“Wherever there is a human in need, there is an opportunity for kindness and to make a difference.”

—Kevin Heath, CEO More4kids

Portland, Oregon is a beautiful city and college town with an awesome trolley system, a fantastic green initiative, and a wonderful atmosphere with friendly people. I was there for an education conference for IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals) I believe in 2009. We had a super time for 3 days, and when we weren’t in class, we were exploring the city, eating in unique restaurants, and riding around on the trolley. We were told, however, that the poverty rate was super high in Portland.

One night we got just a little lost when walking back to our hotel (we actually could SEE the hotel) and just took the wrong street to get there. We had been walking A LOT that afternoon. We had 2 choices when we came to an overpass street…we could climb what looked like thousands of steps up and then down the other side, or we could walk under the overpass. Our feet chose the path of least resistance. It didn’t take toe many steps to realize we had invaded a homeless community. Some were covered with cardboard, some just lay on the sidewalk, and others were sitting up leaning against the concrete. No one said a word and just kept walking. I’ve seen homeless people, but just not that close up. It shook me … to the core!

Be patient … I’m getting there …

The next day, we made note of the CORRECT street because in our hearts, I think we just didn’t want to face these poor souls again. On our way to dinner we were sitting in one of the trolleys. A young man with a backpack, who I guess was 18-22, hopped on. His face is what struck me first. He looked so down-trodden and defeated. The ladies I was with didn’t seem to want to look at him … or anyone else on the trolley, it seemed! But I made eye contact with this young man … and smiled. I remember wondering if I was the first person to smile at him that day. He looked at me with those sad eyes and asked me if I had any change so he could get something to eat. I reached in my purse and grabbed a few dollars to give him. “Thank you and God bless you!” was my response. I just gave him another smile and he returned it. We got off at the next stop and the ladies I was with told me I shouldn’t have done that because he probably is just scamming me. I told them that perhaps he wasn’t scamming me and really did need something to eat. What if everyone else felt the same way they did? We didn’t know his story and I wouldn’t judge. Not having those few dollars didn’t hurt me a bit, but it may have helped him a lot!

So we moved on, had dinner, did some shopping, and hopped the trolley to head back to the hotel. When we got off at our stop, we still had 2-3 block walk to our hotel. We came up to a street crossing and that same young man was there. The other ladies just kept walking across the street. I stopped and he asked me if I had any change so he could get a room at the Y that night. I asked him how much that cost and he told me $10. I could see that he had a couple dollar bills and some change in his hand. I didn’t know how much cash I had since we’d already been to dinner and done some shopping. When I reached into my wallet, the first thing that came out was a $10 bill. I didn’t remember having a $10 in wallet, so this was definitely a sign to me! I handed him the bill and told him to take it. He looked at it, looked at me, hesitated, and put his hand forward with the little bit of cash he had and said I could have that. I told him no, to take that and get something to eat for breakfast the next day. He hugged me and thanked me again and again, and again said “God bless you.”

The girls were now standing on the other side of the street waiting for me and I could tell they thought I was crazy. They said the Y probably doesn’t even charge for a room (I researched it…yes, some do!) So this is what I told them…

That young man could easily have been MY son who was also in his 20s. I would like to think that if he was in this young man’s place, someone with a heart would help him out. And I would hope someone would do the same for THEIR children if the situation was reversed. They kept insisting I was being scammed. Well, perhaps I was. But perhaps I wasn’t. Perhaps he was Jesus here on earth testing me! I know in my heart I did the right thing.

Later I did some research on the subject and I found this: “The University of Portland area has a high poverty rate compared to other parts of the metropolitan area. Nearly 34 percent of individuals lived at or below the federal poverty level. The area has slightly higher shares of white residents and homeowners than the metro area overall, but about 41 percent of its residents are college students.” This information comes from the Portland State University’s website http://mkn.research.pdx.edu/. They also state that poverty is ON THE RISE! This young man was probably one of those college students living in poverty!

For the rest of our visit to Portland, I was always on the lookout for this young man. I never did see him again. But I have to say … I think about this young man A LOT! Experiencing this with him has convinced me to be a kinder and more caring person and I’m surrounding myself with kinder more caring people, letting the toxic people out of my life. So, yes, this young man most definitely made an impact on my life. I will continue to pray for him. I hope that 4 years later he is in a much better place and paying my small kindness forward.

So I challenge everyone to be kinder and more caring each and every day…you never know how it might impact someone’s life … or yours!