Jan Demers, Bridging Gaps, Building Futures: Good deeds to meet pressing needs

“Get in the van! We are going!” She gave her friend little choice. After avoiding doctors for years, one friend had listened to the other tell of pain and had seen her gait change. The result of the trip in the van was that the doctor found a tumor in her friend’s back and surgery was scheduled. Following surgery there was a complete recovery.
A young woman in the waiting room asked staff where she could get a crib. Without waiting for an answer another older Mom interrupted and said “I have one I’m not using anymore. Where do you live?” Plans were made and a crib found a welcome new home.
The older man hefted a box of food into both arms and headed out the door and onto the road. The younger man who was loading food into his truck called out and as a result the two headed down the road: one chauffeured by the other.
Life Vest Inside is a non-profit organization whose mission is to counteract bullying, depression and substance abuse through acts of kindness. Founder Orly Wahba, proffers that kindness, which, like most medical antidepressants, stimulates the production of serotonin. Serotonin heals wounds, brings calmness and entices happiness. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, which are natural painkillers. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”. It has been found that people who practice kindness have 23 percent less of this hormone in their systems.
What we know from CVOEO waiting rooms is that kindness cuts through tension. It changes a room full of strangers in crisis mode into a safe setting where conversation starts. The opposite is startling. Anger brings fear, a sense of limiting resources and selfish posturing. Where there is kindness, there is enough to share. It is observable.
After a tragic death, one family we serve started a Go Fund Me page to pay for the funeral of their friend. One man, small in stature but generous in deed, carries groceries to vehicles for those who have difficulty navigating at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Though speaking little English, his gallantry, literal and figurative, opens doors for others.
Women swap out babysitting so that others can attend our financial capacity classes. Daughters bring mothers to class and saving accounts are started introducing more control to new generations.
One chronically homeless man, though eccentric in appearance and needing new clothing, was given a Goodwill voucher. He purchased the clothes that he needed and along with them bought a small toy for the waiting room.
Those we serve, serve us when kindness is shared. Kindness inspires our staff and deflects the tendency that could lead to a numbing hardness. We have seen kindness in action time after time with those we deem have little to share.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologian and philosophers of our time said, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” Kindness has little to do with whether you have wealth or poverty. We expect more generosity from the rich and find it abundant in the poor.
Jan F. Demers is the Executive Director of CVOEO.

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