Tag Archives: travel

‘I am still worth the full 20 dollars’

By Jacki Wood, “That they might have joy” column for the Nodaway News Leader

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Our family recently returned from a two-week summer road trip to California to see family, visit the beach, Disneyland, our favorite restaurants and some new things, too.

We love to road trip and I could write for days about the adventures we had. But for this column, I’d like to share something we’ve started doing recently – packing comfort kits to pass out if we come across someone in need along our way.

It didn’t take long to hand out the first one on this trip. We were approached by a man at a gas station in New Mexico. He was asking for money but we offered him the Ziploc of food, water and essentials. He quickly opened the bag, grabbed the crackers and thanked us as he began devouring the food.

The exchange was a bit bizarre but he was obviously hungry and we were happy to help.

This topic – helping the homeless who stand outside of a business or along a highway off ramp – seems to be somewhat of a controversial subject.

Some people say they’re just trying to take advantage of us, that they beg all day long and then go home to a comfortable life.

In my very limited experience, I do not believe that to be true in most cases. I’m not naive enough to think that it doesn’t happen. But I feel there are many people who could use a little help.

I shared a story last Thanksgiving on my Facebook page that reaffirmed my stance for helping those in need. Here’s a portion of what I wrote then:

***

His hands were rough and cold, surprisingly cold, on an unusually warm November day.

I had stopped in Cameron to fill up with gas on the way to my mom’s for Thanksgiving and he was standing on the corner shivering.

“I’m Jacki,” I said, as I stuck my hand out to shake his.

“Dennis,” he said.

He seemed shy, hesitant, ashamed.

“Where are you headed?” I asked, reading his cardboard sign.

“South.”

Dennis was a veteran. He had served during the 1970s and had been in Omaha for a medical procedure. Now he was trying to “get someplace warm,” he said.

Family? No. He had no family.

We spoke a little more and I learned he had a dry sense of humor, kind of like my dad’s. He seemed to warm up to me the longer we talked.

We had made some comfort kits as a family to keep in the car for instances just like this. The bag had ripped recently so I had taken it out to replace it but kept forgetting to put it back in the car.

When I saw Dennis, I thought it was a missed opportunity and felt I needed to talk with him.

I only spent a few moments with him. I don’t know his whole story. I don’t know what specific circumstances and choices led to him being there in that situation. But I do know that he is my brother and I wanted to help him.

I gave him a little money (something I normally do not do), which he humbly thanked me for with tears in his eyes, and I wished him good luck.

***

We don’t know the circumstances that lead people to stand on a corner asking for help. We haven’t walked in their shoes. But if we could just really see them for who they are, how would we act?

In a speech given at BYU in 2015, Sondra D. Heaston said: “What if we could really see into each other’s hearts? Would we understand each other better? By feeling what others feel, seeing what others see and hearing what others hear…would we treat them with more patience, more kindness and more tolerance?”

I recently read a story of a woman who had endured years of trial and sorrow. She said: “I have come to realize that I am like an old $20 bill — crumpled, torn, dirty, abused and scarred. But I am still a $20 bill. I am worth something. Even though I may not look like much and even though I have been battered and used, I am still worth the full 20 dollars.”

***

Comfort kits are easy and relatively inexpensive to make. You can find many ideas online. Ours include a pair of socks, toothbrush and paste, comb, wet wipes, water, gum and a few snack items like granola bars, crackers and cheese, tuna salad and fun fruits. There are many other essentials you could pack as well as a list of local resources and gift cards.

One site I like is the Portland Rescue Mission (portlandrescuemission.org/get-involved/learn). It shares several ways to provide practical help to the homeless.

***

The second comfort kit we handed out on our road trip was in Kansas on our way home. As I rolled down the window and asked the man if he’d like the bag, his eyes lit up with joy and gratitude.

I will never forget those eyes. I saw a glimpse into his heart.

Not that I knew his circumstances. That didn’t matter.

By serving him in that very small capacity, even though he may have been crumpled, torn, dirty and scarred, we saw that he was indeed still worth the full 20 dollars.

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‘The appalling silence of the good people’

“That they might have joy” column written for the Nodaway News Leader, January 2014

In December of 2012, our family traveled to Washington, DC, for Christmas. We had just been there that summer, but like most any trip, we didn’t get to see as many things as we would’ve liked.

We had visited the National Mall during the summer, but with our frantic pace to “see everything,” we somehow missed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. So it was at the top of my list.

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December 2012 trip to DC … at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial with our exchange student, Yuki, Hannah, Hunter and Larry.

It’s a relatively new memorial, dedicated in 2011, and contains the Mountain of Despair and the Stone of Hope that also has a sculpture of Dr. King. There are 14 of his quotes engraved on the wall surrounding it including a couple of my favorites:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.

Like much of what I saw in DC, the memorial moved me. But there, with the inspiring words of Dr. King surrounding his statue, I was also filled with hope. And also with anger.

Sharing this family road trip experience is timely, with King’s birthday on the 15th and the national observance on the 20th.

But the real reason is that the injustices he fought for and ultimately died for 50 years ago are still an issue today.

To think otherwise is ignorant. And to simply place the blame on the past is appalling.

This past month, Jamelle Bouie, writer for The Daily Beast, wrote: “Just because we don’t face the racism of the past doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem. We haven’t.”

And in November, writing for The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith said: “It sounds harsh, but I truly believe ‘Are things better?’ is one of the most useless questions in a discussion about racism. By reframing the conversation around how much progress has been made, we further the false narrative that racism is a problem that belongs to history. While we pat ourselves on the back for not being as horrible as we once were, we allow racism to become further entrenched in every aspect of American life.”

A 2013 Pew Research poll revealed there is still a “persistent belief that discrimination and unfairness remain a part of life for African Americans in this country” and 88 percent said they believed there was either a lot or some discrimination against blacks.

Just last week in The Guardian, Chris Arnade wrote: “We as a nation applaud ourselves for having moved beyond race. We find one or two self-made blacks or Hispanics who succeeded against terrible odds, and we elevate their stories to a higher position…. We tell their stories so we can forget about the others, the ones who couldn’t overcome the long odds, the ones born into neighborhoods locked down by the absurd war on drugs, the ones born with almost even odds that their fathers will at some point be in jail, the ones born into neighborhoods that few want to teach in, neighborhoods scarce of resources. Gone is the overt, violent and legal racism of my childhood. It has been replaced by a subtler version. It is a racism that is easier to ignore, easier to deny and consequently almost as dangerous.”

What’s more is that we think it’s only bad people treating others badly.

In March of last year, Ta-Nehisi Coats wrote in the New York Times: “In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion.”

We can no longer blame it on the evil generations of the past. It’s you and it’s me. It’s relatively good people being extraordinarily ignorant.

So stop. Stop being ignorant. Stop the knee-jerk reactions when we see something or someone and judge them. Recognize it and stop it. Let’s educate ourselves and move forward, beyond ignorance.

And then, have the courage to take a stand, to speak up during “times of challenge and controversy,” or even in times of quiet, when we’re alone with someone we know who is speaking words of hate, maybe not even consciously. Have the courage to no longer be silent.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

The appalling silence of the good people. Let’s not let that be us.


Road tripping with the 100 Missouri Miles challenge

Wandering Alongside the Woods column by Jacki Wood

Summer + The Great Outdoors + Road Trips = Missouri.

Missouri?

Yes, our beautiful backyard that is the Show-Me State.

I’ve brought back my road trip column with a challenge for you to kick off the summer fun. Or, rather, Gov. Nixon has. And I think it’s a really great idea.

Earlier this year, Missouri was honored by being named the Best Trails State in the country, which led the governor to launch the “100 Missouri Miles” initiative recently. It challenges Missourians to complete 100 miles of outdoor physical activity by the end of the year.

“Whether you run, walk, bike, paddle or roll, everyone can participate,” Nixon said. “This initiative is a great opportunity to promote Missouri’s proud outdoor heritage, improve your health and — best of all — have fun with family and friends.”

While the idea is to get active and see more of outdoor Missouri, I think it’s also a good excuse to road trip. Our family has taken the challenge and I’m excited to explore the many places and events in the state that we have yet to discover.

In addition to getting your 100 miles in, I suggest doing and seeing a little more. Visit a museum or historical site, eat local food, go shopping and attend special events.

One place I’m looking forward to returning to and seeing more of is Hannibal, boyhood home of Mark Twain. We took our kids there for the first time six years ago.

There’s tons to see and do — museums, the riverboat on the Mississippi River, a cave and Mark Twain State Park, which includes hiking trails and a lake.

Make sure you stop at the Mark Twain Family Restaurant, Hannibal’s hometown restaurant since 1942, where we enjoyed the famous frosty mugs of homemade root beer, onion rings served by the foot and Mississippi mud malts.

The historic community also boasts a ton of events, music and festivals throughout the summertime. Visit visithannibal.com for more information.

Other places on my list of 100 Missouri Miles road trips this year include:

Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site near Sedalia. Built atop a bluff and two natural caves, the 20th Century lodge has 31 rooms and original furnishings as well as hiking and biking trails. In addition, the historic site is hosting “Cameras at the Castle Photo Contest” which is free and open to the public and runs through October 1.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park near Lake of the Ozarks. Highlights of the park include the stone ruins of a turn-of-the-20th-century castle, a lake, caves, natural bridges and trails.

Cuivre River State Park in northeast Missouri. Miles of hiking trails curving through tall prairie grasses, woodlands and Big Sugar Creek are featured in this park as well as fishing and camping.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in southeastern Missouri. The park has a little something for everyone — camping, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking through 1.4 billion years of geologic history.

Iliniwek Village State Historical Site in northeast Missouri. This area was once home to an Illinois Indian village when Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette came through in 1673. The trails provide information about the village’s inhabitants.

Elephant Rocks State Park in southeast Missouri. Named after the giant elephant-shaped granite boulders, the park includes a trail that winds through the rocks and picnic areas.

There are also some great shorter road trip or day trip destinations closer to home like Crowder State Park near Trenton or Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site near Lawson, both of which are beautiful.

And if you’re just trying to get your 100 Missouri Miles in, Nodaway County’s own Mozingo Lake has great trails and the Missouri Department of Conservation has several natural areas throughout the state which are also great for hiking and exploring.

To sign up for the 100 Missouri Miles initiative, visit 100MissouriMiles.com. You can also check out other places to explore at mostateparks.com or mdc.mo.gov.

Happy road tripping.