Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Small Act of Kindness Saves the Day

"Ms. Owen, Ms. Owen," I heard my name as a student I had never met approached me. I was juggling half a case of bottled water, community service day sign-up sheets, and a dvd case from fourth period before lunch. We had a training meeting during lunch for student leaders participating in our Cesar Chavez Community Service Day. When I arrived, my daughter Grace gasped through her pizza, "Mom, do you have any water?" I trotted across campus to get one of the leftover cases from a recent event and then back to the meeting. I tossed the bottles to the parched students, stayed in the lunchtime meeting for ten minutes, then headed back to take the rest of the water to my office before the start of the next class period.

As one might imagine, with all this hustling to and fro something might fall apart. I had forgotten about my cell phone and keys tucked into a shallow pants pocket and the phone went crashing to the cement after I stopped to talk on the last lap to the Tower Building.The girl looked at me very quizzically, as I didn't even realize I was missing something. She could have ignored my mishap as "one of those staff people," or she could have given the phone to someone who might have a little fun breaking into my photos and text messages. No, our students aren't that cynical anyway. They are known to do the right thing, turning in lost wallets, keys, phones and such. By her small act of kindness, this girl saved my feet from further trotting that day, making it so much easier to put myself back together after the most harried morning I can remember!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Five Dollar Service

What can I say? Some days are just crummy. One of our speakers for my Career Speaker event at school got confused about the time, so I had to tell 95 waiting students that she would be back next week. I wondered if this would keep happening for our three-week event, and was I simply trying to juggle too much? I had rushed to chaperon a field trip just before that, and then I worked in a classroom that did not have enough books for an open-book test. I couldn't seem to overcome the hurdles and by late afternoon I was feeling rather down.Thursday was not my favorite day.

As I waded through the 280 traffic toward home, I wondered how I could pull myself out of an emotional tailspin. Go on a run? No energy. Go shopping? No time or extra cash. Eat chocolate? Maybe. Grace was at her internship, and Bob's kids were away for the evening. I had one appointment on the way home, then I would take an hour for myself--maybe even to consume chocolate. As I pulled up to the stoplight at Bollinger Road, I noticed a man with a cardboard "please help" sign in the median. I've seen lots of people holding signs, but never in that location just across from Wendy's hamburgers. From inside my comfortable car, still feeling a little sorry for myself and dwelling on the losses of the day, I wondered what humiliation the weathered man had been through to make a cardboard sign and sit in the median asking for donations? Had he brought it on himself? Then I snapped back into pity mode, "A frosty from Wendy's sounds really good to me, maybe just the chocolate treat I need after this undesirable day." Of course, I deserved it after all I had suffered, right?

The light seemed to take longer to turn green for the moment, and I started to get irritated that this man was affecting me and my need to consume a treat to feel better after a bad day. I looked in my coin purse--usually nearly empty--and saw two five-dollar bills. The impulse surged and just as the light turned, I pushed the button to roll down the window and handed the homeless man one of the fives. He actually started to cry, "Thank you, I love you!" he said. Then he walked across the street to Wendy's. As if I had taken a magic happy pill, the misery of Thursday's failures completely left me. I didn't worry or care about what the man would do with the five dollars, for it was worth five hundred dollars for me to erase the sad feeling I had within myself. Who knew a down day could be cured by such a simple gesture! Next time you see me or a friend stressed or a little bedraggled by the blows of the day, feel free to remind us that we don't need to consume a thing. Often, giving a little something away is all it takes to feel good.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Saturday of Service

Just a few years ago, my entire world fell apart--or so I thought. My passions were family, and hardcore snow-skiing. I even found a way to make a little money teaching the love of skiing to provide more of it for my family. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I had to trade in the ski passion for something else. I had always enjoyed planning community events and benefits, so the master of nonprofit administration program at University of San Francisco provided a switch in gears, big time. Moving from the Salt Lake Valley, back to the Bay Area where I grew up, I could no longer drive six short miles up a winding canyon road with my kids on a Saturday to ski and board fresh powder. This week I had the itch to ski! I had been lucky enough to teach for nine years, maybe to get it out of my system a little. That's what I reminded myself this morning when I woke up too far away from the slopes, and too tired anyway to do much about that.

The only exertion activity today would be a long bike ride through Stevens Canyon. At the beginning of the ride I stopped by Safeway to see Bob and his two boys manning the Second Harvest Food Bank drive. They had been handing out little cards to shoppers who would hopefully remember to grab some extra groceries as they went through the store and then drop them into the barrels out front. When I arrived, their barrel was two-thirds full after a two hour shift. "Not bad," I thought. As I watched the next shift of volunteers hand out cards I wondered why people gave fifteen-year-old Sam such a chilly reception. I hoped he would have more success to feel a sense of purpose with his Saturday service. Second Harvest is always in need of volunteers to do food drives. The little cards they provide make it so easy to give to customers as they walk into the grocery store. There is a checklist requesting stew, chili, soup, peanut butter, low-sugar cereal, fruit juices, canned fruits and veggies. Nobody can deny the slogan on the card, "Nothing else matters when you're hungry. Give what matters." I hope the shoppers loosened up a bit and filled the barrels this afternoon, making young volunteers like Logan, Cameron, Nathan, Brandon, and Sam feel like they made a difference.

After checking out the boys' progress on the food bank drive, I continued on my way to Steven's Canyon. As I pedaled toward the foothills I noticed some high school aged students with industrial size boxes and a bunch of cars lined up at Monta Vista High School. Of course, I had to check it out! I found out these community service and leadership students (including Benjamin and Aditi, with whom I spoke) were hosting an e-waste recycling event, sponsored by Green Mouse Recycling. They had taken flyers around the community asking people to bring their old computers, cell phones, car batteries and electronics to the pallets at school today. The recycling company would pick up the waste and pay the student volunteers for a percentage of the value, which they in turn could use for another community benefit. Last year, they used the $1000 donation to improve overall recycling efforts on campus. Our school has two groups that work to promote environmental awareness, and we have a Goodwill truck parked in our lot trying to gather e-waste. Perhaps Paly could give it try sometime. The Monta Vista students and the owner of Green Mouse were running around organizing donations, while they told me that nearby Los Altos High School was also hosting a similar event today--with 200 cars lined up! There is so much more going on around here in my hometown than I could have imagined, had I remained looking from my limited view at the slopes of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Finding all of the service that goes on in my community is like a treasure hunt every day. Of course, I can never get the itch to ski completely out of my system, but the excitement of finding more and more good works comes pretty close when there's no snow in sight.

The bike ride would have to provide enough exercise-based endorphins for me this weekend, so maybe I could take the turns really tight and it would feel like the arcs of my skis. As I wound through the hills between Garrod Stables and Congress Springs Park, staying ahead of an older gentleman close behind I noticed a man and woman riding together at a relaxed pace. I didn't want to slow down to stay behind them--this needed to feel like hardcore skiing so I was going to push myself. As I wound through a few more turns and got closer I could see the man had a prosthetic leg, and they both wore "Team in Training" shirts for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They were on a training ride for a fundraising event--more community service today! My job as observer sometimes reminds me I could do more good works instead of whining that I can't go
skiing enough on Saturdays. As I thought about the man with a missing leg riding some tough hills to benefit leukemia patients, a dozen students gathering green waste to benefit the environment, and the teenage boys collecting food bank donations I realized there is more to life than skiing on a sunny March weekend. The world has need of more people who spend an occasional Saturday doing community service and good works.