Beyond an orientation meeting to introduce me to the Countryside YMCA, I was getting ready for our first official public relations planning meeting. I chose a sleeveless fuchsia colored shirt with white pants because that color combination just makes me smile. When I arrived, and walked through her office door, would you believe, there, standing in front of me was Lori Cook, marketing specialist, wearing – yep, a sleeveless fuchsia colored shirt and white pants!
I don’t think either one of us will forget that moment. We burst out in laughter. It is color choice that is most people’s closets, even more so when the fuchsia top is sleeveless! It was pretty telling of future relationship. There are a lot of smiles and laughter when we work together.
Lori just brings that out in people. You tend to just feel happier, energized, when she is around.
Last month I was at the Countryside YMCA for its annual Healthy Kids Triathlon. Hundreds of children dove in the swimming pool before hopping on their bikes and then ending on foot, triumphing in front of cheering adults along the way. In the excitement of it all, I discovered as I was getting ready to leave that I had somehow lost my car keys. This, at the country’s largest YMCA which sprawls vast grounds. I was beside myself and Lori calmly told me she would not leave until I found them. I did end up finding the keys after about a half hour and all was good but I was so touched and so appreciative of her kindness and her patience.
And recently, when she and I connected personally on Facebook, I got to see another side to her. Her humorous spin on what would otherwise be considered every day family occurrences sends me into a chuckle.
It should come as no surprise then, when I asked her recently where her inspiration comes from, and she pointed to her two sons.
“I think it is really cool the way they think and want to care for others,” she told me, sharing these stories:
“My youngest, Benjamin, who is 14, is like the baby whisperer. He works at a nursery at our church and holds crying babies with such patience. Last Sunday my 3-year-old great niece was having a rough weekend and Benjamin dropped everything in his day to take her to the zoo, putting her in front of his own social and academic life. I want to be able to be like that as an adult. I want to be able to say this whatever is not as important as the people I care about.
My other son, Will, is 16 and is all about giving financially. He is the worker who quietly observes his world, and saves his income until something tugs at his heart. Then he gives his money. He was a lifeguard over the summer, picking up every shift he could. He is very structured with his budget so that he can have money to give back.”
I asked Lori what lessons her boys have taught her. Sher answered, “I have learned from them how to be playful, how to love with your heart first, how to be vulnerable, how to fail and be okay with that, and how hard it is to be peaceful. I see their stress from school and life, and I think it is something that needs to be talked about. Life is hard and needs to be addressed and simplified when can be.”
There is something so uplifting about seeing the beautiful heart of a little child who already at a very young age knows and appreciates what it means to be kind to others. And behind that child is very likely adult role models from whom those values have been instilled.
Just recently they delivered filled boxes to Adopt a Book, a local nonprofit organization run by two teens and their mother, to be given to other young people without the means to buy their own books. It was an incredible gift; but what makes it even more so is the story behind that delivery.
It all began when plans were underway for Eva’s third birthday party. Kristin and Tim came up with the idea of asking guests to each bring a book or two toward the collection. It seemed like a perfect age and a perfect opportunity to be teaching their daughter a lesson in giving back.
Eva and her mom made a banner to hang above the donation spot, and thank you notes for their friends who pitched in. “Our hope was to collect 50 books or so. Given that we only had about a dozen families coming, we thought that was an ambitious but still reasonable goal to achieve,” Kristin told me. “We were blown away by their generosity. We collected nearly 230 books!”
And that wasn’t all. Eva and her mom spent an afternoon painting lots of pieces of card stock, transforming them with brilliant hues into bookmarks that would become part of their donation. “Eva picked her colors carefully and told everyone she talked to for the next week about how she got to make bookmarks for kids who don’t have books,” Kristin said.
Below is more of my conversation with Kristin.
Lisa: What are some of Eva’s qualities that you would like to share with us?
Kristin: Eva is an amazing littler person! She can be shy and slow to warm-up to people, but once you’ve made it into her inner circle, she will do whatever she can to let you know how special you are. She is very smart and stubborn. It amazes me how well she already knows her own mind at only three years old. There are so many things I could tell you about her, but it’s her kind and loving heart that I love most!
Lisa: Explain how this whole idea came about?
Kristin: My husband and I have always hoped to instill a sense of community and a spirit of giving in any children we have. We’ve both always made it a priority in our own lives to give back and serve our community when we can, and have both had wonderful examples of that in our own parents. Eva is at an age where she’s really excited about being “a big helper”. As she develops her own individuality, she is learning to be more independent. That newly discovered independence combined with her big heart make her incredibly eager to help others in whatever small ways she can.
As we are seeing this side of her personality develop, we thought she might be at a good age to show her ways we can be involved in our community and help others, so we decided to invite guests to her birthday party to bring a donation of some sort instead of gifts. We wanted to pick an organization we felt represented Eva’s interests, and something she could be excited about. Since she loves books and reading so much, we started looking for organizations that serve children and somehow foster learning, literacy, and a love of reading.
Lisa: Does Eva understand why she did it?
Kristin: We decided on Adopt a Book a couple months before the party, which gave us lots of time to talk about it and help her understand what we were trying to do. Because she has such a giving spirit, she understood pretty quickly and was excited about the idea of it. When we went shopping for books to donate, she helped pick most of them out. She tried to pick books and characters she knows her friends like because she thought other kids might like them too. When the party came, I heard her telling several people that we were going to take all of the books to kids who don’t have books of their own, which was pretty cool.
Lisa: As a parent, I bet you are very proud of her.
Kristin: Leading up to her party and after we collected all of the books, I was just so amazed by how much Eva understood our goal and how excited she was by it! I really wasn’t sure she would get it, and figured that this year it was more my husband’s and my project, and maybe next year she could be more involved. Boy was I wrong! From choosing the books we donated, to explaining our goal, to making the bookmarks…she was involved every step of the way!
The moment that really got me was after her party. We were opening the handful of gifts she’d gotten, and a few people had gotten her books in addition to the books they donated. As we’re sitting there looking at the books, she picked up a couple of them and took them to table of donated books. When we told her she could keep those books, she said “I know. I have lots of books. Kids who don’t have books can have these.” And they were pretty cool books!
For her to decide, completely on her own, to give away birthday presents she liked and would enjoy simply because she thought other kids needed them more was really amazing to me. It’s a side of her I know we will get to see a lot more of, and I think we have a new birthday tradition!
Last night, I asked Kristin to talk with her daughter about the meaning of their actions. She shared with me how it went.
Eva explained that the reason they collected books was, “because I like reading books and I want them (other kids) to like reading books too.”
The rest of Eva and her mom’s conversation went like this:
Kristin: “Was it nice of us to get the books for kids who don’t have them?”
Eva: “Uh huh!”
Kristin: “And why do we want to do nice things for people?”
Eva: “Because it makes them happy.”
Kristin: “Any other reasons?”
Eva: “Because when we’re nice to people, they get happy and feel good, which makes me feel happy too!”
Such a powerful lesson from an amazing little girl!
My intern, Isabella Noe, a senior at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati is a very special person. It gives her such satisfaction to reach out and help others. Below is her story, in her own words, of how a simple acts of kindness touched her; and how she thinks about that impact.
At my job at the Fresh Healthy Café in the Kenwood Towne Centre, in lieu of a tip jar, we have a jar for the homeless. Most people drop in their change, while others dig into their wallets for a few extra dollars. This may not seem like much, but during the holiday season, the mall is bustling with excitement. When each person donates a spare quarter or two on average, it adds up. A few weeks ago our donation jar topped $100. Each day we collect change so the Fresh family can donate a large sum of money at once, rather than multiple small donations. While it is certainly not enough to make a huge impact, it feels good to be doing something to help.
Especially around the holidays, I was extremely concerned for the homeless. As temperatures drop, I think of all the people who do not have a warm meal or place to stay the night, or even a family to celebrate with. I feel incredibly grateful for how privileged I am, but often find myself wishing I could do more for those who are not as lucky. I hope someday I can make more of an impact because it is sometimes difficult as a teenager to bring about huge change. However, I have come to realize that change doesn’t need to be earth shattering- one can make a big difference in small ways, such as delivering for the St. Vincent de Paul food pantries. My grandfather and I spent a lot of time working together at his local pantry, which I enjoyed very much because it taught me about kindness. The pantry was often at capacity due to a huge influx of donations, which warmed my heart. It was an incredibly humbling experience.
I often think of the food pantry or other similar organizations when I see people drop their change into the small jar at work. I remember the ease of picking up and delivering food, and how something so simple for me could make such a huge impact. Kindness works in many ways, and doesn’t have to be big. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference, just as spare change can add up to a warm bed and a hot meal for someone in need.