Seeing beauty in dying: Why volunteering at a hospice is perfect for this cosmetologist

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

On Monday mornings, hair designer Rose Stephens donates her time to help the sick at the Heartland Hospice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“If improving their looks with a haircut or style can give them a boost, then I love to help out,” she says. “While I’m there, I try and make them forget about their problems and treat them with the respect they deserve.”

A Milwaukee native, Rose has been doing hair since she was in high school. Having four sisters to pamper and experiment with helped Rose develop her craft.

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Rose in action. (photo courtesy Rose Stephens)

“I love talking with people and I knew I had a special talent early on,” she says.

Volunteering with Heartland appealed to her precisely because of this: they needed someone to make their patients feel rejuvenated and cared for as they approached their final days, and she knew she had a skill to offer.

With her children grown and out of the house, Rose wanted to do something meaningful with her time that scouts and soccer had previously occupied.

Now, she looks forward to her Monday trips to Heartland, as do the patients there. Though she considers them to be more than that—they’re also friends who have impacted her more than she ever thought they would.

“I visited my first client on her birthday and we all sat around and listened to her tell her story,” Rose says. “She was a little girl in the Holocaust and a survivor. Years later when she and her husband came to America by boat in the 1950s, they decided on that voyage they were going to forgive and not live life bitterly. She was really inspiring. I’ve never met anyone like her before.”

Drawing out people’s stories is something Rose is good at. The minute she meets a patient, she’s talking with them like she’s known them forever, putting them at ease. Anyone’s who’s ever been to her salon knows that the human connection with the hairdresser is every bit as important as the haircut or style itself.

It’s what keeps Rose going.

“Now it’s a part of who I am,” Rose says. “As long as Heartland needs me, I’ll be there.”

In Milwaukee and want to volunteer with Heartland? Contact Danielle Ferguson: 4658officestaff9@hcr-manorcare.com.

Do you know someone who’s taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

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Giving fossils new life with Jurassic Geriatrics

Welcome back to Small Acts: our series highlighting people who use their passion to make a big difference in their community.

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David holds a T. rex jaw at The Renaissance assisted living apartment community in Wausau, WI. (photo courtesy David Daniels)

When David Daniels walks into a retirement community, he’s not carrying a meal or a magazine or an oldies music collection for the residents.

He’s carrying a jaw. The bottom jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, that is.

It’s a win-win: residents get respite from the typical entertainment of bingo games and Frank Sinatra impersonators, and cool artifacts like bear skulls and wooly mammoth bones are given new life.

As founder of the Wisconsin nonprofit Colossal Fossils, David is all about spreading his love of extinct creatures and helping communities while he’s at it. Besides retirement homes, he’s shared his hobby with at-risk youth, the blind, and more.

The idea began a couple of years ago when David, whose professional background is in business, was rummaging in his basement and found an old, dusty box of fossils he’d been curating since childhood.

Sad to see them wasting away, he and his wife started talking with science and nonprofit folk in their hometown of Wausau to see if they could resurrect them. Wanting to help bolster local science programs, they started taking the collection into schools for show and tell.

Then David called up a retirement community on a whim. Knowing such places often have small entertainment budgets, he thought it could be a way to break up the monotony of the day without breaking the bank. They agreed.

“One lady came up to me afterwards,” David says. “ ‘She said, ‘I just want you to know I have Alzheimer’s. Chances are, tomorrow morning when I wake up, I won’t remember any of this. If I could have one wish, I would remember everything you taught me today.’ ”

So far, David has been to a dozen retirement homes in Wisconsin, with many repeat visits. The eventual goal is to create portable museums he can take across the U.S.

For David, who was admittedly one of those kids who wore dinosaur t-shirts all the time, it’s been an epic journey to circle back to his childhood passions as an adult. And while you could say Colossal Fossils is the dawn of a new era, their small focus is what David hopes will make them stand the test of time.

“There are plenty of large organization that focus on larger cities and larger venues. But there’s nobody that will go and talk to six seniors citizens about mastodons,” he says. “We’re okay with that.”

Do you have a niche hobby you’ve shared with others to make your community a little bit better? Tell us about it in the comments!

*Update: Colossal Fossils is looking to make their collection bigger. Get in touch with David here if you have fossils to donate.

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From shambles to storytelling: Redefining repair in Greensboro, NC

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

"Nothing is ever level. Nothing is ever plumb. Nothing is ever square. Everything is dirty." —Paul Howe, on the realistic challenges of his work.  Photo credit: goelsewhere.org

“Nothing is ever level. Nothing is ever plumb. Nothing is ever square. Everything is dirty.” —Paul Howe, on the realistic challenges of his work.
Photo credit: goelsewhere.org

For months, Paul Howe would walk by the same orange cone guarding the same precarious hole in a brick sidewalk near his Greensboro, North Carolina home.

“The sidewalk belonged to a university, and the damage to it was done by city linesmen who installed a new telephone pole in it. Bricks were missing, bare sand exposed, the hole about half the width of the sidewalk,” says Paul, a quintessential jack-of-all-trades. “Nobody was taking responsibility for it.”

So, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.

Using his welding skills, Paul crafted a steel plate to fill the perilous gap and secured it into the hole without any objection (see the finished product). Only after bolting it down, he realized that he had created something more than just a harm-reducing fix.

“I realized that by using a material other than brick to patch a brick sidewalk, I had revealed a story about the sidewalk, and also added a new one,” says Paul.” I did not erase all of the evidence of the damage. I left a clue to it, revealed it, while letting it still function, as it should.”

This idea—storytelling through repair—drove Paul to join Elsewhere, Greensboro’s thrift-store-turned-cultural-center, to renovate its run-down workshop. But, instead of overhauling the entire building with modern fixtures and like mediums, Paul used a mosaic of building materials to smartly patch up the place (check out some of the end results).

“It doesn’t try to hide itself as a repair, it screams at you as being a repair,” he says of the space. “It’s one of the first things people notice when they come up to the shop now, and it speaks simultaneously to the history of the place, and to its current use.”

Now that the workshop’s in working condition, Paul spends his time keeping Elsewhere in tip-top shape and promoting his concept of repair throughout the community by chipping away on realistic tasks with the tools at hand.

“There is a focus on so called ‘big problems,’ and people make livings coming up with ‘big solutions.’ The thing is, so called ‘big problems’ are so poorly understood that they remain, in spite of our best efforts,” says Paul. “I find it more productive to work on so called ‘small problems’ since one can understand enough of a ‘small problem’ that one might actually be able to do something about it.”

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Interested in starting your own small repair projects around your community? Shoot Paul an email at sherlocke9@gmail.com or get in touch with him via Elsewhere. 

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You don’t have to be a hero to be a helper

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Photo via Chiot’s Run on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Back in April, we posted about professor Adam Grant’s endless capacity for helping and his research on the positive effects of generosity. We also listed some ways to get ahead by giving from Grant’s new book “Give and Take.”

One thing we haven’t talked about, though, is the underlying feeling that may keep many of us from boarding the give-and-gain train.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when standing in the shadows of seemingly superhuman do-gooders. The doubtful thoughts pile up: “How can I possibly be that helpful? What if I’m just not wired that way? How can I be a superhuman, when some days I struggle to be an adequate human?”

Grant believes helpfulness works like a muscle we can all develop. If he’s right, maybe it’s possible we can find ways to get a little stronger every day, without worrying about becoming Spartan-esque triathletes.

In her recent article on Grant, NY Times reporter Susan Dominus tried the theory out and put herself to the test:

I like to think I am a typically helpful person, but after reading Grant’s book, I found myself experimenting with being more proactive about it. I started ending emails by encouraging people to let me know if I could help them in one way or another. I put more effort into answering random entreaties from students trying to place articles. I encouraged contacts seeking work or connections to see me as a resource.

And I did notice that simply avoiding the mental lag of deciding whether to help or not was helpful. At a minimum, Grant’s example presents a bright-line rule: Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it–collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

The first time I exchanged those emails, I usually felt good; after the second exchange on a given topic, I thought perhaps I had done my duty. But I noticed that every offer of help I initiated or granted engendered four or five e-mails, at the end of which I sometimes felt surly and behind on my work — and then guilty for feeling that way.

Dominus’ mini-test doesn’t mean it’s unsustainable to be an everyday giver. But it does remind us to find ways to give that don’t trap us in an ever-expanding favor spiral.

How, then, do we find a balance? Learning from Dominus and from Grant, here are a few ways we can start:

1. Make it automatic
How much time do we waste debating whether to respond to an email or to offer a helping hand? The more automatic we make our helpful responses, the less effort and energy they require. What if we turned small things (like picking up litter and throwing it out) into reflexes?

2. Make it reasonable
You don’t have to be a hero to be a helper. Do what you can; know your limits. Instead of responding to every email with the tag “How else can I help?” perhaps only offer when you know you can continue to help.

3. Make it sustainable
Some things–like turning off unused lights or giving away your lunch to someone hungry–don’t require follow up. Those decisions can be automatic. For bigger acts of giving, make sure you take care of your own needs before jumping to attend to others.

4. Make it sustainable…for others, too!
One of Grant’s main findings is that productivity, happiness, and creativity flourish when people see the results of their giving. If you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity, don’t be shy to send them an email or give them a hug to say thank you. It only takes one voice to say, “Hey! It mattered to me!” to keep the giving going.

What do you think? Can giving feel paralyzing? Or burn you out? What are some small (or big) ways of helping that work for you?

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Girl brightens street, one balloon at a time

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Photo via pea green girl.

Recently, I participated in GOOD’s first annual Neighborday. We invited our neighbors over for milkshakes and sat on our lawn and talked with them about everything from what our block used to be like to tips for toddler sleep to how to entertain visiting family.

The turnout was smaller than I’d hoped for, but it was still nice to stop for a moment and focus on the people who lived around me. So when I came across Zoe Green‘s little project of brightening her UK street with balloons and nice notes for one day, I couldn’t help but think, “Yes!”

She writes:

From my perspective, Shelbourne Road is just another long, fairly anonymous Bournemouth street. Nothing really happens here.

Other than the occasional social gathering in the corner shop, we go about our daily routines side by side and yet our paths never seem to overlap. I only really know my next door neighbour Paul and his dog Foo. I don’t know who lives opposite, or two houses down, which really makes for quite a sad state of affairs.

So how can I make a difference? One smile at a time.

I don’t intend to change the world. but I know that if you brighten one person’s day they are highly likely to brighten someone else’s. Happy Street Day took place on Monday 15th April 2013. It was my personal mission to bring some unexpected cheer to my fellow Shelbournians, encouraging them only to stop for a moment and talk to one another.

This project was about inspiring people. So take my ideas and share them with your community.

Go on, spread a little joy.

What are some other ideas to make YOUR street a little bit cheerier?

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Join GOOD’s Fix Your Street day on the last Saturday of May. 

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Action Alert: Olivia’s Art for Animals

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Olivia Pedrick’s kitchen table is splattered with paint of every hue.

Every weekend, the 12-year-old sits down at her table in Ashland, New York and paints pictures of animals for family, friends, and random strangers.

“I really do like turtles and dogs. Turtles are a lot of fun to paint because you can add so many different kind of greens,” she says. “I like painting dogs because of the shading.”

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Olivia with some recent paintings. Her favorite one of all time is one of her and her dog Miller, which was a Christmas gift for her parents. (Photo via Anabel Lago-Pedrick.)

Customers pay her $10 per painting, or more if they’d like, and the money goes to an animal charity of her choice. Right now, Olivia’s waiting list is three months long.

Olivia, who’s been painting since she was four years old, thought of the idea after seeing a woman from a local wildlife rehab center speak as part of the Kindness and Caring club at school. She loves art as much as she loves animals, especially dogs, and brainstormed with her mom Anabel ways she could help out.

She started by selling paintings at a local town event. In one afternoon she sold them all, and her mom set up a Facebook page shortly after.

Anabel takes care of the logistics – managing everything from her web presence to choice of charities – to give Olivia freedom to paint.

Still, finding the time can be a challenge for Olivia, who is also involved in Girl Scouts, karate, skiing and more in addition to having heaps of homework to do. School vacations and summers are when she gets the most amount of painting done.

“It’s a lot of work. But it’s totally worth it,” Olivia says.

Since she started two years ago, Olivia has made 70 paintings and donated over $6,000 to charities. She’s also inspired a girl in the Netherlands to undertake a similar project, and a few friends from school have said they’ve wanted to do it, too.

As to how long Olivia will continue to paint to help animals, she doesn’t even need to think twice about the answer.

“My whole life,” she says. “Definitely.”

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Want to use your creative skills for good or know a youth in your life who does? Feel free to contact Anabel Lago-Pedrick, Olivia’s mom, for tips and advice on how to get a project like Olivia’s Art for Animals going.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

 

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Action Alert: How one woman is using yoga to support a good cause

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Once a month on Saturday evenings, yoga students walk into a dimly lit studio at The People’s Yoga in Portland, Oregon. They bring with them their mats, their water, and a desire to give back.

They drop however many dollars they can into a donation jar set out on a table with brochures from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then they assume child’s pose while a meditative guitar plays in the background.

The donation-based yoga class is taught by Melina Donalson, a former costume and fashion designer who turned to yoga almost two decades ago to calm her mind amidst the fast-paced life in Los Angeles.

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Melina welcoming students outside the The People’s Yoga on Killingsworth street in Portland, Oregon.

“I was totally burned out on all the ego and materialism in that world,” she says. “I was just too sensitive for it.”

While in California, Melina would teach yoga to friends in exchange for food, books, or anything else they felt like offering. When she moved to Portland in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue giving through teaching.

“The years of practicing have really helped me be kind to people and react in mindful ways to the world around me,” she says. “It’s an important part of yoga philosophy to be of service.”

Melina’s dad lives with a mental illness. Every other month she sends a check to NAMI as her small way of helping the cause. Sometimes it’s $30. Other times it’s a few hundred dollars. Grateful for the personal touch of support, the organization sends her a thank you letter each time, no matter the donation.

For Melina, everything seemed to fall into place once she knew what she wanted to do.

“It’s almost effortless,” she says. “It takes emails, it takes organizing, it takes being present and showing up.”

By creating a welcoming environment, she also hopes the class helps students who might be new to yoga and are nervous or afraid.

“It’s a beautiful feeling to see people leave class so relaxed. They feel good and they know where their donation is going,” she says. “That’s my whole intention with that class. To make people feel good.”

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Want to use your yoga skills for good? Melina would happily answer questions about everything from getting in contact with the right people to staying encouraged. Reach her at mndyoga@gmail.com.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

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