Helen Leask’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference


We’d just had another dump of snow but my heart was colder than my driveway. I waved goodbye, full of fake smiles, to my young children, who were blank-faced in the windows of the receding van. My frozen disbelief was reflected in their expressions, emotion held sub-zero because if it started to thaw it was going to hurt. The first of a thousand such goodbyes; a commonplace Friday-night moment in tens of thousands of divided homes.

The first Weekend At Dad’s.  

I went back inside to the first beer. I imagined the children climbing out of the van, dragging their feet into their Dad’s elevator, entering a new world without their mother.

I heard a scrape, scrape from outside my front door. I groped along the corridor and peeped around the curtain. I saw a tiny figure with a Dollarama snow shovel stoutly working his way along my drive, clearing the snow. He had mismatched gloves and shouldn’t he be wearing a hat? But there he was, intent on his task, Adam, the neglected child from across the street. 

Adam was notorious. All the neighbours would shake their heads over him and mutter darkly, “it sure takes a village…” Adam was placed with a surly nanny at two weeks old and returned her hatred in equal measure; his mother always walked straight past him after she leapt from the taxi, briefcase in hand; he couldn’t share, wasn’t invited anywhere; he expected nothing from adults and even less from children. I had always talked to him – reprimanded him a couple of times, too, for minor infractions – and once showed him how to bake a cake. 

He had never shovelled my snow before – hadn’t shoveled anyone’s snow – but there he was. It was getting dark, cold and late; no-one came out of his house to look for him. I watched him, mesmerized, rather curious about his next move. I assumed he’d seen older boys make a dollar or two and would come knocking on my door once the drive was clear. Instead, he dumped the last spade-load, straining a little under the weight, and idly plodded back to the sidewalk, flicking his shovel at a few untidy ice scraps on the way.

He was gone before I gathered my wits.

Before that sub-zero night, we had never seen Adam do a single selfless act – he had been taught well. Yet there he was, shovelling my snow on the most painful winter weekend of our lives.  Somehow, he knew. In the only way he could, in a peculiarly Canadian way, he wordlessly expressed his sympathy for the sad state of affairs. Shovelling as an act of love.

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Heidi Wiebe’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Here’s a story from my community of Yellowknife. 

On October 2, 2018, Rockhill Apartments, which houses the YWCA offices and 33 units of family transitional housing (run by the YWCA) burned to the ground in the early hours of the morning. The building was completely destroyed. What was so amazing, is that by 1 pm that afternoon, every one of those families was rehoused in new apartments, complete with beds, furniture, clothing, and funds for immediate purchases. Some of the local property managers donated vacant apartments, furniture retailers donated beds, local NGOs and the entire city donated cash, clothes, furnishings, kitchenware, gift cards, etc. Yellowknife is a city of about 22,000 people. It, like many northerners’ communities, never ceases to amaze me at the level and speed of support when some of its own are hurt. The level of communication and coordination from the YWCA and other service providers to channel public donations towards what was needed most, when and where is on par with disaster management anywhere and I think would stand up in the face of any crisis. Over the time since then, there have been additional fundraisers and a search for new office space for the YWCA to continue the efforts to replace the less urgent items and begin the slower process of getting back to normal, or the new normal. 

It was truly a heart-warming story up here. For families whose lives were turned upside down at 5:30 am, to be in new space, safe and warm within 8 hours is truly astounding.

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Erwin Allerdings’ Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I have followed this story for 2-3 years. The SAI (Save Animals Initiative) Sanctuary is located in the Kodagu district in the Indian state of Karnataka.  

An amazing couple have transformed burned out farmland and a polluted stream into a private wildlife sanctuary.

The husband and wife have spent 25 years buying up wasteland farmers no longer wanted; now elephants, tigers and leopards roam free there.

Sometimes it takes a village, sometimes it just takes a person or two, as in the case of Anil and Pamela Malhotra who together are creating what is likely India’s first private wildlife sanctuary.

Having met and married in the United States in the 1960s, the couple moved to India in 1986 after visiting for the funeral of Anil’s father. While generally it would be the beauty of a place to inspire relocation, for the Malhotras it was the opposite – the terrible state of nature in Haridwar was the attraction. “There was so much deforestation, the timber lobby was in charge, and the river was polluted. And no one seemed to care. That was when we decided to do something to reclaim the forests in India,” Anil tells the India Times.

After looking for land to purchase, in 1991 they settled on a 55-acre plot down south in Brahmagiri, a mountain range in the Western Ghats. The land was a mess, Anil, 75, and Pamela, 64, say that the owner wanted to sell it because he could no longer grow on it.

“For me and Pamela, this was what we were looking for all our life,” says Anil. And thus began the transformation, orchestrated by Mother Nature, of barren farmland into what is now the Save Animals Initiative (SAI) Sanctuary.

Since then, the couple has been purchasing land as it becomes available, most of it agricultural acreage that has been stripped of its fertility.

“Once we bought the land, we allowed the forest to regenerate. We planted native species where necessary and allowed nature to take care of the rest,” says Anil.

As of now, the SAI Sanctuary boasts some 300 acres of beautiful bio-diverse rainforest that elephants, tigers, leopards, deer, snakes, birds and hundreds of other animals all call home. Naturalists and scientists come to do research on animals as well as the hundreds of indigenous trees and plants. And guests are invited to come and stay in the two eco-tourist cottages on the property as a way to help support the continuing efforts of the Malhotras. Efforts that are making waves in both a mountain range in India and all the way across the world as news of this noble endeavor continues to spread.


This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Eileen Howard’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

THE WIDOW’S MITE By Eileen Howard

The Church for All People includes people like me, with economic means, but also many people who have limited, or even almost no means of income.   Yet, part of our church message is that we are all called to give back to God financially with some sort of tithe, in whatever ways we are able and called. 

Early in the life of our church, my husband George counted the offering after church.  He opened up an offering envelope to find 17 of the most beat-up, dirty, scraped-up pennies you have ever seen.  Blackened, smashed and twisted, they had obviously been collected out of the gutter and off the sidewalk.  Someone in our congregation had gathered this meager collection of cash to be able to put something in the offering plate that morning.  

How much more of a commitment was that thoughtful act than my relatively meaningless $10.00 in the offering plate? 

Jeff is a tall, plump African-American man, with dark rimmed round glasses, who regularly visits the Free Store and attends worship on Sunday mornings.  Jeff has a big heart, and also experiences some mental challenges. 

I happened to be in the Church on a weekday while the Free Store was open, saw Jeff and greeted him.  While I was talking to someone else, Jeff came over and handed me a gift bag. 

It was something he had picked out for himself from the Free Store.  In it were some Avon products – body wash, bubble bath, etc. 

I protested that I didn’t need it and he said “No, please take it.  I really appreciate your music on Sunday morning,” and he moved off before I could say anything else. 

I examined the bag further and found that there was a children’s CD in it as well.  I assumed that he had accidentally put it in there and found him to try to give it back.

 “I don’t have any kids at home” I said, “Why don’t you keep this”. 

“That’s okay”, he replied.  “Just pay it forward”.  And he moved off again. 

Pay it forward.  And, graciously accept gifts given in love.  My lessons from Jeff.

Last but not least, I had two lessons from Mike Dyle.  Mike was a homeless Vet who passed away about a year ago.  When we first met him he had a camp down by the river.  Mike was our part-time custodian for some time.

One Saturday, Mike was running around cleaning and he talked to me non-stop while he rushed here and there.  He said, “Today was my lucky day!  I found a dollar on the street!” 

I congratulated him, assuming he was happy because it gave him some extra spending money. 

Then he went on, “I was so happy because now I have money to put in the offering tomorrow.” 

If I had a windfall, would my first thought be putting it in the offering?

Mike had been accumulating a snazzy wardrobe –a new pair of jeans, a couple of new shirts, and his most prized possessions – two pairs of running shoes, brand new, that came into the Free Store and were exactly his size.  He was wearing one pair and keeping the other, his Air Jordans, for a backup pair.

A homeless man came into the store.  He was down on his luck and the staff was helping him outfit himself with some clothes.  Mike asked him what size shoes he wore.  When he found out the man wore his size, Michael brought out the Air Jordans and gave them to him without hesitation.

I probably have 20 pairs of shoes in my closet.  Would I give them all away if someone needed them?

In the book “When Helping Hurts”, authors Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett and John Perkins redefine “Poverty” as something that can be either material or spiritual and call us to mutuality in our relationships with those in material poverty.  I find my own poverty of spirit challenged by those we label as “poor”.   I am a helped spiritually because of forming relationships with those I came to “help”.

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Duncan Holmes’ Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Mobile laundry for the homeless

We have all walked past the homeless many times on our streets. Four years ago, two young Australian men saw a need that wasn’t being filled and were moved to do it despite the obstacles. They outfitted a van with a clothes washer and dryer. They drove it to the places the homeless hang out – the parks, churches, drop-in centers. This was their bid to bring hygiene services to the homeless community on their own turf.

They had numerous obstacles to overcome including widespread skepticism about the plan. They also had to figure out how to power the machines and what to do with the waste water. The service is free, run by volunteers and has no other agenda.

The health benefits include halting the spread of mold, scabies, and bed bugs. The most significant is the mental health boost. People tend to hand around for the hour it takes to wash and dry their clothes. Plus the opportunity to take a shower and not have to worry about privacy and safety is an amazing bonus.

They now have 27 laundry and shower vans operating in Australia. They use generators and solar power to operate the machines. They do 15-20 laundry loads and showers each day. This model is expanding in other countries in Asia, UK and USA.

Cleaning up: mobile laundry for the homeless goes international https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/06/cleaning-up-mobile-laundry-for-the-homeless-goes-international?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

Orange Sky vans visit parks and drop-in centres in Australia and New Zealand

A mobile laundry and shower service for the homeless has begun international expansion after being inundated with requests from struggling cities around the globe.

Four years ago two young Australian men saw a gap in the market and fitted out a van with a washer and dryer, driving it to parks, churches and drop-in centres in a bid to bring hygiene services to the homeless community on their own turf.

Lucas Patchett, co-founder of Orange Sky, said washing was initially viewed as a low priority for the community, and there was widespread scepticism about the plan.

“When we dreamed this up it was a world first, and we had a lot of practical issues to overcome. How would we power the machines, where would we dispose of the waste water?” says Patchett.

“But we strongly believed that access to hygiene was a basic human right.”

There are more than 100,000 homeless Australians, and the population has complex needs. Patchett says Orange Sky has been able to forge bonds with the community by bringing the vans to its doorstep, and because it has no agenda besides the straightforward, free services it offers.

Health benefits of the mobile laundry include halting the spread of mould, scabies and bed bugs, but Patchett says it is the mental health boost that is most significant.

“We’re not preaching anything, or teaching anything or pushing anything. But it does take an hour to wash and dry someone’s clothes and during that time people tend to hang around. That’s when the conversations start.

“Ninety-nine percent of the day, these people are walked past and ignored and not even looked at, and that can have a huge impact on psyche and sense of self-worth. So we just say g’day and offer something really practical that makes people immediately feel more confident to engage with the broader society.”

There are now 27 Orange Sky laundry and shower vans operating in Australia, using generators and solar power to run the machines. Operated by volunteers, they do around 15-20 laundry loads and showers each day.

Last month Orange Sky expanded overseas, unveiling a van in Auckland, New Zealand, with plans to venture to the US next.

It costs around NZ$100,000 (£51,235) to kit out a laundry and shower van.

A number of other mobile laundry services have launched around the world, including in several US states, Brighton in the UK and Athens, Greece, where 20,000 people are homeless. Orange Sky has also been asked to provide services to Singapore, Hong Kong and other British cities.

According to Auckland council, at least 1,000 people sleep rough in New Zealand’s biggest city every night, and Orange Sky’s expansion has been welcomed by those caring for the community, saying the service has been embraced.

The New Zealand housing and urban development minister, Phil Twyford, said Orange Sky offered rough sleepers something many New Zealanders took for granted, and was one part of giving them back their dignity and self-respect.

“While superficially the service is about clean clothes and showers, the main benefits are the social interactions,” said Twyford.

Mike, one of the first clients to use the Orange Sky van in Auckland, said it was a relief to be able to wash his clothes and bedding, as well as himself, on a regular basis.

“It is a bit tricky, it’s hard enough to find somewhere to live and something to eat, let alone find a place to wash your clothes and have a wash,” he said.

“I think it’s a good concept … and it has a roll-on effect. Your clothes are clean, you’re clean and you feel good about yourself.”

Patchett says homeless women find the service particularly valuable, as many struggle finding a safe place to shower in privacy.

“There was a woman who came to shower and she said she hadn’t had a safe space to do that for a number of years,” says Patchett.

“And even just being locked in the back of a van with volunteers out the front really gave her some peace of mind.”

Another man who had not showered for more than four months moved his social worker to tears when he climbed into the back of the Orange Sky van for a few minutes of privacy and relaxation.

Cities in New Zealand such as Wellington, Whangarei and Christchurch have been in touch requesting Orange Sky services in their towns, and Patchett says with enough funding and volunteers, the service will soon spread countrywide.

Other stories

Dentists volunteering to give homeless people a set of dentures – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/08/filling-the-gaps-why-homeless-does-not-have-to-mean-toothless?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

The world’s swankiest soup kitchen in Rio de Janeiro. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/nov/05/more-than-a-meal-swanky-rio-de-janeiro-restaurant-for-homeless-people-refettorio-gastromotiva?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

To what extent does childhood trauma follow the individual through into adult life? And can anything be done about it? Lauren Zanolli found out. https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2018/nov/07/ace-adverse-childhood-experience trauma?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

These are some of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Thankfulness: Del Morrill’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference


Journal writing on Monday, November 14, 2011, 6:50 am, (Re-sent date 11/22/2018)

It all started with the blowing of my nose!

For some reason this morning, I’m more aware of what we in this country been given to make life more comfortable, and that probably is unavailable to a good many people on this earth.  The simple act of blowing my nose on a soft tissue, and the availability of toilet paper, stirred my thoughts.  So many amazing amenities in life have been created to ease me.

I lie in a warm bed with soft sheets of T-shirt-type material. A carpet lies next to the bed across the floor to make my feet feel warmer when I step out of bed. I’m able to write with just about any type of pen I wish. Someone has put lined papers together into creating this tidy book to make journal-writing even more pleasant. The newspaper lies here ready for me to read at my leisure. Coffee in the mug next to me warms me, as does the man who brought it to me.  I have books to enjoy reading- -some most each day. 

The newspaper both relaxes me and stirs my anger juices, keeping me aware.  Nearby is a TV set if I wish to get stirred further.  In front of me are the closet doors that hide any number of choices of things to wear.  And my breakfast will consist of any one of about three choices I like – more, if I really wanted them. I become acutely aware that all around the world are those who rise to the same outfit of clothing and the same thing to eat – pprobably a single dish, if at all lucky. 

As I continue to look around the room in which I’ve awakened, and consider the start of my day, I can’t help thinking, in this strange mood that has taken over me, of all the many people present in this very room by means of the energy they have put into all the things around me that make me more comfortable. Are they comfortable too?  Do they get enough to eat?  Are they warm?  Do they have some of the things around them that ease their lives?  I dearly hope so.  But the niggling thought within me is that probably many of them do not.  I sincerely thank all of those who do have them – and all of those who do not have them, who are keeping me aware of that fact!

I started to close this book for the day, yet can’t stop the thoughts coming into my mind, as well.  For I find myself recalling all of the people in my nearly 79 years (now 86 this month) who have enriched my life in one way or another – my family, of course, and its extensions and the heritage of all those who came before me; those who helped raise me, tolerated me, taught me as I grew into adult-hood; those I worked with – some who enlightened me, some who angered me, and others who hurt me; friends who came and went and others who have stayed in my life.

All have enriched and educated me, helping evolve into this imperfect human being who has never been willing to just sit back and accept all of life the way it is, yet who has come to be somewhat less judgmental about it.  This one who has less physical energy to do much about the inequities of life, yet still suffers over them; who has a lot less dissatisfaction, and less need to have answers to all of the unanswerables in life, yet still questions, at the same time, about that which she knows she can’t change.  She’s the one who must caution herself when she begins to question how others choose to live their lives and sit on the rising cynicism when she listens to politicians and watches a dysfunctional congress.  And then, turns instead to the aspects of life in which she knows she has the capacity to affect in a positive way. 

I’m grateful for the journey I’ve taken thus far in this brief span of life – a fantastic family of individuals who have decided to be positive forces in this world rather than contribute to its decay; an array of colleagues and friends, some of whom continue to enrich my life, regardless of whether we agree on everything; my clients who keep teaching me about courage and endurance through sometimes the most unbelievable struggles that are beyond anything I have ever had to experience in my own life.

And, despite a few aches and pains and occasional spells in the hospital, I’m grateful for this body that has gone through so much for so many years, yet continues to carry me forward long after I thought it should have given up. 

For the most basic things that sustain life, I give special thanks this year, and for all that is beyond the basic sustenance that has enriched my soul. 

And, today, and forever, for each person who has participated in that journey with me, including you, I do thank you.


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Deb Burnight’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

By her brother Rick Morain  

When Bob Ray died back in July at the age of 89, I wrote about his successful 14-year stint as a popular governor of Iowa. The column mentioned Ray’s salvation of thousands of Hmong refugees who were desperately fleeing persecution and hardship in Vietnam in the 1970s. Ray opened the state of Iowa to them.

The column omitted another of Ray’s finest hours, and I want to make amends. It’s a story that still resonates 39 years later.

In October 1979, Ray and a top aide, Ken Quinn, joined a group of American governors on a trip to China. Quinn had served as U.S. ambassador to Cambodia in the early 1970s, and he and Ray obtained permission for a side trip to a spot in Thailand near the Cambodian border.

Their destination was a large makeshift camp — actually no more than an open field — to which 30,000 exhausted and traumatized Cambodian refugees had fled in their desperate escape from the Killing Fields of Cambodia’s leader Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge communist warriors.

The Khmer Rouge were committing genocide. They killed two million of Cambodia’s seven million souls.

What Ray and Quinn saw there was unbelievable.

The refugees had no food, no shelter and precious few possessions.

Men, women and children were dying from starvation and other causes in the camp, 30 to 50 a day.

Ray personally saw five people die.

Shocked, he and Quinn upon their return were interviewed by Jefferson native David Yepsen, at that time a reporter for the Des Moines Register. Yepsen’s story was the lead on the front page of the Register the next day, together with jaw-dropping photos of refugees that Ray had snapped at the Thailand camp.

Back in the governor’s office the next day, Ray talked with staff members about what Iowa could do to help. Quinn came up with Iowa SHARES: Iowa Sends Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation.

The plan was simple: ask the people of Iowa to donate money to buy food and other aid for the refugees.

The response was classic Iowan.

Michael Gartner, editor of the Register, called Ray to say that whatever the state undertook, the Register’s editorial pages would support, and the news columns sent the word across the state. An interfaith coalition of religious leaders — Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — came out in full endorsement.

Iowa Public Television’s Mary Jane Odell and Dan Miller helped publicize the effort. Well-known Des Moines leaders, like Roxanne Conlin, Sheldon Rabinowitz, A. Arthur Davis and Bruce Campbell, stepped up to help do the details.

And Iowans sent money. Boy, did they send money.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, envelopes came rolling into the governor’s office with cash and checks, over $125,000 in five weeks.

Over the next two years, some $550,000 was raised from small contributions from thousands of Iowans, the equivalent of about $2 million in 2018 dollars. A youngster sent in his Christmas money. A woman sent her wedding rings, noting that she had little money but “the Cambodians really need our help.” (Her rings were returned to her, and a cash contribution was made in her name.)

A dozen Iowa doctor and nurse volunteers sped to the camp on the Thailand – Cambodia border to provide life-saving health care to the refugees.

The caravan of food trucks from Iowa SHARES reached the camp on Christmas Day 1979.

On Monday this week, Ambassador Quinn, now president of the World Food Prize Foundation headquartered in Des Moines, honored 14 individuals and organizations that helped make Iowa SHARES such a success. They received the 2018 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award.

I had a call from Quinn a couple weeks ago. He said he recalled that the Jefferson Bee and Herald had been one of the first Iowa weekly newspapers to spread the word about Iowa SHARES.

He wanted to honor the Bee and Herald for doing so, and invited me to attend the ceremony to receive one of the awards.

I told Quinn that I very much appreciated his offer, but that I didn’t recall that we had done any special publicity of the effort back in 1979.

Quinn was adamant.

He said he had been impressed that a weekly would jump in so soon with the effort, and he was determined to present the award.

So I went to the Jefferson Public Library and enlisted the help of librarian Jane Millard in finding the 1979 articles in the online storage of the newspapers.

As it turned out, Quinn’s memory was better than mine. The Bee and Herald had publicized Iowa SHARES with several articles, including a fine “Cogitations of an Old Codger” column by Fred Morain. Dad had retired as editor-publisher in 1976, but had begun his weekly column.

So Kathy and I attended the awards luncheon at the Downtown Marriott in Des Moines on Monday, and Quinn honored the Bee and Herald with the award, along with 13 other recipients, all of whom had much more to do with the success of Iowa SHARES than I did.

In Quinn’s defense, he wanted to include as many groups that helped out as possible, and that included weekly newspapers. I appreciated that, and accepted the award on behalf of the many weeklies that stepped up back in 1979.

Ray’s effort didn’t wipe out hunger, of course.

That scourge continues today, even in Iowa. Statistics show that hundreds of thousands of Iowans aren’t certain they will have enough to eat from day to day.

As winter approaches, here and elsewhere, the best way to honor Bob Ray and the spirit of Iowa generosity that he embodied is to help hungry people today. There’s no shortage of recipient choices, from the local food pantry and low-income students in the school’s lunch program to refugees from drought and violence around the world.

We can’t alleviate all hunger. But we can help with some.

Food is closely identified with Iowa around the world, and we can certainly share some of it. 

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