The second weekend in August 2004, I was on vacation in Saint Augustine, FL when Hurricane Charley blasted its way through southwest Florida. I was on the beach in an area of Florida that the hurricane did not affect and was oblivious to the destruction that was less than 200 miles away.
But, when I read the morning paper, I was shocked to see the extensive damage along the southwest coastline. While reading of the accounts and seeing the photos of what the hurricane had done, it hit me in a moment: here I was, relaxing and enjoying the beach, while there were many people in my own state who were suffering. In that moment, I wanted, and deep down inside of me, needed to help those who had been affected by this devastating hurricane.
As a Rotarian, I knew that the most effective way to be of assistance was by contacting the leaders of Rotary clubs in that area. Eventually, I spoke to the Rotary District Governor for SW Florida. I told him that I wanted to help and asked him for his guidance as to how I could be most effective. He suggested that I focus on the Arcadia area. This inland community had suffered severe damage and was not getting the attention that the coastline communities were receiving. He gave me the contact information for the President of the Rotary Club of Arcadia, Susan Rachles, and I called her. She was most appreciative and gave me some ideas of how I could help.
A couple of days later, my son, Ben, Jr., and I were on our way in our motor home hauling a pickup truck, chain saws, gas, oil and various tools. Upon arriving in Arcadia, we met with Susan and she took us into the heart of the devastation. We saw roofs totally blown off many homes and businesses, power lines were down, and some structures were totally destroyed. The trees were literally lifted from the ground and now lay on their sides exposing their roots. And the power company wasn’t sure how long it would take to get the power back on to this area of Florida.
As we were driving down the littered streets, we came upon a woman who was in the front yard of her severely damaged home, and we stopped to talk with her. She and her family had lost everything and she was there trying to find some remnants of their former lives. I reached into my pocket and got out some cash, some of which had been given me by fellow Rotarians and friends in Gainesville, and handed it to her. She broke down, and through her tears thanked me profusely. I didn’t give her a large amount of money, but she said that this gesture let her know that someone cared about her in that difficult moment.
Over the next few days Ben Jr. and I found more of these moments. We spent time cutting up trees and limbs at the homes of the elderly and disabled. In doing so, we met some amazing people and got to hear their stories over lemonade or a glass of tea. In those moments, they felt someone was there for them - and they slept a little better that night.
A particularly touching moment came from a young 4-H member whose chicken coops were partially destroyed. Being a true 4-H member, he had the foresight to take his chickens into his home during the hurricane. As we looked at the coops, it was evident that the chickens would not have survived the storm. And now, they needed repairing. Being able to help this young man was especially rewarding as I was once a member of 4-H. It was a beautiful moment - I felt I was giving back for the time others spent with me while I was in 4-H, and the young man felt that someone cared about him and his aspirations.
Ben Jr. and I also found moments together as father and son that were also very special. As we worked, we were in concert with each other. He would hand me the tool I needed without asking; I would pull a branch out of the way when he was finished cutting it - there is just something about those moments of synergy with someone you love that touches your heart!
When it was time to leave, I told Susan that I would bring a group of fellow Rotarians to Arcadia in a few days and prepare hot meals for people in the community. And when we came back, we had several more moments that touched our hearts. Watching the 1000+ people enjoy a hot meal and then gratefully take food and water home with them was an experience that I will never forget. A child’s smile when they saw we’d brought cookies; a mother’s look of relief that she had plenty of food and water for her family; and the laughter and camaraderie of a community coming together - those are the moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Although we made a big effort in response to a dire situation, I found great joy in those little moments of sharing with those who were in need.
There may be times in our life that we can do big things to help others, however, there are always plenty of times we can do little things for others that will mean so much. Stepping aside so a burdened mother can go through the grocery check-out line first; holding a door open; listening to an elderly person’s or a youngster’s story; giving words of encouragement - these little moments of kindness mean so much. They can change another person’s bad day into a good day.
I encourage you to find those little moments (or big ones) that you can help someone else by doing random acts of kindness. In doing, it will mean so much to them and to you, too!