Saturday, May 30, 2015

Week 36: Homeless in the Heat

Southeastern Wisconsin is heating up.  The temperatures have been in the upper 80s the past few days served alongside generous portions of high humidity.  It is during our hot summers (we reach the 90s more often than I'd like along with an occasional day or two or 10 over 100 degrees) and bitterly cold winters (don't even get me started on the -40 windchill...) that I find myself thinking about the homeless population even more often than usual. 

This week, my children and I visited a homeless shelter I've volunteered at (making lunches and handing them out to those in need) this week to drop off bottles of water and toiletry items. 

A carton of milk is handed out with each meal, but I've made an effort to donate bottles of water regularly the past few summers so that the recipients have a bottle to take with them and refill throughout their days to stay hydrated.  This time we dropped off 80 bottles.

In addition, we donated 125 shampoos, conditioners, soaps, tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen, and hand-wipes that we've been setting aside from hotel visits and purchasing at a discount.  

On our way out of the facility, we passed a father and his young son walking in to receive free lunches. Once we got outside I looked at my children and said, "That boy and his dad are here to eat lunch."

Without missing a beat, my kids huddled together and decided to give the boy a large bin of LEGO bricks they had just purchased at a rummage sale on our way into Milwaukee.  When the father and son came back out, I approached the dad and asked if my children could give his son a gift. 

They happily accepted and were cheerfully on their way. 

We got back into our car feeling richer haven just given possessions away.

It's pretty cool how that happens.

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving."  - Mother Teresa

Friday, May 22, 2015

Week 35: Flags of Freedom

To say this week's Kindness Countdown activity was humbling is an understatement.

I contacted Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee a few months ago in preparation for this year's Memorial Day weekend, requesting my family's names be placed on their volunteer list to place American flags on the graves of the veterans buried there.

Before arriving, my husband and I talked about proper cemetery behavior with our children and reminded them what Memorial Day is all about.

Our family was assigned a small portion of the 38,000 graves, given a tutorial on inserting the flags into their desired location (one foot-length from the stone), and shown to the bin of flags to be distributed.

Because the ground was dry, inserting the flags required two hands and a little elbow grease.  We took turns holding the large bundles of flags, carefully handing flags out one at a time to those planting them in the ground.  I was thankful we gave the kids a refresher course on proper flag protocol before arriving so they knew not to drop or lay them on the ground.

Photo compliments of WISN-12 Milwaukee who filmed and aired a segment on the Kindness Countdown project on May 21, 2015. Viewing is available here:

We were fairly quiet as we worked.  Being surrounded by the striking white stones, you couldn't help but feel the sacrifices made for our freedom.  Viewing the names of each veteran who so bravely defended our great nation was quite moving.

Once we completed our assigned section we visited the area of the cemetery where my grandfather and uncle/godfather are buried and placed flags at their graves as well.  And then I shed a few tears as I, once again, told my children about these two great men who proceeded them in our loving family and whose loss if felt daily. 

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wdek 34: Cards with Karen Refugees

Karenni refugee families fled Karen (near Burma, also called Myanmar) to save their lives and escape the ethnic conflict which has existed there for decades. Over 1,000 Karenni refugees live in the Milwaukee area, most of whom are ethnic minorities in Burma. 

After years as a teacher's aid in one of the best public schools in Wisconsin, my mom was hired by a small private school in the Milwaukee area to help alleviate their need for academic tutoring and cultural mentorship for the refugee children who were sponsored to attend there. 

I found this accurate description of their people and culture on
"The Karenni are a resilient, gracious people with a great sense of humor. They have a very strong work ethic, and don’t complain. They live out of a basic belief that life is difficult, so you do what you have to do in order to survive. If faced with a difficult task, they might respond with ‘a lay hey oh to’ (it doesn’t matter/ no problem). They demonstrate great dignity in providing for themselves and helping their fellow Karenni. They have a very strong connection and commitment to their own country, language, culture and people. They are not easily offended by outsiders (Americans), and are very appreciative of any kind of help they receive. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for them to ask for help, even if they desperately need it. They might be almost completely out of food, yet give you the last food that they have if you came to visit."

My children and I volunteered to be after-school tutors one afternoon this week.  After introducing ourselves, we helped the children with their spelling and memorization. 

Once their assigned homework was complete, we handed out the decks of cards I had purchased and began teaching them various card games. We played numerous games of Crazy 8 (a family favorite) and discussed the rules of Go Fish and Solitaire. 

After only a few turns each of Crazy 8, these children who were originally so timid and shy began smiling, laughing and opening up.  They talked about their families and the games they play.  We left feeling thankful for all we take for granted and the opportunity to share the experience with such friendly people.  And the students were all thrilled to leave with their very own deck of cards! 

We're already excited to go back again soon!

“Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.” - Josh Billings

Friday, May 8, 2015

Week 33: Servicing the City with Smiles

Our trash is picked up each Tuesday morning by the most amazing garbage man, or G-Man, as he's called to the residents of our town.  Not only does he manage the task of the entire city's garbage on his own, but he also saves live.  Seriously.  He once recognized a woman's wave as not her usual wave, and called 911.  Our town had a meeting at city hall to honor him. 

I'm not making this up...

And so, with our garbage collection on the horizon, I spent Monday night working on this week's Kindness Countdown activity: baking cookies for our G-Man and mail carrier. 

Not be out-shined by our G-Man, our mail carrier is also an amazing person.  I'm not exaggerating; she once gave my brother the 3rd degree when he answered our door while dog-sitting...she asked where I was, if my husband was home and if our children were inside.  She even followed up that evening and the following day.

Now that I'm writing all of this, I'm feeling like cookies weren't enough...I sure am glad I also included handwritten notes thanking them for all they do for us.  (:

"You could be the world's best garbage man, the world's best model; it doesn't matter what you do if you're the best." - Muhammad Ali

Monday, May 4, 2015

Week 32: Charities for Change

Our world seems to be in chaos.  Thousands of people have perished due to the earthquake that hit Nepal.  Baltimore is in turmoil.  And news of violence in my home state of Wisconsin have received daily the past few weeks. 

It's easy to get swept up in the negativity, to throw your hands in the air and bury your head in the sand. 

But don't.

Please do not run and hide.  Please do not give up.

Please battle negativity in your home by seeing the gift it is to take care of others.  Please give of your time and give back to your community, for it is in the giving that we receive.  Please pray for those that are hurting.  Please donate time and funds to charities if you are able, to better the lives that are less fortunate. 

As the saying goes, be the change you wish to see in the world. 

The Kindness Countdown activity for week 32 was a donation to Lutheran World Relief to aid those suffering in Nepal while donating to a group in Baltimore. 

How did I settle upon donating to this charity when there are so many collecting?  I began by reading this NPR article which highlighted charities that have passed a gamut of litmus tests and then I looked for charities I've read about or donated to in the past. 

LWR is one that I've had experience with over the years in my church...and I liked that it's headquarters are in Baltimore...a place that needs some extra love right now.

The other piece to this week's Kindness Countdown activity is that I've made (and will continue to make) an extra effort to smile and positively interact with everyone I've come into contact with. 

I know that an unexpected compliment from a stranger or someone taking an extra five seconds out of their busy day to hold a door open for me has lifted my spirits in the past...I hope I can do the same for others during this less-than-peaceful time.  

"Life's most persistent and urgent questions is, 'What are you doing for others?'" - Martin Luther King, Jr.