Random Acts of Kindness

Giving back can be as simple as helping a stranger. Meet five people who are doing just that.

By: Sherri Dalphonse

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There are many ways to make a difference in someone else’s life.  Some people adopt a child. Others play active roles in the Girl Scouts, Little League, or their church, synagogue, or temple. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals work pro bono. Still others mentor, rescue stray animals, donate blood.  What follow are four examples of random acts of kindness—proof that, as Talmud verse suggests, saving one soul can save the world.

Out of the Darkness

This past spring, Jo Parry, 79, noticed that a dark cloud had descended over her eyesight. An eye exam revealed the cause: macular degeneration.

“I was at a complete loss,” says Parry, a widow with no children and no family in the area. She could no longer drive: “I didn’t know how I was going to handle this.”

One day, after taking a taxi to the Giant Food in McLean, Parry—magnifying glass in hand to read labels—made her usual stop at the deli counter to chat with Mike Reed, the chef in charge of prepared foods. Reed noticed that Parry was squinting and asked what was wrong. Parry began to cry.

“Which of course made me cry,” says Reed, 36. “I told her, ‘If you need any help, I’d be happy to help you.’ She said, ‘No, that’s okay.’ ”

A few weeks later, Reed—who’d handled special orders for Parry—realized he hadn’t seen her in a while. He called her.

“I said, ‘Let me bring you a few things.’ She said, ‘No, that’s too much.’ She’s a very independent woman.”

Reed now takes groceries to Parry once or twice a week; she calls him with a list. “I tell her her house is on the way, but it’s not quite,” says Reed, who drops by after his shift. “It’s not too far out of the way.”

Parry says many people have come to her aid, including her hairdresser, who picks her up for appointments. “Although everyone has been good to me,” she says, “I don’t know that I would make it without Mike.”

“I’m happy to help,” Reed says. “I’ll do this as long as she needs me.”

Healing a Soldier’s Wounds

Inga Guen recalls the phone call from her son last April that changed her life.

Guen’s son Karim belongs to an organization that visits the wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He couldn’t forget one of the men in the amputee ward.

“He said, ‘Mommy, you have to see this soldier,’ ” says Guen. “He’d lost both his legs, his arm, and his hip. He was in a coma, and he had woken up. But he didn’t want to talk to anyone.”

Karim thought the soldier might open up to his mother, so Inga paid a visit. “My heart was pounding,” says Guen. “But I didn’t cry. I wasn’t sad. This beautiful young man, Sergeant David Battle, was a hero to me. I loved him with all my heart.”

Battle, 22, was a tank gunner who got blown up in Iraq last December. He’d grown up in La Plata, where his grandmother raised him—but she had died while he was overseas.

Battle began to talk. Guen now visits every week and brings some of his favorite foods: lasagna, brownies, fruit salad, gummy bears. She buys him Ralph Lauren Polo shirts that are easy to slip on. She installed a wheelchair ramp at her Rehoboth house and brings him to the beach.

Guen, owner of Inga’s Once Is Not Enough, hung a photo in her consignment boutique of “my adopted son.” She brings him letters penned by customers.

Most of all, she tries to bring him hope.

“I never tell David I have pity on him. I tell him this is the way it is. I tell him he has a fantastic brain, still one arm, still his eyes, still his speech. I want him to get an education. I’m going to make sure he has the best counselors. It’s very sweet what we dream together.”

One dream, which donations from her customers may help her realize, is having a special car made so that when Battle leaves rehab in a few years, he can drive.

When Guen visited Battle on Mother’s Day, he gave her a gift. “I opened the box,” she says, “and it was his Purple Heart.” With his good arm, Battle hugged her tight.

Songs From the Heart

Linda Cassell had known Jumoke Adebimpe only a few weeks, but there was Adebimpe, curled up in a hospice bed next to Cassell’s one-year-old son, singing the boy to sleep.

From almost the moment Christopher Cassell was born in August 2007, his mother knew something was wrong. He wasn’t developing normally. He’d sometimes stop breathing.

At six months old, he underwent surgery for a brain malformation. A few weeks later, an MRI revealed that his brain had stopped growing, possibly due to a mitochondrial disorder.

Adebimpe learned about the Cassells through Grace Community Church in Arlington. The church was looking to help a family in need, and a nurse who belongs to the church nominated the Cassells.

“As soon as we got chosen, people came out of the woodwork,” says Linda Cassell, who was with her son around the clock in the hospital. “They brought me dinner. They cleaned our house. They took our four-year-old, Ally, places. They supported us financially. People would come and sit with me. They’d do whatever I needed.”

In August, Adebimpe opened an e-mail that tore at her heart: Doctors had given Christopher only days to live, and he was being taken to Capital Hospice in Arlington. She hadn’t yet met the family, but the urge to provide any comfort she could was strong. She drove to the hospice.

“You question: Am I welcome? Am I inserting myself into a very private family moment?” she says.

She needn’t have worried. “Jumoke was an angel,” Cassell says.

Adebimpe visited every morning before work and every evening after. “She laughed with me. She prayed with me. She cried with me,” Cassell says.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Adebimpe says. “What really spoke to my heart was a family in this situation.”

Cassell mentioned that her son loved music. Adebimpe, 29, has a beautiful voice—a contralto, she’d sung in an opera group at George Washington University. She’d serenade the little boy, singing songs from musicals and songs of worship. “If he was agitated,” Adebimpe says, “he would go right to sleep.”

Christopher died in August, a month after arriving at hospice. Cassell asked Adebimpe to sing the song “For Good,” from Wicked, at the funeral.

“Because she had been a stranger—that’s what that song is about, finding new friends,” Cassell says. The family now drives an hour every Sunday from their home near Purcellville to attend Grace Community Church.

“We lost a son, and it’s going to take a lot of healing,” Cassell says. “But we gained a huge family. People come into our lives for a reason.”

Building a Home Together

When Julia Kramer and Tom Oberdorfer were planning their May 2004 wedding—a second marriage for both—the last thing they needed was another blender.

“We’re both now in our fifties. We didn’t want to register for things,” Kramer says. Instead, they thought, why not ask guests to give the money they’d spend on gifts to a worthy cause?

Oberdorfer, a psychotherapist, had started his career at the nonprofit Northern Virginia Family Service. One of NVFS’s efforts interested them: a program that raises funds to buy transitional housing for homeless women and their children in Prince William County. The women not only get a place to live for one year but also receive training in everything from parenting to job hunting to budgeting.

“Tom and I were looking for something not just to do that year but to do every year—a goal to work toward,” says Kramer, a management consultant and writer. NVFS has eight houses, but hundreds of families are in need of transitional housing: “We’re just trying to get them another house.”

The couple has since held three annual events, around their anniversary, to raise money, and they’ve created a Web site, kohf.org. About 100 friends, relatives, and colleagues pay $150 each for dinner and dancing—one year was a black-tie affair at the City Club, another a lobster feast at their home. Local businesses and friends donate items for a silent auction—from jewelry to original art to vacations. So far the couple has raised $65,000.

“To buy even a townhouse in Northern Virginia is going to take more than that,” Kramer says. “We’re not there yet, but that day will come. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than opening that door and giving a house to homeless moms.”

Organizing each fundraiser takes a lot of work.

“It’s like planning a wedding every year,” Kramer says. “But it’s one of those things that helps you sleep at night.”

>>Want more ways to do good? Check out our full charity package