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Monday, December 26, 2016

Support for a different perspective

Christmas day I spent time with some friends at Grace Park.   Since my first involvement with the Akron Snow Angels, the group has expanded my circle of friends farther than I had ever imagined.   I really look forward to meeting up with my go visit my other friends.   For a sheltered kid from the country, it’s been a wonderful experience and has opened up my thought process on almost everything that I do.   

My Christmas has always involved a morning trip to my folks house to open a few gifts a first.   After that, my mom cooks a meal that you typically eat until it hurts...and then you have a  few more bites just because it’s that good.   A few weeks ago, I told my mom that I wanted to do the Christmas mission with the Akron Snow Angels.   In the back of my mind, I was wondering how the holiday would work with me doing this though.   Being a small, but very close family, we have our routines.   We have our traditions.   Without a hesitation, everyone adapted to work around the plans that I had.   As soon as I heard how willing everyone was to work around my schedule for the day, the first lesson dawned on me.  

Lesson one: The people that truly care will find ways to support what you’re passionate about.

The trip to Grace Park was a bit different for me this time.   I didn’t really have anything that I needed to take care of.   Instead of taking requests, I got to walk around, mingle, and just generally chat with people.    At first, I didn’t really know what to do.   As soon as I saw my friends Mike and Jared, it all became pretty easy.   
“Hi Mike!  How are you?”.   
“Fighting a bit of a sinus issue, but I’m doing good.   How about yourself?” he responded
Mike lives in a tent in a wooded area in Akron.   Let that sink in for a second.   He lives in a tent.   In the woods.   In the city.   On Christmas.   ...and he says things are good.   This is why I think I like talking with Mike so much.   There’s never really a negative word.   He’s nice, genuine, and polite.   Mike is always just a pleasure to talk to.   
If you looking for someone that has a library's worth of facts stored in their head, Jared is the guy that you want to talk to.   He’s always full of energy and always working on some small practical joke to get a smile out of someone.   Needless to say, you’re hard pressed to find someone that’s not a fan of Jared.   
Lesson two: Perspective is everything and the situation is exactly what you make of it.

In this holiday season, I’m grateful to be in a position where I have people around me that support me and my passions.   I am also really glad that I have friends of all walks of life.   These friends make me laugh, and make me realize that those laughs are the most important thing.   

To all of you, my most sincere thanks for making this holiday season a special one.   

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Any place. Any time. Any situation

Today was the day where a year's worth of hard work for a few individuals turns smiles and granted wishes for a neighborhood as Elves & More of Northeast Ohio takes off to deliver 1,100 bikes.   In fact, today’s deliveries created 3 neighborhoods filled with smiles.   
I was honored when I was asked if I wanted to head up a bicycle delivery with my friend and longtime Elves and More supporter, Lenny Raushcer.   I started to wonder where we were going.   I knew that it would be the Akron area, but I didn’t know which area.   

Yesterday that question was answered when I was told “our group is going to Norton.”   I was completely shocked.   I didn’t really know what to say.   How could that be?   I live in Norton.   I don’t see the things normally associated with the neighborhoods where Elves and More goes.   I was filled with questions as to why we were going to Norton of all places.   It didn’t make sense to me.   
People always ask me, “Where will the delivery be this year?”.   I always tell them “I don’t know” as usually, I don’t.   I’ve been asked before, “Aren’t you curious?”.   My response is always the same.   “Nope” I say.   “I know that they do a lot of work in figuring out who can really benefit from the bikes.   They’re smart about this.   There’s no need for me to know.   I just know that we will be getting bikes to kids who need them.”   
As I went to bed that night questioning why we were going to Norton, I realized that I needed to tell myself the answer that I tell everyone else when they ask me where we are going.  “The guys in charge are amazing at finding the right people to get the bikes to.   They know what they’re doing.”   

Lesson one: If there’s a proven process, trust it.       
We all have a tendency to live inside of our own little worlds.   It seems that many people barely know their own neighbors, let alone someone that lives 4 or 5 houses away.   For me, it’s taken an effort, but I take great pride in being involved in my neighborhood.   When I walk the dog, I usually get stopped by a few different neighbors to catch up on things.   I help out my neighbors when they need it, and they are always willing to reciprocate without hesitation.   We all talk.   More than that, we communicate.   We check on each other.   We laugh with each other.   We genuinely care as we are not only neighbors, but friends.
The neighborhood we were in today felt like it didn’t have that sense of “community”.   There were no negative feelings, but people very much seemed to keep to themselves and not  interact with each other.   I feel as if I was part of breaking down some of those walls today.   Kids riding bikes brings people out of their houses.   It gets them talking.  It brings them closer.   Being a part of a community makes everyone stronger.   The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.   I feel that we have planted that seed today.   

Lesson two: Communities don’t “happen”.  They need a catalyst to get them started.   Be that catalyst

Earlier in this blog, I said “I don’t see thein things normally associated with the neighborhoods where Elves and More goes.”   This delivery was unlike any other that Elves and More had ever done as it was in a much more rural type of area.   There were no sidewalks.   There were no streetlights.   There were not businesses nearby.   There were spaces between the houses.   There were ditches to contend with.  The smiles and sense of gratitude were exactly the same as any other delivery we’ve made.   You could tell that in some cases, this was Elves and More supplying Christmas to some that may not have had it otherwise.        

Lesson three: People that need help can be found in any place, at any time, in any situation.   

  Today had three valuable lessons for me. Two I had to hunt for. One was obvious. I'm already excited for next year....

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Socks, Laughter, and Chance

Two missions with the Akron Snow Angels this year, and both had snow.   Coincidence?    I highly doubt it.   It’s a tough mix of emotions to deal with when you’re thinking, “I’m cold and hope that we get done soon so I can get inside where it’s warm” when you’re out helping people that have no inside to go to.   It is a dichotomy that I always seem to wrestle with.
After loading up, we headed to the North Hill High School parking lot for our first stop.   Many of the people that we worked with that this place may not have been homeless specifically, but when you see a child walking around without a jacket or even socks in the snow, you know that you’re helping people that desperately need it.    
It is my understanding that North Hill is now an area that is setup for refugees from other countries.   I don’t know their stories, but I am curious to learn more about them, what their country was like, and how they got here.   Often times, when we would try to speak with the people, there was difficulty in communicating.   The kids often spoke some English but the parents largely did not.   It’s emotionally difficult to have someone right in front of you that needs help, but language barriers make it difficult to find out what specific help they need.
I did find that two things that work in any language.   Socks and coffee.   On a cold day, if you hold a hot cup of coffee in your hand and extend it towards someone that’s shivering, the universal smile communicates that what you’ve done just made someone’s day that much better.   The same thing can be said for a pair of socks.   When you see a child in the snow with shoes but no socks, all it takes is an outstretched hand with a pair of clean, dry socks to change the outlook for everyone involved.   It’s these vehicles that we use as a group to open the lines of communication to help all of us learn more.
This is yet another culture, another dimension, another group of diversity within our local area that has an outlook on life that I have not dealt with much.    I am anxious to learn more.  I’m excited to make more friends.  
Lesson one……   Caring knows no language.   

As we loaded up and left North Hill, we went to our second stop of Grace Park to see those friends that we’ve had for a while now.   I love being the request guy as I really affords me the opportunity to get to know some of the people and talk with them.   My interactions are usually short, but I always make the effort to make them personal, personable, and fun.    Today, I met a man named David.   David is probably about 6’7”.   He was in a light jacket and tennis shoes.   Cold, but smiling.   He politely asked if he could request a heavy winter coat and some winter boots.   I looked at him and asked, “You a medium?   About an 8 boot?”   After we got done laughing about it, David let me know that he needs a 4XL winter jacket and a size 14 boot. He’s tremendously tall, and has the heart and laughter to match his stature.   
Lesson two…...laughter warms up everyone.

Later on in the mission, a gentleman named Derrick came up to me to request some boots and a coat.   My pen and my hands started to malfunction a bit from the cold and I ended up writing his first name in some unrecognizable hieroglyphs.  I scratched his first name out and put it on the line below.   He saw this and very politely asked me if I could put his last name on the same line so there was no confusion.   The first thing that went through my head was “why does it matter?   I’ll be the one going through the sheet later.   It’ll be fine.   No problem.”    Then it struck me.   It appealed to some of my own obsessive compulsive/leave nothing to chance tendencies.   If I was depending on these items for my survival, wouldn’t I want to make doubly sure that there was no confusion?   You can be sure that I would be triple checking with the person.   I would do everything in my power to make sure that things go well.   

Lesson Three.    Do not leave your success up to chance.   Take control of things.  Make sure that you have done everything you can to enable your success.   You control your own destiny.   Take control of it before someone else does.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

People and Battles

Being the first mission, with some new volunteers, from a location that we moved into just a week ago, you would think that there would have been some hiccups in the process.    To be honest, things went amazingly smooth and that can be attributed to the beauty of volunteer group.   Everyone is there because they want to be there.   They want to reach that common goal.   As long as the general mission is known, the smaller jobs seem to quickly fall into place.   I find that every time I get involved in something like this, there is a lesson that can almost universally be applied.   People make the difference.   It can be one, or it can be hundreds.   It’s people that make the difference.

It’s the end of November, so it’s the beginning of the season to #spreadthewarmth and start working in the field with the Akron Snow Angels.   It seemed all too fitting that the night before the mission is the first snow of the season.   
To make sure that the warmth was spread, two people were panhandling within sight of the parking lot where we sat.   Erin, the founder of the Akron Snow Angels, took a small group over to deliver some meals and other items to those people.   To do the most good, you have to get out there and do things, and this is a wonderful example of that.   Imagine having to panhandle in the freezing cold and the snow while watching so many cars pass by.   Then, to have a small group approach you with some warm clothing and a hot meal.   That’s hope.    That’s motivation.   That’s fuel.   That’s so much more than the tangible items.   
From North Hill, we headed back to the usual spot between Grace Park and the Haven of Rest.   I was the “Request Guy” today as it’s a position I have come to really enjoy.   I get to talk to a lot of people and get the opportunity to give them a bit of personal warmth.   If someone was making a request, I always tried to ask for their name first.   I wanted to connect, and calling someone by their name who doesn’t often hear it is a good initial step.   These people matter, but don’t often feel like they do.   That is the change that I wanted to bring with me today, and I felt that in many cases I was successful.  
Nearing the end of the day, I had just 2 or 3 people left that wanted to make a request.   As I was talking with them, I noticed a gentleman pacing a bit behind the group.   He had an energy about him, more out of awkwardness than anything.   He appeared to be outwardly nervous, but not scared.   It intrigued me.   Finally, it got to be his turn to make a request and he introduced himself as Ronald.    Right at that moment, someone turned back and interrupted us with no regard for what was going on so they could add to their request list.   What impressed me during this what how Ronald handled the situation.  When interrupted, Ronald just stepped back and patiently waited…..paced….but waited.   He had no angst.  No anger.  No grudge.   He knew that I’d still take his request.   Ronald is in a world where you have to compete to survive, but he knew at that point that he didn’t need to compete.   He knew that his needs would get met.   I took note of this and it made more sense as to why later.   
Lesson #1 is obvious.   It’s just been reaffirmed today.   “People make the difference.”
Lesson #2 was taught to me by Ronald.    “Pick your battles, for you may not know what consequences an battle not worth fighting may bring”

The second lesson is one that I have had a tough time with in my life.   People that know me know that I have a tendency to go “full throttle” at everything.   Today was a much needed reminder for me.   Thank you Ronald.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Can I borrow your shoes?

I spent a lot of time learning this weekend.   Although it’s gone by in a breeze and has left me exhausted, there are lessons in it that I will be carrying for the rest of my life.  
I was excited for this weekend as Sunday was to be “Christmas in July” with the Akron Snow Angels.   The working and learning started long before Sunday for me though.  On Friday evening at 6:00, the founder of the Snow Angels and I met the Penske box truck that would be the my chariot for the next few days.   Tables were loaded in the back and we were on our way to pick up items from other people that had gone shopping for us.
After a few stops, we had to go to pick up some toiletries and other items that were needed for the event on Sunday.   In the few shopping trips that I have made, I have found that you always draw looks of intrigue when you go to Dollar General and buy $250+ worth of shampoo, soap, and deodorant.   With the cart straining to hold the weight of these items, I noticed a gentleman who was buying just 3 or 4 items that got in line to check out behind us.   Rather than making him wait the ages that it was going to take us to check out, I did the polite thing and let him go first.   It came up in casual conversation as to why we were buying all of these items and the guy was seemed to be absolutely floored.   “You guys are doing an amazing thing” he repeated a number of times to us.   Having been in this situation before, I can tell you that it is always great to hear stuff like that from people.   The rewards of helping the homeless are huge and I have met some amazing people, but when going through the tedium of shopping for 100+ bars of soap, the extra support and encouragement is always greatly appreciated.      
The man walked out of the store and we started to get things ready for the checkout clerk. Know what was in store, we waited for one or two others that we allowed to go in front of us to pay.   I was digging through the cart and organizing when I heard a voice. “What you guys are doing is awesome.   Here.  Take this”.   I looked up to find the man from earlier standing next to me.   His outstretched arm holding $40 in cash.   It caught me so much by surprise that it took me a few seconds thank him.   I was totally stunned.   I was in awe.   I felt invigorated.   In one gesture that lasted all of 20 seconds, this man helped us, he helped a community, and reaffirmed to the entire store that humanity is alive and well.   Simple, yet amazing.
As my brain was working overtime to process the events that just transpired, a lady was asking a few more questions about Akron Snow Angels.   Within seconds of her knowing what we were doing and why, she emptied the cash out of her purse and only wanted hugs from each of us in exchange.   Again, complete shock for all of the right reasons.   Two people just made this great big world feel very warm and cozy.    

Saturday morning was sorting, loading, and just generally getting things ready for the big event on Sunday.   I’m not sure how many trips I made from the front to the back to the front and to the back of the box van, but I’m pretty sure I got my recommended mileage in for the day.   It would have taken hours if not days longer if not for the help of the other volunteers.   
I feel that the people that helped on Saturday are absolutely amazing in their own unique way.   These are the people that do a ton of the heavy hauling, the tedious sorting, and the running around and most of them never get to see the smiles or hear the stories that come from it.   These people are just happy to be a help.   Truly selfless acts.   
As the day of the actual event arrived I was excited, nervous, and doing my best to prepare myself for the day.   The emotional swings involved with something like this are huge.   I saw some people that I haven’t seen since our last mission this past winter/spring season.   I know I’ve said it before and I will say it again.   You’re really happy to see the people knowing that they are ok and safe.   I’ve developed a friendship with many of them and I enjoy talking with them.   I enjoy listening to them.   In the same sense, it is upsetting seeing that person that you care for as they are still in need of the help.   It’s weird to make a friend with the hope that you never talk to them again because they have moved on to a different situation.      
I was on “security” duty for the day which really means that I’m there to help show people around and chat people up while in line.   It gave me the opportunity to interact with most everyone that came to the event today which was an amazing experience.   I find that as I listen to people I get the chance to know them.   I find out what makes them tick and how they handle things.   In so many ways, these people have totally changed my perception of what life is and what we are supposed to do with it.   
We all seem to gravitate towards the people that are similar to us or to the people that we want to be like.  There is an equal if not greater amount of things that can be learned from people outside of those circles also.   The things that I learn from the people that I talk to aren’t always lessons that I can put into words easily.   In many cases, I see a changed attitude and enough of a contrasting perspective on things to make me see the world in a completely different light.   I once read, “To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you must first take off your own”.   I have always felt that I have done a good job of this.   As it turns out, I’m just now learning about how much I have yet to learn.    

Monday, May 16, 2016

Get to a comfortable place....for someone else.

That smile.
I arrived at One Of A Kind Pets today, walked in the door and said, “who needs some exercise?”   I was instantly pointed towards Faith again.   After a few laughs, we hooked up the leash to the mini-tornado and took off towards the park to get in some exercise and bonding time.   
Faith definitely didn’t disappoint me with her level of enthusiasm for being outside in this wonderful weather.   Put this dog on a treadmill and I’m pretty sure that she could power a small town… Chicago.   Just like last time, we made lap after lap around, over, and through the park in whatever direction her nose took us.   We had an absolute blast together as we had no purpose or direction other than to let off some steam.   
While we were running around, Faith would occasionally grab onto the leash with her mouth and yank it along in a wonderfully playful manor.   This puppy was out, and able to be a puppy which was a ton of fun to see.   Occasionally, like any youngin’, play mode went into overdrive and became a bit much for the adult in charge to handle.   (Yes, hard to believe, but the “adult in charge” is me.)   A tug on the leash only encouraged her more.   A “no” or a “hey” didn’t cut the mustard either.   I started wondering how long before my arm gets longer like Stretch Armstrong.   
As she tugged, played, and whirled around, I bent down towards Faith and pondered offering her a treat.   It turns out, I didn’t need the treat to change what was happening.   As soon as I started to get down to her level, she went from “play like a wild animal” mode to “cuddle” mode light a switch was turned.   Almost instantly she was sitting next to me and begging for scratches and attention.   I was blown away.   You knew it was the same dog as she had the same playful, loving look, but her actions were completely different   It was almost uncanny.  
Of course we had to snuggle, have scratches, and petting time, but I kept in mind that this is a puppy and we still needed to burn off a fair bit of energy!    Time to run!!!   We took off in a flash across the park again only to come to a sudden stop as we found a stick that looked like a lot of fun to play with.   
Besides me, do you have a friend that does things that may not make sense, but they do it just to prove that they can?   Yeah…..that’s this dog.   She picked up and carried this stick/large chunk of a tree around for 5 minutes and had a blast doing so.   Everytime she picked it up, I was given a look like “See. I’m impressive, aren’t I?”.   Yes…...Yes she is.   The whole time, we both grinned from ear to ear.  

Walk quickly and drag along a big stick
It was easy to see what Faith was trying to teach me tonight.   When I stood there and said things, she pretty much ignored me.   It’s like I was just an anchor at the other end of the leash.   As soon as I got to her height, things changed instantly.   It’s not that we were on different levels.   That’s not it at all.   What I realized is that it helps to have an association.   Stand there like a post, and you’ll get treated like one.   Don’t expect things to come to you.   Get involved with people and animals where they are comfortable, and they will love you for it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Faithfully Determind and Curious

Running, smiling, and changing directions with a bad photographer yields this result.
Meet Faith.   This little girl is what everyone wants in a puppy.  She’s spunky, curious, active, fun, and super affectionate…..and super cute! (my photography is not)   I’m pretty sure that we covered every square inch of that park this evening as we ran in pretty random patterns looking for the next thing to catch our interest.   Sometimes it was another dog.   Other times it was a bird or squirrel.   Sometimes is was even just the trail of a good smell.  I use my phone to log my mileage and when I looked at the GPS of where all we went, it looked like a 2 year old that does not know how to color inside of the lines got their hands on the map and a blue crayon.   It’s funny how in looking back at the map, I realized the first thing that I was being taught tonight.    
As a younger dog, Faith is super curious about everything.   She wants to go everywhere.   It’s the two words “curious” and “everywhere” that really struck me in all of that.   If you stay in one spot, or on one path, you’ll see one thing, or just one path.   In some cases, that’s just fine.   I realized that as beings, we have to stay curious.   It’s how we learn.   It is the difference between “alive” and “living”.   This dog is definitely living it up, even in a less than ideal circumstance which is absolutely awesome.   
If you want to see a prime example of determination, put something that Faith wants to sniff or check out just out of her reach and see what the dog does.   This dog has a drive like no other.   The 170 lb. boat anchor attached to the other end of her leash (me) wasn’t going to stop her from seeing what she wanted to see.   Even as I pulled her away from things, she dug in and pulled and pulled to see what it was that had her interest.   That’s solid determination.  That’s grit.   That’s absolutely awesome!   
Bench time
There were points where I had to play “bad guy” though and keep her away from something she wanted to see.   Rolling in mud may have been one of them…..    If I let her know it was time to move on, she did…which was amazing also.   She didn’t want to give up going to see what she wanted to until I let her know it was time for something else.   To me, that’s one of the things that makes dogs so special.   Driven, but also driven to serve.   I don’t believe that you should be so determined in something that you should never quit.   I do believe that the level of determination that Faith has is perfect.   She goes right up until the point where it’s blatantly obvious that it’s time to head in a different direction.   It’s determination with a dash of crazy, and a pinch of great judgement.   Super intelligent for someone that hasn’t been on the planet very long.  
We spent a few minutes watching the world from a bench.   We had treats (she ate, I served).   We snuggled, wrestled, and played.   All with the walking and running in the space of an hour.   The time flew by, but we still seemed to manage to squeeze so much into it which was great.   
A final thought: Leaving the shelter is always difficult.   Every dog I’ve walked I’ve wanted to bring home with me.   I leave knowing that I made someone’s day, and they have made mine.   I learn from every dog that I walk.   Irving still teaches me things all of the time even and still hasn’t run out of lessons after almost 4 years.  The dogs at the shelter practice their educational skills on me while they wait for someone that they can help on a daily basis to come along.   It’s never easy, but I’m glad I’ve had these opportunities as it’s changed me as a person and how I think about things.   Learning is a process, and there’s plenty of willing teachers out there.   The best ones never say a word.   

The guy that never stops teaching

Monday, April 25, 2016

A week not to be weak

It’s been more than two weeks since I’ve been able to get to One Of A Kind Pets to go on a walk with a dog.   I’ve missed it.   In the same sense, I’ve been a bit busy to put it politely.   As I went through work today, I pondered taking the night off again and staying home to catch up on little things around the house.   I’m really glad I didn’t as it gave me some perspective that I think that I’ve been missing over the past few weeks.
One of the four seconds that he was sitting still
This guy is Bentley...AKA, Marshmallow.  I’m not sure how much he weighs, but I’m pretty sure that he can pull his weight….and mine….and yours.   This guy has more energy than 8 dogs combined.   He’s got a huge smile, jumps like he’s got springs for legs, and runs like his butt is on fire.   He is amazing!   If you think that you need an energy drink, go for a walk with Bentley.   His energy really is contagious is the best kind of way.   
I’m glad that I decided to walk a dog this evening as earlier in the day, I was pondering not going.   I’ve been a bit stressed with a number of things that are currently on my plate and I was worried that an animal shelter would only add to that.   If you ask anyone that’s been to an animal shelter, they know that it can be a very stressful place.   Lots of barking, confusion, and some fear are mixed with a lot of love and caring.   It turns out, it was a bit of a stress reliever for me and it seemed to be the same amount of stress relief for Bentley.   
After arriving, I was trying to figure out what dog I should be walking.   I walked into the room all of the way at the back eventually which is where I found Bentley.   If anyone needed a walk… was this guy.   He has probably put more miles on pacing in his cage today than most people have on their favorite pair of shoes.   He was like a spring.   He was winding up and had enough kinetic energy stored to power a small city for a number of hours.   
I heard the words “He’s a handful”.  
“Good.   So am I” are the words that went through my head.
Slobbering foot warmer
We headed for the park and for the first few minutes, I felt like I had an electrified jumping bean at the other end of the leash.   This guy was all over the place!   When we would stop for a few seconds, he would go from “run” mode to “jump” mode.   Eventually, it became playtime and he would paw and jump at my ankles trying to get me to play like another dog.   Sooooo…...I figure it was time we learned some doggie walking manners.   A firm “NO” combined with a yank on the leash and he melted into the world's best slobbering foot warmer.   A ball of energy that will listen once they know you mean business……...sounds like Irving!

It wasn’t until one of the other dog walkers said something that I had even thought about what I had been taught this evening.   I was told, “Glad you’re here.   You’re the perfect match to walk that dog.  He needed someone that could keep up and help wear him out.”   That’s when it really hit me.   

Someone needs your help.   You specifically.   You have skills that someone needs.   Go find them.   Go help them.   Both of your worlds will be better for it.

Tonight, I made a new friend and learned something about myself.   I learned that I can help in general.   I also learned that some of the things that make me who I am, can make me a perfect fit to help a specific someone.  Don't take my word for it. Please go learn this one for yourself.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A greater understanding

With today being the last mission for the Akron Snow Angels for the winter, I feel the need to summarize not only today, but also what my overall involvement has taught me.   With that, I’ve split the blog up a bit to cover these separate points.    

Working with the homeless has totally changed my opinion of people in general.   What I realize more and more is how differently people handle things.   That totally hit me today as I handed a requested item to a gentleman.   
On our previous mission, a shorter, slight of build man that I had seen a number of times before came up and put in a request for a pair of pants.   We didn’t have any in his size, so we said that we would do our best to try to get him some.   We mentioned that we’d be back on the 9th, and he mentioned that the 8th was his birthday.   I put it in my notes that would be posted on the shopping list, but then went about my business for the rest of the day.     
I arrived today to find that along with the requested pants for this gentleman, the person that did the shopping also was thoughtful enough to get a card and some candy to add in for his birthday!   Since I recognized the guy from talking to him briefly before, I was on the lookout for him.  After all, I was excited to get him the items and wish him a happy belated birthday.      
I saw him milling around the group and hopped out of the truck and ran over to go hand him his birthday items.   I’m normally not much one for birthdays, but I felt that it was a big way to connect, get a smile, and hopefully help someone have a great day.   I handed him the bag and goodies with a big “Happy Birthday David!”.   He said “Thank you”, and went back to looking at the ground 8 feet in front of him and walking around.   It was as close to a “non-reaction” as you can get.   It perplexed me.  His birthday was a much bigger deal for me than it was for him.  
I went along for a while longer doing other things and working with other people, but I kept thinking about it.   Why didn’t he have the normal “surprise birthday stuff” reaction?   What was going on?   He got chocolate!   How can you not want chocolate on your birthday?   Then I realized it…that could be why he is homeless.   He doesn’t fit in with what society considers normal.   He just may not know how to react to things like that.   He may not have that emotion.   Because he doesn’t react the same way that we do, does that means he deserves to be homeless?   Those are some unanswered questions.   They are also questions that I’m not sure that I’d be asking myself a few months ago, but I’m glad that I have the ability to now.   
Working with this group has taught me that everyone does or handles things differently.   What should be the most important thing to me, is how I handle those situations.   I am taking much more time before I form an opinion on things.   I’m doing more research.  I’m considering more options.   In this, I’m growing.….huge.

As I look back to some of the volunteers that I’ve worked along side with in the group, there’s a common thread.   There’s something that stands out.   This group was started by one woman that spent some time at a soup kitchen and thought, “we need to help the homeless more.”   Ever feel like one person can’t make a difference?   She 100% proves you wrong.   I am astonished and amazed with what she has accomplished in what really is a very short amount of time.   There is a drive and a skillset there that I envy.   This reaffirms to me that effort yields results and that compassion is still alive and well.   
It’s often said that no one has more influence than the people you have around you.   The fact that I can call the founder of the Akron Snow Angels, and the co-founders of Elves & More of Northeast Ohio, my friends seems a bit surreal to me.   These people are amazing.   They all have demanding jobs, are involved with their families, lead active social lives...and “Oh by the way”, have helped thousands of people.   They only get paid in smiles and stories, yet still have the drive to overcome obstacles and help those that need it.   These people make me feel like a little kid that just met his idol.   I suggest that you find a friend who is a hero and/or an icon.   I’m lucky enough to have 3 friends that fit both of those words.     

Working with the Akron Snow Angels has changed my mindset on so many things.   It’s been a change that has caused me to look at the core of how I do things, how I think about things, and how I react to things.   When I started thinking about the changes and why I’ve seen them, it all comes down to people.   Both the homeless that we work to help and the volunteers that help make it happen have been the two groups responsible for these changes.   On both sides of the equation, it’s the people that have made the difference for me.   

  1. One thought can change the world, even if it’s just the world for one person.
  2. Opinions do not matter.  Actions and reactions do.   Make them positive.   Make them count.   
  3. Connect with people.   Learn people.   We all have more to learn than we think.