Daymaker,” David also writes about his salon, which has a mission and philosophy based on making someone’s day.  Stylists have that power. I don’t know about you, but I go to a salon in need of attention, of walking out and feeling and looking better, and the stylist can make it a positive or negative experience.

Long story short (actually only 115 pages), the book is a hold-in-your-hand example of David’s dream of changing the world by making someone’s day and inspiring you and me to do the same.

Who chooses a salon with no reference and finds that the owner’s philosophy on life is so completely aligned to their own? I did. Who walks into a salon and walks out with a book about making the world a better place?  I did. Is it a coincidence? It makes me wonder. I do know, however, that receiving that book made my day.

“The Right” Ffrst act of kindness

I’ve  been struggling to find “the right” first deliberate act of kindness. It’s similar to when I first began training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. What do I eat? How much do I run? Which shoes should I wear? I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. I felt that way about my goal to complete 40 deliberate acts of kindness — until I rifled through the mail today.

YWCA of Minneapolis Donation Letter

YWCA of Minneapolis donation letter

I receive no less than four letters from credit card companies in the mail, every

day. In fact, I’ve been known to throw away legit mail simply because it’s buried in all the junk mail. Today, however, I received a donation letter from YWCA of Minneapolis.

I used to work in the nonprofit world, specifically as a director of development, raising money and in-kind donations. I know how much effort goes into writing

the donation letters. I know that if you personally sign those letters, you’ll have a better chance of receiving a donation. I know that most people scan the letter and skip right to the postscript (P.S.), which is second only in importance to the handwritten signature.  I scanned the YWCA letter, went right to the P.S. and found myself reading this StarTribune article “Moving Toward Recovery” about the YWCA Cancer Recovery Exercise for Women (CREW) program.

My challenge this Sunday, Oct. 9 is to complete the Chicago marathon, and although it’s probably sacrilege to compare my personal goals to those of the women in the CREW program, there is a connection. We are women challenging and enhancing our physical, mental and emotional health to overcome an extreme aspiration. And, that’s why donating to CREW feels like “the right” first act of deliberate kindness.

A deliberate acts bucket list ─ HELP!

I had a lot of time to think of  deliberate acts of kindness while I was jogging today. I wondered: What qualifies as a deliberate act? Is it simply holding the door open for someone? I do that all the time. My point: Do I make this easy or challenging? It’s challenging to make a list of challenging acts!

Here’s a list of a few things:

  1. Donate my heels to http://www.dressforsuccess.org.
  2. Buy  gifts and give them out to random people (Is that creepy?).
  3. Buy birthday cards for all of my family and friends and send them on time.
  4. I’d love to have a free hugging booth, like the guy in that Dave Mathews video who stands on the street and gives out hugs.
  5. Donate money to MPR.
  6. Buy tickets to a local concert, and on the night of the concert give them out to someone hoping to by tickets from a scalper.
  7. Donate time to Feed My Starving Children.
  8. Deliver meals for Open Arms MN.
  9. Send flowers to friends, for no special reason.
  10. Participate in runs for charity

See, it’s hard to make a list of these. I’ve already run out of ideas. I need your help!