Thursday, May 27, 2010

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else's life forever.” ~Margaret Cho

I have a poster in my office that my parents got for me after I graduated college in 2001.  It was in my house for a while and moved into my office when I accepted the position that I currently hold.  It says this:

One day,
A man was walking
Along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and
Gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy he asked,
"What are you doing?"

The youth replied, "Throwing starfish
back into the ocean.  The surf is up
and the tide is going out.
If I don't throw them back, they will die."

"Son," the man said, "Don't you realize
there are miles and miles of beach
and hunderds of starfish?
You can't possibly make a difference!"

After listening politely, the boy
bent down, picked up another starfish,
And threw it back into the surf.  Then,
smiling at the man, he said...

"I made a difference
for that one."

My lunch was interrupted today by a call that one of my former participants was in the building taking a budgeting class and wanted to speak with me.  When I walked into the room I was very pleased to see a man that I worked with a few years ago.  I first met him at a church in deep downtown that served lunch for people who were homeless.  He had been on the street after losing his home, his wife, and his family.  I think there was some substance abuse going on, but he never made me aware of any.  He was alone, a bit lost, but extremely driven to improve his situation.  On a few occasions I was able to get him clothing, food vouchers, and bus passes to travel around the city to find housing.  He ended up finding an apartment that he and I saw together a few times before he signed the lease.  It wasn't the nicest place, but it was near his grandchildren, which was an absolute necessity.  He needed assistance with the first month's rent and the deposit, which we were able to help with.  He moved into the apartment and began rebuilding his credit.  Shortly after, I changed departments and he began working with another specialist.

Today, this man thanked me for the huge difference I made in his life.  He said that I came to the "bad place that takes homeless people" and saw through the surroundings and into this man who needed some support.  I remember the place very was a huge church that had table after table of people who carried every belonging to their name with them.  He said he didn't want people to see me give him anything because he wanted to appear to have nothing to give (or to be taken).  I don't always remember places I go, but I remember that place well.  He said I brought him clothing, helped him find an apartment, and gave him hope that things can (and would) get better.  Today he said that he used the apartment to get out of where he was, but now he is ready to move on.  He is working with a financial advisor to purchase a home through a lease to own program.  He thanked me over and over for everything I did for him.

I honestly didn't realize I had made such an impact on this man.  I really just did what I thought was my job.  But he says he would have never been successful if I hadn't been there during what he describes as his darkest time.  I had no idea that I made such an impact on this man, but I humbly said "you're welcome" and wished him luck with his next step.

Next time you think that you can only do a small thing, so why bother, just know that one small thing truely can change someone's life forever.  Apparently I did for this gentleman, which just gives me chills.  I am so pleased to have made such an impact, and even more please that he took the time to make sure I knew what a difference I made.  For that, I am also thankful.


  1. I adore this post. Good for you. You are so never know how you are changing a life. I'll be thinking about this story all day!

  2. I love this post - made me cry. :) I think it's how we were raised - we think we're just doing our jobs, the difference between us and others, though? We actually care - we do what we do because it needs to be done. Love you, sis...

  3. We just never know when the smallest kindness turns into much more for an individual . . . what I love about this, Anna, is how this reflects exactly who you are . . . it was not a special act, it was something that you do day in and day out . . . as natural as breathing . . . were it so for all of humankind.

  4. Oscar Schindler received a gold ring from the freed Jews he saved at the end of the Holocaust. They collected the gold from the fillings in their teeth and made him a ring that was inscribed with his very own quote: "Whoever saves one life saves the world." You saved that man's life and I am sure he took great pleasure in being able to thank you personally. Your humble appreciation for his appreciation probably just made him see that is who you are. I am so proud to call you my friend.

  5. What an incredible post. We don't very often get to see how we made a difference. I am so glad you got this moment and I got to read about it.