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July 2019

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One of the biggest lessons I've learned on my giving journey is that if I take time to look around, I've noticed there are opportunities to give everywhere.  

For instance, have you ever been in line at the grocery store with one item and the person in front of you has a full cart?

That happened to me at Walmart and a sweet lady turned around and said, "Go ahead of me, you look to be in a hurry."

What a simple gift she gave me, but totally made my day. I love when I receive these types of gifts because I get to feel how good something so small, especially from a stranger, makes the receiver feel.

Even though I was in a hurry, I asked if I could snap a picture to share with my community. She was humble, and I had to give her a little nudge, as I love documenting giving moments. It's a reminder there are good people in the world.

Next time you are in line, let someone go in front of you.

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

Day 11 Giving Challenge: As you are out an about today, look for small opportunities to give. Maybe it's letting someone go ahead of you in line, holding a door for someone with their arms full, or helping someone reach an item on a shelf. 

Did you know... kindness to strangers is good for your brain? Multiple research studies find that giving to others releases oxytocin, which can help strengthen the bond between people and building community. 

Chat with your Children: One of the simple ways you can teach your child about kindness, is to have them look for opportunities to hold the door open for people. It costs you and them, little time and no money. The action teaches a habit, that no matter their age, can turn into a lifestyle, they can carry through their life, that may make someone else smile. And just like we get a "helpers high" when we give to others, they will also!

Bonus Story: Throughout the years, some of the people that have had the biggest impact on me and my giving has been my mom and the mom of friends.

Do you remember ordering books from scholastic? I loved flipping through the order form and picking out books to purchase.

What I never thought about, is there are children who can't afford to order from the incredible program that gets books in the hands of children. 

One of my best childhood friends, and now teacher, posted on Facebook "I send the order form home each month and a few students place orders. For many kids, it is a disappointment of not being able to order books.  Wouldn't it be awesome for every student to get a book each month?"

Scholastic has a $1 book for each month and my friend asked if her friends would sponsor a child, $10 for the school year, so every child in her class could get one book a month. 

Within a couple of days, her friends stepped up and the entire class was sponsored. At the end of the school year I received a letter from the student I'd sponsored, and tears filled my eyes, as a simple $10 had such an impact on a child's life.  

Your challenge? Donate a children's book to a Little Free Library (LFL) in your community. Don't know if there is an LFL in your community? Check out the map here.

Snap a picture of the book you donated and text it to me at 219-707-9545. I'd love to know what our community donated!

Don't have a Little Free Library? Maybe donate a book to a school or library.  

Happy Reading,

Stephanie

Day 10 Giving Challenge: Donate Your Favorite Children's Book to a Little Free Library, school or local library

Did you know... Academically, children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with lots of books, even when controlled for other key factors. (M.D.R Evans et al., Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, June 2010)

One of the most successful ways to improve the reading achievement of children is to increase their access to books, especially at home. But 61% of low-income families do not have any age-appropriate books for their kids at home.

Chat with your Children: How are you incorporating reading into you household? The ability to read is a gift we should never waste. According to Statistic Brain, there are 774 million people around the world that can't read. We are fortunate in this country, that every child has access to an education and libraries filled with books. Chat with your child about the books they enjoy and discuss how you can start a daily reading routine, if you aren't already. And then, when a book has been read, find a way to give it away, giving another child an opportunity to receive and read a book.Bonus Story: Each year I attend a writer's conference to improve my craft. This year, I took a children's book course, and had the opportunity to meet and work with some incredible children's book writers. I can't wait for Lisa's book to come out, so I can share it with my community!

What was the last event you celebrated? A birthday, a holiday, the birth of a child, or a new home?  

One of my best friends, an elementary principal, celebrates Monday's with her staff.  I loved this idea. Monday is a day we typically dread, but what if we shifted our mindset to celebrate the day and get excited about starting a new week.  

Here are a couple of ways you can celebrate today!

  • Celebrate your friends and invite them over for an impromptu gathering. Don't have time... send a text saying, "You rock! Today I'm celebrating our friendship. Thanks for being such a good friend. Love you!"
  • Celebrate your coworker and stop and get donuts, fruits or bagels. On a budget? Leave notes of encouragement on coworker's desks or send them an email letting them know how much you appreciate them.
  • Celebrate your family by making a favorite meal, having a game night, or everyone going for a walk or playing outside together. Go for ice cream. Bonus if you stop by a Dollar Tree and buy balloons and party favors...just because!

I live the belief that we don't need a holiday, birthday or anniversary to celebrate. We can celebrate and give to those we love, each and every day! 

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

Day 9 Giving Challenge: Find a fun way to celebrate your family, a coworker or a friend.

Did you know...there is a way to celebrate almost every day of the year through fun holidays. Check out this calendar and find ways to add more celebration to your life.

Chat with your Children: I've spent the last two years writing my next book, The Gratitude Challenge. Gratitude is a simple way to say thanks for the what we've been given in this life.  Celebrating is a great way to say thanks and recognize special moments. Start a conversation with your child and ask them what they are grateful for. They may initially say something like, "I'm thankful for my family and friends."  The people in their life is a great start. But get them to go deeper. Ask them to look around and name what they are grateful for, such as their home, pillow to lay their head, food in the refrigerator, a special toy, etc. This will also be a good activity for you do to with your child.  Celebrations are one way to say thanks and recognize for people and things you love!

Bonus Story: Let's keep the celebrations going! Giving Tuesday occurs each year after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Here's a flashback to how we celebrate last year. But the resources don't just have to be for the "official" Giving Tuesday. Watch the video, download the tags, and celebrate Tuesdays!

Have you heard of the Between Me and You Journals?  They are fabulous hard back journals created by my friend Winston.  He and I met on my giving journey and we've been meeting for breakfast since 2011!  Boy how times flies.

Years ago, I bought the "mother" journal and gave it to my mom to fill out.  There is a page in the book that asks, "If you felt the need to offer some advice to me, what would it be?”

Instead of advice, my mom wrote her favorite quotes and Bible verses. I view the list as a simple gift she gave me, that I can pass along to you, to them pass along to others.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13

“If you want to increase the power of God in your life-see how many times a day you can give.” – Joyce Meyer

“Lord- how do you want me to live this day? What is it you want me to do with this one day you have given me? What is the work you want me to accomplish today?”

“It is better to be kind than right.”

“When God tugs at your heart, that’s the moment to act.”

"So don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t be afraid because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you; I will support you with my right hand that saves you." -Isaiah 41:10

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” -Joel A. Barker

“It's kind of fun to do the impossible.” -Walt Disney

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Gandhi

“If it weren’t for running, I’d go crazy.” -Martin-lead guitarist for Jethro Tull

“Hills are speed work in disguise.” – Frank Shorter- 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion

“Pray hard. Work hard. And leave the rest to God.” – Florence Griffith Joyner “Flo Jo” 

"Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19

“Instead of thinking about all the reasons that I couldn’t do it, I started thinking about all the reasons that I could do it.  I encouraged myself and allowed the word of God to empower me.” – Victoria Osteen

"The Lord will hear when I call to Him." Psalm 4:3

I don't know about you, but if someone gives me a compliment, text me a positive quote or post an uplifting video on social media it gives me a little boost and pep in my step. Kind words make us happy.  

As we go through the second half of the summer giving challenge, and beyond, let's, as a group, think about the words we speak to others, find ways to fill people up with kindness, instead of tearing them down, and post only positivity on social media. You up for the challenge?!

But think about the opposite of kind words.  What happens if someone puts you down? How do you feel?  If you read a negative post or rant on social media, do you get angry, sad, anxious, maybe even a little depressed?

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

Day 8 Giving Challenge: Give compliments, speak words of kindness and post a positive story or quote on social media. 

Did you know... John Gottman, a researcher, conducted a study on predicting if a couple would get divorced or stay together based on the words they spoke to each other. Couples who spoke five positive comments to every one negative comment were more likely to stay together vs couples who divorced, which had an average of four negative comments to three positive comments. The take away, whether it's your friends, coworkers, spouse, and children, the higher ratio of positive comments with a lower number of negative comments, will improve those relationships.

Chat with your Children: The old saying, "Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." really isn't true.  Words hurt. Usually children who are hurting, many times will use their words to hurt others. Our children need to know and understand that many children don't mean the words they say.  Often, the hurting children who hurt others, home life is difficult, they aren't being treated well, and they want attention, and acting out is a way to do that. I'm saddened every time in the news when I hear a child has committed suicide due to being bullied. I've recently seen a child, as young as eight years old, take his life, due to kids bullying him. Think about that. Because of someone's words, another child takes their life.  This is a difficult conversation and must be had with an age appropriate child. With that said, children need to understand there can be devastating consequences, to our actions. 

Bonus Story: We never know how our words are going to impact those around us, even when we don't realize they are paying attention and listening. Kindness Matters!

Termites. The little bugs that cause thousands of dollars in destruction to homes. Unfortunately, we had a wooden post near our house that we thought, could possibly be eaten by termites. Yikes!

Within days, a sales guy from Orkin pulled into my driveway to inspect the post and give me the good or bad news.

Working from home, I'm always happy for a break when someone shows up to the house, and Adam from Orkin was no different.

I met him in the driveway, we chatted about the bugs, we walked around the yard and within minutes he knew the issue wasn't termites. Praise the Lord!

I live our a ten-acre wooded lot and our conversation quickly turned to our property, him growing up playing and working on his grandparents property of 45 acres and how we both loved the outdoors.

I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but I learned that Adam had a master's degree in Clinical Psychology but through a series of events he landed a job with Orkin.  We discussed law enforcement and serial killers. I know, it's a weird obsession I had for many years. It's the reason I wanted to go into the FBI. He recommended a good movie on Teddy Bundy, that I hadn't seen. And now I wish I wouldn't have watch. Good, but down right creepy! But I digress.

Adam is a philanthropist in his own right and has a dream of building a facility for dogs that need homes. His passion about his own furry friend and those abandoned and neglected were evident.  

After an hour of chatting, I asked if I could snap a picture.  Standing in the driveway I felt like I was talking with an old friend. I even mentioned, how I'd love for him and his fianc , who is getting her PhD at Notre Dame, to join my husband and I for dinner.

I've learned throughout my giving journey, if I take a moment to engage with people, I usually find we have more in common than we think.  On the surface it may not look like it. I'm female and Adam is male. I'm white and he's black. I work from home and he drives around in a car all day. I'm married and he's engaged. I have a bachelor's degree and he has a master's. The list of our difference could go on and on, but our conversation didn't focus on our differences. We spent our time focused on what we had in common, and it was a lot.

Maybe there is a coworker, someone at church, or even the coffee shop barista that you think, "we have nothing in common." Step outside your comfort zone and ask them a couple of questions about themselves, and I'm hopeful, that just like Adam and me, you'll find that you are more alike, than different. 

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

Day 7 Giving Challenge: Get to know someone new. Invest time in a thoughtful conversation about them and their life.  

Did you know... it is estimated that between 1 in 3 to 1 in 4 students in the U.S. say they have been bullied at school, most occurring in middle school, with the most prevalent type of bullying being verbal and social. (Source: stopbullying.gov)

Chat with your Children: I bring up the topic of our differences because as a society, at times, we seem so polarized and focused on our differences, that we don't take time to look at what we have in common. Our children pay attention. They mimic our behavior. I don't have children, but I've heard over and over from parents, of how they really must watch what they say, because they've heard their kids repeat words that weren't appropriate for their age, but guess what, they heard it from their parents.

Children who are at risk for being bullied are those that are perceived by other students as different. We need to chat with our children, that different isn't bad. Different, especially on the outside, doesn't reflect what's on the inside of a child. Just because a child may have glasses, be a little overweight or shy, doesn't change anything about how smart, funny or kind they are. It just makes them unique, and we are all unique in our own ways. Some differences we can see and others we can't. At the end of the day, teaching children that we are all equal and to be kind to all we meet is how we, even adults, should behave.

Bonus Story: My uncle Frankie was born with Down Syndrome, but over the thirty plus years he was in my life, I realized we had much more in common than we did different.

Boarding a flight from Chicago to Boise, I stopped in my tracks before I could even walk down the aisle to my seat. 

A sea of black hats peaked above each seat. 

I immediately recognized the hats because my husband has one on his dresser, it was his grandfathers. The hat signifies what war a soldier may have fought in, if they are a veteran and sometimes what branch they served. 

Emotions flooded through my body. I wanted to snap a picture of the beautiful sight, but I chose not to, as I didn't want to offend any of the veterans or invade their privacy.

Unbeknownst to me until boarding the flight, I had the privilege to fly on an honor flight with World War II Veterans who were flying back from Washington D.C. The trip provided, a first-time experience for many, to see the World War II Memorial.

When we arrived in Boise, the veterans were the last to exit the plane. Many passengers, including myself, waited at the gate to welcome the veteran's home, a Hero's Welcome they never received after the war.  One by one they passed by the tunnel of grateful Americas. With tears welling up, I clapped and smiled, knowing I'd never forget the moment.  

Indy Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor Indiana's veterans for all their sacrifices. There are similar organizations throughout the country with the same mission: to transport America’s Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices. Currently, the top priority is given to the senior veterans-World War II survivors, along with those veterans who may be terminally ill. 

Why am I sharing my experience on the honor flight? Well, there is a way for you to get involved and participate with an honor flight. 

Every veteran will receive ten or more pieces of mail. The emotions that "mail call" raises are a testimony to the character of these men and women and how much these small acts of kindness mean to them.  

My colleague, Vic, accompanied his uncle on an Honor Flight trip years ago and stated, "During the war, mail call was a great day! It was a day that raised their spirits.  Mail call during the honor flight is a total surprise and they were humbled and very grateful for all of the letters. The veterans are humbled by the outpouring of support that is shown to them by friends, family and strangers."
If you are reading this post, it's because of the freedoms that were fought for by the men in World War II and other wars.  

Please take a couple of minutes of your time to write a letter to say, THANK YOU!

Please address your letter to: Dear Veteran
Do not date your letter
Example signatures: (first name), Mrs./Mr. (last name), or simply A Grateful American

Please mail cards and letters to:
Indy Honor Flight
P.O. Box 10
Plainfield, IN 46168

 "We can't all be heroes, some of us need to stand on the curb and clap as they go by" -Will Rogers

Happy Giving, 
Stephanie L. Jones

P.S. Thank you to Vic and the Indy Honor Flight for pictures and information on the Indy Honor Flight experience. To learn more about Indy Honor Flight check out their website at www.indyhonorflights.org.

Day 6 Giving Challenge: Write a thank you letter to a veteran.
Did you know... 16 million Americans served in the armed forces in World War II and less than 500,000 are alive today. It is estimated 348 WWII veterans die per day and soon, we'll loose a generation we owe so much to. 

Chat with your Children: Grab some construction or copy paper, markers and get your children involved and have them make cards for the veterans. This is a great opportunity to talk to children about the purpose of our military, our men and women serving domestic and abroad, our veterans, the wars that have been fought, and most importantly the sacrifices these men and women make for the freedoms we often take for granted. 

Bonus Story: My friend and fellow author, Michelle Medlock Adams, wrote a fabulous children's book, What is America? Here's a little of what some of my fellow givers believe America means to them. Enjoy! 

Walk to your closet. Yes, get up from your computer or cell phone and go walk in your closet.

Okay, I hear ya. You're already at work? That's okay. Close your eyes and virtually walk in your closet. What do you see?

If you are like me there are items that I haven't worn since last summer. More than one item, that no longer fits, but I keep hoping and praying it will, and then a couple more items that I don't really like.

Let's do a little summer organizing and prep our closets for the upcoming fall season. As a former professional organizer, I'm big on not just spring cleaning, but seasonal organizing, as it's a way to maintain our homes and ensure only things we love, want or need are filling our spaces and bringing us joy.

Over the years I have had the privilege of volunteering with many organizations that house and help the homeless. Every organization is different in how they operate and what donations they will accept. Let's help these organization and those in need by donating those, "no longer can I squeeze into those jeans", clothes in my closet.

Here are some tips for donating your clothing:

  1. Search your closets for gently used clothes that you haven't worn in a while or that doesn't fit. An item of clothing you consider no longer useful may be valuable someone else.
  2. Inspect the clothes your donating for stains, holes and other defects. You want the clothes you give to be worn and to make those wearing the clothes feel good about themselves. Rule of thumb, if you wouldn't wear it. Don't donate it!
  3. Check the pockets for personal items, money and other valuables.
  4. Wash the clothes and make sure they are clean and fresh.
  5. Identify the shelter or organization where you want to donate your clothing.
  6. Verify the organization accepts clothing donations. You can either call the shelter or check their website. For instance, in my community, the local men's shelter takes clothing donations, but the women's shelter does not as they receive their clothing donations from local resale shops.
  7. If they accept donations, verify collection dates and times.
  8. If they don't accept clothing donations, either locate another shelter accepting donations or donate to a resale shop that donates their profits and clothing to shelters.
  9. Put the items in your car and drop them off the next time you drive by the organization.

Now get to organizing, decluttering your closets, and help cloth someone in need.

Day 5 Giving Challenge: Donate new or gently used clothes to a local shelter or resale shop that supports nonprofits

Did you know... the Discovery Channel flew me to New York City to audition for my own television show? The day of the audition they emailed me lines to memorize. I spent the entire flight, going over and over my lines. My audition went okay, and I was nervous has heck! At the end of the day, they never produced the show, but it's still fun to think about that I may have had my own tv show. You just never know, so never stop dreaming big!

Chat with your Children: Get your children involved in the organization process. Depending on their age, they don't need to help you with your closet, but having them go through their clothes teaches them many lessons. It's also a great opportunity to share with them where the clothes are going and how they are going to bless someone that needs the clothes they no longer wear.

Bonus Story: On day three, I shared a story about my friend from Malawi, Temwani. One day on Facebook she posted the picture you'll see in this blog. Oh friends, it melted my heart. I asked Tem if I could share and she said yet. If you are ever having a bad day, pull up this blog and be grateful for all the wondering blessings in your life.

Blessings,
Stephanie L. Jones

20 years. It's been twenty years since I graduated from college. Insane. I don't feel old enough to have been out of college or in the real world, working full-time, for twenty years.

I loved the four years I spent at Taylor University, but if I think about the people that really impacted my life, I can rattle off a laundry list of teachers I had from elementary to high school.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at a Mother's Day event and honor one of my former teachers. What an honor to be able to share, in front of an audience, the impact this teacher made in my life.

But then there are others, I've never shared my gratitude. Several years ago, I submitted a story to a Chicken Soup for the Soul book about a teacher that changed the course of my life. Debbie Jett. I was a manager of a track team, and at a meet she made me jump in and run a race. I HATED running. But that one race, and her belief in me, lead to a lifetime of running. Running is how I got into college. Running is how I survived the police academy. Running has been a part of some of my biggest dream list items. Besides this paragraph, I've never shared all of this with her. I need to mail her the story I wrote.

I've given you a little insight into a teacher that made a difference in my life. What teacher made a difference in your life? How did they make a difference in your life? Take a moment to go back to the good old days and remember and be thankful for the teachers in our lives.

Day 4 Giving Challenge: Write a note to a teacher that has made a difference in your life. Be specific in telling them how they made a difference in your life. If the teacher you thought of is no longer living, write one of their family members. I know it will mean more to them than you can imagine.

Did you know... there are over 3.6 million teachers in the United States. WOW!

Chat with your Children: Talk to your child about their teacher, past or present. What did they like about their teacher? How did their teacher help them? Have them write a note to their teacher they had last year and give it to their teacher at the start of the new year. The note will give their teacher a little encouragement to start the new year, but may also brighten their day when everything isn't going so well.

Bonus Story: On June 17th the small community, where I grew up, lost a legendary teacher. I'm not sure, besides her husband, there's been another teacher that has made such an impact. Here's a post I wrote to honor her memory.

Blessings,
Stephanie L. Jones

Families spend billions each year on school supplies, textbooks and new school clothes. Children, with their parent's flock to the box stores in hopes of finding the perfect backpack that will be filled with notebooks, folders, writing utensils and more.

As mentioned yesterday, many children in our schools are homeless and many more live in poverty, not having the funds to purchase school supplies. 

There are many great organizations that collect school supplies for those in need, but also the responsibility tends to fall on the shoulders, or pocketbook of classroom teachers. 

Years ago, my husband and I dedicated a portion of our budget to helping a family in need with their school supplies. When we started, the youngest in the bunch was in third grade. In the fall, she'll start college. I can't tell you how many times I've received a text from the child's guardian, of how much buying school supplies helped. 

Day 3 Giving Challenge: Call your local school or pick up a supply list and purchase an item or two.  You don't need to go crazy, unless you want to and have the resources to do so. Every notebook, pen or folder helps!

Did you know... Each year 3.5 Billion pencils are made for the US and 15 Billion worldwide. Approximately 60,000 trees are used in making the pencils. If you are buying pencils, consider purchasing recycled pencils and save a tree. 

Chat with your Children: School supplies are expensive. Some families will be lucky to purchase the basic needs for their children. I remember going to school and showing off all my new stuff to my friend. Boy, thinking back, I wonder how that made the less fortunate kids, in my class, feel.  Start of the school year is a great time to chat with your children on being grateful for what they have, realizing others may not be so lucky, and that bragging, even just with friends, could make others feel left out or less than. 

Bonus Story: Many children in third world countries can't attend school because their parents don't have the money to send them to school or buy supplies. Meet my friend Temwani, who is partnering with teachers in the US to help send children to school, as education is the way out of poverty. 

Blessings, 
Stephanie L. Jones

Several weeks ago, my mom sent me a text asking if I'd ever heard of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  

I chuckled as I'd just chatted with a gal about doing a kayak trip up there. The pictures I'd seen were beautiful.

I responded, "Yes! I want to kayak up there"

"I think your dad would love that too. The pics look amazing." She replied.

Without hesitation I replied, "Lets plan it!"

I didn't think about the cost, or how long of a drive it would be. If I even had the ability to do a kayaking trip.  

Often when an opportunity presents itself we immediately think about the reasons why we can't do something, and then we miss out on, what may have been a cool experience, or even a new career. 

Over the past couple of years, I've strived, if it's a trip or work opportunity that piques my interests, to say yes, to respond, "How can I make this happen?"

And then I start walking through the open doors. I take one step. I don't focus on the thousand steps ahead, I just focus on one. I keep going until a door closes. I'm amazed of how many times adventures come to fruition, just by focusing on making them happen.

I'm often scared. I get anxiety. But I keep moving forward. 

I do want to note, I don't say yes to everything. I know my priorities and realized if I say yes to one opportunity, I have to say no to one that I may really want to pursue. 

The next time you are presented with an opportunity that gets you excited, aligns to your priorities and passion...go make it happen!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

"The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life"