Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pay it Forward with a Little Compliment

It's been a difficult summer so far. Lots of changes, some work, lots of school for me to finish the teaching credential. It's all too much. The other day I really felt depressed and overwhelmed, searching for a place to make copies on my way to class. When I finally found the copy store, I was a little grumpy but the college-aged guy at the counter went out of his way by setting up the self-service copier for me to get started. As he walked back to his workstation he complimented my eyes. I hoped he was just trying to be nice! Leaving the copy shop, I could see he was giving the same kindness and attention to the next customer--an older gentleman--so I knew he was sincere. The little compliment brought me out of my funk; I was able to make my way to class with a completely new outlook and ability to handle my challenges. It was a reminder to stop worrying about myself and my situation, and think more of others--pay that compliment forward. 

Here we are only two days later and it's tough again. "That's just the way life is", I tell myself. "Let's go enjoy a crepe at the farmers market." As I walked down Second Street in Los Altos toward Main and the Thursday evening farmer's market, I heard a very familiar voice. It turned out to be my most favorite live folk singer in the whole wide world, Suzanne Holland. She's blind, and from South Africa, and she mesmerizes with her ballads as she strums and sings in English, Swedish, and Afrikaans. 

I sat on the corner where I could hear Suzanne and eat my crepe. Then, I remembered the copy clerk and his sincere compliment and how it changed my day. Suzanne started to look tired, she even closed her eyes and acknowledged her fatigue into the microphone. My shyness tempted me to leave the farmers market without saying a word to her. I had already left a dollar in her jar, wasn't that enough? Back to the memory of the copy center guy. Back to my shyness...but I had to do it. I walked over to Suzanne and told her how much I appreciated her music, that I have a cd of hers and I love it, that I met her at another farmers market and she's the best. I felt a little goofy as she reached for my hand, but at the same time I was relieved. And Suzanne played her heart out for the next several songs, she didn't seem tired at all.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Volunteer for Cancer Awareness: It's Relay for Life Season

In my Career Advisor job at Palo Alto High School I frequently connect our students to volunteer opportunities to help them pursue their interests and passions and to make purposeful post-high school plans. The parent volunteers at the school have assisted me for the past five in creating a database of our students’ community outreach and engagement experiences. Many times, our students attend Relay for Life with American Cancer Society, and finally I was able to attend one of these events myself. The event raises millions of dollars each year around the country for the organization to do research on prevention and treatment of all types of cancer.

The nice thing about Relay for Life (RFL) is that it is community based, with an event in nearly every community in the Bay Area and surrounding communities. Businesses, schools, church congregations and other groups are encouraged to participate in fundraising before the event by gathering pledges for their laps walked around the venue. The organization describes the fundraiser this way on their website,

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature activity. It offers everyone in a community an opportunity to participate in the fight against cancer. Teams of people fundraise and camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team is asked to have a team member on the track at all times during the event. Relays are 24 hours in length; representing the reality that cancer never sleeps.

During the evening at the event, volunteers place luminarias around the event in memory of cancer survivors or those who have passed away. My family members each decorated a luminaria in honor of someone who we know that has personally been affected by cancer. Unfortunately, we had many to honor. I made my luminaria to recognize my sister’s battle with breast cancer ten years ago. Luckily, she survived, but other members of our extended family had not survived and we honored them as well.

This event is very well organized and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to make a difference in the local and national community. The local chapters are a place where people can get involved with leadership opportunities. Students can even work behind the scenes in a leadership capacity throughout the year. The one suggestion I would make for people who want to volunteer is to sponsor a booth at the event and really make it fun for other attendees. If you go and just walk around the track, it’s okay but not as meaningful as it could be. There were many local organizations at the RFl I attended where they were hosting games and raffling off prizes to make the walk more interesting. At the very least, anyone attending should make a luminaria to honor a cancer survivor or victim. I don’t know a single soul who cannot think of someone in their life who has been affected by cancer. In this day and age, we can all make a difference in the fight to prevent and cure for this scary and often deadly disease.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What More Could I Have Done? How to Help Homeless Young Adults

Today was blistering hot in the Bay Area, so I waited until early evening to go for my usual Saturday long run. While jogging around an unfamiliar neighborhood, crossing a pedestrian bridge I was at first a bit fearful of the stooped figure sitting in the middle of the walkway. Looking closer, I could see she was a young woman in her twenties--about my oldest daughter Sheridan's age. She was wiping tears from her face, and I said with a look "hello." There was an openness in her eyes and she glanced "hello" back. I continued the run, hoping she wasn't planning to hurt herself on that bridge. As I made my way back home from the run I saw her again, a little farther from the freeway but still stooped and crying. She was completely disheveled, clearly without a home, and I fought back instinctive fearful, judgmental feelings to ask this time, "Are you okay?"
     "I'm Lindsey," she said, "from Gilroy".
     "Do you know where you are?" I asked. 
     "No, I got dropped of by some people who said they would help me, but then they stole my wallet and left me here. I have never been treated so bad!" Even though she had a clean natural beauty, Lindsey was putting on makeup to look "presentable" when she got to a place where someone could help her. She was headed to a shelter on First Street and Gish Road in San Jose, which was about 15 miles from where she sat and she had no idea how she would get there. She had recently run away from a rehab facility, and was very familiar with the shelter.
     "Can I call you a cab?" I offered. 
     She declined, saying "I need this experience right now." 
     We talked more about life, and how each of us had ended up in less than ideal circumstances at times. I told Lindsey that she needed to ask for help, and that she would find a place to stay and eventually she would find herself. She got up from the curb and hugged me, which was startling but welcome. She hugged me again, thanked me, and we wished each other well. I sprinted back to the house to get my phone and figure out who to call, someone who could go pick her up. But then I realized I'm really in no position right now. I said a prayer for young Lindsey, and checked in with my own children by text. I thank the Lord they are well, and hope someday I will be able to give more than a hug or two to help a lost young woman to find her way home. 

How can you help homeless young adults? Each person has a story, just like Lindsey.
Consider donating to or volunteering with these South Bay organizations.
  • Bill Wilson Center:
  • Loaves and Fishes:
  • Sacred Heart Community Services:
  • West Valley Community Services: