By now, you may have already seen this photo as it has gone viral since being displayed outside P.B. Jams, an Oklahoma restaurant, and on Facebook.
The restaurant’s owner, Ashley Jiron, posted it after realizing an anonymous person had been sifting through her garbage. She told ABC News of how her heart sank when she noticed bags and containers in her dumpster that once held disposed food, were emptied. “I knew I needed to do something right away,” she said.
Perhaps that person’s plight struck her so deeply because Ashley understood better than most.
“I am a mother of two little girls and I’ve struggled like a lot of single parents out there, and I’ve had to ask for state assistance food stamps and such,” she told Good Morning America. “Sometimes at the end of the month there wasn’t enough to feed me and my family. Something as simple as even just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is very comforting to somebody and maybe even offer them a few words.”
It got me thinking, of the times in my own life when I have faltered. I will never forget the people who were there for me with support and encouragement, even when I didn’t ask for it. They were just there. They grounded me and kept me focused in a positive direction. Those acts of love and kindness embed in our souls.
They strengthen us. They nurture us. They give us wings.
There is something so powerful about our human connection. Often we don’t even know of the impact we are having on those whose lives we touch. But make no mistake; kindness has huge potential for affecting change in individuals, families, workplaces, classrooms, and the community.
And the giver can be just as much the receiver as its effects boomerang. Helping someone else has a way of lifting ourselves up as well, even more so sometimes when we are dealing with our own challenge.
Yet, how often is it that we know someone may be going through difficult circumstances but in our busy and already cluttered lives, we don’t reach out. Not because we are not generous people. We just don’t get around to it for any number of reasons.
Ashley and her compassionate sign that has been seen around the country, maybe even the world, make me question – if the tables were turned, if I had seen that someone had been rummaging through my garbage, would I have posted a sign like hers.
The truth is, in my life, I have been a shoulder for so many people. I have mentored youth. I have given of my time and resources to help people when they needed it. I have encouraged others to see their own strengths when they were focused on their weaknesses. I have volunteered for causes when I can.
But…I may not have thought to put that sign on my restaurant door if I noticed someone had gone through my trash.
I am so inspired by Ashley’s gesture. Whether or not that anonymous person comes forward, Ashley has reminded me of the power we each have to impact those around us.
Let’s make a point to not forget.
The other day I received an email from a friend, Christy Berning, that was sent to a large number of us. It told the story of a little boy and his family in an unfamiliar city living temporarily in our Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as they battle health issues no little boy should have to face. They are on the waiting list for the Ronald McDonald House, which is about 20 days+.
Braylon – like Christy’s neice – has Dandy Walker Syndrome, a congenital brain malformation involving the cerebellum (an area at the back of the brain that controls movement) and the fluid filled spaces around it that causes seizures, physical and cognitive delays and many scary surgeries and hospital visits like the one he is experiencing now.
Doctors suspect that he may have a defect in his T-cells and are running some tests to determine whether he would be a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. If this is the case, it is a very long six-month process where they would completely wipe out his immune system starting with chemotherapy and rebuild it from scratch.
He would need to wait, however, until they could get his infection under control, because he is currently not stable enough to undergo the treatments. Additionally, Braylon has some major GI issues, and is currently connected to a central line for feeding. Prayers that they can get his feeding better to remove the line, since these lines carry with them a very high risk of infection.
I have been to our Children’s Hospital so many times. It is an incredible place where hallways are lined with bright colors and on any given day you may see therapy dogs or clowns or other volunteers roaming to take the seriousness away even for just a few moments.
Families like Braylon’s come from around the globe for the opportunity to seek medical treatment from the very best. Still, all in all, it can be a lonely journey with long hours of waiting, worrying, wondering and hoping.
So people like Christy who take it upon themselves to reach out and organize efforts to build a community around a family living at the bedside of their child are so incredibly meaningful. Christy asked us to write a card, contribute to a welcome basket or send another token gift, cook a meal, or just keep the family in our thoughts and prayers.
I’ll be sending along a card and Mylar balloons.
Christy and I had lunch this week, and we talked about how acts of kindness have such broad spread impact not only on the receiver but also on the giver. It is such a powerful gift we can give others and ourselves. And it has a way of spreading. I am in awe of Christy’s beautiful heart, and am inspired to give kindness to others.
There is something so powerful as to evoke raw human emotions. That something is a photograph, a reflection of the human spirit that can change how you see the world around you. And give you an everlasting gift of loved ones and experiences…and life.
I’ve written before about the work of internationally acclaimed photographer Rick Guidotti (founder of Positive Exposure), who I came to know and admire through my work with the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival. Through Rick’s lens, the world has come to see beauty in difference and difference as just another quality that makes us uniquely human.
Giving Flashes Of Hope To Kids
Flashes of Hope, is all about using photography to change the way children who have cancer and other life threatening illness see themselves (and raise money
for pediatric cancer research).
An annual report describes its purpose beautifully: “The images help the children see themselves full of strength and determination: cancer is not going to define who they are. But for too many families, it is the last photograph they have of their child. All of these children deserve a lifetime of memories and research is the only way to save more lives.”
Wow, talk about impact. I learned about Flashes of Hope when I saw some Facebook posts from a photographer I worked with years ago, Helen Adams. She is one of the founders and co-directors of the local chapter that works with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
A visual artist who has spent over thirty years capturing the human spirit, Helen has been called upon several times by people wanting to have forever portraits of a loved one with little time remaining. “It is the greatest privilege to be asked to participate in that way, to give them such a gift,” she told me.
Ironically, it was when Helen was experiencing the wrath of cancer through her husband’s two biopsies and a client learning of a leukemia diagnosis that she found Flashes of Hope, based in Cleveland.
“When you are struggling with your own life, the best thing you can do is to be of service to other people,” Helen said.
She reached out to Mark Bealer and Vicky Daniels of Studio 66, and together they started the Cincinnati Chapter.
In their words
Mark, Vickie and Helen share on their Facebook page why they do what they do…
No matter how tired, stressed or busy the 3 of us are as photographers and entrepreneurs, parents and small business owners; We roll up to the hospital parking lot, walk in and all of that washes away while we bear witness to the struggles of the innocent children who many times live their life in the hospital, away from
their home cities and friends!
The children become our heroes, as we watch them sacrifice how they may feel that day, and provide gifts of pictures for their family. The kids seem to transcend into another dimension of selflessness as they smile, pose and energize the shoot, while at the same time they ignore their own limitations of perceived health and beauty.
While we may not currently have a personal connection to cancer, our motivation stems from a deep compassion for any child that suffers undue pain and misery. And, the Flashes Of Hope organization is a wonderful choice for us, providing not only the avenue of the aesthetic photograph, but also tangible relief of money for research for those we have come to consider as our Cincinnati Chapter kids.
Currently their Cincinnati Chapter has 20 volunteer photographers who give of their time capturing images of 8 to 15 kids a month at Children’s Hospital. Mitchell’s Hair Salon provides hair styling for those with hair and make up.
You can help by giving of your time or making a donation. To find out more, visit www.flashesofhope.org and click on ‘support’.
To see more of their photographs, please like them on Facebook.
This is National Volunteer Week, seven days of celebrating the good will of millions across the country who have given of their time, their hearts, and their resources to enhance lives and causes that are meaningful to them.
Locally, large and small nonprofit organizations working to improve neighborhoods, strengthen families, save non-human animals, and lift people up could quite simply not do their very important work without the generosity of others. More than 8000 people give of their time to the FreeStore FoodBank alone. And that is just one of hundreds of causes in our Greater Cincinnati area.
Tonight I am told the staff and board members of nonprofit Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, that has empowered more than 160,000 vulnerable children and young adults since its founding through the mentorship of positive adult role models, will be very busy. They will be calling EVERY active CYC volunteer and thanking each one for his/her time and effort.
Wow, that is a lot of phone calls!
They will be reaching out to people like Harry Blanton, a CYC mentor for 18 years. His first mentee was Patrick, who at nine years old had an incarcerated father and a mother struggling with addiction. Thanks to Blanton’s influence in his life, Patrick attended St. Xavier High School, then Xavier University, and is now a financial counselor pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He and Harry are still close, and even recently attended CYC’s Trivia Night for Brighter Futures together, playing on the same team. “It is a joy to have Patrick in my life and I can’t imagine it without him,” said Harry.
The feeling is shared by Patrick. “I am an example that even though the cards are stacked against you, you can succeed if you have the right people on your side,” he attested. “CYC provided that person to me: Harry Blanton.”
Success stories like theirs is not uncommon at CYC. Just last fall, former mentee Lamont got married with his mentor Tim Clarke by his side – as none other than his best man. Matched when Lamont was just 13, the resulting relationship was so important to Lamont that instead of wedding favors, he gave a gift to CYC in honor of every wedding guest.
The gesture’s weight was not lost on Tim. “When I saw on the place setting the little card, I was unable to give the regular speech I had prepared,” he said. “I just had to thank him. For him to want a gift to give to CYC for this to happen to someone else—I got emotional. It was a great day.”
Volunteers are everywhere
These are such beautiful stories. And with those two, there are thousands more too of people all around us, and even ourselves, who are making a positive difference.
The dictionary definition of a volunteer is: a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself a service or undertaking. This means that to be a volunteer doesn’t necessarily mean you are going through a social service agency. It is as simple as an act of kindness to a stranger on the street or an extended hand or ear to a friend or loved one who needs someone to be there.
Today, let’s celebrate those wonderful gifts. But also, let’s commit to finding ways of giving those gifts every day.
A hug has a magical way of making your day so much brighter.