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Making a Difference When No One Else Cares To

February 19, 2010

First off my name is Dean Kenneth Young and I’m proud of my story so if you feel its worth printing, please do. This story happened a few years back when I was waiting tables near the beach in southern California.  The restaurant I worked at was renowned for our guest service and the way we made everyone feel like family. At the end of your meal we would present your check on a silver platter (the restaurant was a tiny hole in the wall Italian place like you find on every other block in NYC) with a personal thank you card from your server, a toothpick and mint for each guest at the table. But the real treat were the fresh baked chocolate chip cookies we would also set down at the end of your meal, free of charge. Just an extra little thank you for choosing to spend your lunch/dinner time with us. Now not everyone eats or wants their cookies. And every night or afternoon when Id get off work, I would always pass by this homeless man on my way back up to where I had to park to beat the parking meter Nazi’s lol. Well, normally I didn’t pay him any attention, because he obviously wasn’t mentally or physically challenged and looked to be capable of holding a job. So after a while, I started bringing him all the extra cookies that would accumulate at the end of a shift. I figured he might be an addict or drunk and would just use any money I gave him to get his next fix. The first time I gave him a bag of fresh chocolate chip cookies…. wow, I’ve never in my life felt so much gratitude for such a small gesture. He thanked me and I went on my way. Well dropping off a bag of warm cookies became a daily ritual, we’d talk a bit here and there, basically just shoot the breeze. Well after a few weeks I asked him why he’s livin’ on the streets. Turns out the guy lost everything, came back from a stint in the service overseas to find his wife had cleaned him out, sold everything he owned, wiped out the bank account and basically took off to Mexico with another man. The guys depression got so bad he got a medical discharge and just wandered from north San Diego county all the way up to the South Bay where my restaurant was located. He had tried to get a job but he had no money, nowhere to live, and a few clothes including the ones on his back that had worn far worse than I think the military ever had them designed to. The guy had high caliber computer skills, he just couldn’t get a job because he had nowhere to go and no one to fall back on, no family, nothin’.

So almost a month after I started dropping off cookies for him, and yes I introduced myself and got his name the first time, I just dont have the right to add his name to this story officially, I found him in his normal spot. But this time I didnt have any cookies, he looked up and greeted me and I could see he noticed I didnt have a bag and asked me if we had a problem with the baker that night. I offered my hand towards him without a word and when he grabbed mine I pulled him to his feet and told him “Gettin you back on your feet may seem impossible, but with a friend and a helping hand its going to be as easy as you getting up just now.” He kind of looked bewildered and I told him to get his things and follow me. We got up to my truck and got in and he asked where we were goin. I told him it was a surprise and to feel free and change the radio to whatever kind of music he wanted to hear. Unfortunately he changed it to country….. *sigh* lol.  Now I barely knew the guy so I wasnt going to act that trusting and bring him to my house. So I drove to the closest decent motel I knew of which was only a mile or so away and got him registered into a room. The night manager didnt look all that happy with having the guy there, but I flashed my cash and he didnt say a word. We got to the room and I got him settled in. Out of my back pocked I pulled a small bag with a razor, toothbrush, comb and pair of scissors in it. I tossed it to him and told him to get cleaned up and get a good nights rest because I would pick him up the next morning well before I had to go to work.

I wasnt sure what Id find the next morning when I knocked on the door. When it opened I was stunned, shocked, and those words dont even come close. I thought this guy was well older than me and I was only 26. I mean he had the long scraggly beard and mane of mangy hair and so much dirt crusted on his skin it made him look 80! The guy that opened the door looked younger than me! I had never asked him how old he was and he told me 25. He was younger than me! He thanked me for the room and letting him get cleaned up and said he had to be on his way to panhandle before it got too hot out. I told him nope, not today. Im not done with you yet! That day I took him out shopping for new clothes and a suit… granted we only went to Target because I wasnt all that well off. After that I took him back to the motel and had him dress in the suit and new shoes I had just given him. Then we drove down to a temp agency that I knew of and used whenever I needed extra money or was in between jobs. The manager of the place was good friends with my aunt and one of the nicest ladies you could hope to meet. When we sat down in her office I didnt tell her the whole situation but introduced my friend and told her he did work with computers and asked if she could talk with him. She agreed as a favor kind of and I waited in the lobby. About an hour later my friend came out with a smile on his face and proceeded to tell me about the job she offered. It paid very well even after the commission the agency got, had nice hours, opportunity for overtime and had the opportunity to become permanent if he did well after 3 months. The only problem was it was in downtown L.A. and he had no transportation and wouldnt even let me think of taking him after all Id done. No problem I said, and trust me I dont want to be your chauffer either. Then I asked if he wanted the job and he said it was perfect for him, so I told him ok, Ill pay your motel, meals, and get you passes for the Green Line to get to and from work until your first paycheck and can support yourself again. At that point he just lost control of his emotion and started crying thanking me, saying no one in his whole life ever did anything close to what Ive done and I was a total stranger. He then told me that he would pay me pack every cent as soon as he was on his feet and moving forward with his life again. I shook my head and said “I dont want you to pay me back, its enough for me that I was able to help you and also get my brownie points with karma at the same time.” He insisted that he had to pay me back somehow and wouldnt take no for an answer. So finally I told him “Tell you what, when you get to the point where youre back on your feet and financially secure enough to pay me back for what Ive done for you, turn and go the opposite direction away from where I am. Keep going until you come across someone that can benefit from your kindness, your charity, your friendship and help them the way I helped you or anyway they need you to help them.”

I saw him again a couple years later down near the beach around where the restaurant I used to work was. He had been hangin around down there a little each day for a couple months hoping to run into me. I had gone surfing down near the pier and when I came back to my truck he was leaning against it. He rushed up and took my hand shaking it vigorously while at the same time pouring out the last couple years events in his life like he was trying to do it all in one breath. Turns out he did very well at that company and now owned his own home and was set for anything life could dish out. Then he proceeded to thank me and tell me how he “payed it forward”. Well he thought about helping out one of the many homeless all of us southern Californians see each and every day but which one? Then he came across an inner city youth that was from a broken home, didnt know his father, barely knew his mother because she wasnt home and just ran the streets. To make this long story a little shorter, turns out the kid loved baseball and my friend basically became a big brother father figure to the kid and even donated enough money for the kid and a group of his friends to form a team, along with all the uniforms and equipment to go with it. He also took them to a bunch of Dodger games and is now their little league coach and a positive figure in their community even though it isnt his own. And as we said our farewells, he told me he coaches the kids not only about baseball but about how even small acts of kindness can change anyones life for the better. This story began in 1997, when I saw the movie Pay It Forward it brought back memories and I wept at the simplicity of bringing joy to anyones life and how it can become a movement. I just wish more people knew about this website, this foundation, that its real and not just the story of a movie with Kevin Spacey.

This story and other inspiring stories from the Pay It Forward Movement.

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