Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Service & Random Acts of Kindness Week

Find inspiration at
Happy Valentine's Day and Random Acts of Kindness Week
This world is hard on everyone, rich or poor, famous and fortunate alike.  I love this KSL article/blogpost by writer Katie Lee: "What if we said every good thing that came to mind?" It reminds me of my 2009 Palo Alto Online article/blogpost "Stop, Look, and Listen."
Did you know it's Random Acts of Kindness Week? We can never say or do too many niceties, on Valentine's Day or any day. In my experience, there is no greater service, no amount of money that can outdo thoughtfulness or kind words towards another person in our midst. I was impressed by hearing about the heartwarming gesture of my son-in-law, Mike, as I talked to Sheridan on Facetime this morning. Her young husband took the day off from his job as a medical center electrician, in order to make breakfast in bed for her and to help out at home. How thoughtful is that?? 

To spread kind deeds and loving thoughts today and every day, think of a small or large, simple or sweet act of service that you can do for a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or perhaps a passerby. As we share kindness, it comes back to us tenfold. Click on the stories above or links below to share the hope found in good works, for Valentine's Day and throughout the year!   

And granddaughter Braelyn is, too...
My niece Mackenzie is spreading sweetness today!

Still looking for inspiration? 
Check out these resources and ideas to get started 
on your good works quest.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Works by Gratuity

Because I only made a couple of shopping trips for the holidays, I missed the chance to carry out a personal tradition of "a dollar in every kettle" for the Salvation Army bell ringers. I only remember seeing three kettles, so they benefited by my whopping $3.00 holiday contribution. Others could give more, I'm sure, but every time I see a volunteer ringing that little red bell people seem to be scurrying to avoid the opportunity. Why is that? Are we all just too shy or embarrassed to be seen giving back? 

GiveBackFilms recently made a series of short videos about the benefits we get when giving and receiving. From waiters, to hotel maids, homeless and more, the stories are brimming with hope. Who wouldn't be elated to discover hundreds of dollars where they might have wished for one or two. My question to you is, why do we have to see such astronomical examples of charity when we have chances all around us to do good in smallish increments? When was the last time you ordered takeout food, sat at a restaurant, had your bags carried by the shuttle bus driver? Sure, you could give these entry level workers a dollar or two, but how about five or maybe ten? Is there something you could give up this week in order to make an minimum-wage worker's day a little brighter? 

Last week, I was in Salt Lake City celebrating the birth of my granddaughter Evie and I took her auntie, my middle daughter Meredith to lunch. We paid for our lunch at the counter, and the servers would then deliver our soups and salads to the table. The manager was a little dazed when I asked him to re-print my receipt. "I need to add a gratuity," I said. So he complied and presented me with the receipt, to which I added a tiny ten percent gratuity for counter service. He looked at me surprised and said, "Thanks so much!" After our food was brought to the table, Meredith commented to me about the restaurant's notoriously bad service. I told her that I made an extra effort to tip the counter help and she wondered why I would tip for poor service. Just then, the restaurant manager came out with a free plate of macaroni and cheese with fruit cup for my three-year-old granddaughter Braelyn who was with us. She had already eaten at a previous stop, but was really happy to have her own plate and consumed it even on a semi-full tummy. She felt important, and I could see the restaurant manager still beaming from my small acknowledgement. I told Meredith that's why we pay it forward, because when people feel appreciated they generally do a much better job and both parties benefit. 

All four of my children, who are now grown, have worked part-time and sometimes even full time while attending college and/or career training. Those measly paychecks don't begin to cover expenses, nor do they reflect the arduous labor these young people contribute to the economy. Next time you eat out, pick up take-out food, have your bags carried, or receive service from other entry-level workers' efforts, consider dropping a dollar, five or ten. This will show your appreciation, and as a "pay it forward" good work you'll encourage these helpers to do their best--everyone wins!      

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gratitude for Life's Little Surprises

I began the holiday season with a sense of wonder at three
unexpected little surprises in human nature, which gave me a feeling of hope for the year ahead. The previous year had been hellish, to say the very least, and my family has been praying for better times. The first turn in human nature was my observation of a VTA bus driver calling out to one of our students at Gunn High School as I pulled into the parking lot. The student didn't seem to be responding, and in what seemed to me slow motion, the driver checked his mirror, smiled, and hopped off the bus with the teenager's forgotten backpack in hand. No big deal, right? Unless, like my kids and myself, you've ever left something on a bus, train, plane, never to see it again. This observation of unexpected behavior warmed my heart.

The second experience I had was in skiing at one of my favorite resorts, Solitude, in the Wasatch Mountains with my sister, whom I affectionately refer to as "Martha Stewart," and her husband. For as long as I can remember, "Martha" and I have tried to present ourselves as timelessly fashionable, but in a competition she would easily win. Our mother endowed us with this artistic yet classic style, which can lead us to sometimes "assess" others for their own fashion sense. Rarely complementing but often commenting to ourselves about others (terrible, I know), my big sis jokingly suggested we give scores to those on the ski hill with the best outfits. Since we were skiing at a low-key, locals-only resort we kept striking out at spotting any style at all on the slopes. Until she found him, a pint-sized first grader looking chic and metropolitan in his colorful parka and pants. And then came the surprise. Instead of rating the little man's outfit, my style-maven sis skied up and complemented him, "Hey, did you know you're the best-looking skier at this resort?!" He stared at her befuddled, but I know he won't forget this random act of sweetness from a fellow skier. We can all use more of that--ski hill or not.

The third surprise came when I had loaded up the car, and was starting the long trek back across the hazy Nevada desert to the Bay Area, to resume my several jobs on two high school campuses. I stopped at Chevron in the small town where my daughter's family lives to fill up the tank and get an extra-large soda to keep me awake. Walking into the sparkling station, I saw the attendant sitting on the counter looking rather lazy with his extra-large, skin-colored ear guages. I shuddered in fear at his appearance until approaching the register with my drink. Completely out of character, he motioned me out the door and said, "Happy New Year, the soda's on us!" I looked back at him in amazement, and I could see a more than slightly satisfied grin under his strawberry blonde beard. 

Because we had such a difficult year in 2013, I decided many months prior that the only way to survive would be to keep a gratitude journal. I've written nearly every day about small moments and experiences that lifted my spirits, often catching me off guard like the generous actions of the bus driver, "Martha Stewart," and the ear-guaged gas station attendant. Staying open to these often unnoticed surprises in human nature has allowed me to feel more deeply the joyful experiences as they come throughout the year ahead. We've started off in January by welcoming sweet Evie Mae into the family, and due to my new-found faith in humankind I am more grateful than ever for the safe arrival of a healthy baby girl to my second child's loving family.

Watch for the goodness in others, and make time to jot down the gratitude you feel when you witness any of these simple blessings in your life--even if it's far off in the distance. By striving to see goodness in those around us, family members, friends, even strangers, we can learn to be a little kinder in our trials and the "survival modes" of life. Take a minute to express your gratitude, do a small and/or unexpected favor for someone you do or do not know, give a compliment to a stranger; all of life's injustices melt away as we persevere each day to "do the right thing." 

For Baby Evie Mae and for YOU: How about some inspiration to believe there truly is goodness in this crazy world of ours? Watch Kid President's latest video, "A Letter to a Person on Their First Day Here." 
Need a gentle push to feel hopeful about the world and the people around you? Read "Oh, the Places You'll Go," by Dr. Suess.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Serve Today to Honor the Veterans in Your World

I have a different perspective of the military from many of the families at Palo Alto High School. It's fitting that I'm the military point of contact for our students, being that I'm a former Navy pilot's daughter. However, when I schedule lunchtime military rep visits to our campus I'm reminded of the negative connotation of the military back in the 1970s around the Bay Area. It's too bad, really. I can think of several students brave enough to pave their own path and go against the usual post-high school route into military service and career training. 

My dad, Carl H. Steffens, Sr., was given a tremendous boost when he joined the Navy after graduating from tiny Wayne State Teacher's College in Nebraska. He was trained as a pilot and made the fortuitous choice to come to the Alameda Naval Base, living in my favorite town--Palo Alto. From his Navy service, he pursued a career in the pioneering world of semiconductors, eventually becoming VP of Marketing at Fairchild/National Semiconductor before his untimely death at age thirty-nine. 

I am so proud of my father's choice to serve his country. I am abundantly blessed that Dad saw his way out of a bleak upbringing in Spencer, Iowa and college in Nebraska, to raise his family here in the "Valley of the Heart's Delight." Today is a great day to honor him and other veterans who have served our country. Do you know a veteran? Send him or her a note of appreciation. Better yet, spend some time visiting and listening to their stories on this Veteran's Day. Each has a unique tale to tell; if only I could hear it from my father. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

VOTE TODAY! San Francisco Ford Community Green Grant Finalists

Four Bay Area environmental education organizations are vying for a teeny-tiny (but well-deserved) grant. Take a minute to vote today and again tomorrow for your favorite. Check them out to see the BIG contribution they can make with small budgets. Then, see how you can help by donating to and/or volunteering at these and other nonprofits to make a long-term difference in Sustainability.

Learn about the San Francisco Ford Community Green Grant Finalists and VOTE TODAY!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From Make A Difference Day & Socktober to November Give Back

Did you find a way to give back on Make A Difference Day, Saturday, October 26th? I was able to do several forms of "family service" and it felt good to do the right thing with my time and resources.

If you missed your opportunity, here's another chance. The gifted little actor Soul Pancake promotes the needs of our homeless and transient neighbors with "Socktober."

"Neighbors," one of my students asked this morning. "Do we even HAVE homeless people in Palo Alto?" His question generated an enlightening discussion about the law that was recently passed to prevent homeless people from living in their cars in our town. From my experience student teaching in South Palo Alto this semester, I will say It's true: This side of the community is less divided than the north side. More middle income, less poverty and less extreme wealth. 

Thank you to Soul Pancake for this compelling message, giving us all another chance to Make A Difference with Socktober. Don't let November stop you, homeless and transients can use new socks anytime--yes, even in Palo Alto.

Local Resources in and around Palo Alto, CA will will accept socks (new, please) and more any day, every day. Giver's Tip: take $5 or $10 to your local dollar store, purchase 5 or 10 pairs of adult sized socks and make your special delivery!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Humongous Volunteer Fair & Big Palo Alto Volunteer Opportunity this Weekend

One of our Paly College & Career Center parent volunteers shared with me this interesting news about a car dealership promoting student volunteerism this Saturday. We were both impressed with the number of volunteer organizations convening, since we have sponsored many similar venues on campus. Want to enjoy a cost-free, productive weekend? Stop by the student volunteer fair at Lexus of Stevens Creek on Saturday morning, then help out with the Canary Ride in the Palo Alto area in the afternoon!