Tuesday, August 30, 2016

More than a haircut

Mark Bustos works as a stylist at an upscale salon in Manhattan. His services are pricey, his clientele elite. He's fortunate, he knows that. And he likes to give back to his community.

So for the last few years, Mark has spent his day off every week giving free haircuts to the homeless. He does this right in the open, on sidewalks or in parks with his client sitting on a bench or an overturned milk crate. He likes the idea of being seen by passersby and hopes his action serves as inspiration to them. Just as he does at his paying job, Mark disposes of hair clippings and disinfects his tools between cuts.

When asked why he spends free time voluntarily giving away his services, Mark's answer is straightforward - we all know how good it feels to get a haircut. The transformation can give confidence to people who are at low points in their lives. Mark now has teamed up with a photographer, Devin Masga, to document before-and-after shots of his homeless clientele. These are uploaded to Mark's Instagram feed  and the hashtag #BeAwesomeToSomebody.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gotta have sole

Nicholas Lowinger started donating his used clothes to a homeless shelter near his Rhode Island home when he was a small child. One day, he was present when a boy received a pair of his old boots. The boy was thrilled with the boots even though they were used and too big for him. Nicholas was touched by the boy's enthusiasm and decided to do something more.

So for his bar mitzvah project in 2010, Nicholas launched Gotta Have Sole, Inc. The mission statement of his non-profit's organization is to provide children living in shelters across the United States with brand-new footwear to call their own. Since then, he has gained private and corporate sponsors and has given away tens of thousands of shoes in dozens of states.

Nicholas' story and his organization have been featured on the Today Show and he has been given a Nickelodeon HALO Award. His organization has now branched out to include Gotta Have School , clubs, and other ways of harnessing support for others. He has recently been awarded an AXA Achievement Scholarship which he plans to use to pursue his desire to become a social entrepreneur and to be part of the solution to end global poverty.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Cajun Navy

During the recent floods in Louisiana, a loosely organized group again came out to help their neighbors. They call themselves the Cajun Navy. Similar to the 9-11 Flotilla and the local response after Hurricane Katrina, a call for help went out through unofficial channels, this time a local radio station. Anyone with a seaworthy vessel was to meet at a local mall. Organizers expected a couple dozen boats and volunteers. They got almost 400 boats, some high-water trucks, and 10,000 people willing to help. How awesome is that?

The official channels of help like the Red Cross, local police, National Guard, etc. are of course essential in management of rescue operations during disasters like this. But there's something touching and genuine about coming to the aid of another person, not because it's your assignment, not because it's your job, but because it's the right thing to do.

Monday, August 22, 2016


These two young ladies trained for years, wishing, hoping, and working toward the goal of competing in the Rio Olympics. Both athletes made their country's team and earned a spot in the 5,000 meter final. 

More than halfway into the race, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and American Abbey D'Agostino got tangled up in the pack of runners. Both women fell to the track. When D'Agostino got up and realized that Hamblin was still on the ground, she faced a choice. She could literally get back in the running and continue to pursue the dream of finishing her race in the Olympics, or she could help her fallen competitor. D'Agostino chose the latter.

With both women up on their feet, the unthinkable happened. D'Agostino grabbed her knee in pain and pulled up. It was Hamblin's turn
to return the favor. She helped D'Agostino to her feet and saw to it that she would finish the race. 

Check out what Hamblin said about D'Agostino's kindness that day. Here's a video of an interview with both women afterward. 

In the final days of the Rio Olympics, the IOC awarded both athletes the prestigious Pierre de Coubertin medal. Also known as the International Fair Play Committee Award, this medal has only been awarded 17 times in Olympic history. A rare prize for moments of mutual kindness between competitors who quickly became friends.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Today's guest blogger is... me!

I'm delighted that Middle Places has allowed me to be their guest blogger today. What is Middle Places about? Their website's subtitle, 'Exploring the messy ways of grace' says it all.

I don't often write inspirational pieces, but this article 'What I learned about prayer while getting in my steps'  was written last winter while my gym was undergoing a seriously disruptive remodeling project.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

To protect and serve, and finish the job

All too often, we hear about local police and members of the community they are charged to protect and serve locked in conflict. Tempers flare, fear reigns, violence is common. No one wins. We all lose.

So this story on the front page of the York Daily Record is a breath of fresh air.  It seems that in late July, Officer Andrew Shaffer of the Northern York Regional Police was called to a home. A man had suffered a fatal heart attack while mowing his lawn. Officer Shaffer notified the family and waited until the coroner arrived. A sad duty, no doubt, but probably all part of the job.

After his shift was over, Officer Shaffer went above and beyond his call of duty. On his own time, he went back to the same home and finished mowing the lawn.

The appreciative family contacted the police chief to make sure he knew about the officer's kindness.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A hero in Baton Rouge flooding

This man, David Phung, risked his own life to rescue a stranger (and her dog!) caught in the high water of Baton Rouge's flooding this weekend. Check out these unbelievable videos.
I hope we all encounter strangers willing to turn hero if we need them to do so.
And I hope I'd find the courage on a moment's notice to be that hero for someone else.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A tent, a college, a community, and a car

This story is full of remarkable people, each of whom did one right thing.

Nineteen-year-old Fred Barley was determined to register for college. Even if it meant getting to the Gordon State College campus in Barnesville, Georgia by bicycle, a 50 miles trek which took him 6 hours. Even if it meant sleeping in a tent until classes started in August. He is homeless; he has slept in tents before.

As local word spread about Barley's situation, a number of people stepped up to help. Police didn't charge him with trespassing or vagrancy; they put him up in a motel. A pizzeria offered Barley a job. A Barnesville resident set up a GoFundMe page to help with Barley's college expenses, raising over $183,000 in a month!

The story went viral. One person who heard about it, Andy Ungaro of Philadelphia, wanted to help too. He runs a repair shop and had just received a 2004 Hyndai Elantra as a trade. He fixed up the car so it would run another 60,000+ miles, drove it down to Barnesville, and presented it to Barley as a gift. Ungaro hopes Barley will pass the gift on to another needy college student when he's done with it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Kindness for the dumpster diver

Ashley Jiron runs P.B. Jams in Oklahoma, a cafe specializing in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When she noticed some dumpster trash torn open with the food contents removed, she knew someone in her neighborhood was hungry. She decided to do something about it.

She posted this sign on the dumpster. Her kindness went viral when a customer shared the sign on Instagram.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

This Uber ride led to Brazil

In late July, Liz Willock took an hour-long Uber ride in Philadelphia in Ellis Hill's car. The two struck up a friendly conversation and Ellis mentioned how proud he is of his son Darrell, part of Team USA at the Rio Olympics. As the conversation continued, Liz learned that Ellis could not afford to fly to Rio to see his son compete.

So Liz decided to do something about it. She set up a GoFundMe page, asking for contributions toward the $7500 it would cost for Ellis to see his son participate in the Olympics. The goal was met in just two days through the generosity of over 150 people, mostly strangers. Now when Darrell Hill competes in the shotput on August 18th, his dad will be in the stands to cheer him on.

Kudos to Liz Willock for seeing a problem, allowing herself to feel empathy, and then developing a solution. And kudos to everyone who read about Ellis' situation and contributed to that solution. We need more news like this.

Read the story here and here. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

These ladies share the joy!

I just read a short Facebook post about an inspiring young lady from Pennsylvania. Instead of spending time and money on a standard bachelorette party, she and her bridesmaids treated women at a local shelter to a day of pampering. A wonderful way to share her joy on this occasion!

I wondered how many other women, on a day that was supposed to be all about them, were equally unselfish. I found this article from 2015 - a bride-to-be and her bridesmaids prepped dinner at a local Salvation Army. Clothing she received as engagement and shower gifts was donated to Dress for Success. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

A hero even before the Olympics

As this New York Times article reveals, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini is a swimming champion with a unique story. She'll compete in the Rio Olympics, not for her homeland of Syria, not for Germany, the country which has taken her in and enabled her to continue training, but for a new entity: a refugee team. These are athletes who are currently stateless or would otherwise not be allowed to compete under their home country's banner. Until I read this article, I didn't even know such a team existed. Kudos to the IOC for making that happen.

But back to Yusra and her unique story. Last August, she and her sister fled their country's civil war. In Turkey, they boarded a dinghy built for 6 people along with 18 others in the hopes of reaching mainland Europe. Twenty minutes in, the engine died. Then the dinghy started taking on water.

Afraid to go back and unwilling to wait for help that probably wouldn't come, Yusra, her sister, and two men jumped out of the dinghy into the Aegean Sea. They swam. They pulled and pushed and swam with that dinghy in tow for over three and half hours. Partway through, the two men stopped from sheer exhaustion and allowed themselves to be dragged along. But the two Mardini sisters kept swimming. The dinghy made it to the shores of Greece.

Unbelievable story, right? An Olympic medal may or may not be in her future, but this young lady has my vote as true Olympic hero.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


I don't know the backstory of the folks depicted here.

The difficulties which brought the woman and her children to his store are not revealed. We can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks.

The store owner may wealthy, he may be struggling; he may have been born in this country or in another. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. What he does, the kindness he offers a stranger, matters a great deal. Her situation seemed to tug at his heart, and he followed that heart's lead. He did one right thing, and that made all the difference.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Unity in balls of yarn

What's red, was constructed by thousands of hands, and seeks to identify commonalities while celebrating the differences between us? The answer is UNITY, an interactive public arts project launched this summer in Alexandria, Virginia.

Nancy Belmont and the folks at Vessence Corporation are behind the idea. They decided to do something about the divisive labels so common in America today.

In an open green space they anchored dozens of poles, each marked with an identifier --  I am a parent; My ancestors came from Asia; I believe in a higher power, and many many more. Members of the community then tied their yarn around each of the poles whose labels described them.

Well over 1000 people later, the resulting canopy is an interwoven visual representation of the community. It tells a story of individuals and connections, of commonalities and differences that lend texture to the tapestry of our country.

UNITY is art doing what art does best - giving voice to the human spirit.