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Giving

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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

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

According to the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development, over a half a million people are homeless in the USA.

Let that statistic sink in.  

That's people that don't have a place to lay their head every night, they may be living on the streets, cold during the winter and hot during the summer. Food, at times, may be scarce, and many of those that are homeless, are children.

Remember yesterday when I discussed my definition of a gift? Give with no expectations? If I'm being honest, giving to the homeless man or woman on the side of the street is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to giving a gift to the homeless.

I've often been asked, do you give to the homeless? Don't you worry they are going to use the money for drugs or alcohol? Or what if they aren't even homeless and they are pocketing the money and going to a nice home?

I hear the concerns. They are ones I've asked myself over the years. Typically, when I give money to a homeless person, I'm not giving them huge amounts. Maybe a dollar or two.  If I'm worried about how someone spends a couple of dollars, I'm probably not giving for the right reasons.

I also think, what if my one dollar, is the difference between a meal and someone going hungry.  It's not worth my worry to wonder about the negative things they could do with the money.

With that said, this is your journey and maybe you aren't comfortable with giving money to homeless. Okay, I'm not going to argue with you on the matter. There are other ways to give to those in need. Give a bottle water, a gift card to the local coffee shop, buy them a meal, or continue with the gift from day one and make eye contact with them and smile.You'll be surprised at their reaction. Over my giving journey, the most heartfelt connections I had with strangers was seeing those sitting on the sidewalk, asking for money, and not looking away, but instead, acknowledging them and smiling. 

At the end of the day, no matter the beggar on the corner, or your neighbor down the street, we are all created equally and need to be loved.

Day 2 Giving Challenge: The next time you encounter a homeless person, choose to give to them.  Want to understand the services available in your community that serve the homeless, check out shelterlisting.org. 

Did you know... there are a variety of reasons people in our communities become homeless.  Housing affordability, loss of job, decrease income, health issues, domestic violence and racial inequities. If we understand the why, we can work to solve the challenges associated with homelessness.

Chat with your Children: On any given night there are thousands of children that are homeless. With that said, there is a good chance your child will go to school or have a child in their class that is homeless or living in poverty. These children may not be getting a good night's sleep, come to school hungry, they may wear the same clothes day in and day out and may struggle with their behavior and/or grades. We need to ensure our children understand that children in our community don't have the things they have and that life for them is difficult. Chat about ways your child can be kind to these children, and even discuss a way your family can help. Maybe packing an extra snack or helping with school supplies. Whatever the situation, it's not the child's fault and school is their haven, a place for them to be warm and get food. 

Bonus Story: Several years ago, I had an encounter on the way to a Tim McGraw concert. The best part of this story was the kindness of others. Check out a A Simple Way to Stay Humbled and Kind.

Blessings, 
Stephanie L. Jones

Have you joined my free 14 day Summer Giving Challenge? It just started today! Sign up here.

First things first, download and print out the Summer Giving Challenge resources packet!

If this is your first time participating in one of my challenges, welcome.  If you've been around awhile and are coming back for more giving fun, welcome back!

Not to get to down in the weeds, but I'd like to share with you how the Giving Challenge revolution started.  

In late 2010, I read 29 Gifts, by Cami Walker. It was an amazing book of a young women’s battle to regain control over her life after a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. In the book, Cami challenges her readers to give a gift for 29 days. I'll be very transparent, I never understood why 29 days, so it became my goal, starting January 1, 2011, to go beyond the 29 days and do an entire year of giving.  

My definition of a gift was simple, it was to give something and expect nothing in return. If I gave a physical gift wrapped in a bow, I didn't expect a hand written thank you not. If I gave a smile, I didn't expect a smile in return. If I let someone cut in front of me in traffic, I didn't expect the friendly wave back. I think you get my drift.

When we strip the expectation away, giving is freeing instead of what it can be at times, frustrating.  Keep the definition of a gift in mind, through out this journey. The longer you practice giving with no expectations, the easier it will become. 

As I mentioned earlier, I set a goal to give every day for year. Me one person, looking for a way to make a difference in one other person's life each and every day. I went beyond a year, and gave a gift for 522 consecutive day. Whew!

After my journey ended I took a time to reflect what the journey meant. I knew I had to keep giving.  I would say on most days from then until now I've given a gift. I've just stop tracking and sharing my daily giving adventure. 

It has always been my hope that the giving isn't about me and my gifts, but that my stories motivate others to get involved and start giving.  There are so many ways to give and I'm a big believer that sometimes the smallest of gifts have the biggest impact.  A simple smile to a stranger could change the course of their entire day.  An encouraging text or email to a friend may come at a time when they need it the most.  

I'm grateful for you to join me on this journey. It may just change your life like it did mine. I'd love for you to share with me and others how you are a making a difference, as I truly believe, 1 can make a difference but all of us together can change the world.

Day 1 Giving Challenge: Let's start out with one of those small gifts that I mentioned. Smile at everyone that crosses your path today.  

Did you know... there has been multiple research studies on the benefits of smiling? Smiling can improve your mood, lower blood pressure, be a stress reliever, improve relationships and may even help you live long. So, don't just smile today for the giving challenge, flash your smile everyday to feel the positive effects.

Chat with your Children: If you are a parent, I'd love for you to get your child involved in the giving challenge. A new school year is coming up and just think about the impact your child could have on classmates just by smiling at them.

Bonus Story: Check out a recent blog story I wrote on how smiling helped build my confidence.

Blessings, 
Stephanie L. Jones

Friends, I did something last week that a couple of years ago I wouldn't be caught dead doing.

I went out in public with no make up on, sweatpants, my Thursday socks (yes, they say Thursday), and sandals. In my mind's eye, I was quite the sight. I hadn't intended leaving the house until a couple of book orders came in. I knew if I didn't mail the books on this day, it would be a couple of days before I could. I hate to disappoint my customers.

As I entered the post office, I flashed a smile to an elderly man in the lobby. He smiled back.

I chatted with the postmaster, joked with the FedEx guy that came in, and after I mailed my books, when I went back through the lobby the elderly man was leaving. I again smiled at him and held the door open, as he was behind me.

He commented, "It's a gorgeous day outside. I'm glad I rose early and mowed the lawn."

"I bet. It's going to be a hot one, but I love it."  I responded

Parting our separate ways, he said, "Keep smiling. It looks good on you."

His heartfelt, kind words made my day. 

I bounded back to my car and then took a selfie. You see, stripped down with no makeup causes me all types of insecurities. I feel ugly.  For years my husband has always told me he thinks I look better without makeup. I've never believed it. But I always knew he didn't marry me for my looks, because he'd seen me at 3:00 a.m. in the police academy with no makeup, hair slicked back in a tight bun, going on no sleep.  If he could like me then, he must be a keeper.

The man's words hit me and got me to thinking about inner beauty.  I was self-conscious going into the post office, but one of the simple gifts I know I can give is my smile. It's a way for my inner beauty to shine and part of the clouds of my insecurities. I realized that smiling, a free gift, raises my confidence. 

I reflected on the years that I've been on my daily giving journey and how smiling at strangers, especially making eye contact and smiling at homeless people, even if rejected and receive no smile in return, has grown my confidence. But what I've found, is more times than not, even those frowning or appearing to be in a mad mood, smile back.

Do you have insecurities? I'm sure you do! Think about how giving, even a smile, can help you build your confidence, push you to step out of your comfort zone, and see yourself like others see you.

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

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

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

Have you ever considered what you could give away when you travel?

Candy, gum, a magazine, or maybe just a smile or an offer to help a newbie traveler through the airport.

On one or more occasions, I've given all the above and the joy the gifts bring to my travels are better than any souvenir I could purchase.

Awhile back I started carrying, in my travel bag, two copies of The Giving Challenge. If I encountered someone I thought might enjoy the book, I'd sign and give them a copy.

Some people end up following me on social media or sending an email, thanking me for the gift. Others I never hear from, and that's okay. But what happened recently was a first.

If you've flown Southwest you know there are not assigned seats. Walking down the aisle, I looked for a friendly face to sit by.  As I passed a row, a 4 Things Tote by Shop Forward caught my attention. Shop Forward gives back to nonprofits through every purchase, to date, raising over $3.1 million. 

Because of the bag, I was confident the lady sitting in the window seat must be a fellow giver.

I plopped down, we chatted about the bag and then our conversation turned to Shop Forward's #PimpinJoy line of clothing. I shared with my new friend, how I'd been wanting to buy some of their clothes, but I was on a self-imposed no clothes shopping ban for a year. Why? I realized I had too many clothes and I needed to be grateful and content for what I owned. I now use the money, I'd spend on clothes, for foster children or other children in need. 

Before we knew it, a man took the middle seat and our conversation ended.

I noticed she was reading so I figured she may enjoy my book. I pulled a copy out of my bag, signed it and handed it to her. I think she was a bit shocked by my gift, but extremely grateful.

She departed the flight in Nashville and I stayed on to continue my way home to Chicago. 

A couple weeks later a package arrived at my home. I hadn't ordered anything. Ummmm?

I opened the bag and inside was a #PimpinJoy t-shirt. I cried!

I'm the giver. Surprised gifts don't venture my way to often.

My new friend included a card that said, "I wanted to thank you again for the book you gave me on the airplane. I enjoyed it and have already passed it on to my daughter. I remember your story about not buying new clothes this year, so I thought you would enjoy this shirt and together we helped a disabled vet build a home. #PimpinJoy"

Oh friends, there is so much I loved about the thoughtfulness of the gift and note, but discovering the purchase helped a Veteran was a cherry on top.

I love our Veterans. So much so, my next book, The Gratitude Challenge will help fund a monthly Veterans breakfast. 

Many times, our gifts go out into the world and never come back. And that's okay. We are to give with no expectation. But sometimes, they come back in the form of a t-shirt and a new friend.

Giving Challenge: Next time you travel, pack a couple of gifts to give away to a stranger. 

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

“The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life”


A week ago, I sat at the bedside, holding tightly to the hand of one of the most incredible givers I've met in my lifetime.

A lifetime.

That's how long I've known Mrs. H. In my 41 years of life, she's always been there. But there are thousands, over her decades of teaching, that could say the same thing.

She had the ability to make you feel like you were her favorite. You were special. And some how she found time to support your interests and encourage your dreams, as she was supporting many others.

Tears streaming down my face, I was fine just to hold her hand and not talk.

Were words needed?

Not really, because over my lifetime she never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud she was of me or how much she liked reading my writing.

Even though her body was frozen, her mind was as clear as a mountain spring. While holding her hand, another visitor entered, and even though she was trapped in the bed and her body, she asked this visitor, "How are your parents doing?"

Not that I was surprised, but even in her toughest days, of her battle with ALS, she still displayed a caring concern for others.

I didn't want to leave.

I could have sat there all day holding her hand. I can't describe the feeling, but I've never had someone hold my hand so intently, so connected.

We kissed each other goodbye and exchanged I love yous. I tried to be strong but tears flowed without my permission.

Days later, the light in a small southern Indiana town dimmed. The brightness she brought to the community will never be replaced.

As I write this, I'm torn between staying at a writer's conference or hopping in my car to be at her funeral.

I've spent alone time, at the conference, crying in the shower, a bathroom stall, and my dorm room.

Sometimes being an adult stinks.

Hard choices have to be made.

And then finally, I asked myself a simple question, "What would Mrs. H want me to do?"

She'd want me to stay and learn more. Education was extremely important to Mrs. H. She dedicated her lifetime to teaching others. Not just music, but confidence, work ethic, respect for yourself and others, and it's okay to have fun and laugh at yourself.

So today and tomorrow, even though many will be celebrating her life, I'll be here, at Wheaton College, becoming a better writer. And I believe that is not only what Mrs. H would want, but it's what she'd expect of me.

Being fully transparent, I also have a hard time with funerals. They sometimes take away from how I want to remember a loved one. And even though I have a lifetime of memories with Mrs. H, holding her hand in her final days, is a moment I'll cherish, remember, and feel for a very long time.

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

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

Do you remember the sitcom Three's Company? Sunday evening, I got sucked into a celebrity spotlight show on John Ritter. I only knew John as an actor but hearing costars and friends talk about him made me think about the legacy we leave.  

His friends never mentioned him partying, his wealth, the materials possessions he owned such as a mansion or sports cars or the awards we won. Over and over they genuinely shared stories on his generosity on the set, his kindness to all he encountered and how he made people feel, the gratefulness he had for the opportunity to act and do what he loved, his passion as a father, and the joy he brought through his smile and making others laugh.

After all these years after his passing, he still made an incredible impact in the lives he touched, and many gave them credit for their career and how he still influences their craft today.

So, how will people remember you? Will it be for the gifts you gave that money can't buy? I sure hope so!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

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


My hands sweat and my heart races every time I watch the TEDxCalvin video spotlighting me as one of the speakers.

I keep telling myself, "God gave me this opportunity, He has gone before me and will be on the stage with me."

The only way I can get on this stage is by His strength. I can not do this alone. 

You may be thinking, "Stephanie, you get on a stage all the time and speak, why is TEDx any different?"

No notes, no slides. 

My entire talk is memorized, which in all the years I've been speaking, I've never done.  

I don't read from my notes but they are a guide to help me stay on topic, order and so everything flows.

With that said, I've put in the work. 

I've been working on my talk since November. I've rehearsed it no less than seven times each week. When I'm in the car, I turn down the radio and give my talk. When I'm soaking in the tub, I give me talk. And some mornings, I shout it out in the shower! 

I've recorded my talk and practiced it in front of a few friends. 

I'm prepared. 

A TEDx Talk has been on bucket list for years. And this is definitely one that I couldn't just show up and check off. 

The preparation for the talk also made me realized I don't have to be a procrastinator which I've proclaimed to be for…oh…my entire life. 

It's a label I've given myself and lived up to on many occasions. But I've learned through this process, we have the ability to change. 

The event is on March 2nd. If you are the praying type, please add me to your prayer list. I'd really appreciate it. 

Thanks for all your love and support!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

“The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life”


This weekend I had the honor to keynote a women's breakfast at a local church. The next day I spoke at the same church and the pastor said, "I heard the event was transformational."

What an impact his statement had on me. God laid on my heart two years ago to get The Giving Challenge in churches. I could see the vision but many couldn't. I had a director of women's ministry tell me my talk didn't have enough scripture. Well friends, I'm more concerned about living out scripture than reading it from a stage.  

Two women saw my vision and worked tirelessly to make a dream become a reality. Several months ago, on a dark, cold night we gathered and believed a success would be if 30 women showed up.  A women's event was the first of it's kind for this small church. We were giddy exclaiming our stretch goal of 50 women. We had 35 RSVP and were ecstatic! But you know what happened the morning of the event? 70 women packed the room. We had to set up more tables and chairs. My assistant ran out to my car to get more books. And somehow there was enough food for everyone!

After the event, I saw hugs, tears and excitement of going out into the community to give in ways the women had never thought about giving. I heard stories that would break your heart and stories of new connections made between women that want to pursue a dream God laid on their heart.

I can't quite put into words everything that happened on Saturday, but God showed off. And I need to thank Him for giving this gal something bigger than she could ever dream.  

If you have a big dream, you gotta do more than pray. You have to share your dream with others. You have to work hard to make it happen. And when the opportunity is presented, show up like your life depends on it. Put in the work, knowing you deserve the opportunity that was given to you!

I love what Mark Batterson says in his book on prayer, "We are called to pray about everything, but there comes a time when praying can be a form of disobedience, laziness, or negligence. We can't just pray like it depends on God; we also must work like it depends on us."

I wonder how many prayers go unanswered because people don't act to follow a path God had laid before them.  

Pray for your dream but also take the steps to make it happen. If you're on the wrong path, God will let you know. But if doors keep opening, keep walking through them!

Now go make your dream happen!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of

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