What is the Sequoia project?

My photo
Wausau, Wisconsin, United States
The Sequoia tree is one of the largest in the world. The seed is the size of a grain of wheat. One kind act will often seem unimportant but has ripple effects across humanity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Made a sign for the Salvation Army.

This morning I took a handcrafted sign down to our local Salvation Army and presented it to the captain. The sign read ‘HOPE’. He had an idea where to put it as soon as he read it. The look on his face showed appreciation, with a touch of bewilderment. This organization see’s first hand the struggles of so many people. The reason for the sign is to help lives who are in need of believing in a better tomorrow. A simple word can say so much. Life dishes out hard hits and unjust situations for all of us, at one time or another. We hope for an answer, a change of circumstance, or even a miracle. Some are hanging on to hope with all the strength they have.

What would life be like living with no hope? What would the world be like? To best describe what it is, I decided to look at what it would be like without it. I have often heard ‘there is no hope’ for some people or circumstances. I do not believe it. I have seen both change.

In each town, big and small, there are lives feeling turmoil and fear. Some question how they will ever go on and are in need of human compassion. Maybe they lost a job, a home, or a loved one. Maybe they struggle with disease or economical hardships. What would these lives believe in if there was no hope? I hoped this sign will be viewed when it is needed the most. I was sure it would be. A very simple action that could be the words another needs at their darkest hour.

About 6 hours was spent making the sign. Each letter was cut out, sanded, stained, and made to spell out the word. You’d think that it would be hard to part with something worked so hard on. It wasn’t. A car was filled with people outside of this building. Everything they owned was tied to the top. I felt bad that I could not give more. I wanted to reach in my pocket and give them the money needed. My pockets were empty though. I’ll probably never forget the looks of despair on their faces.

Some of these projects are uncomfortable, which makes them that more in need. To help some a person has to go right where the need is most. I am not one who can walk away and pretend that I didn’t see someone hurting. Look a different direction or look past like I never seen a thing. I was asked by one of the people if I could help them out with some gas money. I told him that I was flat broke today and had brought only a sign saying the words ‘hope’. I felt stupid and it was clumsy. I was sure they were thinking that ‘hope’ would not fill their gas tank. The answer back I will also always remember “Thank you. Hope is what we need the most right now”. With that our lives went two different directions.

UPDATE: The response received from Captain Brian was what fuels this project.

Thank you so very much. I read your post on the blog and was very touched by it and the comments posted by others. My plan is to place "Hope" in our homeless shelter in such a way that it's the first thing the residents see as they walk in the doors, ushering them into a place of hope.

--Capt. Brian

This story has also been featured at a website which has brought over 5000 viewers since September 13,2009. Skipping a stone takes on a life of it's own. Comments posted are also from different areas of the world. Thank you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paid for a strangers groceries.

While getting a few items at the grocery store today I came across a lady named Grace (not real name). She was probably 60 to 70 years old. I noticed her because she was taking items back out of her bag. She did not have enough to cover the expense. The day had already treated her rough. It was raining cats and dogs (not really) and she was soaked. She must have walked to the store to have been so wet.

The items the clerk was putting into a basket, to be returned to the shelves, were vegetables and noodles. She had a look of confusion about what items to put back. She looked like she was going to cry. With how wet she was I doubted anyone would have even noticed. I did though. I asked the clerk to simply put the items on my purchases. Both looked at me like they didn’t understand. With his own confusion the clerk started to explain that certain items had to be rescanned and subtracted first. I told him to put all of her items on my bill. The total expense of Graces tab was $17.

As I walked out to the car Grace was standing under the entrance of the store, preparing herself for the walk home. She looked at me cautiously but then recognized me as the person who had just helped her. I asked if she was alright and if she needed a ride any where. She replied “no…I’ll be just fine and thank you. That was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.” With that we each walked back into our separate lives.

I wish I could say that the money just spent did not matter. We live paycheck to paycheck and things get pretty tight in between. I knew it was the right thing to do though.

Later that day we discovered $20 that we didn’t remember putting away in our jar. There always seems to be good karma that comes out of doing a kind act. You never see it at the time, but it comes back. Keep your eye out for Grace the next time your in a store. She lives in every town and city. You will sleep better tonight.

The Sequoia Project

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sent a letter of thanks.

It does matter.
Social workers often deal with defining moments in other lives. The pay is low, the thank you few. There was one that made a huge impact in my life, many years ago. I wanted to do something to show others in this field that the work they do matters. This was an open letter sent to 80 different state and county agencies. As I read the letter to my wife we had to take a few breaks for emotions to settle. Perhaps you know a person asking themeslves if what they are doing matters. This will assure them that it does.

Dear Social Workers,

The work you do matters. On the days when you are burnt out, and questioning if it does, take a few moments to read this letter.

I was 12-years old when I first met Dale. I was lost in a world of institutions and dormitories for the last few years. The reasons why I did not understand. At the time I thought I was broken and no good. I later learned it was because of my real home that was broken. My father was an abusive alcoholic and kept his entire family in a constant state of fear. My mother ran out on the family when I was 3. The county became involved when schools noticed behavior problems. A decision was made to put me into the institutions that could maybe help.

Dale explained to me that he was a social worker, and that he promised to help find a regular home and family for me. I liked that idea! I had no clue what a ‘social worker’ was but he seemed really kind. I also didn’t know what a regular home or family was like either. There was a side of me that wished him luck in finding this home. I was convince that nobody really cared.

Dale kept his word. It took a little while but I’ll never forget our driving away from the huge and cold institution I had been at. The place meant well but it was no place to grow up. I remember, to this day, how much faith and trust I had in Dale. I didn’t want to show him these things because I was use to disappointment and rejection. I played the tough kid role and acted like it didn’t matter. It did though. The ‘tough’ kid act was a defensive wall I had learned to put up, so I could pretend nothing could hurt me.

The foster home he introduced me to became the home he promised. I wish I could say that life suddenly became easier but it didn’t. I, again, had trouble in school and in this new home. What I did have though were people around me who really cared. I pushed the envelope all the way too. I was convinced that if I acted up bad enough Dale would give up on me and the family would send me away. It was my way of testing and seeing if these things would happen.

Let me tell you, I put this man through some challenges! I was one of his first cases when he became a social worker. I tested him on just about everything. He kept telling me that he cared and I would not be able to push him out of my life. I was one of his kids and he did not give up on any of them. The stories I could share about making his job rough would fill a book. I was a little troublemaker! Once, while sitting in his car, I opened up a small fire extinguisher to see what it would do. He thought he could trust me 2 minutes while he made a quick stop for something. Wrong. When he came back the entire inside of his car looked like it had snowed in it!

I was expecting a loud voice screaming at me, saying how stupid and dumb I was. I was prepared to keep my eyes on his arms and hands. I had been smacked around enough to know what to keep my eyes on, and was good at ducking. Dale was never mean but I knew he would not be thrilled about my little experiment with his car fire extinguisher. I was use to quick changes in personalities.

The look on his face, when he returned told me I had nothing to fear. He took a deep breath and shook his head side to side. I also looked like a snowman. I had tried to quickly clean things up but it only made things worse. What we did next was clean the car. He was not happy about what had happened but took the time to talk with me about mistakes being made and correcting them. When we were done he even thanked me for helping clean the mess up.

I had this illusion in my head that once I found my mom that she would be there to love me and make my problems disappear. She lived somewhere out west. I knew nothing of her, not even remembering what she looked like. When I was about 14 I ran away in search of her. I took a bus to one of the largest cities in the world, with about $20. Dale was the person I called when I became lost and scared. It the middle of the night and I refused to tell him where I was. After about an hour on the phone he convinced me to find a police officer and that they would help me return. He traveled to this huge city and we talked about this desire to find my mom. He explained that she did love me but she had a different life. He asked me to trust him and talk about what I was feeling as he drove us to our home state.

These stories are just one of many I could share about this social worker named Dale. He was the kindest man I had ever met in my life.

This was over 35 years ago. I just talked with him on the phone a few weeks back. He has retired and was preparing to move to a new town. His wife and he wanted to be closer to a daughter (who was soon to have twins). He called simply to share what his new address was and phone number. I know his wife and have watched his children have little ones of their own. Never in personal ways but always being kept up to date on their lives. I hope they will someday read this and know it is their father I am writing about.

The next time you are questioning whether your work matters believe that it does. He never judged me or was mean. His voice was the only compassionate sound I heard, during some of my darkest and confusing hours of my young life. We did not always get along and agree on things either. When I became an adult he helped guide me as a friend. I did not understand, at 18, why he could no longer have the same contact with me, but as the years passed we simply became friends. So the next time little Johnny has you pulling your hair out, questioning everything, read this simple letter. You do make a difference. Please forward this to every social worker you know.


A once lost child.

Hopefully this will reach thousands of people who do this work each day. This also was submitted to large media outlets to pass along.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gave flowers to strangers.

Flowers for you.
Today a kind act touched 2 people’s lives at an elderly home. My wife made two really special floral bouquets and we jumped in the car and drove them down to the home.

The local paper often has this home listed in obituaries. When we explained that we simply wanted to give these bouquets away Rose (staff) looked at us with bewilderment. A random act of kindness we shared. We asked her to present them to two people she felt could use them most. Someone who had no visitors and it would make their day brighter. When she asked our name we laughed and said that it was not important, she looked at us again bewildered.

These flowers were grown from a tiny little area we have for a backyard. (40x30 feet).

This was an interesting experience and really made our hearts smile. (I ride motorcycles, have a few tattoo’s, and here I was carrying flowers! I didn’t mind one bit)

On the things my wife an I do together we like to get in and out quickly. On the way out we couldn’t open the doors! Rose chuckled and said she would do us a random act of kindness and with that she put in a code for the doors (safety issue)to let us out. Everyone laughed and we were gone quick as you know.

This would be such a nice project for gardening hobbyists to do. Just pick a spot your heart tells you to drop them off at. Think of how many lives this would brighten. These elders have helped pave the road the younger live on. Many were in wheelchairs watching the door. Some looked with hope in their eyes that maybe we were their visitors.

So many lives, like these, need to know that someone cares. These homes and hospitals are in every town.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gave away free food and clothes at a park.

Sign of compassion.
Today we spent the morning going through our personal belongings. We were looking for items to give away, free, at a local park. Not just any items but things people really needed. We came up with blankets, soaps, food, and clothing. Not things we no longer wanted, but things we use everyday. Some of the items we needed, but split the amounts in half. A list of addresses and phone numbers of local helping agencies was included.

Inside the boxes a simple letter was placed. It read…..

“Please take these items and know that your life is important. Times are difficult but these days will pass. We share what we have believing that it will matter. Use the food to nurture your body, use the blankets to stay warm. Be safe and know that the human spirit can overcome anything. Do not hold your head down for having a need to stay warm. Someday please do the same when you can. How you do it, where and when, your heart will tell you.”

This kind act was not because the phone rang. It was simply because it was the right thing to do. This park, where we left the belongings, we have seen homeless people at.

I noticed that my wife had put into one of the boxes her favorite green coat. I asked if she was sure about it and she replied that it had a hood. Her answer told me why it is I love her. She liked the coat but knew the hood could shelter the rain.

Who knows where these gifts of compassion will go. How many uses can a blanket serve other than what it was designed to do. We never go back and see what happens. Its unimportant. The right things will find the right people and that is all that counts.

On the way my wife started to cry. When I asked why she said because some things felt so right.

The Sequoia Project

This story was published by the biggest Good News network on the internet. Visit their link for more inspiring stories.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mentor with troubled teen.

Gus. (Story from experience in March)
Was I ever glad to get home. The day was spent walking dogs outside during a midwest storm. My clothes were soaked and a hot shower sounded good. Gus, the 12-year old boy I was mentoring with, looked just as cold when we had called it a day. He was a petty thief, chronic liar, and also was being raised in a very dysfunctional home. We were walking dogs at a nonprofit pet adoption center. The animals needed tending to, no matter what the weather was like outside. Gus was earning money to payback the victim for a phone he had stolen.

I don’t think Gus had listened the entire day. We talked about his stealing and about how gangs were calling him into their direction. I liked Gus and did not want him to experience what waited for him from foolish actions. Gus was not a ‘bad’ kid. He was 12-years old and life had taught him to be tough and put a front on that he was cool. He looked up to the gang life like it was a honorable calling. The whole day he kept trying to push the limit with things and even once let a large pit bull loose. The dog started a fight with a smaller dog I was walking. Gus wanted to see how I would responded being in the middle of these two sparing dogs. Would I show weakness and look afraid? He later said it was an accident but I knew it hadn’t been. I got a little frustrated by it but I didn’t show him any reaction at all. I separated the dogs an looked at the puncture wound on my hand. He asked if it had hurt and I simply said that it was part of working with animals. Gus was not going to see any reaction other than taking care of business. He did get the ‘look’ though.

The next day arrived with the same wet weather. I held off on picking Gus up until the roads were safe to travel on. When we arrived at the pet center we talked some about the day ahead. I told him that I wished I could trust him alone while tending to other animals. There was a small donation box at the main desk and I was concerned about him snatching money out of it. He promised he wouldn’t because he was too “big” time for that. He said it made him uncomfortable to always have people not believe him or trust him. This was the opening I was hoping for. A small crack into what Gus was really feeling and thinking. We spent the next 2 hours walking dogs, in the rain, and dealing with real things. His home life was spent bouncing around from one city to another with his mother and siblings. Gus’s mother was out on parole and dealing with a lot of her own personal issues. She loved all her kids but life just never seem to get any better for her. As an ex-convict jobs were limited yet her desire to change her own life around was strong. Gus shared that she had been laid off from her last job and was looking around for work again. I told Gus that his mother seemed like a good person and that something would come up. I made a conscious effort to try an contact a business deli owner I knew, and inquire if he had any openings. The rest of the day went smoother and Gus felt the pride of a job well done. He even had fun doing it. He trusted me, the environment he was in, and he was a pleasure to be around. I don’t know if anything we talked about stuck but I did know that he did not spend the day smoking cigarettes and stealing cell phones. Most of the time real change does not come overnight. It happens slowly and hours at a time. The hours become days and the days become weeks.

Gus looked forward to quitting time each day. We would finish up whatever we were doing and then stop somewhere to eat before taking him home. The guy could eat! We were struggling in our own home, trying to save every dime, but I had no idea what this child had to eat at home. I wanted him to at least have a good meal inside him before he slept that night. This was not a kind act but simply something that helped me sleep better at night as well. When I got home I called the deli owner and the next thing I knew Gus’s mother called saying that she had been hired. I took no credit and shared it was simply someone I knew.

I don't know if the time spent with Gus did any good. I know he will think back to these days and remember them. I did not'have' to do what I was doing but I'm sure glad that I did. The ripple effect could go far on this one.

Lose the Wheels.

Lose the Wheels.
Today was an interesting day. The phone had rang last night and told me where to go.

The program was teaching disabled children how to ride bicycles. A local public school was holding the camp on their facilities.

On the drive there I thought about how courageous these kids are. This was the first day of writing about my experiences and it had good symbolism in starting things out. After about 20 minutes of meeting people and learning about the program kids started to show up.

This morning I witnessed examples of how life is basically for all of us. We start out believing we can do something, but often fall along the way. Kids first started out in the gym riding bikes specially equipped with back rollers. They learned that they could actually feel the wind without fear of landing hard on the ground. They trusted and were helped along by others who cared about their lives.

Many were scared at first, needing encouragement and support. To watch them later laughing and feeling proud of themselves was a transformation. Staff and volunteers would shorten the back pin as the kids grew more skilled. With each stage came a new challenge. The goal could be seen but yet not felt. They were there to learn how to ride a bike with no training wheels.

We all can probably remember the training wheels coming off our bikes. The incredible feelings of independence and freedom. These children wanted this. The people around them did the same.

The goal was to help these kids slowly move from the gym to the outdoor runners track. Another scary crossroad. This is where I seen the faces of achievement and success. Bikes no longer had back rolling pins but regular tires. A brace in the back of the bike made it possible for spotters to hold on. I watched as some kids struggled and were telling others they did not want any help. They knew what they were doing and could do it themselves. Overcoming challenges were nothing to them. They struggled simply to be excepted and treated as the human beings they were. I watched as this spirit soon propelled the wheels on their bikes faster.

Being part of this experience taught me about a little girl named Trish (not real name). I knew her only by a pink helmet and a smile. She went from never knowing what it was like to ride a bike (without training wheels on) to looking like Lance Armstrong!

Having surgery on a wrist soon so was limited in how I could help. Simply did what I could. Spent about 5 hours on a project highlighting them to different major media outlets. There is always a way to help.