As a child, I was easy to motivate at Christmas. There was the payoff of swell gifts for being a reasonably well-behaved kid for a reasonably short period of time. I mean, does any kid ever think of Christmas consequences in July? I didn’t. But I made sure that if someone was watching that I was being a good boy. I needed to prove my goodness.
So flash forward a few decades. Do you remember giving a gift and not expecting anything in return? Do you remember how great that felt? You gave because you wanted to give and you were happy because you made someone feel special. You gave for the joy of it. There is something special about the radiant face of a joyful child who opens a gift from “Santa” or “???”.
It feels good and right.
Now flash forward a decade or two more. Every holiday season we read stories of people who give little or large and how they changed another’s life. They are sweet stories and they fill us with holiday cheer. I admit that I can be cynical during the holidays because of the wretched commercialization of the season. Our culture mistakenly equates the quality of the holiday with the economy and has distilled it down to a series of numbers that are reported on the evening news. It’s only a good holiday if we buy enough stuff. And then nothing says good cheer like fights breaking out among shoppers in malls. It’s easy to get all Bah! and Humbug!
But what about the rest of the year? What about when there is no elf on a shelf or a mensch on a bench or a department store Santa around to watch and judge? And that is what the following stories are about - giving. I mean really giving - without anyone looking on.
There is a store in Over the Rhine, Park and Vine, that allows customers to pay for another customer’s items. A customer submits an amount, marks it on a sticky note, and places it on a bulletin board. If a customer needs a little extra then he can cash in one of the sticky notes. It’s simple, brilliant, and goes on all year in a small but significant way.
Last summer Lauren Springer was planning her wedding. “While I was a server at Bob Evans for years I had waited on an elderly married couple in their 90's. When they found out I was engaged they would ask me questions about my wedding plans and just little details about it. Eventually they asked me about what we were planning for our honeymoon, I told them we didn't have any plans yet, we would probably just do something small if at all since the wedding itself was expensive (we were paying for it ourselves.) The next time they came in they told me they wanted to give us a wedding gift. They told me they had a condo in Marco Island, Florida right on the beach and they wanted us to stay there for two weeks for free as a wedding gift. They explained to me they had been married close to 70 years and they wanted to give back to a couple just starting their lives together. We ended up taking them up on their offer and… had a wonderful honeymoon. Their kindness and generosity has greatly impacted my life. I'm truly humbled that they [Charlie and Fran Riggs] would give so selflessly to someone they barely knew. Kindness is a life transforming act that benefits both the giver and receiver, and I'm forever grateful for the kindness that has been shown to me.”
What a beautiful gesture of kindness.
Some of you know Mary Ballard from her work at the 915. She is also known as Will’s mom or Megan’s mom. You may also know that her husband, Craig, died suddenly this past summer. Anyone who has dealt with this loss knows the accompanying emotional, spiritual, social, and financial stresses. An anonymous donor(s) contacted her landlord and paid her rent for a couple of months. Mary said, “I wish I could meet the persons that did it….I was just overwhelmed with all the kindness from everyone from the hospital to the funeral to the benefit. I just could not get over the outpouring of love for myself and my family. How do you thank everyone for all they did? I could not believe that we were so loved like that.”
Pam Frink and her family received much kindness when her son, Clay, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was hit by a car. He spent 78 days in Children’s Hospital not to mention the long rehab. It was expensive but the financial donations from the community helped ease that stress. It is a humbling and grateful kindness. But when the dust settled some years later she passed on the remainder of the funds - about $5,000 - to help defray the costs of other suffering patients around the country.
Why the gift? Well, someone needed help just like they did. And the cycle continues.
Sean Donelan started the Casey Kilgore fund to help the family with the overwhelming expense of his cancer treatments. You have probably seen the tee shirts or rubber bracelets around town. People even took those articles on tour and sent photos of the bracelet in all sorts of places and with well known athletes and celebrities displayed the bracelet on their wrists. “I did start the #FTPD4210STRONG bracelet & tee shirt movement. It yielded a little over $12,000 and should help with any co-pays for at least a few years. My ‘thing’ is running the FOP Golf Outing that raises money for Cops & Kids (formerly known as Shop with a Cop), Special Olympics and other charities. We raised over $13,000 at this past year's outing! But, my true "pay it forward" moment has been, for the last 5 or 6 years, paying for a young man from St Thomas Boy Scout Troop 70 to go to summer camp. I am an Eagle Scout from that troop. All I ask of the troop is to give it to a kid that would otherwise not get the chance. I give them some extra spending money too. I think I have met two of the kids and all I ask of them is that when they can afford to do the same thing, they remember this moment and help another kid in the future.”
Why? Someone needed a little help.
Linda Stapleton Slone is a super-volunteer. She is involved in so many volunteer and fundraising activities throughout the year - Merchants and Music, Independence Day parade and festival, USO dinner-dance, Campbell County Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, HHS Athletic Boosters, HHS Alumni Association, Bluebird Arts and Education Alliance, Ft. Thomas Business Association, Ft. Thomas Junior Football League, Hospice, Brighton Center, Ft Thomas Renaissance Board, Holiday Walk, and so much more.
So why does she do all of this?
“It is really an honor to be able to help others who are in need. It gives your heart that ‘Good Feeling.’ Everyone wants to help, they just don't always know what to do or what is needed. All I know to do is to ask. I am fortunate to have such great friends and family who are also willing to help me when people are in need. So many helped me when I didn't know what I needed. So, the circle continues, for I find that I, more than ever, want to be there for people in need and I really do want to help them. It really is a blessing to give!”
Back in August, Katie Leftin, teacher at Johnson elementary school, expressed on social media a desire for certain costumes to make her first day special for her students. Julie Weckerlein, who lives in Germany now, read her post and helped.
Katie wrote, “Julie Weckerlein is my guardian angel today! She read my post, and decided to pay it forward and purchased me not one, but two different Belle costumes. When she [Julie] was in the Air Force people would buy her lunch or coffee so she always tries to seize an opportunity to pay it forward. She said teachers have done so much for her kids and deserve random acts of kindness too. I hope this story will inspire you to get out there and pay it forward too!"
It was Christmas in August when Katie received the costumes in time to create a memorable first day for her students.
The list can go on and on with acts of kindness large and small. And the reality is that the vast majority of people are good and genuinely want to help others. So think about adding a little of the holiday spirit on the 25th of each month. Set it on your Google calendar so you get the reminder. Give a gift - of time, talent, labor, or money - with no strings attached - to a cause, organization, project, or person. That is the true spirit of the season. That’s the true spirit of being human.
I sometimes get upset or even angry with the state of human affairs, but then someone tells me about a kindness they received and my hope is renewed. You see, everyone around us is a potential “angel” with the power to change our lives in a positive way. Everyone. And that is the magic of being human. There is a native American saying that claims that we love with an open hand. A clenched fist is not exactly loving body language, you know. So let’s open our hands more often than not - all year long. Forget the stuff and remember the people. Let’s do it not because someone may be watching and will reward us but because it’s just the right