Students Travel Around the United States Promoting Kindness, Charity, and Good Deeds

I was standing in the middle of downtown Seattle with a small group of friends, watching a blind homeless man play his guitar for passersby. Having already conversed with him, we were now waiting for his performance to end so that we could have a turn singing and collecting change. For the past two months we’d been traveling around the country doing volunteer work and practicing random acts of kindness. Now, we found ourselves three thousand miles away from home in a strange city trying to come up with ways to make money so we could keep going.

The man finished his song. There was light applause from the audience, and he bowed to collect his belongings.

I wondered how much money he’d collected. We’d made an agreement that we each needed to somehow earn twenty dollars before we could leave. Between the four of us, that’d be eighty bucks. It seemed like a hefty goal for just street-corner singing and charicatures. Still, we were on a good-deed quest. Surely something would come up.

“Okay. Time to sing, right?” I asked, turning to Amber.

She didn’t seem to hear me. She was watching the homeless man. He had accidently spilled his earnings all over the ground. Shock froze us in place as the blind man scambled around between the busily passing crowd trying to collect his money as it got moved and scuffed beneath people’s shoes. Well, hadn’t we come all this way for the sole purpose of doing good deeds? Before we could help, however, another man had stepped forward. He knelt and collected some money the blind performer had missed. I was dumbfounded – this new good-deed-doer had taken the job we’d come three thousand miles to do!

I caught myself. Why was I so bitter that this man had done a nice thing for somebody else? I laughed. It was silly to be territorial about acts of kindness. Wasn’t the goal of this trip to encourage such acts? Hadn’t we just spent our day trying to get complete strangers to smile and promote goodwill?

Remembering this, I held up my neon yellow “Smile!” sign and shouted at a large group of passersby to smile. Before we began fundraising, we had decided to walk around Pike Place Market trying out our new mini-project, playfully dubbed “Smile!” Ideally, it’d brighten spirits and break down some of those silly social barriers that keep strangers from making eye-contact. Today was our first time ever trying it. I smiled just remembering.

Smiles travel faster than the speed of light. One person would smile and nudge their friend, who would look at us and smile, too. The people behind them would see us and break into grins, then turn to converse with a couple beside them who had already seen us and started talking. Vendors selling fish and fruit started yelling at the crowd, “Hey, guys! Smile!” The entire atmosphere changed.

Complete strangers with grumpy scowls would pass by on the gray street, and they looked completely unappealing. However, when they’d see our sign and smile, they suddenly seemed like old friends. Suddenly that grouchy old lady hobbling down the street wasn’t a bitter old woman, but somebody’s grandmother. It was beautiful. It was everything we hoped for. Children smiled. A forlorn-looking homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk looked up and gave us a huge grin. “Thank you,” she said.
Soon, people started stopping to talk to us. Was this a school project? Were we with a church? No, we’d answer. We’re just making people smile.

“What for?”

“Well,” I breathed, launching into my usual explaination, “Basically, it’s like this. The four of us have been driving around the country for two months volunteering at various non-profit organizations in every city and also doing random, eccentric acts of kindness like this one. This particular project is meant to break down social barriers between strangers and just brighten people’s day. The overall point of the trip is the heighten volunteer awareness and highlight particular causes; plus, it’s sort of been an inspiring journey for us. When we get home, we want to start our own non-profit,” I grinned a bit before adding, “And I personally would like to write about it.”

As we walked, people talked to us; some even stopped us so they could take pictures. After a number of rounds we were filled with a new vigor for our cause. It had been a very inspiring day. We made a fair number of friends in Seattle.
Apparently, Shane had decided we were about to make one more friend. I was still holding up my “Smile!” sign to the crowd when I heard Shane say, “That was really nice of you.”

“It’s not really anything,” responded the man, after helping the blind guitarist find all his change. “It’s what you’re doing that
actually seems interesting. What are your signs for? Is it a school project?”

Everyone looked at me, even though I had finally just tuned in on the conversation. “Er, well, I’m Heather. This is Amber, Shane, and Kijs. Like ‘rice’ but with a ‘k.’

“I’m Jered,” he said, smiling warmly, waiting for our explaination.

I inhaled and launched into our story. Jered’s eyes filled with a very familiar light – like the light of inspiration we’d been following around the country.

“This all reminds me,” he said enigmatically, “Of something I did when I was younger.”

“We’d love to hear about it!” Amber said enthusiastically.

“And I’d love for us to all share stories, however, I do have plans tonight and I have to rush on. Perhaps we can exchange emails. Before I go though….” he trailed off, pulled out his wallet.

Everyone’s eyes widened simultaneously. “Oh, no!” Amber said. “We couldn’t just take your money.”

It was like he’d read our need. Our lack of funds was a need we rather tried to hide; going around begging for money wouldn’t make for a very inspiring trip. We were supposed to be helping others, not being helped! Still, still… we did need it.
“I insist,” he explained, “It’s a charitable donation to a cause I consider very worthy.” He began to pull out a twenty dollar bill, but then he paused as if reconsidering. “Ah, whatever,” he said to himself and pulled out all the twenties in his wallet. He handed me the money. We were almost too speechless to thank him. We’d only known Jarad for five minutes; we were just a group of kids on the street, and this complete stranger emptied his wallet for us.

We gave him our website, where we’d been recording the progress of our trip, hoping to hear from him again someday. Only after saying our goodbyes and parting did we dare count the money he’d shared with us.

“It’s eighty dollars!” exclaimed Amber.

Jered’s gift was incredible; however, it also felt a little unearthly. It felt like we were being guided, like something was keeping us going even when resources and morale ran low.

Some people think that their “one little nice act” isn’t going to make a big difference in the world. I know firsthand that those little nice acts add up. That’s why I carried “Smile!” signs around a market full a strangers. It’s just one small act of kindness, but I do believe it can make a world of difference. Jered inspired us with his actions, inspired us the way we hoped to inspire the world. I sincerely hoped his kindness was proof that we’d inspired him as well.

Really, his gift gave us more than the ability to keep going. Jered gave exactly what we’d needed: Our inspiring encounter was proof that our trip was worthwhile. If one man could inspire the four of us with one good deed, then our little traveling caravan of good-deed doing really could make a difference as well! More than money, that knowledge was all the four of us needed to keep going.

After getting lost a few times, we finally found our way back to the car. We had eighty dollars and thousands of miles left to travel. I didn’t think about that though. I thought about all the non-profit leaders anticipating our arrival, all the events we had left to attend, all the crazy good deeds left to do, and all the incredible people we’d meet. When I thought about those things, I knew eighty dollars was more than enough to get us home again.

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