My year of writing Doing Good

Last Christmas Eve, I visited a group home for adults with developmental disabilities to find that no volunteers came to help with the big dinner for the residents, but the compassion that the staff had for them made it seem that nothing was missing.

Some of these residents did not have family or no family ever came to visit them. So the staff at Embry Hills Group Home decorated the home with a Christmas tree and stockings, served a homemade feast and filled the home with laughter and care.

It was the first of many moments that I would encounter to show me true meaning of compassion, giving back and doing good.

I was assigned Doing Good one year ago. Like in any new adventure, I did not know what to expect or how this all would turn out.

In my third week, I met Derreck Kayongo who turned soap into a form of hope for refugees and those impacted by natural disasters around the world. Derreck himself had been in a refugee camp in Kenya. He sent more than 20,000 bars of soap to the victims of the earthquake that wrecked Haiti in 2010 through his organization, the Global Soap Project.

Throughout the year, I met countless people who volunteered endless hours, started a nonprofit, established a 5K or used their hobby to make a difference -- people such as Holly Jones, of Kennesaw. Jones, a talented artist and owner of The Painted Butterfly Art Gallery, took her passion and a story of a dear friend who was a foster child and turned it into refurbished suitcases for children in the Georgia foster care system.

“I will never know these children or meet them, but if they take away anything from receiving these suitcases it’s that I hope they realize that they are worth being cared for,” said Jones. From suitcases, Jones expanded her giving to decorating the Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter in Cartersville and various shelters throughout Atlanta.

As I got to know the passions and goals of people like Derreck and Holly, I realized that every person was moved by a small gesture to make a difference.

“I was affected by my experience [in the camps], and I was given an opportunity to give back with one of the easiest amenities we all take for granted,” said Kayongo, who became a top ten finalist for 2011 CNN Heroes. In this past year, Global Soap Project has sent soap to some 15 countries and has donated more than 20,000 bars of soap to local homeless shelters.

Everyone was motivated by nothing other than dedicating their energy to someone who had given back to them. I understood that they all accepted that we are far from solving the problems in our communities. But, what was also understood is that if we, as a community, did not do anything about these problems,  we would be much further away from solving them than we are now.

This is the sentiment woven into the tapestry of the stories and people I encountered every week.

Kayongo said it well: “I want people find their passion and get involved in something they really care about. We have to be there for each other and care for each other. The world doesn’t become a better place in any other way.”

Devika Rao writes Doing Good for the County by county section each Tuesday. She can be reached at doing.good@gmail.com