December 27, 2013

One woman’s vow leads to contagious acts of kindness

On her 40th birthday, Tami Greenberg vowed to perform 40 acts of goodness to honor people who had made a mark in her life. Her project inspired Danny O’Neill, founder of the Roasterie, and the ripples of goodwill began to spread across Kansas City.

On Thanksgiving morning, Danny O’Neill, founder of the Roasterie, read a story on the front page of The Kansas City Star about Tami Greenberg.

The Prairie Village woman spent the year after her 40th birthday performing 40 acts of goodness to honor people who had made a mark in her life. She called her project “A Year of Being 40 and Grateful.”

She volunteered so many hours around town that she lost count, reading books to Head Start kids, feeding the homeless, teaching Sunday school and participating in nine charity walks to fight diabetes, suicide, ovarian cancer and more. And that’s just a sampling.

Moved to tears by all she’d done, O’Neill wrote about Greenberg in his annual Christmas letter, sent to nearly 14,000 Roasterie fans, friends, customers and business associates.

Greenberg had inspired the self-dubbed “Bean Baron.”

“I immediately made my list, going all the way back to Mrs. Buckley, my kindergarten teacher in Denison, Iowa,” he wrote in his letter. “It only took a few minutes for me to come up with a list of over 50 people who had significantly impacted my life in positive, oftentimes life-altering ways.”

“So I endeavored to commit to 50+ random, but somewhat planned, acts of kindness over the next year.”

O’Neill encouraged his friends to follow his lead, if only to “feel an immense sense of gratitude and warmth that will carry you through the holidays and beyond.”

Greenberg sparked flames of altruism across the metro and beyond. People told her so in a flood of phone calls, emails, Facebook postings and text messages.

A work colleague was moved to send a letter of thanks to an old teacher/coach from high school. Another woman shared the article on her Facebook page and started her own project for her 40th birthday.

Judy Chastain used Greenberg’s story to inspire the adults in her Sunday School class at North Cross United Methodist Church. “I thought the whole idea was just splendid,” says Chastain, who lives in the Northland.

Greenberg, a senior vice president with the United Way of Greater Kansas City who lives in Prairie Village, was stunned.

“I have been so touched by people’s really genuine responses to my project,” she says. “It seems to have helped people think about the meaningful people in their own lives and the ways that we can incorporate grace and service into our everyday lives. It’s been humbling, actually.”

She didn’t intend for her project to be so publicly displayed; a United Way colleague told the Star about her. “It started as such a personal journey,” she says.

She thinks her story tapped into something in people that made them “hit the pause button” and reflect on their own lives, as she had done.

That was certainly true for Annie Loendorf, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. Immediately after reading Greenberg’s story on Thanksgiving morning, Loendorf whipped out paper and pen and listed 67 people — one for every year of her own life — who had made a difference for her.

Then she lit candles and prayed for them, little “shout-out” prayers, she calls them.

“I just sat there by myself and gosh, what happened to me. I found myself going back to my childhood,” she says. “I even went beyond 67 (people). I don’t know, it just got something started in me.

“It was a kind of meditation, a collage of my life. I had no idea that was going to happen to me.”

O’Neill pushed Greenberg’s idea even further. His letter encouraged his friends at Tippin’s, for instance, to ask, “Whose Christmas could we make just a little bit brighter?” and to donate even more pies to local charities over the holidays. Another business friend pledged to launch a charitable project for Easter.

One Roasterie fan who read O’Neill’s Christmas letter wrote back that her husband had been looking for a job for six months and that things were “a little tough right now.

“Your thoughts have inspired me to maybe do some random acts of kindness on a smaller scale like volunteering my time it’s free!!” the woman wrote to O’Neill. “I believe in the old adage ‘What goes around, comes around’ and hopefully I too, can inspire someone else.”

O’Neill’s first thought — to copy Greenberg’s efforts over a year’s time — morphed into a more daunting goal of performing his good deeds between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So over the holidays, Operation Breakthrough, Harvesters, St. James Place, the Children’s Place and several other local charities and nonprofits heard from the coffee king.

“This is going to become a habit,” promises O’Neill. “I think if everybody would just do those little things that they’re inspired, that they’re inclined, that they’re able do, wow! We could change the world.”

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