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During their annual retreat, staffers with YMCA of Roanoke Valley were split into teams and given $100 each — to randomly spend on people around them.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
YMCA of Roanoke Valley employees Katie Wagner (center) and Scott Williams (right) give Shane Donaldson, 3, and his mother, Judy, a book as a random act of kindness during the Y’s annual staff retreat at Valley View Mall on Friday.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Kim Bratic, communications director for YMCA of Roanoke Valley, hands a rose to Jasmine Hill of Roanoke at Valley View Mall on Friday. Bratic was part of a team that was given $100 to spend on other people.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Theda Weissberg’s husband was fond of giving her roses, and she was fond of receiving them.
They had white roses at their wedding, she said, and went on after that. But it’s been ten years since he died.
“You might think you’ll never get a rose again,” she said.
But as she took her lunch break in the food court Friday at Valley View mall, a total stranger handed her a white rose. It was like “a little love message,” she said.
Weissberg was just one of dozens to be handed a rose at the mall, and one of perhaps hundreds bewildered by small shows of generosity.
The rose had come from on one of five teams of staffers from YMCA of the Roanoke Valley unleashed into Valley View Mall on Friday on a $500 spending spree. Each team had a hundred bucks and a mission: Blow it all on random acts of kindness.
It was the centerpiece of the Y’s annual staff retreat, and a total surprise to the staff itself. The point was to get the Y’s roughly 50 full-time workers away from work and into some fun and good feelings.
“We all need to be more generous, and in being generous, we’re helping ourselves, too,” said Mark Johnson, president and CEO of the organization.
At 1 p.m., they gathered in the food court, were divided into teams and given their money and their orders. What ensued was near chaos, an hour-long frenzy of arbitrary largess.
Within minutes, one team was handing out five dollar bills to the mall custodial staff.
Ryan Brads, 17, manager at the Jump for Joy bungee jumping kiosk, wasn’t sure what to make of it. “It was awkward,” he said. But he put the $5 in his tip jar.
Another group set off for the bus stop next to the Walmart to pay people’s bus fare, but the stop was empty, so they proceeded to the nearby gas pumps and bought $20 worth of gas for two people.
Kim Bratic, the Y’s communications director, and Jean Millar, aquatics coordinator, headed into Walmart where they bought five dozen roses — and convinced the store management to donate three more. The roses were barely paid for when Bratic started handing them out in the check-out line.
“That was wonderful,” said DeeDee Green. “Totally unexpected.” She turned to a woman next to her who also held a rose. “We’re special.”
Bratic and Millar handed out roses all the way out of Walmart and back to the mall.
“That was so sweet,” said Kandy Webb of Roanoke, holding her rose as she hid from the wind by a soda machine outside the store.
“Thank you. Y’all made my day,” said Shawna Henderson, waiting for a bus home.
Nearby, a team lead by Kirk Family Y Director Nancy Brattain was handing out $5 Walmart gift cards in the parking lot.
By the time Bratic and Millar made it back into the mall to find the rest of their team, Tricia Reynolds, director of operations at the Salem Y, and her team were tossing dollar bills off the upper level.
Elsewhere, Karen Wilbourne, Sondy Shiplett and their team were handing out Build-a-Bear teddy bears and buying shoes for somebody’s grandbaby. That group didn’t limit themselves to what they could buy. They sang “You Are My Sunshine” to an old lady.
“I hugged an elderly man and he loved it,” Wilbourne reported.
While that was going on, Reynolds and her team were distributing cookies to passers-by.
As 2 p.m. neared and groups were down to their last few bucks, they converted them to quarters to hand to children for the coin-operated rides in the food court.
The groups reconvened, buzzing with good feelings and stories of the reactions they saw in those they blessed in small ways.
“People don’t know how to take it,” Reynolds said.
A man in Chick-fil-A whose lunch was bought by one group wanted to know what he’d done to deserve it.
A free-lunch recipient at Subway wanted to know what she had to do for it.
Mostly, though, there were smiles, if occasionally awkward ones, and plenty of thank-yous.
“It felt like the people we were drawn to really needed it,” said the Y’s Vice President for Operations, Scott Williams. “You don’t know what this means to me,” they would say. Or, “I needed a smile today.”
“It’s so great,” Wilbourne, the random hugger, said. “I wish I could go around and do this all the time.”
“The best thing,” said Johnson, the Y president, “is they haven’t thought about work at all today.”
By 2:15, the money was gone, and teams were headed back toward the YMCA bus to head back downtown.
Well, almost all the money.
As he passed Brads at the Jump For Joy kiosk, Williams felt around in his pocket, fished out his last two quarters, and tossed them in the tip jar without breaking stride.
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