Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 12: Creating Something Good, Part 2

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On Wednesday for part one, I described how Something Good grew from an idea to reality. Today, I’ll tell you how we made a difference.

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EIGHTEEN KINDLES

Eighteen Kindles, cases, screen protectors, and earphones arrived to my home over the past few weeks, and it took hours to put everything together. Do you know how much I hate putting on screen protectors? Multiply that eighteen times. On the plus side, I am now an expert. But let me start this story at the beginning.

I put out a call for donations of money and LGBT books, and complete strangers contacted me with offers. Friends opened their wallets. Authors brought their friends to the effort. So much, in fact, that I contacted Amazon about charitable discounts. We received a commitment for ten percent off the list price, plus an open account for discounted purchases in the future.

“I want to contribute,” someone told me over Facebook. “I have a Best Buy gift card. Can you use that?”

After working out the details, a manager at the local Best Buy agreed to match Amazon’s offer. (Thank you, Ashley! Here are the photos I promised you.) I carried three brand-new Kindles home, terrified I would lose the Kindles through carelessness, damage, or theft.

“We could buy more than one Kindle,” I mused. “Maybe we could buy six.”

The donations kept coming in, and I had to adjust the game plan nearly every day. “Maybe we could buy ten,” I thought as I entered numbers into the Something Good spreadsheet. Vagabondia Creations offered to donate earphones, and that freed up more money for Kindles.

“Should we buy stylus pens?” I asked the ever-growing group of contributors. “Nah,” came the answer. “I never use one. What about screen protectors instead?”

The infamous screen protectors. How many hours I spent adjusting the pieces of plastic! But the money kept coming in…

“Seventeen Kindles,” I proclaimed to our awestruck group. “Plus cases, earphones, and screen protectors.”

Meanwhile, I’d received pledges for books from Less Than Three, Harmony Ink (the YA version of Dreamspinner), Damnation, Dark Hollows, JMS Books, Ylva, Torquere, Witty Bard, Carina, and Decadent Bono.

Authors sent books, or they sent money if their books were too mature. I had to ask people to hold off on donations because I didn’t know how many Kindles could be used at Lost-N-Found Youth. “Wait until spring,” I suggested, not wanting the liability of excess money.

THE TRIP THAT NEARLY DIDN’T HAPPEN

“Come and visit,” said someone who lived in Atlanta. “Deliver the Kindles in person. I’ll pay your expenses and host you.”

I didn’t know if I could spare the time (December is Advent Calendar, after all), but who could turn down that offer?

I threw myself into planning for every single contingency. Managing this number of books, Kindles, donations, and authors stretched my organization skills to the limit. Most difficult was needing flexibility. The Kindles might be placed in the drop-in youth center, and they might be given to youth residing at the shelter. They might be for public use, or they might be given as private property. Also, publishers and authors wanted to continue contributing books even after the delivery. I needed a way to send books to Kindles no longer in my physical possession.

“Why are you making it so hard for yourself?” someone asked.

“If I were doing it, I’d send the Kindles in the original boxes and let Lost-N-Found figure things out on their own,” said another.

“There must be an easier way,” I was told as I fought through the mountains of red tape. There were easier ways to donate Kindles, but there was no easy way to accomplish my vision.

I wanted a centralized, remote-accessible network flexible enough to adapt to multiple donation sites, multiple purposes, and continuing donations of books. I wanted to make the Kindles as safe as possible against theft, misuse, reselling, and accidental catastrophes. I wanted Kindles set for public shared use, private ownership, and transfer from one private owner to another—and I wanted to remotely change the Kindles from private to shared ownership (and vice versa) if necessary.

Amazon technical support and I carried on our torrid six-week affair, and I learned enough to make my head swim. I wanted everything to be right the first time because I couldn’t afford future trips to fix mistakes. At times, “rest” days turned into eighteen-hour marathons of technical support, fighting with the system, and struggling through the dreary scut work of collating hundreds of donated mobi files.

“I want to help,” people told me, but too many donors wanted to remain anonymous. Financial information needed to stay confidential, and I had to protect the integrity of book files from publishers. After many hours of practice and standardizing donations with a Google form, I streamlined the uploading process so I could load one book per minute to my network.

I set aside publishing deadlines. Offers for donations kept coming in, and a part of me winced at the extra work. I sincerely hated every email and private message asking questions that were answered in the FAQ. “But I needed to make sure this was right,” people told me. “READ THE FAQ!” I wanted to bellow. And yet, I pictured youth opening the Kindles and finding books to read. “Read the FAQ,” I answered in as polite of a tone as I could muster.

“You have to take this to a national level!” someone told me. “Failure is not an option!”

The pressure caused me not to sleep at night. What if I screwed things up? What if I couldn’t anticipate problems? Then, it happened. Two weeks before the trip, the offer of hosting was rescinded. The individual promised to pay for a hotel instead but disappeared the next day, blocking contact. Sick to my stomach, I contemplated my options. Cancel the visit? Ship the Kindles and conduct the training via Skype? I went to my group, the wonderful group that had stood by me from day one.

“What do I do?” I asked. “I’m sorry I let you down. Here are our options. This is your money; what do you want me to do?”

“We’ll pay for you to travel,” said Less Than Three. “As long as you don’t throw elaborate Jacuzzi parties with the money. We don’t approve of throwing lavish parties without inviting us.”

“I can’t manage anything this pay period,” said another person who had already contributed hundreds of dollars toward the Kindles. “But if you can wait a few weeks, I’ll give something.”

“How much do you need?”

“We want to send you.”

“I can give a little. Is this enough?”

Overwhelmed, I thanked everyone through tears. The trip was still on.

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A NEED TO FEED

In the last days before my trip to Atlanta, I descended into a baking frenzy. I made two pans of chocolate chip bars, two loaves of bread (turkey-cheese and cinnamon-walnut), and some garlic baby dinner rolls. (I didn’t make the butter. Sorry.)

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Not pictured: Christmas stocking, full-size Kleenex, soda, apples, Christmas socks, and vegetables

I also put together a gift package for “Heidi,” the girl in rehab. I heard that her favorite color was pink, so I found every pink item I could. I figured she would get served bland food in an institution, so I threw in some fresh produce and junk food. (What? They balance each other out, right?) I’d visit Lost-N-Found to train staff on the Kindles on Friday, and I’d meet Heidi on Saturday.

 

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MEETING SUE

When I arrived, I was greeted with an enormous hug from Sue, the manager of the drop-in youth center. She and I had exchanged phone calls weekly, sometimes more often. A retired special ed preschool teacher, she exuded warmth and trustworthiness. Five minutes into our first phone call, I was ready to sign over Kindles, books, and whatever she wanted.

“I won’t make any decisions without consulting you,” she promised.

“You know best,” I answered. “You know the kids, the center, and the program.”

Working at a non-profit organization is a hard, thankless job. Passions run high and politics get involved. Sue, who isn’t even paid staff but a volunteer, donates her time and personal funds to take care of the young adults who visit the center. Even more, she jumps in with her whole heart. It’s easy for people to perform a job, but it’s a lot more difficult to walk in each day willing to let one’s heart get broken. These are youth who may not have had good role models or parental figures, and they haven’t always been taught respect for authority, women, and women in authority. Sue spends time with each youth and reinforces basic life lessons at each step.

None of this project (Something Good) would have happened without Sue, and she has my utmost respect. We often hear from and praise the public faces of organizations, but for every public figure there are a dozen hardworking servant leaders behind the scenes. If Sue had not answered the phone the second time I called and cancelled out the first impression (that LNF had no interest in Kindles because they only wanted cash for renovations, and technology was worthless because it would depreciate), Something Good would have died as yet another Ana idea.

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Sue and I went to the youth center along with a few other staff members. We spent nearly two hours going over all of the contingencies, the quirks of the network, and how to navigate all of the safety restrictions I’d implemented.

“Wow,” said one when I explained that my network would allow for future book deliveries even after I left. “Now I’m understanding why you wanted a long-term relationship.” I smiled and continued to explain the benefits.

“Where are your books?” asked a few staff members.

“Right there,” said another.

“These Kindles and books have been provided to you by 30-45 authors, readers, publishers, and editors,” I began.

“What are the names of the people?” someone asked.

“I’ll get you a full list of everyone except those who wished to be anonymous,” I promised.

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY SHAKESPEARE?

And then, training over, came the highlight of my day. “Jared,” a courteous and well-spoken young man, said he had never used a Kindle before. I invited him to sit next to me so I could show him how to use it.

“Do you have any Shakespeare?” he asked.

Stunned and delighted, I struggled for words. (It was hard to speak through the unexpected pleasure. The former literature teacher inside of me unfurled, thrilled to be called on.) “Not yet,” I admitted. “But I will get you some. Which ones do you want?”

“I read Midsummer Night’s Dream in AP English,” he said. “And Antigone. But I never got to read all of Hamlet.”

“I’ll get Hamlet for you,” I promised. If I had to pay for it out of my own pocket, I would get him some Shakespeare! “Midsummer is my favorite. I like Antigone, but I don’t like how both she and her sister are disparaged by…”

Jared and I discussed our favorite works of literature, and his smile grew wistful. “Maybe I’ll buy one of these for myself,” he said.

No, I wanted to shout. Don’t buy anything. We’ll give you one. But it wasn’t my decision alone, so I tried to point out the positives. “The Kindles will be here permanently. You can come to read it any time, and if you’re reading books you will get priority over someone using it to check email.”

“I’m starting a new job,” he said. “I don’t know if the hours will let me come here.” After a moment, he looked up. “If I buy a Kindle, could you send me the books?”

Yes, Jared. For you, I’ll give the moon and the stars.

“As long as it’s through LNF,” I answered, wondering where the boundaries were.

People who have been abandoned or treated badly by those closest to them can easily get hurt again. Trust comes slowly, or sometimes it comes too quickly and ends in unintentional betrayal. How can people believe in humanity when their parents have kicked them out? How can anyone undo the primal harm of a parent saying, “You are not my child because of who you are.”

Everyone has experienced some kind of rejection, and everyone but the most repressed has had some conflict with parents. But to be told, “You are not my daughter/son” or “You are not my child unless you go to therapy and straighten up”…How could any parent do such a thing?

“It’s not always because they’re gay,” Sue told me. “Sometimes it’s just because they’re alive.”

When I met Jared, I thought how proud I would be to have him for my son, brother, nephew, or parent. I did not get enough chance to talk to him because things were hectic, but I will always treasure our conversation.

Thank you, Jared. Thank you for being who you are.

But what about everything and everyone else?

(Part three of this series will be posted on Sunday.)

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85 thoughts on “Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 12: Creating Something Good, Part 2

  1. sheri says:

    I feel like we are on the edge of a cliff, teetering. Will we fall in to tears or soar in happiness?

    I have never wished for a weekend to fly by but this time I am. I can’t wait to read part 3 and find out the rest.

    Thank you for putting so much time and effort into this, thank you for caring and giving us the opportunity to help as well.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Aw, thank you, Sheri. Maybe some of both. It’s hard work, heart-wise, to care about injustice. It’s easier to look the other way (which is why most people do so).

      And tomorrow we will have something a bit lighter. It’s been a week of intense, emotional posts, and a bit of levity will do us good. Hugs.

      And thank you for caring and giving.

      Like

  2. ruthshulman says:

    The story of “Something Good” never fails to move me. You’ve put so much work, time and emotion into it and that comes across. I can’t say enough good things about this cause. So Thank You so much for doing all the hard work for us. We would chip that in too, but we’re only connected by data-streams and so on… and by the need to do Something Good as human beings. Blessings on you, Ana!

    Like

  3. sassytwatter says:

    Ana I am totally in awe of this amazing selfless thing you need. Absloutley amazing the kind of support you generated. You have a heart of gold!! Btw pink scarff is gorgeous!!

    Like

  4. SH says:

    I literally have tears in my eyes, seriously! I can not say it enough, Ana, you have created a wonderful thing that will bless many in need. Fantastic!!

    Like

  5. Joelle Casteel says:

    I am so glad everything ended up working out for the visit so you could take the Kindles, Ana. What wonderful moments with both Sue and Jared. I too love his desire for Shakespeare. I also struggle to process parents doing that- while I didn’t end up homeless, even if there were short periods of times that my parents refused to allow me into their home, I’ve heard things like “straighten up.” I can’t imagine doing that to my own son.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I was thrilled to meet both, and it was a moving experience. I wish more parents would learn that they chose to become parents and need to follow through. Parenting isn’t something to quit when it becomes distasteful or difficult.

      Like

      • Joelle Casteel says:

        I couldn’t agree more, Ana. Sometimes that sentiment- distasteful or difficult- gives me a difficult time talking about education with others who can only see public school as the only option. It just didn’t work for my son and home education continues to be the better choice- doesn’t make it easy to be different than mainstream but I stick with it because it’s right for my family

        Like

  6. ameliahfaith says:

    Ana,
    There are just not words strong enough to tell you how much I admire you and your go get them spirit. You are such an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us, for showing us what greatness can happen from a small idea and a lot of perseverance.

    Like

  7. Lara Estes says:

    Oh lord how beautiful, both Sue and you are surely angels sent form above. And I would like to send my prays to Jared and all of the youth at the drop in center. I had tears of joy running down my face.

    Like

  8. Charmaine Butler says:

    Great post and such a great cause and idea. I wish I could have helped. So glad that it managed to right it self at the last moment.

    Like

  9. Shannon Love says:

    I really like this story. It has all the elements of a great novel. There’s a “what if” and then the story takes off. Like any reader that immerses themselves into a good story, I found myself loving the souls of the protagonists (and perhaps having unfairly negative feelings for that ‘just send money/technology outdates’ guy).
    What’s amazing is that this story is true and there are truly kind and inspirational people out there that work hard for others. Not for any thanks but the sheer satisfaction of providing hope to those that may have lost it.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      What a neat way to describe it! You’re not the only one who had negative feelings. Sadly, there is a bit more to that story, too. But as you say, the important part is to focus on the people who made wonderful things happen. This story goes far beyond LNF and touches all of us. Hugs and thank you.

      Like

  10. Renee says:

    Ana, I have tears in my eyes and goosebumps up and down my arms. You are doing such a good thing with this “little” idea of yours. So proud of you for keeping the faith and continuing forward through every bump, hill, and mountain. You lead with your heart and that makes you amazing in this world of talkers (without action). May your heart be blessed this holiday season and don’t forget to take care of you. You are important too. Many blessings. R

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I think a lot of people don’t take action because of the heartbreak involved. I’ve been disappointed, stressed, discouraged, and all kinds of things over this project…but the wonderful group of supporters convinces me not to give up. We may do good things for youth involved, but we gain strength from each other. Blessings to you, too. ❤

      Like

  11. Tina S. says:

    Wow such an amazing story. You never realize how much work goes into something. You are so special Ana for all you do. It just amazes me how quickly this all happened. And to read about all the steps involved

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I had to leave half of the steps out, or this would have become a ten-part series. 😀 As it is, it’s already become three times as long as I anticipated. Onward and upward, right? 😀 You’ll get to read some more amazing stuff on Sunday.

      Like

  12. Amy says:

    I’m in awe. This is such an amazing story. I’m with you—how could any parent reject a child like that? As a mom, I simply can’t imagine asking my children to give up who they are for any reason, least of all in order to “earn” my approval. I can’t wait to read the next part!

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Everyone has issues and I understand that, but I can’t imagine punishing children for it. Adults are supposed to be the adults, not kids. I wish every child could come into this world wanted, loved, and accepted.

      Like

  13. abby says:

    wow…all i can think of is the miracle in the bible…where Jesus fed all those people with a couple fish and a few loaves of bread…you are creating a miracle…and you are feeding the needy….with more than just food. Thank you….
    hugs abby

    Like

  14. Sarah Bennett says:

    Ana

    Thank you for sharing your vision and for pouring your heart into it all.mI’m continually amazed by how much money came in, books donated, etc. Truly in awe.

    Lol on the torrid six week affair with Amazon!! 🙂

    Thanks so much for the story and photos, and for being such a wonderful steward of these gifts. ♥

    Hugs Ana.

    Like

  15. Sarah Bennett says:

    Jared…Shakespeare..yes♥♥♥
    What a wonderful time you had chatting with him smiling as I read this again. As its been a rough few weeks here, I needed this wonderful story so much.

    I may just keep reading again and again.

    Thank you, Ana, my friend and our servant leader for Something Good.

    Like

  16. JC says:

    I love when communities come together to support a common cause. This sounds like a great cause. I love how the donations exceeded your expectations. Can’t wait for part 3.

    Like

  17. catrouble says:

    Okay Ana…I do have to disagree with one thing you said…”None of this project (Something Good) would have happened without Sue” I beg to differ…None of this project (Something Good) would have happened without our Ana! We and they are so blessed to have you. I am so very proud of what you accomplished! Giving you a *Standing Ovation*

    Hugs and Blessings…
    Cat

    Like

  18. Holla Dean says:

    Wow! You’re incredible, Ana! What a wonderful thing you’ve done. And are still doing. I loved reading the story and the photos are great. You’ve made the holiday season so much brighter for those teens.

    Like

  19. Julie says:

    It’s a beautiful story, Ana. Especially at this time of year, it’s good to be reminded that if we want to make a difference – really WANT to make a difference – we can.

    Like

  20. Anna Jones says:

    Thank you for this ‘behind the scenes’ look into Something Good! I can’t wait to read part 3!
    It is such a wonderful thing that you have done here. Please let me know if you need any help with anything,
    *hugs*

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Witty Bard’s support has been fantastic! Glad to have you on board. Hugs back. Thank you also for everything you’ve done for Advent Calendar. Something Good couldn’t have happened without you and Kathryn behind the scenes.

      Like

  21. pieclown says:

    Hi Ana,You have been a good little elf. I hope Santa brings you something nice. I hope to hear about Heidi and your visit in the next post. Asking for Shakespeare, way cool. I hope it happen. Keep up the good work.

    pie pie 4 now

    Like

  22. Marybeth says:

    You are such a wonderful, caring person! I am in awe of what you have accomplished, with the help of your crew. I agree, I don’t see how a parent can say that to their child. I always tell my kids that I will love them no matter what, I may not like them at that moment in time, but I will always love them!

    Like

  23. Kyra says:

    After reading this I feel like crying and smiling at once, especially after reading about your conversation with Jared.
    You are special and so are the many others who donated and helped. We need more people in the world with a heart as big as yours.
    I hope Jared gets to read allergen Shakespeare he can. Kudos to him!!!

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Yes! More about that on Sunday, but I went home the next day and added 57 works by Shakespeare, Sophocles, and authors writing about Shakespeare and Sophocles. The power of setting up a remote network. 😀

      Like

  24. Laurel Lasky says:

    Ana, I’m so happy you hung in there and didn’t give up. I believe you are Mrs. claus and are the true meeting of Christmas, not just now but all through the year. Blessings, joy and happiness to you.
    Great photos, love Laurel

    Like

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