Monthly Archives: August 2011

150 Pounds of Bounty

Have you ever noticed how many of these feel-good stories are about big-hearted half-pints? I never cease to be impressed by the kindness of kids. While doing research this week for a new magazine assignment about good deeds, I “met” (using the term loosely, since all introductions were conducted through cyberspace) a family that puts its plane tickets where its mouth is.

The Jones family lives in Montreal. Like many Canadians, they recently took a summer holiday. They didn’t exactly beat the heat – they opted to vacay in Jamaica – but it was a memorable trip all the same. The family, which includes two boys aged nine and 12, made a giant-sized good deed a part of their getaway package. They decided to bring gifts to a children’s home.

“We had originally planned to take donations just from our family,” Momma Jones says. “But when we realized that the airline would let us each check a bag, we expanded our goal.” Now they reached out to friends and neighbours and started collecting in earnest. The boys devoted themselves to telling potential donors all about their intended beneficiaries: children who had no living relatives, or whose families were just too poor to raise them.

“My kids were so excited every time something was dropped off for us to take with us,” says their mom. Her older son had the idea of packaging individual grab bags for each kid, explaining it thusly: “If you lived in a children’s home, it would be nice to get something that is ‘yours.’”

I don’t think these boys will ever forget the impact they managed to make this summer on a group of kids they’d never met before. After personally delivering 150 pounds of stuff to the home, they stayed to play and talk. When younger boy Jones produced a ball and hollered, “Who wants to play football?”, the sheer joy displayed on the other kids’ faces was something that’ll stay with this family forever.

“For a few hours, these kids knew that they were thought about and loved,” says Mom. She’s teaching her boys that giving isn’t just about contributing cash. “Writing a cheque is the easy way to try to help,” she says. “But we are all about giving with our hearts, too.”

The Jones Boys in Jamaica

The Jones boys: Charmingly good looking on the outside, clearly just as beautiful on the inside.

Catch My Drift?

Shopping cart drift. That’s the name I’ve just this second come up with for the galling way that shopping carts have of ending up where they don’t belong. Specifically, my beef is with carts in wheelchair parking spaces. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may already know this. (If you’re not or you don’t, you are warmly invited to check out what I wrote here.)

The saga continues. Two days ago, we stopped at a grocery store to buy foodstuffs. (Maybe we were on our way back from the Glee 3D concert movie and maybe we weren’t – that’s not important here, can we drop it?) We’d returned to our vehicle and were just about to pull away when I heard the telltale clanging of misbehaving shopping-cart drivers. Sure enough, a lady was stuffing hers together with two other carts, all three now preventing a couple of wheelchair parking spaces from being used.

One noteworthy thing happened when my daughter and I hopped out of our minivan, grabbed the trio of carts and returned them to the store entrance. A man, sitting alone in his car a few spaces away, seemed unable to take his eyes from us.

He was well dressed enough not to be creepy, I guess. So either he routinely gets bored and stares at people when he’s waiting for his wife to pick up tonight’s T-bones, or he was wondering why we were so determined to get those carts out of those wheelchair spaces.

I’m hoping he put two and two together. Because science tells us that people are more likely to do good deeds when they see good deeds being done. And maybe, just maybe, Bored Steak Man is going to put his own shopping carts back where they belong from now on.

Speaking of observations, here’s a video that’s quickly gone viral: A New York group that self-identifies as a “prank collective” decided to set up a lectern, a megaphone, and a sign that read: “Say Something Nice.” Passersby did. It’s fun, the result is on YouTube and in four days they’ve had almost a million and a half views. Check it out!

Vote for Love, Hope and Optimism

I tend to avoid politics on this blog. But when a country loses the leader of a federal party, the official opposition no less, it’s tragic no matter which way you vote. And when it’s a guy with intelligence, confidence and charisma who manages to build and then leave an impressive legacy, it transcends partisanship. I’m not saying I marked his name on every ballot. Whether I did or not is irrelevant. What matters is that he made a difference to a whole lot of people, many of whom are heartbroken this week.

Why am I writing this here? Because Jack Layton’s final direct message to the country was made public yesterday. And to me, it’s all about his closing paragraph:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

It’s a touching message of inspiration. It’s entirely true.

And it’s one hell of a parting gift.

Saving a Life… What a High

About the same time that Mary Young’s mom was dying from a fast-growing cancer called acute myelogenous leukemia, a man Mary had never met was registering with a bone marrow database thousands of miles away. And they would remain total strangers for the next twenty years. But after Mary got diagnosed with the very same cancer that took away her mom, she had reason to get to know the guy. That’s because his stem cell donation ended up saving Mary’s life.

Acute myelogenous leukemia invades blood and bone marrow. One of the treatments is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant from a healthy donor, but the odds of finding a match among relatives isn’t great. That’s why we have an international database of unrelated donors.

After twenty years of nothing, David Vaanice got an unexpected call from the bone marrow registry. His stem cells were desperately needed.

A year after the successful transplant, donor and recipient were allowed to learn about each other and meet – if they wanted to. Mary did. She told a reporter that not knowing who had saved her skin felt like a “missing piece.”

Mary visited David in California in January. More recently David travelled to Mary’s turf, meeting her Toronto healthcare team as well as a wide circle of friends and family members who, I’m guessing, treated him like a god.

I like to tell this story: When I joined the stem cell and bone marrow network five years ago, the technician drawing my blood said that when potential donors find out they’re a match for someone, they react as though they’ve won the Lotto-Max. (Note to the squeamish: you no longer need to submit a blood sample to be part of the database. All the necessary info can be extracted from a mailed-in cheek swab.)

Saving a life… what a high. “It’s something I never imagined in my wildest dreams,” David says in a news story. “This has been an extraordinary event and I have played a role in it.” Yeah, baby.

I Called for My Pipe?

Yesterday morning we were recipients of an act that was both good deed and health hazard.

Here’s the backgrounder: On the weekend, my family and I spotted a couple of pieces of tobacco pipe littering the sidewalk near our house. Actually, we didn’t know just what it was initially. The bowl of the pipe, on first glance, strongly resembled a chestnut – not such an unusual thing to find on the ground. But then we found the pipe stem a few feet away and pieced it together (little pun). Although I can say with confidence that we’ve previously seen more chestnuts than pipes around these parts, it’s not such a wacky find. We do live in the city, and on the archeological puzzle that is our block I’ve cleaned up lost gloves, a child’s building block, a trampled pair of prescription glasses and some items too unmentionable to mention (hooray for disposable gloves).

I regret to say that I didn’t immediately scoop up the pipe parts. I could tell you we were embarking on a family walk and didn’t want to carry the litter around with us. But that’s a sorry excuse. By the time we got home again, I’d conveniently forgotten all about it.

So what happened yesterday? I walked out the front door in the morning to find a gift waiting on one of our patio chairs: It was the pipe, fully assembled. Some passerby had picked up the parts, thoughtfully put them back together and placed the pipe where we’d be sure to see it. All the while assuming, of course, that I – or my husband, or my little girl – is some bereft, heavy-duty smoker. Sure, the good-deed-doer was enabling a bad habit. But his or her heart was in the right place, even if my lungs were not.

In 50 Good Deeds news, I now have a Facebook fan page. Please be sure to visit and click “Like” (if we get enough of them, my page gets to play with the bigger pages!). And if you happen to pick up the summer issue of Best Health magazine, turn to pages 32 and 33 for a recap of the editors’ first-ever Blog Awards and a profile of the winners, including moi. Enjoy… and tar the roads, not your lungs.

Texas Chainsaw Mass… er, Mass Kindness

Of the five freelance articles I’m working on this week, one of them is decidedly the most fun because it has led me to the kind of research I enjoy: Learning about what gives us a sense of well-being. And according to one Canadian think tank I read about, we’re happiest when we feel part of a group, like a social club or a small community.

That sense of belonging pays off when it comes to good turns. Need a lift to the store, a piece of advice, a cup of sugar? I’ve benefited from all three in my close-knit neighbourhood.

Most recently, I needed to get my hands on a chainsaw. Or rather, I needed someone else who was willing to wield a chainsaw while I provided freshly baked muffins, which is more my line.

Almost immediately after emailing a request to all the neighbours, I had five different offers of help. Turns out that within a tight radius of our house there’s a range of axes, saws, chainsaws, mini-chainsaws and nonspecific “manly tools” that could be applied to the job.

Makes you consider just a tiny bit what’s lurking under the mild façade of suburbia. Really, who needs so many sharp objects and why? (When I made this comment to my husband, he went on the defensive: “We have things to cut! We need hatchets and knives and saws – you’re making us sound weird!”) Mostly, though, I’m just grateful for belonging.

Enjoy the weekend! Mine’s kicking off with a few cocktails with almost a dozen friends in my above-mentioned close-knit neighbourhood. Let’s just hope they leave the power tools at home.

Hero Gets Kid out of Hot Water

Water safety is a hot topic at this time of year. But thanks to some quick moves by a little kid in Kentucky last week, what could have been a disaster is instead a good-news story.

A boy called Connor Musk saw a four-year-old jump into a swimming pool without any flotation device, and promptly sink to the bottom. Connor knew the right thing to do. He’d watched his dad train as an underwater rescue diver. He instantly went in after the smaller boy, pulled him to the pool ladder and called for help.

What’s cool about Connor is that by performing this lifesaving deed, he turned one or two expectations on their heads. Connor has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome. He’s not great with communication and eye contact. Even his own dad admits he’d have expected Connor’s disability to hold him back, cause him to freeze up, in an emergency situation like this one.

Didn’t happen. Connor later told a reporter that he wasn’t scared, and felt good about saving the boy. (Want to read about another good-deed-doer with a disability? Check out the story I posted about Larry Skopnik, thwarter of petty criminals, in February.)

Do you have to fit society’s definition of “average” to make a difference? Nope. In fact, I suspect being average only gets in the way. Way to go, Connor of Kentucky.

Ride for Heart

Since I’m not a driver of motorized vehicles, I partake in a lot of public transit. And since it’s summer vacation season, it’s not unusual for me to be toting a piece or two of heavy luggage along with me. I feel guilty doing this at the height of rush hour. But there’s not a lot of choice: Planes, trains and buses don’t exactly sit idle waiting for me to grace them with my presence.

The bright side of travelling this way is that, most of the time, I’m pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful and accommodating my fellow subway sardines can be under these circumstances. A couple of weeks ago, as my daughter and I struggled with our suitcases aboard crowded transit vehicles, a number of passengers offered us seats, offered us spaces, offered us a helping hand.

I say “most of the time” because we did encounter one slightly less sympathetic commuter. It happened on a long staircase leading from the subway tunnel to the street. In some sort of twisted version of the game chicken, a businessman in a suit and tie – he was going down while my daughter was going up – decided he wasn’t going to move two feet to the left to let her pass. So my kid ended up having to haul her hefty load out of his majestic path.

Yet she’d barely gotten higher before another fellow hustled to help her, this one several leagues friendlier. In broken English he repeatedly offered to carry my daughter’s suitcase to the top of the stairs. We politely refused until we were three-quarters of the way to the top, but finally gave in. And as soon as he had hers done, he was back for mine – no small favour, since it weighed about seven hundred pounds. With his kind smile and not insignificant arm muscles, he made our morning.

Conclusion: Considerate transit riders wildly outnumber any selfish ones. Don’t take just my word for it. Not long ago, a colleague of mine was moved to post on Facebook about her positive subway experience. It seems a pierced, beheadphoned girl lost in her own music snapped out of it long enough to come to the aid of an older lady struggling to stand up. We see examples like these all the time.

Ever doubt the compassion of the human species, buy yourself a bus ticket. And then take yourself on a ride.

Be Good for Goodness’ Sake

If you spend much time taking public transit, you’ve seen billboards and bus ads meant to make you shop, travel, go back to school or get your teeth whitened. How often do you see one that makes you feel uplifted?

I first noticed a People for Good ad while waiting on a subway platform, and was intrigued and thrilled. (Never mind that, just a few feet away, some stumbling drunk was relieving himself into the train tunnel. True story.) Point is, here was a beautiful, eye-catching ad representing a significant effort to tell our entire city how delightful it is to do good.

Take a jaunt over to the People for Good website and you’ll get a sense of what the folks behind this social movement are hoping to achieve. Not to mention their tongue-in-cheek humour, which makes any preaching go down easy. “Our goal is to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time,” states the manifesto. They just want people to act like they care. They call it a community “glue.”

Awesome – let’s all get sticky.

Although about a kadzillion people have been named on the website as having contributed toward this nationwide campaign, the two key Canadians who sparked it are Zak Mroueh and Mark Sherman. Both men work in media and communications. And yes, they pulled in a few professional contacts to pull this off.

But, says Zak, “On a personal level, it’s been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to deliver such a pure message… Everyone who has been involved in the execution and creation of this campaign has told stories of how it has affected or changed how they behave each day.”

They’ve also been overwhelmed by the positive public response. There have been articles, radio programs, TV spots. The word is spreading. The good-deed ideas are catching on. “We’ve heard stories of people ‘high-fiving’ the transit posters,” says Zak, adding wistfully that he’d love to see that firsthand.

The campaign was started at the end of June and will officially end August 21, but Zak and Mark are hoping to expand it later this year. “This is just the start,” Zak assures us. “Until we have 6 billion people join the movement, the campaign hasn’t really completed its task.”

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? But it feels so darn good.