Do The Next Good Thing – Week 1

Do The Next Good Thing is a project produced by Jeff Buell & Two Buttons Deep. We are spreading kindness around the Capital Region in hopes of making the world a better place. Kindness is contagious, and it all starts with someone doing the next good thing. Giving someone a compliment, a hug, or paying it forward, you never know what an act of kindness can do for somebody.

For the next year, we will be giving away $50,000, $100 at a time in hopes of inspiring others to do the next good thing. We will pick random people to receive the money and document their reactions and what they plan on doing with the $100.

Here are their stories. 

John – Troy, NY:

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We were sitting in downtown Troy when John walked by us. He was picking up trash for a local waste removal company outside of Peck’s Arcade. Wearing a green safety vest over a gray t-shirt, the length of his daily effort was apparent in his slowed stride.

Across the street stood a family with two toddlers who were clearly fascinated by the operation of the garbage truck. The parent’s made sure they kept their distance as workers did their job.

It was an unusually hot day for mid-September, and as John walked by I asked him how his day was.

“Not good,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

He disappeared inside for a few moments.

When he came back, I jumped out of my seat asked if we could chat for a second. I explained Do The Next Good Thing to him and how we are trying to infuse happiness back into world by doing kind things for random people when they least expected it.

The more questions I asked he began to open up about himself. He was new to the area. He told us about the struggle of transitioning from the city to upstate, the difference in pay scales, and all of the other things that come along with dramatic change. The day’s heat wasn’t helping anything either.

I told him how we’re giving away $100 to a random person every day for the next 365 days, and that John was up next.

“You’re just going to give me $100?” he chuckled. “Yeah right.”

And then I handed him the money.

His reaction was incredible. Loud and boisterous, his happiness could not be held in. His energy changed instantly as he hollered to his coworker, Jeremy, to tell him what just happened.

When we asked him what he thought he would do with the $100, without missing a beat, he told us it is going in an envelope for his brother’s wedding gift which is happening in two weeks. He also promised that he also was going to do the next good thing. Our only ask.

And he immediately held his word.

He ran across the street and greeted the curious toddlers. Not only did he hand them $10, he let them cross the street to experience the garbage truck first hand.

Sherry – Troy, NY:

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The corner of Second and State Streets in Downtown Troy features recognizable structures such as The Troy Music Hall, The Conservatory and the Daisy Baker building. It has quite literally been a confluence of activity for 200 years. That’s where we recently met Sherry, sitting on a bench contemplating her day.

After a brief inquisitive look at me as I sat down next to her, it did not take long for her to open up about what was troubling her. She had just started a job in marketing, but is questioning if she’s built for that line of work. Her confidence seemed low. She talked about something needing to change and go her way. I told her what Do The Next Good Thing was all about, trying to lift people up and inject kindness back into the world. To let others know strangers have their back.

And she began to preach the same back at me. She had me rolling with her humorous
inflection.We talked intently about the way of the world. What could be fixed with just a little interaction amongst strangers. She lives in Downtown Troy. She couldn’t agree fast enough that we all needed to slow down a bit. Sherry is a woman whose words back up her actions. When I had sat down she had headphones in her ears, and took them out to talk to me.“I say that all the time,” she said. “I say hi to people and they look at me like I’m crazy. People don’t even say Merry Christmas anymore when the holidays come around. They look at you like, what?”She paused briefly and looked up at us.“It’s…. weird.”We handed Sherry the $100, and she let out a long, genuine laugh. She said the money would be used to pay her phone bill, which she had been struggling with. We left Sherry on her word that she will do the next good thing, and that’s all we can ask for.

Debbie – Troy, NY:

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Within a minute of sitting down next to Debbie on the steps of her office building on 4th Street in Troy, it was clear this conversation was not going where I expected.

“My mother died two weeks ago,” she said when I inquired why she was having a bad day. “And now I’m back at work.”

I wanted to run and give this woman her space. I should not be intruding on her pain and grief. What was I even going to say to her?

“This project is dedicated my sister Laurie,” I said. “She died last April 30th. It feels like last week. I miss her a lot. I’m sorry that my words probably feel empty.”

My sentences were choppy and much softer than normal. The local newspaper had been trailing us to do a story about Do The Next Good Thing. But I was speaking so low, I’m not even sure Debbie could hear me.

There’s emptiness going back to work after you’ve lost something irreplaceable. The entire world stops in the moment of your loss, or so it seems. They send their thoughts and prayers. And then they continue on. Except you can’t. You freeze in time. You wonder if you said enough. Did enough.

Debbie and I shared that commonality on the steps of that monolithic building. And when we did, something else happened. She started to talk about the good. Her mom was a teacher at Rensselaer Park Elementary. For 30 years she taught the next generation.

Debbie’s children were grown up now and hadn’t experienced loss in almost 20 years. These were blessings you remember in time.

What Debbie needed most in that moment was a friendly stranger. The $100? It came in handy as well. She had taken the two weeks off to take care of everything with her mom and was out of vacation time so she wasn’t getting paid. The entire interaction was well timed.

As was the big hug I gave her when we both stood up after our 15-minute talk.

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Sam – Schenectady, NY:

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Two women are parking their cars on State Street in Schenectady, and as luck would have it both are going to class at Schenectady County Community College (SUNY SCCC) City Center location. Both are a few minutes late as well. The question to both of them is the same…

“Can you spare a minute for something important?”

The first looks up briefly and scatters by hurriedly saying she’s late for class.

Sam decided to be different.

“I need to get to class, is it really going to be a minute?”

Maybe two, I say.

I hurried my background of Do The Next Good Thing along because of her time constraints. Sam is a nurse going back to school to be an even better nurse. An RN to an LPN, maybe in reverse, I lost track of it because of her reaction to the project. It was pure astonishment, jaw on the floor happiness. She became the inquisitor- who, what, where, when… and most curious, why?

As she asked her questions, her smile never broke. When I handed her $100, she could not believe it. And when our ten minutes was up, well past the promised two, she had one request of me.

“Can I have a hug?”

I have different feelings when I walk away from people after meeting them in this project. Sam left me full of hope. It was someone whose story, and where the money was going, did not matter. It would go to the right thing. Her smile told me that. She had the instantaneous perspective shift I’m looking for.

Later, after finding the page, she followed up with an e-mail apologizing that she did not have more time.

“I was so shocked I had to call my sister. Then she started crying, it was actually pretty funny. But again, thank you and I’m so glad my path crossed yours, I’ve been feeling so blessed since that day.”

One woman rushed off to class. Sam spent time with a stranger. And has felt blessed since then. A good lesson for sure.

 

Donna – Schenectady, NY:

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Donna was smiling from the moment we met her, despite the fact a stranger just approached her early in the morning in a crosswalk. As she carted luggage behind her. She happily told us she was on her way to work at the state.

Donna is one of those people that is firm in her responses. There was no hesitation with her, she will tell you exactly how she feels. And you believe it.

“I love my job, I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I still enjoy it. We help people every day, it’s very rewarding work.”

When I described the thought process behind Do The Next Good Thing she said, “Well, I think that’s great!”

When I explained how I was using money to promote injecting kindness into the world and hopefully removing the anxieties people have in paying it forward, I could tell she was not completely sold. I pulled out $100 to hand to her and her reaction was immediate.

“I’m good, I don’t need that, there are plenty of people that do.”

I told her excitedly that response was even better. The $100 was no longer mine, and the power was in her hands to do the next good thing. It took her less than 5 seconds to decide what she was going to do.

“Okay then,” she said smiling ear to ear. “I’m going to go right to Villa Italia Bakery and buy my entire staff breakfast!”

We shook hands and she marched down Broadway to do just that. Off to inspire 20 more people to do the next good thing.

 

Rob – Troy, NY:

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Rob fidgeted at the end of the bench as I walked by him. He was on the phone while smoking a cigarette. He spoke in a hushed tone, clearly comfortable with the person on the other end of the line. We’d find out later it was his son.

“Yeah, I need to call you back,” he said when I approached him. “Some guy wants to talk to me.”

For Rob and I, the conversation turned to an obvious place. He hung up the phone with a loved one to talk to a complete stranger. And he had no idea why.

Ask yourself today if you would do the same thing?

Rob and I both grew up in Troy, but as best we can tell we never actually met each other. It was a good reminder that even in the smallest of worlds there exist immeasurable chasms between us all. For the better part of a decade we were probably a block away from each other every day, and it was today we talked.

The best part of our interaction was the simplicity. Rob works two jobs, including one as a cook at Bootleggers On Broadway. He was on a smoke break. Talking to his son. He wore a white t-shirt. And the money? Of course he could use the money.

“Spend it on my kids,” he said. “Toys, sneakers, clothes. Whatever they don’t have.”

I looked at him before I walked away and casually stated my truth… “you’ll do the right thing.”

 

Cathy & Christina & Candice – Schenectady, NY:

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It was a crisp morning when we saw Cathy and Christina were cheerfully walking down Jay Street in Schenectady looking for a cup of coffee.

It was their first time ever in Schenectady, attending a conference right down the street. Both women have worked for years at non-profits that help people in home ownership – those trying to stave off foreclosure, or those looking to make the leap from renting to buying. They were unified on the fact that it’s challenging, yet rewarding work.

I began explaining Do The Next Good Thing to them, and they gleefully exclaimed that there couldn’t have been a better first impression of Schenectady.

Out came $200. It seemed in the moment to be the right thing.

“This is weird” Christine said with a laugh and without missing a beat continued, “we don’t want it, we think you should give it to someone who really needs it.”

“It’s your money now,” I said. “That’s up to you!”

Off we marched down Jay Street to State Street in search of someone new.

And that’s when we met Candice.

Candice was clearly on her way to work at Johnny’s Schenectady. We stopped her for a moment of her time, and we gave Cathy and Christine free range on how they were going to give. Cathy went first. After a brief conversation, and a “Happy Schenectady!”, Cathy handed Candice her $100, and Candice was shocked.

“I know exactly what I’m going to do with this!” Candice began describing the Schenectady Serves fundraiser that took place the night before raising money for the victims of the recent hurricanes. “This $100 will go straight to that.”

“Make it $200,” Christina chimed in. Candice couldn’t believe it.

After all the excitement I offered to buy them the cup of coffee they were originally looking for. Candice said right after that there must be more people out there like that.

If you’re reading this, that’s you.



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