Funding Good Deeds to Build Community – Laura Hale (POY 17)

Funding Good Deeds to Build Community - Laura Hale (POY 17)

Laura Hale founded the ONE Good Deed Fund, which provides small grants to fund good deeds and build community in Burlington, Vermont.

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Transcript

This transcript may differ in minor instances from the audio content. Please notify Josh Morgan of any errors you may find.

Monologue by Josh Morgan

This is The Plural of You, the podcast about people helping people. I’m Josh Morgan.

I’m a sociologist and a writer, and I use this podcast to share stories from people who are making a difference in the lives of others, people like you and me. You can read along with the transcript for this episode at pluralofyou.org/017.

Laura Hale is the founder and President of the ONE Good Deed Fund, a nonprofit organization that’s building community in the Old North End neighborhood of Burlington, Vermont, one good deed at time. She has established a fund to back local residents who have ideas for small acts of kindness but can’t afford to make them happen. So far, the fund has been successful at bringing people together in Burlington that may have otherwise never met. I talked with Laura recently about the project and about her work, and I’ll play our conversation in a moment.

There are lots of things I like about Laura’s approach to building community. She understands that communities are built one relationship at a time, and she structured her fund to facilitate one-on-one interactions with that in mind. She also makes a point to get people talking on the same level about their needs instead of one person imposing their expectations on another and calling it help. I like that she recognizes the problem of overlap in the nonprofit sector, too. Plus, I’m not aware of any other organization that connects people quite like hers.

There’s a couple of topics I’d like to highlight before I play my conversation with Laura. One is the collaborative approach to solving problems, which the ONE Good Deed Fund exemplifies. There’s a book I’ve referred to often in my own life titled Community: The Structure of Belonging. It’s by an organizational consultant and author named Peter Block. In the book, Block makes the case that American communities are fragmented, and he says that’s because our culture has trained us to focus more on our deficiencies instead of our gifts and our problems instead of our opportunities.

Block goes into more detail in the book, but he suggests that the social fabric of our communities has to be woven one room at a time. What he means is that everyone with a potential stake in a discussion has to be invited to participate, and not showing up is a message in itself. Making decisions on behalf of others solves nothing except for the people making the decisions. He asserts that this approach requires us to encourage one another to get involved in the greater whole instead of blaming or dismissing others when social problems don’t magically solve themselves, or when others choose not to participate. I think the ONE Good Deed Fund does a good job of showing what’s possible when people work together on a smaller scale like this.

The other topic I’d like to discuss here is just how much power negative interactions and events can have over us. Laura references research by psychologist Roy Baumeister and his associates later in our conversation.1 I mentioned his research on negativity bias in the first episode of The Plural of You. Again, I want to point out that bad outcomes affect our thoughts more strongly than good ones, and that can warp how we see the world.

I’ve had a few people in my life lately who have questioned the state of humanity because of horrible stories in the news. I felt compelled to remind them of positive events that happened at the same time but weren’t as widely reported. I’ve found this rubs some people the wrong way, like I’m advocating that we should be oblivious to the world around us. The idea behind looking for the helpers isn’t to ignore when people act maliciously or to annoy others with our optimism, but to recognize that, like you’ll hear Laura say, people are capable of great good, too.

I think Laura would agree that giving up on humanity and escaping into our own lives isn’t going to make the world any better or less scary. It just delays the solutions. We all have a stake in the world’s problems, and doing nothing is the reason why so many of them may seem so intimidating in the 21st century.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Laura. I probably related to her more than anyone I’ve talked with so far for The Plural of You. I hope you’ll find her story and her mission inspiring in the context of feeling powerless or scared. If you’re tired of how things are going, then be the person you’ve been waiting for. That’s what people like Laura are doing. Here’s Laura Hale, founder and President of the ONE Good Deed Fund.

Interview with Laura Hale

JM: Hi, Laura.

LH: Hi! How are you?

JM: I’m great. How are you?

LH: I’m good, thanks.

JM: I feel like I should stay quiet for a moment and let you take a breath. It seems like you have all of these different things going on.

LH: Oh, no. Weekends are always more quiet for me. Don’t worry about that. [laughs]

JM: Oh, good. Okay.

LH: If you called me on a Thursday or something like that, I’d probably be like, “Okay, I have ten minutes. Go!” [laughs] But no, I’m fine. Thank you, though.

JM: I discovered you and your work because of the ONE Good Deed Fund. Would you mind explaining the purpose of the project?

LH: Sure! The idea is to connect neighbors who wouldn’t otherwise know each other. The way we do that is by giving out gifts or grants of $100 or less to individuals who want to do a good deed for someone else but need funding to make that happen, specifically people who live on the Old North End of Burlington, Vermont.

JM: Are there specific problems that you’re looking to address in Burlington?

LH: I’ve been in Burlington for about fifteen years now. I came from right outside of Boston and moved up here after college. It can be a really difficult place to break into.

JM: How do you mean?

LH: People who are from this area tend to already have their connections.

JM: Oh, I see.

LH: Yeah. It’s a college town: we have a university and two colleges in here. It’s also the largest city in Vermont with 42,000 people, so it’s small. There’s a big transient population of students and people who are coming here for jobs. I’ve heard from a lot of other people who had a similar experience to mine that it can be really isolating.

In the Old North End, we’re at the highest section of poverty in the city. We also have the highest amount of diversity: we have a large community of different, former refugees living here, which is fantastic. Burlington is an international resettlement community. We have all of the ethnic markets, we have a lot of languages spoken here, we have two elementary schools, we have all of these things that are vibrant and wonderful. We also have poverty, we have drug crime, we have three-quarters rentals and few owner-occupied, single-family houses. It’s a continually transient part of the city. I think when you have that, the connections between people break down, if they ever start at all. That’s one of the things I wanted to change.

I used to work for the city, and I did community development work for the city. One of the things we had was the Center for Community Neighborhoods. There was funding through Community [Development] Block Grants from HUD to fund community development projects. If people wanted to have a block party, if they wanted to have a dumpster come in so people could throw out their trash, or just wanted to have a connection, a community dinner or something, there was funding for it.

JM: I’ve never heard of that.

LH: Yeah! It’s unusual. The Community Development Block Grants through HUD traditionally get used for city support. It tends to go to a mayor’s office or governor’s office and get used for whatever the city needs, but in Burlington it had been sectioned off by the Community and Economic Development Office to have part of it specifically for community needs. The funds have since dried up to the point where the Community Development Block Grants, CDBG money, is now specifically to fund an office in Burlington and some nonprofits, so that pot of money is gone, which is one of the things I was trying to replicate with the ONE Good Deed Fund.

It used to be that there was an office in the city, there were places people could go if they were like, “Listen, I feel really disconnected” or “I’m seeing this issue in my community, and I really don’t know what to do.” That has sort of gone away. I think once that went away, there was a real gap in how people could get involved in their community. That’s one of the things I saw—I continued to see people suffer because they weren’t connected to each other, and I wanted to change that. That’s one of the things I had anticipated doing with the ONE Good Deed Fund.

JM: What is your day job?

LH: Ah! The one that actually pays my bills! Thank God for it. [laughs]

I’m the Executive Director of the Vermont Coalition of Clinics for the Uninsured. That’s a network of ten free medical clinics around the state.

JM: Oh, interesting.

LH: Yup. It’s a great group of people. I deeply, deeply admire the work they do. We joke that we’re the safety net for the safety net. When there’s nowhere else for people to go for medical help, if they don’t have insurance or don’t know how to get on insurance, they end up at one of our clinics.

JM: What brought you to Burlington from the Boston area?

LH: An ex-boyfriend. [laughs]

JM: Ah, I see.

LH: I think that’s how a lot of people end up at their first place. I loved Massachusetts, I loved being there, but after I graduated from college, my ex-boyfriend had a job offer from IBM up here, which is one of the largest employers in the area. After a couple of years, we broke up, and I stayed. Actually now, he’s in Massachusetts, which is kind of funny. [laughs] That’s how it goes. I kept finding reasons to stay.

JM: [laughs] That’s nice.

What was your major in college?

LH: Theater, which I have not used one second since I graduated. [laughs] My entire career post-college has been working in nonprofits or working in government. I took a brief hiatus to be a bookseller for a couple of years when I couldn’t find any other work. Other than that, my career has been all in governance, public health, community building, neighborhood organizing, and all of that sort of stuff.

While I do use some of the work that I learned as a theater major, I have not done anything with theater ever since.

JM: I was just wondering: How did you go from being a theater major to the career that you’re in now?

LH: You know, I moved up here and thought I was going to keep going in theater. I really liked the strange, experimental theater so I was pretty highly unemployable when I left. [laughs] I had always heard that Burlington was a really big arts community, so I thought I would have no problem. When I got up here, I realized that, yeah, it’s a really vibrant arts community if you expect to volunteer your time when there are almost no jobs for it, which is true in a lot of places.

I saw an ad in the paper for a job working with nonprofits and technology. I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting. I did some work with nonprofits when I was in highschool, volunteering and things like that. I have absolutely no experience in technology, so why not give it a shot?’ I interviewed—it was an AmeriCorps VISTA position with the United Way of Chittenden County. It was an interesting program where you were helping nonprofits use technology strategically in partnership with IBM. I interviewed for the position and by the time I got home, they had offered me the gig.

With almost no experience, I took that position, and I have to say I absolutely loved it. After that, I couldn’t find a job after my VISTA terms were over, so I was a bookseller for a couple of years, which is what I had done in college. I knew after about a year that I really needed to go back into the world of mission-based work. I have been stuck on it ever since.

JM: It’s interesting how that worked out.

LH: It is. I feel like so many things happen by chance or happen just by this kind of gut feeling of, ‘I should try that.’ Even with the spectacular failures that everyone has, there’s still a reason you tried it. There was a reason I read that job description and thought, ‘Huh. I could do that! That seems interesting.’ I was right. It did actually fulfill me.

JM: Coming back more to the present day, is there a story behind what sparked the idea for the ONE Good Deed Fund?

LH: Yeah. I’ve worked for the city, and I felt a deep connection to the people I was working with in the community, seeing this spark in them of “We can make this better. We can make all of this better.” I was like, “Yeah, we can! Let’s do this! Make it better!” and then seeing the resources dissolve. I was like, “Ugh!” It punches you in the gut.

I had been running the AmeriCorps VISTA program for the city. It’s interesting that I got tied back into where I first started my career. I loved it, but the funding went away. We lost our grant, so I became a neighborhood organizer for the city on an interim basis. Again, I was touched by all of these people who were really dedicated.

After that went away, I had about two years after I left that job where I was doing consulting and things like that in the meantime. I kept going back to that. I was like, “There has to be a way to make this work. There has to be a way to keep people connected in their community.” I kept looking at other community groups, I kept looking at nonprofits, and I kept thinking, ‘Okay, one of these is going to pick it up.’ I was waiting. I was like, ‘Okay, someone’s going to be this person. Someone’s going to be this leader. Someone’s going to take this on.’ [laughs] It just didn’t happen.

I remember distinctly having a conversation with my friend Sarah, who is now a city councillor because she’s amazing. Both of us kept having coffee every week thinking, “Okay, what are we seeing, what are the issues we’re facing? How can we connect people to these resources?” We kept coming back to, “Okay, so that resource is gone. What are we going to do?”

It was a cold, April day. I remember I was in the shower, and I was taking an extra long shower because it felt so good to be warm. I was like, ‘Oh, son of a gun. I can fix this. What can I start with? What can I do that’s small?’ It hit me: I can help people connect to their neighbors by doing good deeds.

I had been gardening: I love plants, I’m a plantaholic.

JM: Me too.

LH: I love it! I love watching them grow, I love the science of it. They’re just miracles of nature.

JM: There’s absolute virtue in it.

LH: It is! There’s nothing but wonder involved in watching a plant grow and thrive. I had created gardens in my front yard, which is small. I met a bunch of my neighbors doing it, I met neighborhood kids.

I had a couple of kids I worked with a lot who had a difficult home life, and this was their sanctuary, coming out in the morning and ringing my doorbell at 6:00 in the morning. [laughs] They were really dedicated. We would spend hours out there. I showed them what were weeds and what were the plants. They helped me plant. It was their sanctuary as well as mine. I had wanted to give plants to my neighbors so they could grow gardens, and I didn’t have the finances for it. That kept resounding with me: ‘I wish I had some way to make this happen over the summer.’

The thing is, when you’re looking for funding if you’re not a nonprofit, there’s almost nothing. If you’re looking at grants, all of them say, “No funding for individuals.” I kept looking at that. I’m like, ‘Okay. Here are the problems: People aren’t connecting with each other. There’s no pot of money for neighborhoods. My neighbors don’t know each other, and everyone is stuck in their own little world. How do I fix this?’ It hit me: ‘Well, heck. I could start a grant fund!’

That afternoon, I [decided] it was going to happen. I actually didn’t want to start it as its own nonprofit. I wanted to make it a fund that was attached to some other organizations. I’ve learned over the years that a lot of nonprofits start, and they’re replicating things that are otherwise being done. I didn’t want to do that.

JM: I’ve noticed that too, yeah.

LH: Yeah! I wanted to make sure I wasn’t duplicating anything. If a structure existed that I could hop onto, I was interested in that, but the groups I talked to around town, pretty much everyone didn’t have their nonprofit status or they didn’t have the structure for it. I, probably within a couple of days, wrote the articles of incorporation and the by-laws. Thanks to years in the nonprofit world, especially a couple as a fundraiser, I was intimately acquainted with what those are supposed to look like.

I floated the idea to several people; I got feedback; I convinced a couple of my dear friends who are also smart, dedicated people to be my board members; and we started. I think it may have been a month between when I thought of the idea to when I got my friends to be my board members, and we were up and running.

JM: That’s so cool!

Now that the project is established, how do you receive funding?

LH: We get it all from the community. I started it with a GoFundMe campaign. I wanted to raise $800 because I wanted $400 to cover the cost of applying for our 501(c)3 status and I wanted another $400 in grants. I ended up raising over $1,000 in a week because I have generous people in my life and also because I was a fundraider for the Boys & Girls Club here, so I knew how to set up and ask.

We’ve ended up raising I think about $3,000 at this point and have given out over $1,000 in grants.

JM: What’s the process like for applying for a grant and then receiving a grant?

LH: My intention and my board’s intention has always been to make this as easy as possible. I know the word grant can be intimidating to people. We made it as simple as possible. We stripped down all of the questions to basically what we needed to know.

If someone wanted to get a grant, they go online to onegooddeedfund.org. They can either do the application online as a form or they can download it. There’s about six or seven questions: who the applicant is, where they live, who they want to do a good deed for, where they live because the people that receive good deeds need to be in the Old North End, how much money they’re applying for, what the good deed is, why it’s important, and when it will be done. That’s pretty much it.

About every three months—we do it about quarterly. We’ve decided to do it three times a year that we have these grant deadlines. The three of us get together, we look through them. Rarely do we say no. Usually if we say no, it’s not a fit or someone is applying for themselves and not for someone else. You have to be pretty far off the mark to not get some kind of follow-up. We’ve had several that were close but they weren’t really a fit, but we’ve followed up with them. I’ve met with plenty of people, and we’re very involved when someone gets a grant.

They submit their application to us; we get back to them on whether it’s a yes, no, or maybe; there’s some follow-up; the good deed gets done; and then we pay for it.

JM: I have the impression that a typical grant is $100 or so. Is that the standard amount or does it vary?

LH: That’s our top amount. I think we’ve had grants that went for $40 up to $100. We had one grant that we were heavily involved in that ended up not needing any money at all because it got donated. It’s all over the map, but $100 is the most we can do at this point.

JM: Do you have any favorite stories of things these grants have allowed people to do?

LH: I have a couple. This might have been the first—if it wasn’t the first, then it was close to the first. What’s great about it is that I knew both the person that applied and the person who was going to receive the good deed, but they didn’t know each other.

A friend of mine, Meg, had applied for waterproof boots for a woman who works at a local laundromat. She didn’t know this woman well, but she had heard her say that she didn’t have waterproof boots. I don’t know if you know Vermont weather boots, but waterproof boots are a must. We have a season up here called mud season.

JM: Wow, I’ve never heard of that.

LH: [laughs] I hadn’t either until I moved up here. I thought people were kidding until I experienced it myself.

Having known both of them, they’re both strong, hard-working, self-reliant people. I also knew the woman who was the recipient, she was probably not going to just accept it, but I loved it and the board loved it. We were like, “Let’s make this happen.” Under that whole idea of making sure people were connecting, we kept sending Meg back out. We were like, “Okay, find out her shoe size. Get connected to her.” Meg kept having to go back and talk to her.

JM: Oh, I like that.

LH: Yeah, which is the point, and convincing this woman, Mary, who received the boots that this wasn’t something—she and her husband are raising five granddaughters. Of course she wanted to provide for them, but we were like, “No, no. This is for you.” After many, many conversations, Mary finally agreed to take them. It ended up with Mary and Meg going shopping together and picking out boots. They ordered them online.

The best part of the story is that Meg’s car broke down right outside of Mary’s house, and Mary helped her replace her battery. Now they had this wonderful, reciprocal relationship.

JM: That’s so cool!

LH: That’s exactly what we were trying to do.

We have another one where a woman who I know because I’m part of an Old North End safety team, she had a neighbor who had a lot of debris in her backyard. She had considered Code Enforcement to get it taken away, but a couple of us knew who that neighbor was. That woman, Peggy, has been a long-standing force for change in Burlington and has been a long-standing advocate of women in the trades. She’s a pretty amazing person but is getting older. She had a barn in her backyard burn down through an act of arson, and it turned out that it was a couple of neighborhood kids that did it.

Kelly, who asked for this and was kind of struggling with this, didn’t know. From her perspective, she was looking into a person’s yard that had all sorts of debris, there were raccoons. She was looking at critters, and it was destructive to her. Through talking to her, it molded from the idea of calling Code Enforcement and having a penalty attached to this, to seeing how it could be turned into a helping opportunity.

Over a couple of months, we talked a lot about what was being done. She met her neighbor, so Kelly and Peggy were connected. We kept trying to push, “Well, instead of just saying we’re going to help, let’s let Peggy dictate what help she needs.” At the end of it, I think probably six months after we had started this whole thing, we ended up with a neighborhood cleanup of Peggy’s backyard. It turns out she had work crews come in. She did a lot of work herself but just didn’t have the physical capacity to take away a lot of the debris. A lot of us came in and she directed everything that we took away.

Kelly and Peggy got to know each other and we had the whole thing. The ONE Good Deed Fund was going to pay for the cost of taking the trash away, but the person that took the trash away ended up donating because he was so touched by the whole thing.

JM: That’s great. I like how these stories are more collaborative in nature. A lot of times, it can be like someone gets the idea that they want to target someone else to help and may not know exactly what the person or group needs. I like that there’s this mutual understanding and a conversation that sparks because of these grants. That’s interesting.

LH: I think that’s a very human instinct is to fix, to see a problem and to fix it. It’s less of an instinct to want to get other people involved, listen to them, and understand their needs. I think that’s one of the things I want to focus on with this, is how are we truly connecting people, not “I am the person in power who’s doing something for you, the person without power” but “How are we building community, empathy, and sympathy, really getting to know each other and collaborating on something that is good for both of us and the neighborhood?”

JM: Are there other organizations that you were inspired by when you put this together? I’ve never heard of anything like this other than Community Chests way back in the day.

LH: Right. Frankly, I haven’t heard of anything like this, either. The things that have really inspired me have been the people with very little resources and power who go out and do good things, anyway. One of the programs that’s always been incredibly inspiring to me is the Homeboy Industries project in LA.

JM: Right, in California.

LH: Yeah. I’ve listened to Father Gregory Boyle be interviewed several times, I’ve read his books and everything. I think what really moves me about that entire things is that the basis of all of it—whether it’s getting someone a job, getting tattoos lasered off, any of it—is about building kinship between people. That’s the healing part of it is that it’s not about someone in power helping someone that doesn’t have power. It’s about people meeting each other where they are and helping them, and getting as much out of helping as they are out of receiving help.

That’s reciprocity in that it’s truly done on this idea that we are all on this Earth, all struggling. All of us have our issues, but we can make a difference in someone else’s life. I found that so moving. I think that, without identifying that as a piece of what I was trying to build into this, it was absolutely what I was trying to build into this, that idea of building community one good deed at a time, is really it. I think so much of what we face in this world, and if you look in the media, we certainly don’t have to go far to find stories of horrible behavior, people gutting each other and treating each other like crap.

I wanted to find a way to highlight that it’s just a piece of the puzzle. There are so many people who are doing these small, wonderful, inspiring acts, and that they don’t get the publicity. Who helps their neighbor plant a garden is not going to get national news, but that’s exactly what’s happening every day, everywhere. I just wanted to help facilitate that.

JM: I think we have that in common.

LH: Yeah! When I found your podcast, I was like, “Oh my gosh! He’s doing the same thing I am, just a little differently!”

JM: What keeps you busy outside of working with the Fund and your day job? It seems like you’re involved in all sorts of things.

LH: I am. I fully admit to being someone who is addicted to getting involved in things.

I’m part of the Old North End Safety Team, so I get to work with neighbors, police, and all sorts of folks to talk about, “Do you feel safe? What are the things we can do?” Trying to empower people to get beyond fear and think about what they need to feel safe where they are.

I also have an art business. I have my own small art studio, and I make household goods out of old, recycled toys because it makes me happy and other people seem to love them, too.

JM: So you’re a found artist?

LH: I am! I do upcycles, I love it. I love scouring. I honestly love finding discarded things that have this incredible beauty of them and bringing that back to life.

What I really love doing in addition to these small projects I’m involved in—basically people contact me and they’re like, “I have this idea, and I don’t know how to make it happen.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh. We can do this.” [laughs] I do consulting for artists who want to grow their business, and I also teach professional development classes through Burlington City Arts here. I do consulting for nonprofits.

I’m kind of a fixer. I like helping people solve their problems.

JM: Where do you think that desire to help people comes from?

LH: It’s interesting: I was interviewed a few weeks by a group of local folks. They asked me a lot of questions about where this desire to work on this stuff happened. Truthfully, I had a crappy childhood. It was really difficult. I was afraid and angry, and I was isolated. I wouldn’t use the phone. I was terrified. I was just scared. I exceled in school, but I was different from my peers. It was a lot of stuff, it was a lot of PTSD. I was angry and afraid, I think, for a big chunk of my young life—through college, too.

In my early twenties, I got married, was in a bad marriage, and got divorced. By my mid-twenties, I was really alone. That was a real turning point for me: I think I was 27 or 28. I think it was my 28th birthday. I was like, “I can’t do this any more.” I was like, “I am living in so much turmoil, and I hate myself. I don’t trust other people, and I’m scared.” I just started break a lot of that stuff down. I wish I could say that there was some powerful, profound moment where that switch happened, but really it was finding myself being very lonely and saying, “I just don’t want to live like this any more.”

All of this time, when I had been scared and fearful, the few people I did trust in my life, I was incredibly loyal to them. Anything they had wanted, I would help them. I started to change the way I looked at people and understood that everyone had their own struggles, and that the people who I was most afraid of were also afraid. I started to build that empathy for other people.

Bit by bit, as I got older, I kept realizing that everyone was scared, everyone was fearful, everyone was angry, everyone was alone, and that we were all just trying to get through this thing. I think once I made that connection, it might sound cliche, but my heart opened up. I started to view people not as a threat but as potential allies. Where I had gone my whole life thinking that everyone was going to hurt me, I realized that everyone else had already been hurt. I started to really want to help people, and it became almost impossible for me to see someone else suffering and not step in. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know where it comes from, but I can’t see someone else suffer and not need to step in and see what I can do to help.

I have hit a point in my life where I see everyone as doing the best they can. Whereas when I was younger, I saw everyone as a force for great evil, I think now I see everyone as a force for great good. I realize that some people need more helping hands to get to the place where they can exercise that good than others, but we’re all capable of it. We’re all capable of great good.

I gotta tell you, when I give out the grants, when I tell people they are getting a grant, it makes me so happy. I will fundraise until the cows come home to give out money to help someone do something nice for someone else. It just makes my day.

JM: That’s so great. Thank you for sharing that. I think a lot of people can probably relate to those circumstances. I know I had a messed-up childhood, but’s like you said: there wasn’t a single event that flipped my direction. It was sort of a gradual thing that happened over time. I’m glad you’re doing okay now, though.

LH: It’s funny: my closest friends are people who also had difficult lives. We all bond in that mutual face of, “Man, we have gone through some stuff, but look where we are now.” It dictates your sense of humor, and it dictates everything. We are incredibly strong people. I think that’s a mistake that people make: they think that people who are leaders and the people who are helpers, we must have had the perfect lives. I think the people who make the strongest leaders and the strongest helpers are the ones who have been through it and back.

JM: Makes sense.

LH: One thing I continue to see is that, the more community connections you have, the more safety net you have, the more positive interactions you have in a day, the better able you are to handle all of the crap that gets thrown your way. If I can do that through the ONE Good Deed Fund in addition to the other stuff I’m doing, I’m absolutely thrilled.

JM: If anyone were to hear this and feel inspired to start something similar in their own area, would you have any advice you would give? Is there anything you might do differently that you’ve learned?

LH: I don’t know that I would do anything differently. I would recommend people reach out to other groups that already exist. Reach out to people who have the professional expertise to make this stuff happen.

Ask a lot of questions. Figure out if you’re trying to solve—I say this to people I work with when I’m writing grants: how do you know this is a problem? Are you trying to solve something that doesn’t actually exist? Understand the other resources that already exist, understand how they work, what the shortcomings are, what the successes are. Keep asking questions, and you’ll come down to the heart of what you want to do.

I would say a big piece is who are you bringing in with you? Especially if it’s a problem that people are facing, are you bringing them in with you? Are you empowering the people who are having the difficulties that you’re trying to solve? Are they part of the leadership structure? Are they part of the people making decisions? We have enough top-down structures in this world: don’t recreate one.

JM: I think that goes back to what we were talking about earlier, about the ONE Good Deed Fund inspiring collaboration rather than trying to target people.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. We all have enough moments in the day where we are the recipients of other people’s decisions. I really, really encourage people to bring as many folks as possible in on the decision-making process.

JM: Where can we follow you or the ONE Good Deed Fund online?

LH: The main way to keep in touch is through www.onegooddeedfund.org. We are on Twitter and Facebook. It’s facebook.com/onegooddeedfund, and the same thing with Twitter. It’s @onegooddeedfund.

JM: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to talk about?

LH: I would just say that we can all do this. I think it’s very easy to stand outside and say, “Well, I don’t have the knowledge. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the resources,” but you can do small things. That’s what I want to encourage people to do. Small, good deeds make a big difference.

There’s a lot of research on kids that are in foster care that, while your average child in a loving home has about thirty positive interactions a day, kids in foster care have, like, one positive interaction a day. How are you supposed to build resiliency if you don’t have that? I think that holds true for all of us. In different parts of our life, sometimes we have one positive interaction a day and sometimes we have thirty. There’s a lot of research, too, that says it takes five good interactions to outweigh one bad one.1, 2

I encourage people to be the positive influence, even if it’s something small, even if it’s asking to hold the door for someone if they need a door held. It’s really small things, but those are the game-changers.

JM: I guess that’s all I have.

LH: Okay, great!

JM: I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you for making time.

LH: Thank you so much! I was so happy to be asked. For some reason lately, people have been asking me to talk about this stuff, and I’m like, “I will talk to anyone about this stuff.” [laughs]

JM: Yeah, glad to do it.

Alright, have a good day.

LH: You, too.

Conclusion by Josh Morgan

This episode of The Plural of You was produced by me, Josh Morgan, in chilly Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Mike Martinez created the music.

You can find show notes, past episodes, and other resources at PluralofYou.org. You can keep in touch and read other stories about the helpers of the world on Facebook and Twitter at PluralofYou. Subscribe by searching for The Plural of You wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re listening through iTunes, please leave a review for The Plural of You because it’ll help others find it, too.

In closing, here’s a homework assignment.

Whenever you’re upset or overwhelmed by something, stop, take a few deep breaths, and collect your thoughts. It’s okay to feel emotions that make you feel uncomfortable, but don’t let them affect how you think of yourself or how you may think about others. Like Laura said, we all deal with being scared and angry and lonely, and the more we can recognize that about one another, the more likely we’ll be to build empathy and reduce the anxieties we all share.

That’s all for now. Thanks for helping.

Notes

  1. Laura cites an article by Roy Baumeister and associates on the psychological influences that bad events have over good, i.e. the negativity bias. As of this posting, the article is hosted here. (Back to citation.)
  2. Laura also provided two articles on the effects of human interaction among children in foster care systems: “Fostering Success in Education” by the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, and “Promoting Development of Resilience among Young People in Foster Care” by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (Back to citation.)