Friday, December 28, 2012
As we think about the good and the bad of 2012, I wanted to share the much needed rays of hope and the stories of leadership that even in the bleakest times, give us reason to keep believing that people are good.
Why does someone who has no obligation to help others and who could easily just write a small check and send it to charity, feel compelled to go the extra mile? Or better yet, the extra 150 miles, which is what Tory Johnson and her family did as they shuttled back and forth from the comfort of the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the bleakness of post-Sandy Staten Island to help people they had never met.
I was lucky enough to work with Tory years ago and if there's one thing I know about this dynamo is that she gets the most done in the shortest amount of time in the biggest way. When she got inspired by Jon Bon Jovi's post storm tweet -- "We may not have electricity but we have power" -- she sprung into action. Tory raised over $100,000 online. She promised to make sure that the money was spent directly to help the immediate needs of hard working families who lost everything in an instant on that scary October 29th.
Most people know Tory for her regular "Steals and Deals" segments on Good Morning, America and WABC. Others know her as the founder and CEO of Women for Hire and Spark and Hustle or have read one of her books, but there are over 125 families on Staten Island who know her as a friend who stepped in when they needed it the most.
Tory and her husband, Peter, and their twins, did it the hard way. After the money was raised, they came themselves to meet the families, listen to them, and then purchase what they needed to start the recovery process. For many, buying a stove meant that they could finally have heat. Purchasing tools meant that sheet rock could be replaced or a mechanics career could be saved. Buying bedding finally meant a decent night's sleep.
But perhaps more importantly, asking questions meant someone was listening proving that they really weren't forgotten.
So many things struck me about their kindness. Tory and her family are successful in their careers and their lives because they work at it. They gave back to others the same way. They didn't do it the easy way because they knew that to be a real help, they had to see it for themselves. They gave it over 100%.
The result? During the time I was with them as they walked down the aisles of Home Depot and handed out $500 gift cards to shocked but grateful affected families at an elementary school, I heard person after person, inviting Tory and Peter and their kids to come back after they've (hopefully) fully recovered to go to their block party or their holiday dinner next year or a barbecue in their back yard.
They are unexpected friends for life. Sometimes it just takes one to get you through.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Volunteers from Hudson Valley Community College
Troy, New York
How They Came?
After a student tried to get funding to bring a group to Staten Island and it fell through, the Hudson Valley Community College stepped up with the funds. They were able to hire a bus to make the
6 hour round trip.
Why they came?
"We just couldn't stay away."
It's the volunteers who just show up that provide the few rays of sunshine.
They come from all over. A few blocks away, a few hours away, a few states away.
Most of them come in, help, and get out. Never asking for a thing. Not even a thank you.
These volunteers are the glue holding our affected neighborhoods together.
It's been six weeks since the storm and they still come. As time goes on, it's even more important that they show up. Some families want to give up until someone says two simple words: "Need Help?"
I'd like to share some of the faces of those rays of hope.
Thank you to all who keep coming while much of the world moves on.
Thank you, Hudson Valley Community College! Hope you had a warm and satisfying trip back to Troy.
If you have a volunteer you'd like me to highlight, please send along their story of kindness. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, December 3, 2012
These are not ordinary times on Staten Island. For my neighbors in New Dorp, the days are full of feeling overwhelmed. It's getting colder and confusion and sadness are growing deeper. You would think, though, that as the holidays approach, the residents would give into despondency.
Yesterday, I went to the sweetest Christmas decorating ceremony I've ever been to, and that includes the year that I was standing next to David Rockefeller as THE tree was being delivered to Rockefeller Center.
First, there was a Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Cedar Grove Avenue, which now looks like a war zone. It was the coldest (still no electricity in the building) -- but yet the warmest -- Mass I have ever been to. Storm or no storm, the church bells were rung at 9:30 am. Those parishioners sticking it out in their homes all gathered. We could literally see our breath but no one seemed to mind.
Immediately following, we went to the parking lot where a small plain tree just stood there waiting for about four dozen of us. There was no music and the scene in the background was impossible to describe. Homes and delis that were there a month ago were gutted, torn apart by the surge of water and kneeling on the ground. It was cold and dark but spirits lifted when ornaments were taken out of packages and passed around.
Other than a handful of us, most everyone else placing an ornament on the tree will not be able to have Christmas at home. And for some, not be able to celebrate at home ever again.
That didn't stop them from smiling, laughing and loving this little tree. As we placed gold, red, blue and green balls on the tree and grown men strung the garland, people forgot for a minute what they were going to do, where they would be and how they would get through that day and the next.
As a joke, two men had strung together an empty six pack and placed it at the bottom of the tree. Nope. Sandy didn't rob them of their spirit!
It doesn't matter what holiday you're celebrating or what symbol you use to unify, please remember the people gathered around that little tree of hope.