A trip to Chicago is pretty much guaranteed to be good time. Throw in some visits with great people that you have not seen in a while and some heartfelt Random Acts of Kindness and you've got yourself a 110% guarantee.
Dan and I arrived in Chicago on Tuesday evening after a six hour drive (the last half hour of that thanks to a crazy amount of traffic) and met up with his cousin Jack, who was graciously putting us up for the night. The three of us went out to grab some drinks and dinner...and after two beers, Dan and myself were ready to pass out (we blame our drowsiness on a combination of having to deal with the stress of me driving in Chicago traffic and giving blood that morning).
The following morning, Dan fulfilled his promise of doing some yoga on this trip by hitting up a Hot Yoga Fusion class (a combination of vinyasa and bikram. It was good. It was hot. It was free.99). He liked it and has let me know that he will be doing more yoga with me (wahoo!!!) during this trip.
After yoga, we headed over to the school where my Godsister (Godsister definition: her parents are my godmother and god father, my parents are hers...therefore, Godsister. Dan says that this is not a real thing. I say 'shush') Liz teaches: Urban Prep.
You see, I had gotten in touch with Liz a week or so ago and asked if she had any good ideas for a RAK in her area, knowing that she taught at an all-boys Inner City charter school. Instead of asking us to help out her classes in some way, she told us about a really great student who has been in foster care for the past four years and loves to draw, but has no drawing supplies. She let us know that we could meet up with him to chat when we gave him his gift. Dan loves to draw, so he knew exactly what supplies to purchase.
So, we met up with Liz and the student, Mr. Baileys (Name has been changed for privacy reasons. Also, at Urban Prep they call all of the students by their last name. I dig it.) and headed to her office to chat. When Liz asked Mr. Baileys if he knew why we were here, he told us that he thought we were "coming to investigate how awesome he was." As it turns out (no surprise here, really -- Liz has a knack for finding some extraordinary individuals), Mr. Baileys is a pretty great guy. He opened up his art supplies and whispered "Awesome." He told us his story, which he said he would like to be printed in a book and not made into a movie, as he began drawing with his new supplies.
|Mr. Baileys and Liz|
Mr. Baileys lives in a foster home that is a part of S.O.S.Children's Villages. His Children's Village has a group of twelve houses, each house headed by a full time foster parent with no more than six foster children in each home. One of the more remarkable things about S.O.S. Children's Villages is that they try their hardest to make sure that families are not split up or are least in the same village so they have close contact. Mr. Baileys has twelve siblings plus his favorite non-related house mate, a five year old boy who he says "looks up to him"
S.O.S. Children's Villages also feature a playground, a community center and a Birthday Party room for those children lucky enough to have a party thrown for them. Mr. Baileys said that in addition to drawing, he enjoys playing keyboard (he mentioned that he is the keyboard player for his church, which does not have a name since it is out of someone's house) and going to the movies with his siblings; which is a very special type of outing that his caseworker sets up for them.
We asked Mr.Baileys if he had done any Random Acts of Kindness of his own and he told us a story of how he had a homeless man ask him for change outside of a gas station once and Mr. Baileys told the man that he did not have any cash on him. After walking halfway back to his house, he turned around, walked back to the gas station and handed the homeless man the $4 that he had in his wallet because he felt bad about lying to him. Mr. Baileys let us know that he has seen a lot of ignorance around him and that has made him want to act the opposite of selfish people. He then gifted us his drawing, which was of "his planet" and we parted ways.
|He used a lot of the art supplies we bought for this one. We like it.|
After meeting Mr. Baileys, Dan and I headed to meet one of my best friends Macaila for lunch. On the drive there, we began brainstorming ways that we could help the S.O.S. Children's Village. One thought was to purchase gift cards for the movies and give them to care givers to pass out. Another thought, upon contacting the S.O.S. Children's Village to find ways that we can help (unfortunately since we were leaving the next morning, we could not do anything in person on that short of notice), was to donate gifts to their annual Christmas party. We decided the best route would be to ask Liz what her thoughts were later on that evening.
So, we met up with Macaila (aka Mactown) and had a delicious lunch with great conversation. We hadn't seen her in almost a year, so it was great to catch up.
|Mactown is still my favorite town. The stripes were not planned.|
After lunch, we headed over to The Navy Pier since we had some time to kill before Liz arrived home. While there we found a fun (and free!) Stained Glass Museum. Our personal favorite was the "Fairy Tale of the Bear Attacking Other Animals"...which neither of our parents ever read to us when we were younger. Strange.
|So pretty, right!?|
|Photo seen below.|
Upon leaving the Stained Glass museum, we noticed an elderly couple in line for ice cream...so we decided to pick up their tab! They were kind of confused at first, but once we explained what we were doing they were appreciative. They split a large chocolate milkshake with no whipped cream because they were "on a diet" -- adorable.
We then hopped over to the end of the dock to check out the skyline, which was fantastic.
|Such eye candy, right? The skyline is okay, too.|
|Stained Glass skyline Vs Real skyline!|
After a stroll down Michigan Avenue, we met up with Dan's cousin Jack and another of his cousins Elizabeth for dinner while we waited for Liz, which was a lovely time. We then drove over to Liz's side of town and reached her condo, which was where we were staying that evening. Her condo is also the most adorable/ perfectly decorated place I have ever seen. Ever. Well done, Liz.
We mentioned our idea of helping out the S.O.S. Children's Village to Liz and that's when stories of how much help the boys at her school need and deserve came pouring out. She told us that picking just one student for us to help was an extremely tough decision. Another of her students has been acting up lately because he has not been taking his medication, which his mother cannot afford because she has a life threatening disease and had to choose one medication or other on her small department store salary. Liz shared with us numerous instances of students who have to walk home from school in dangerous neighborhoods because they cannot afford a bus pass or have been robbed for them. With night fall at 4:30pm in Chicago these days, these students are walking home in the dark and many are held at gun point or come to school with a busted lip or black eye the next morning as a result of being jumped. She went on to tell us about a student whose brothers and sisters have not had Christmas gifts for a number of years and he, being the oldest, has been very worried about finding the means to get them all something. Liz told us so many heart wrenching instances of the realities that these young boys face every day... and the list went on and on.
Liz tries to help in small ways where she can. For instance: after learning from Mr. Baileys that he did not like Birthdays because "it was a day that was supposed to special but never seemed to be," Liz threw Mr. Baileys a Birthday party at school that year, thinking that a cake and his favorite food (orange chicken) as well as a gift card to the movies would be a nice, but small gesture. It turned out that party was the only birthday party that had been thrown for him and that he had not received a Birthday gift in four years. He's a freshman in high school.
I think you see what's about to unfold here. We knew that we needed to do something for these students, and we knew that Liz was the person to help us with that task. So, we wrote out a check for $600.00 to Liz, gave her instructions to make a "Liz List" of needs that need to be fulfilled and to either update us and provide receipts and payment information as she goes along, or to guest blog when she has completed her tasks. If there is anyone who is trust worthy and completely selfless enough to ensure these kids get RAK'd, it is definitely Liz. Which is why...
We RAK'd Liz with a $50 gift card to Etsy (her favorite quirky gift site) because she is exactly the type of person who deserves a reward for her thankless efforts. One of the things that we wanted to do with the RAK funds was give back a little something to those individuals who do all that they do without expectations. Those people who do not think twice about putting others before themselves and have a heart that is larger than the Grinch's on Christmas Day when it grew three sizes. Liz is the embodiment of loving unconditionally. She cares so much for the boys at her school -- she has spent $150 out of her own pocket for bus passes in the past year, volunteers at numerous charities and is passionate about making sure that everyone around her knows that they are important. We tip our hats to you, Liz.
And so, we are on our way to Lawrence, Kansas (Dan is a saint and has been driving for the past 5 hours while I catch up on thank you notes and write this blog), where we have an interview tomorrow with the local Kansas news station and will be RAKing while spending time with our good friends, Megan and Bobby.
Oh, and did I mention that we have officially raised $4,000!? You can donate right here.