December 23, 2010

Paying it Back: Unemployed Man Lifeline to 60 Neighbors

(Courtesy: Alex Bauzon)

Every Tuesday afternoon you can hear the wheels of Herman Travis' shopping cart clacking against the cracked, sloped sidewalks of San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood -- an annoying sound for any passerby. But for many residents in this low-income community the sound is heavenly -- their angel, 50-year-old Travis.

"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis said humbly.

Travis is the lifeline for many of those who depend on him to eat.

With a cheery disposition, he delivers food to 60 neighbors who eagerly wait for Travis' visit. Many recipients are elderly and disabled. Getting out of the house to pick up food from the San Francisco Food Bank and pantries is nearly impossible.

So Travis brings the food to them.

"It means a lot to me, as a senior. I can't get out. I'm sort of confined to my house. It's just a blessing, a blessing, something you can depend on, Herman's always there with a smile," recipient Millie Sheehy said.

Travis partnered up with the S.F. Food Bank to make this do-good deed possible. For the past three years, a truck drops off 1,300 pounds of food at the Holly Courts low-income housing complex where he lives. A handful of volunteers help Travis sort and pack brown paper grocery bags. He loads his cart and off he goes, on his three-hour mission to feed his neighbors.

"I don't know how we would express it, except for saying that we would be completely lost without him," Bebe Castaine, 81, said.

But besides feeding their stomachs, he also feeds their spirits. Everyone who answers the door beams with excitement, the smiles overflow.

"He spoils me rotten by coming to my door. And he's always positive, he's always got something nice to say. So I enjoy him,” said 93-year-old Millie Sheehy, who smiles wide and giggles like a schoolgirl when her "No. 1" drops by.

Travis knows the stories behind every drop off. The rapport, trust and loyalty are unique as they are special.

Knock. Knock. Knock. No answer. "Her mother's been gone for a while, her mother died," Travis explained with a deep, melancholy breath.

He takes a moment to catch his breath and shake the sadness, then heads up the steep sidewalk to the next visit.

On the way to the next delivery, Travis, shared that he also has a lot to be grateful for. "I'm glad I'm healthy enough to do this," he said in gratitude. This neighborhood angel has been unemployed for the past few months. His construction work dried up. Now he is applying for general assistance. He too depends on the food bank to get by.

It started when "I didn't have no work," he said fervently. "I'm paying back because they helped me, so I'm paying back, that's what any human being should do. Pay back what people give you."

Travis says he hopes others will do the same –- give the gift of goodwill.
"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis admitted emphatically.

For now, Travis said, he'll continue to stay positive and that he'll jump at the chance of any job when it comes around. While the future is uncertain for this neighborhood angel, one thing is clear –- his current job, which doesn't grant him a paycheck, is a job that feeds his soul.

What can YOU do this holiday season and in 2011 to help a family member, friend or stranger? You have more power than you may think.


December 13, 2010

Small Acts. Big Changes. What can YOU do?

One small act can truly change the world.

Just ask Phoebe, a six-year-old first grader, who inspired her community to enthusiastically support her aluminum can and letter writing fund-raising campaign. After seeing homeless people in her San Francisco neighborhood when she was in preschool, she felt two things: sadness and a desire to help. She eventually inspired contributions to cover 135,000 meals for the needy, donated by the San Francisco Food Bank. First lady, Michelle Obama also wrote her a personal note to congratulate her.

Then there’s Caitlin Boyle, whose operation is beautiful from the inside out. After having a bad self-esteem moment (who doesn’t have those?), what’s a girl to do? Do something kind for others. Not everyone would conclude, or put this positive thought into action. Caitlin scribbled, “You are beautiful” on a piece of paper and stuck it on the mirror of the public bathroom at her community college in Florida. She blogged about the experience. World-wide response action ensued with readers posting their own notes. As fate would have it, those words of encouragement turned around days for weary folks. Some smiled and in some cases, some recipients of the random note decided not to commit suicide.

In New York, Jorge Munoz, a school bus driver has been cooking, packing and delivering food to the 140 + hungry people that wait under a subway stop in Queens, New York every night at 9:30. For many years, he’s used half of his weekly salary of $700 to buy food and supplies. Then, CNN, Go Inspire Go and other media outlets shared his story.

Hungry for more? The Yahoo! For Good do-gooders asked me to report and blog about 10 Inspiring Acts of 2010, where we featured 10 folks, including the three above, who did one small act of kindness that rippled out to big changes!

This was an epiphany for me because of my sordid childhood.

Growing up in the ghetto as an immigrant from Vietnam, all 10 of my family members crammed into a small trailer. People said “Wow, that sucks.” However, if you ask any of my family members, they’ll tell you quite the contrary. My mom says, "We were so happy, we were safe, all together and we clung onto hope and opportunity."

Books were my passport out of the ghetto. I voraciously read every single thing I could find. I remember even reading the shampoo bottle in the bathroom out loud everyday as a kid. Many of the words I've learned became my everyday vernacular. I tried very carefully not to slip up and use words like “enamored” around the neighborhood bullies. I was unsuccessful. The neighborhood kids would often say, "$##*!" why you tryin' to be white?" (I never could understand why being able to conjugate my verbs and speaking in complete sentences meant that I was acting white.)
I let them have my power.

They stole my voice and I became quiet -- until college -- that's when I realized that through my voice, was my gift, my power.

In red ink, my expository writing teacher, Carolyn Weber wrote on one of my papers: "You are a gifted and talented writer. I hope you do something with it in your life." This woke me up. It created a shift. Against my parent's behest -- to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer -- I went on to do TV news, but was still unfulfilled after 10 years in the biz.

The biggest gift given to me in my adult life was being laid off from my big market TV reporting gig. During a run shortly after being axed, I “woke up” and decided to make a drastic move. As soon as I realized the intent and meaning in my life, clarity followed. I promised myself that I would eat out less, shop less and take a year off of work to use my gift for storytelling to give back. I did not have a huge savings. I was worried about how I would make ends meet after a few months. I was not rich, am not rich and have turned down many lucrative jobs to continue my mission. To pay the bills, I teach two days a week at a local university. The small YouTube channel became Go Inspire Go aka GIG. Since launching GIG year and a half ago, so many miracles -- large and small -- have transpired. I've met so many amazing people who did one small thing, that created big changes. I've also crossed paths with those who helped complete the circle of giving, those who were inspired to reach out and help the inspiring people we've featured.

My new GIG allows me to be the voice for the voiceless… With every story, every blog, I try to inspire my viewers/readers to do what I did “Discover and use their power (talents, gift, network, etc.) to help others.”

This holiday season, give the best gift of all – yourself. I hope you’re inspired by my Yahoo! 2010 Inspiring Acts blog.

Be inspired. Take action. For more inspirational stories go to Go Inspire Go.

What can YOU do?