Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 10: Creating Something Good, Part 1

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Today is part one of a series on Something Good, a coalition formed to provide Kindles and ebooks to LGBT homeless youth. Look for part two on Friday.

 

CHOOSING WHICH STORY TO TELL

 

I meant to tell you the story of an interview and give you a professional account of someone else’s work.

 

I meant to ignore my work and that of the Something Good crew, in favor of highlighting everything happening at the homeless shelter for LGBT youth.

 

I meant to tell someone else’s story.

 

Instead, today (and Friday, for part two), I will tell you mine.

 

My story, and the story of 30 authors, readers, editors and publishers who raised $4,000 in 25 days.

 

The story of a woman who lives on a tight salary and medical bills, but she donated the money she budgets for pleasure each month. Her pleasure is to give to others.

 

The story of another woman who gave a donation without blinking an eye, and then offered to give again when travel funding fell through.

 

The story of a publisher that said, “Here’s money. And books. Oh, and more money. We’ll give you more, if you need it.” No questions asked.

 

The story of another publisher that said, “How much do you need? How can I get it to you?” And got it to me within hours, despite preparing for an international trip the next morning.

 

It’s a story of sacrifices, small and big. It’s a story of widow’s mites and huge numbers, truckloads of books and donations one by one.

 

It’s a story of love.

 

THIRTEEN DOLLARS

 

Last year for Giving Tuesday, I asked for suggestions how people could make a difference. Of the ones I received, two concerned homeless LGBT youth.

 

 

I didn’t think anything more about LNF until October of this year when I visited Atlanta for an author conference. After engraving 260 wooden spoons for party favors, I remembered LNF. Since I was going to Atlanta anyway, why not stop by the center and pick up promotional materials? Since I was going to pick up promotional materials anyway, why not set out a tip jar at the conference and take donations for LNF?

 

Loaded down with a container full of flyers and postcards, I set up a pretty red-and-white dish and peddled my spoons. In exchange for the days upon days of engraving spoons and the hours at the book signing, I received a cool $13 in cash.

 

Thirteen dollars. The flyers I gave out cost more! Although the conference was stellar (and I made new friends I hope to keep for life), I felt both embarrassed and disappointed. This was it? Sure, I’d spread awareness of the center. Sure, I’d handed out flyers and talked up the program. Sure, I garnered interest. But…thirteen dollars?

 

69 LGBT AUTHORS

 

I headed home, and the frustrated desire burrowed until it emerged in new form. What if I tried to fundraise, but to do it for real this time? What if I got together a bunch of author friends to each donate a dollar and purchase a basic, black-and-white Kindle? I knew far more than 69 LGBT authors, and we could surely each donate a dollar plus a book or two. We could give LNF a library contained in an ereader!

 

I’m Ana. I have a million ideas a day, and most of them serve to distract from real work. This idea, however, took root. I mentioned it to a few other authors who immediately jumped on the idea. After asking and receiving my permission, B. Snow posted the idea on her Facebook and received an avalanche of support.

 

Still not quite believing, I made some tentative inquiries. Would LNF be interested? I placed the call.

 

“We don’t say no to anything,” the answer came, quick with disparagement. “But do we need technology that will depreciate the second it arrives? No. Cash is king. We don’t need a thousand dollars in Kindles; we need a thousand dollars in cash. You should give us money toward our renovation in the spring. We need four hundred thousand dollars for that, not books the kids won’t even read.”

 

I hung up the phone and doodled on my notepad. It was a silly idea. I should abandon the plan. And yet…I remembered the laundry list of authors signing up to join the project. “What can we give?” they asked. “It’s a great idea!”

 

Maybe the kids at LNF didn’t read, but wasn’t that the point? As an author, I wanted to encourage reading. As an LGBT author, I wanted to offer something I never had as a child: a book about a girl who loved a girl.

 

I KISSED A GIRL

 

At the ripe old age of thirteen, I had my first crush. (Call me a late developer.) “Emily” was one year older and, in my opinion, everything I wanted to be. I cursed the bad luck of being a lowly seventh grader to her lofty eighth. I wanted to share classes, sit next to her, and be her best friend. At age thirteen, I had no concept of female-female interactions except for friendship, and I wanted it with an intensity that scared me.

 

Instead, I only got to see Emily once a week for chamber orchestra rehearsal. As serious violinists (we both wanted to become orchestra teachers), we never exchanged more than a few comments about the music. Up bow here, accent here, split this long note into two bows. I watched from afar, envious of the easy laughter she shared with friends.

 

I wouldn’t understand until many years later just why I longed to stroke her hair, sit at her feet, and listen to her play. When I read Prelude by Madeleine L’engle (a worthy read for anyone), my heart broke for Katherine the pianist who was reprimanded for leading her best friend Sarah astray. Sexuality was never mentioned outright, but their friendship was viewed by school authorities as deviant. Dangerous.

 

When I was in college and my church’s national headquarters launched a study on its position regarding sexuality, I asked my parents what they thought.

 

My cousin “Samantha” was a lesbian, they told me. But they didn’t say “lesbian,” a dirty word. They said “gay,” in all of the hushed tones of a funeral attendant. Her “roommate” and “best friend” was more than a friend.

 

“How did Samantha and she meet?” I asked my aunt at our next family gathering, wanting to be supportive without taking a stand.

 

My aunt rolled her eyes. “Oh, gay people like to hang out with other gay people, so I’m sure they met at some gay person thing.”

 

Those weren’t her exact words, but it was the tone. She might have been discussing buying marijuana or cocaine. (I am sure no heterosexual people like to hang out with other heterosexual people.)

 

Later, after a woman told me I was beautiful and things happened, I talked with my pastor. Was homosexuality a sin?

 

“Yes,” he answered. “But it’s no more a sin than anything else we do. We all sin. If we were pushed to make a statement, we might wish that someone who is homosexual not practice homosexuality, but we are in no position to judge. We are all sinners. If we start judging, then do we throw divorcees out of the church?”

 

“I had a woman come onto me, too,” another pastor told me. “She lit candles and set a gorgeous room, and it was so uncomfortable.”

 

I had moved back home to care for my cancer-stricken father, an event so traumatic that I gave up writing fiction for the next decade and a half. (I wrote about it in one of my most popular posts, Elegy of a Fiction Writer.) Faced with the prospect of losing my father, I set aside all personal needs in favor of baking cookies, washing laundry, cleaning house, and managing the many and complex needs associated with chemotherapy and radiation.

 

When I mentioned the “incident” to a friend or two, they were horrified. “You’re a Christian!” they told me. “You didn’t see anything wrong with kissing a woman?”

 

We did more than kiss. But that’s a story for another day.

 

WHY WE GIVE

 

 

What the employee at LNF didn’t understand (when he wanted cash rather than book donations) is that people don’t throw money into a black hole. Selfish as it may be, we need something tangible. I need something tangible. If not, why give?

 

We give because we have needs inside of us. Maybe it’s the need to feel we are a good person, that we are making a difference, or that we have helped someone who could have been us at a different stage in life. We give what we wish we could have had when we were in a similar situation, or we give because no one gave to us when we needed it most. Sometimes that giving means writing a check or dropping money into a bucket. For others, it may be volunteering time, energy, and skills. As someone who has spearheaded many philanthropic efforts, I knew enough about human nature to discount this false idea of “a thousand dollars in cash is better than a thousand dollars in Kindles.” For one thing, a cash drive would collect perhaps one-tenth of a fundraiser to buy something tangible. If I put all of my resources into it, I might be able to raise one hundred dollars in cash. Would that help as much as ten times that amount in books and e-readers? More importantly, would such an effort be worth my time?

 

Who said giving is selfless? Not me. We give to make a difference, to change the world, and to find a new reason to believe in humanity. We spend our time and money because we need to hope that tomorrow will be worth living for ourselves and our children. When we feel crushed by loneliness or hopelessness, we give because sometimes the only way to find goodness in this world is to create it ourselves.

 

Something Good almost died the day it was conceived, until I talked to a woman who changed everything. Sue, the manager of the drop-in center, jumped at the offer. “We’ll take care of the details,” she promised. “It’s a wonderful project.”

 

She told me about Heidi*, a former resident who had fought to turn her life around, graduated from the program, and beat the odds. Then, a truck hit Heidi and hospitalized her for months. Some days she can sit up in a wheelchair; other days, the pain is too great. Through it all, Sue told me, Heidi kept the Kindle given to her by Elizabeth North of Dreamspinner Press last year. It was her connection to friends and family…until someone stole it. At that point, I resolved to get Heidi a new Kindle if it were the last thing I accomplished.

 

Over the next six weeks, I had a daily phone date with Amazon technical support and a nightmare’s worth of spreadsheets, emails, text messages, and consultations. People came forward to contribute, spread the word, and get new authors to donate their books. When the first plans to visit Atlanta fell through, I received enough offers to fund five trips to deliver the Kindles. In the end, Less Than Three Press paid my way and I asked everyone else to save money for the spring.

 

People apologized as they sent five, ten, fifteen, twenty dollars. “I’m sorry I can’t give more,” they said.

 

“Do you understand what you’ve done?” I asked. “You’ve taken this tiny idea and turned it into a reality.”

 

People told me that my idea mattered, that my work mattered, and that we could make a difference. They contacted me behind the scenes because they were too shy to go public. “Can you take this?” they asked, not wanting to be named in public. “I was kicked out by my parents for coming out. I know where they’ve been.”

 

“Thank you for giving us something we can actually do,” said another. “I always wanted to do something but didn’t know what.”

 

People don’t want to give cash to a yawning money need. They want to walk away at the end of the day, knowing that they changed the life of one individual. Even if it’s something small and temporary, they want to make a difference.

 

On Friday, for part two of this series, I’ll tell you how we made that difference.

 

(For more information about Something Good, please visit the blog here. We are in the process of expanding the program to include donations to three more LGBT homeless shelters across the US.)

*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy. Both Sue and Heidi have given consent for this story.

 

 

 

 

 

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88 thoughts on “Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 10: Creating Something Good, Part 1

  1. Shannon Love says:

    This is such an incredible story about Something Good. It’s incredible because it could have fallen apart at any time. It could have stopped at $13. It could have stopped when that employee just wanted money. It could have stopped before daily phone dates with Amazon. Just like your personal life, you asked questions and got all the answers that were available to you. After that, you followed your heart and accomplished something so much more than was intended.
    This was an amazing journey that I watched closely via progress posts. When I read your personal story, I could see the mirror image of you discovering your identity and how Something Good took off. Both are amazing, tenacious, and a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad you are lead by your heart!

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Aw, Shannon. What a sweet and thoughtful comment. ❤ You give my heart a squishy little hug. It's been an intensely difficult couple of days after receiving bad news, and not everything about the trip went as planned. Thank you for your insightful and perceptive affirmation of everything I tried to accomplish. The hard part *was* not giving up, not getting frustrated, and not getting discouraged…but then people like you make it worthwhile. Thank you.

      Like

  2. Renee says:

    Ana can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. I was just sharing last night with some teachers about your idea and Something Good. They thought it was a wonderful idea. Their overall comment was, “What a blessing for those teens.” You have given them the opportunity to find positive encouragement for their story. The chance to know they are like others. We all use stories to define and find a place in this world. You have opened the world of stories to these teens that shows them they have a place to belong. Isn’t that what each of us is ultimately seeking a place to belong? A place to call home? Thank you for refusing to give up on these children. Blessings, R.

    Like

  3. sheri says:

    This was definitely the way to start my day. Put things into perspective and makes me glad to be a part of it all. Thank you for starting and persevering and getting Something Good goin.

    This made me want to cry and smile all at the same time

    Like

  4. AFOdom says:

    You have been and continue to be an inspiration for me and one of the lights in my life when things start to feel dark for me. You remind me that even when I can only give a little, it can help more than I expect. Something Good makes my heart grow and warm with every step it takes, small and large. Thank you so much for being you, persevering, and challenging all of us to persevere with you.

    Like

  5. Holla Dean says:

    Ana, you simply amaze me. You have such a giving heart and I think you are so right in saying people don’t want to give to a black hole. When I give to the mental health organizations, I like to give tickets to the baseball game. Or something else that I know will go directly to the residents in need. Admittedly, the baseball game tickets end up being in the nosebleed section or I couldn’t afford it. Sometimes people come together and share the expense so every resident gets to go. I don’t want to give dollars to administration, I want what I give to go directly to those who need it. I like to make gift baskets too for the residents that are moving on to independent living. They need kitchen stuff, cleaning stuff, and all sorts of things for setting up a new household.
    You’ve done a marvelous thing for these teens, Ana. And you’re an inspiration to all of us.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      It’s true that administration and salaries do need to be paid for, but it takes a special relationship to donate for that. Something like my church, for example, I’m happy for my donations to go wherever is most needed. But that’s because I know and trust the people there, and I’m part of the meetings to see how decisions get made. When outsiders donate to a cause, we need to know our money is going to be used well. When people give in-kind or to a targeted need, they give far more…including me. It’s human nature. 🙂

      Like

  6. Joelle Casteel says:

    I’m so glad to see that the effort is being expanded, Ana. I so look forward to the chance to be involved now. And thanks for sharing your story. Frustrating, the one employee who poo-poo’d the Kindle idea. Beyond “getting people to read,” as you said, I see the Kindles and stories donated in a further way- getting to see “myself.” In my writing, that’s a big thing for me. I don’t regularly get to see people who use any or even a few of the identity labels I carry on TV. I look to the growing bunch of authors putting out books there to see myself.

    Like

  7. Tina S. says:

    What an amazing story. I have more of an understand of saying I’m sorry I could only give $20 I know it makes a difference and will look forward to donating more in the spring. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

    Like

  8. abby says:

    I have tears in my eyes….you are doing more good than you will ever know. Give a child…a teenager…an adult…a book and you never know what worlds you are opening up for them to explore. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post.
    hugs abby

    Like

  9. Lara Estes says:

    Amazing Ana, the lives this will touch go well beyond the youth. It has already touch and changed the lives of those who have donated. These are the kind of things that continually renew my hope for equality and acceptance. Thank you a thousand times for not giving up.

    Like

  10. SH says:

    What a wonderful thing you have done! Books are a gateway to acceptance for a lot of people who think they are different from others. I am happy that you didn’t give up and found a way to make such a difference. Absolutely fantastic!

    Like

  11. Nancy Heredai says:

    Wow, Ana, really, I’m like wow. What a gift you have for giving and I admire your energy and commitment. You are doing something amazing. May you continue to be blessed. {{Ana}}

    Like

  12. ruthshulman says:

    This story about how Something Good came to be started my morning out right. Yes, teary, but still right. Because this is demonstrates the truth of every proverb about seeds being sown and growing into great forests. It’s amazing that Something Good is growing. And we all get to see it from the beginning, the little tree sprouts.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I think teary for many of us. Teary because it touches us in a way that Black Friday sales never can. What a cool image, the little tree sprouts. I love seeing such support here in the early stages. It’s like cradling a baby and imagining her future.

      Like

  13. catrouble says:

    What a blessing you are to those teens and to this community Ana! I love reading the story of Something Good from the beginning. Thank you so much for pulling everyone together.

    Hugs and Blessings…
    Cat

    Like

  14. Katie says:

    This is wonderful, Ana! 🙂 I am very much looking forward to hearing part two. Just a few words on a page, in a post, in a book or other can change someones life. You are doing that in spades- with then end result being making people feel cared for and understood, and valued. Good for you! 🙂 Many hugs,

    ❤ Katie

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Some days, honestly, it seems like too much for one person. Then I remember the network of people who have taken this idea from its infancy and given it wings. Will love to have you join when the time is right. 🙂

      Like

  15. Mary M. says:

    Ana, Something Good is exactly what you and all the contributors have done and will continue to do in the form of the Kindles and the stories on them. I can see them inspiring future writers such as yourself to explore and accept themselves and continue to pay it forward.

    Like

  16. Sarah Bennett says:

    Wow, Ana

    This is an amazing story of the birth of this beautiful project. Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully compose this letter.

    I’m so proud to be a part of it all and blessed.

    Hugs and blessings & prayers to all.

    Like

  17. sassytwatter says:

    Ana this post made me cry for so many reasons. You did sucha a wonderful thing. Also, you continue to open up and share more with us. You have a heart of gold.

    Like

  18. chickie says:

    Ana, I had to come back and read this again when I had more time. This whole thing is just amazing and then I loved the little peek at your personal story ❤ It's wonderful that these teens have a place to go where they can be themselves and I hope are reasonably safe.

    All of our shelter options here are faith-based, which is fine and wonderful, until there's a conflict of values. And I'm not aware of anything for youth at all. One group has families that stay at rotating churches for a week, part of the ministry and everyone is expected to help out with cooking or staying over or whatever. Two women and their children (a family unit of 5) were allowed to stay, but after some people at my church requested that families be screened better… grrrr! They weren't interacted with very nicely, amounting to attempts at rehabilitation, and it just frustrated me to no end. These were good, educated people who had lost jobs due to economy and lost everything. I ended up leaving a big fat grocery store gift card at the organization's office for them. I don't know what happened. It's spiritual abuse. I'm ashamed that I have to be affiliated with them, but we're a family and I grudgingly accept this.

    Like

    • Amy says:

      We don’t have anything in my city that’s youth-specific or specifically lgbtq-friendly. Most of ours are faith-based as well, and they’re usually also gender-specific (like the many halfway houses). That poses serious risk for trans people, and I know the faith-based shelters also make people listen to their sermons in order to stay there. Even as a person of faith, I think that sucks.

      Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I do have to be careful about what I share, but today it felt right to open up. 🙂

      Trying to help people/make a difference almost always ends up in personality conflicts, power struggles, hurt feelings, and worse. It takes a lot of faith and humility to accept that helping isn’t about us. Or, that we have to recognize what’s about us (our need to give) and what’s not (getting to control others). It’s a hard balance.

      Like

  19. Amy says:

    Gah! You’ve left us on a cliffhanger! LOL

    Ana, I feel so privileged to have “met” you through our mutual author friends. I’m sorry I was late to the party this year and wasn’t in time to participate. What an awesome project and great idea! I wish we had a lgbtq-specific shelter in my city.

    I can definitely relate to being told by my church about “sinful lusts.” Ugh. My family are all hippies and artists, but I chose to get tangled in fundamentalism. I’m glad now to be at a fully welcoming and affirming church, but I regret all the years I figured I could just “control” my orientation, especially since it was easy enough to be married to a man. I hate that anyone else ever has to feel that way.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Glad to be a cliffhanger! Hehe…fiction writer tendencies, I guess.

      It’s not too late to join. Do you want to contribute? We are gearing up to send Kindles to up to three new locations, and more donations are always welcome.

      Church and LGBT, ah…what a sticky subject. There’s no satisfactory answer, I think. How much harm do we do ourselves by believing we have to choose one or the other?

      Like

      • Amy says:

        I do want to contribute! I’m glad to know I’m not too late. How do I get involved? Also, is this something you plan to do in future years as well? Asking because I think this is a project my pastor would love, but it would take time to get our whole church on board to contribute.

        Yes, there’s so much damage done when we think we have to pick either/or. I’m glad to finally be at a church where all are welcome. But I also understand the feelings of those who choose to leave because of the harm that’s been done to them.

        Like

        • Anastasia Vitsky says:

          Sure, Amy. 🙂 Anne is updating the FAQ and press release to reflect the new expansions to the program, but in the meantime please feel free to send the blog link to your pastor: good4lgbt.wordpress.com.

          I will continue this work as long as I receive donations and as long as personal circumstances don’t interfere. The long-range plan, if the donations do keep coming, is to register as a non-profit next summer. I’m waiting that long because I want to see if the project can be sustainable over the next few months.

          Like

  20. Laurel Lasky says:

    Ana, I don’t have the words to describe how amazing and awesome you are and how wonderful that you allow me and all the others take part in the Something Good project. You threw out a stone on the water and the ripples reached me and everyone who were touched.
    God bless you and everyone else that has taken part and let the ripples continue.
    😊😍😘

    Like

  21. JC says:

    Another amazing story of people coming together to support a cause. I would agree that it is always easier to give too something tangible then just giving money for a future project.

    Like

  22. pieclown says:

    Hi Ana, I wish you the best on this. I know how Heidi feels. I was hit by a truck back in 1990. I still have pain from this. I know that recovery takes time and can be boring. Good Luck

    Like

  23. Marybeth says:

    Hi Ana, your story was very inspirational, even though I know you didn’t mean it to be. I try to keep my giving to our local community. Every community, large or small needs help. We have been working with a group that provides shelter to the homeless when the temperature dips below 15 F. It has been both cold and snowy here.

    Like

  24. Kyra says:

    Thank You so much Ana for sharing part of your story. I cannot wait to continue reading it tomorrow.
    That’s all for now….Birthday Celebration Awaits….😺

    Like

  25. Minelle says:

    Giving to those in need is such a gift. Your perseverance created a gift that will continue to help those teens forever. One word, can open up a new world for someone struggling. We never know the far reaching influence of a kindness such as you initiated….and saw through.

    Wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story. You have the ability to help so many.

    Like

  26. Irishey says:

    Hugs, Ana, for stepping up to recount each of these personal stories – cliffhangers both, notwithstanding, of course. 😉

    Everyone already has said the important things, so I’ll simply hurrah and second, “What they said!”

    Thinking of you, sweetie. More hugs.

    Like

  27. Laura says:

    You are an amazing woman Ana. I truly mean that. Instead of deciding to stop and go on to something else you continued to strive to do something wonderful and prevailed. You make me want to be a better person. Thank you!

    Like

  28. Sarah Bennett says:

    Ana

    I just read this again and soaked it in further. This project is so wonderful. I also was very glad to read more of your personal story/path.

    I wanted to give to this project because I never understood my sexuality until I came out 2 years ago. I always knew I wasn’t that attracted to men as I “should’ve been “. But I tried to make it in a hetero world and put on my happy face.
    My prayer is that these lgbtq youth will find a better way along their journey and be true to themselves.

    It’s been such a joy and honor to see the progress of this group .

    Hugs and blessings to all.

    Like

  29. Roz Harrison says:

    Anw, you are such an inspiration and blessing to many. Thank you for sharing some of your own personal story. You and everyone involved are doing such an amazing thing with Something Good.

    Hugs
    Roz

    Like

  30. michellewillms2013 says:

    You are amazing and beautiful. Your dedication brought me to tears. Some people do not understand the need to escape. Money cannot provide that need. Books can. Thank you for not giving up. You have saved more people than you can ever imagine through your dedication. Someday, I’ll tell you about meeting my first lesbian. Perhaps you’ll laugh. Or not.

    Like

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