random acts of kindness

Timmies SignToday, I had the honour of doing another AHA Random Act of Kindness. This is the third time I have been given this opportunity and I have to tell you it is very hard to commit to an idea. After much deliberation, I received a tip (thank you Paul) that I could leave money at a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru, which would pay for many coffee drinkers’ orders. Perfect!

So, after purchasing a $50 gift card, I knocked on the drive-thru window and told the ladies working what I was up to. I would be sitting in my van in the parking space directly in front of the window, watching people’s reactions as they found out they didn’t have to pay for their order.

I don’t know who was more excited about this – them or me! Honestly, one of the ladies working was having so much fun with this, she was shouting out the reactions to me as people drove away. “That guy wants to make sure he’s in your will!” It was awesome!

You’re probably wondering what I observed. Well… I saw many smiles and much confusion. I saw a man pay for his order anyway (which one of the employees had told me people often do in this situation – they don’t feel right taking it for free when someone else might need it more). I think I saw one or two customers leave a tip. Many people just looked completely confused as they were trying to figure out what was happening. Someone mentioned that it might be a Just for Laughs gag and was looking for the hidden camera. The biggest smiles came from the older generation, and oh – we got a horn honk or two!

This experience left me feeling amazing. I think it really made the employees’ day as well.

Something I notice every time I do a Random Act of Kindness for AHA is that we all seem to have a real need for connection. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was the one who had bought the coffees, but I did want to see how it affected the recipients. And the employees said that many desperately wanted to know who had done this. Where is she? Who is she? But they kept it top secret. No one had any idea that I was sitting right there in front of them, in the old Dodge Caravan.

In doing something nice for someone, I think the only thing we really want in return is to feel something… to know we’ve made a difference. We aren’t looking for a pat on the back, but we do need to feel the impact of what we have done. I was craving those smiles! And people seem to have a real need to give back and to say thank you. It’s been a constant theme each time I’ve done this and I’m very thankful to AHA for once again giving me the wonderful gift of giving.

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Each month someone from the AHA Crew is given a small budget and sent out to do a random act of kindness. For August, our fabulous PR Coordinator Laurie Hanley was given the job. Below is her blog post. — Ruth Atherley


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever searched for an empty parking space in your hometown? This is not an easy task in any major city and Halifax is no exception. It’s just brutal. It takes its toll on even the most delightful Pollyanna-type personalities. So when I was given $50 to do a random act of kindness, I ended up choosing to brighten the day for busy drivers who might have felt a little down in their search for a parking spot.

My kids and I went into the bank and got two rolls of loonies. The teller smiled and asked “Laundry day?” “Sort of,” I smiled back. Armed with 50 shiny coins, we set out on foot for Spring Garden Road, where we immediately bumped into my brother-in-law (Halifax is a largish city but also a very small town) who was keen to break in a new pair of sneakers – so he joined us.

We walked and we walked… all over town. It was a gorgeous day – blue sky, hot sun, cool summer breeze. We spent the afternoon looking for our target: an empty parking space just waiting for someone to pull in. And when we would finally find one, we’d sit down on the curb and wait. Sure enough, within minutes, someone would pull in… forwards, backwards, getting the car lodged in there, just right. Then there would be a moment of quiet. A quick cellphone check, some deep breathing, a fumbling for coins. And out of their car they’d step. That’s when I’d call: “Go!” and one of the kids would run up to the meter and pay for their parking. They would give a little wave and say: “Have a wonderful day!”

The reaction to this was amazing. Watching the person’s face as it turned from completely rushed and frustrated into the biggest grin was so worth the wait. “What are you kids up to?” said one smiley man. “Here, buy yourselves some ice cream,” said a woman trying to hand us money – which we, of course, politely declined. “Here…” said a very grateful man as he reached into his shirt pocket. “Oh no, it’s all good! Happy Friday!!” we said. But he kept on coming closer… his hand coming out of his pocket so eagerly… “I have candy! I have four of them here… and lots more in the car.” Is that a Werthers? Well, I wouldn’t want to be rude.

We did this all afternoon. It was the best Friday I’ve had in a long time. We got completely immersed in our random-act-of-kindness bubble. Normally, walking around downtown, I am like everyone else – on a mission. I have a limited amount of time to be somewhere and I don’t notice anything or anyone. But our Random Act of Kindness Day was different. We relaxed, took things in, and connected with people. And believe it or not, we still have so many loonies left. These empty parking spaces are hard to find. So one sunny day this week, we’ll pick a peak time and head back down to finish the job.

People are busier than ever these days. But what I was reminded of on Friday is that underneath the serious business face, there is still a human being. There is genuine good spirit. And we all have a need to give back. People want to connect – it’s just a difficult thing to do when we are rushing around, trying to be in 10 different places at once. But it’s so good to know we can still take the time to make eye contact and smile and make a difference in someone’s day.

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AHA - Valerie LappWhen Paul and Ruth suggested I become part of the “Random Act of Kindness” movement for AHA Creative Strategies, I immediately called a family meeting and explained the premise to my husband and two children. “We have $20 to do something kind right here in Peterborough.  What do you think we should do?”

We talked about the amazing men who drive the recycling truck, and about the always-friendly crossing guard.  They had been kind to us – they were deserving of some kindness back.

And then we thought of something.

There’s been an ad on our local TV station recently, a fundraiser for the YWCA’s Crossroads Shelter for abused women and children. A child’s voice sings, “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…” while a voiceover makes the chilling statement that there are three calls every day about domestic violence in our small town.  Three calls a day?  1,000 a year? How was this even possible?

Our decision was made.  We all liked the idea of brightening the day for scared, but courageous women and their families at the shelter, who were taking their first steps towards a better life.*

The YWCA loved the idea, when we contacted them. We suggested flowers for the women, or perhaps toys for the children – but the YWCA opted instead for the Universal Canadian Symbol of Good Will: Tim’s gift cards.

Personal delivery to the shelter itself was out of the question, as security there is very tight.  The shelter houses almost 300 women and children each year, and is only effective as long as it’s safe.  As one former resident put it: “I’ve got a great job and my kids are all doing really well. But even now, so many years later … I wake up from the fear, from that horrible icy terror that makes my heart beat so fast I think it’s going to burst… You know what calms me down? The memory of my counsellor at Crossroads telling me… we’d all be all right—because we were finally in a safe place.”

So, instead, we delivered 10 identical $2 gift cards, each in a cheery gift envelope, to our contact person at the YWCA office.  She assured us the cards would go straight to the shelter, and she thanked us with a warm smile.

I still feel the warmth in that smile, and in fact, I feel that really I should thank her.  She gave me the opportunity to feel just a little better about being human.

P.S. There’s something I noticed about this Random Act of Kindness thing.  All the kind thoughts or feelings in the world mean exactly nothing, without the actual ACT.

* A plaque on the living room of the YWCA Crossroads Shelter in Peterborough, says: “This space is dedicated to those courageous women who take bold steps toward a safer course, and to all those who help them find their way.” – Anonymous Supporter

Valerie Lapp is one of the AHA Crew based out of Peterborough, Ontario. Check her out her bio here.

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Each month, one of the AHA Crew receives $20 and is asked to initiative a “Random Act of Kindness.” For December, we asked our Calgary PR Coordinator Kim Wong to do something nice for someone in the world. Kim took the assignment to heart – she tells us about what she did below.

On Friday, I was told that it was my turn to do a Random Act of Kindness on behalf of AHA. My first thought was how do I take the $20 given to me and turn it into more than $20? I remembered that the previous day I saw an advertisement at McDonald’s that if you buy a $10 gift card you also get a coupon for a free chicken wrap and drink. So I went to McDonald’s and purchased two gift cards and made a plan to give the gift cards and free coupons to some people in need.

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