Town Provider: Charlotte Tidwell, Fort Smith, Arkansas
When Charlotte Tidwell was in first grade, the nuns at school made a bargain: If she helped her mother clean the building after class, she could attend for free. The sisters’ kindness would ripple through Tidwell’s life—from being accepted as one of three African Americans in her nursing program and becoming Sparks Hospital’s director of medical nursing to founding a charity with which she feeds more than 7,000 people a month in her hometown. Feeling inspired yet? Try any of these random acts of kindness today to keep spreading the love.
Fort Smith was once a thriving manufacturing town, but it never recovered after its factories started to close in 2000. When Tidwell heard some elderly were eating cat food out of desperation, she started handing out groceries from a truck. A former boss connected Tidwell with an investor, who gave her the building where her group, the Antioch Consolidated Association for Youth and Family, is based.
Tidwell, 69, and her volunteers work ten-to-12-hour shifts at the warehouse Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, they bring food and other sustenance to senior housing complexes. Once, while escorting kids to sing at a home, she saw a man crying. He was reminded that his radio was broken, so Tidwell returned later with a new radio. “The greatest satisfaction is to watch others grow with compassion,” she says. “I see volunteers transformed, and it makes me know we can get back to a community of caring I grew up with.”
The Pizza Man: Mason Wartman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It’s easy to be hypnotized by the hundreds of bright sticky notes on the walls of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza— especially when you start reading them.
“You’re worthy of more than a slice,” an orange one says. “Make pizza, not war,” adds a yellow. A sheet of white paper stands out: “I just want to thank everyone that donated to Rosa’s. It gave me a place to eat every day and the opportunity to get back on my feet. I start a new job tomorrow!”
The message wall at Rosa’s started a few months after Mason Wartman opened the pizzeria, in December 2013. “A customer read that we serve a lot of homeless people, and he asked if he could buy a slice for the next one who came in,” he says. “I took his dollar, wrote a note to remind myself there was a slice outstanding, and stuck it on the wall.” Other diners followed suit, and within a week, two dozen sticky notes were hanging up. When the number hit 500, Wartman started keeping track of the slices at the register, but the wall had already taken on a life of its own. Today, it’s a communal board where people post notes of thanks given and received. You can learn from Wartman and hang up these quotes to inspire gratitude in your own life.
Wartman estimates that Rosa’s has doled out more than 18,000 free slices in just over a year. “Homeless customers offer to sweep up and take out the trash to thank me,” he says. “I’ve hired three employees through shelters. They’re hard workers looking for a chance, and that’s who I want here.”
The Patriotic Pianist: Judy Gascon, Boring, Oregon
It’s Tuesday at 9 a.m. Dressed in an authentic World War II Army uniform and with her hair coiled in a 1940s-era liberty roll, Judy Gascon sits at a baby grand piano in the lobby of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Portland, Oregon. She begins with the songs from the five military branches and then turns to smile at the patients waiting for their appointments. “Any requests?”
For 12 years, she has played patriotic tunes and American classics—“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is a favorite—while wearing her late father’s ribbons and patches on her jacket. He was in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and though “he didn’t talk a lot about himself,” she says, she knew he was proud of his service. He moved in with her in 2001 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and died shortly after she began volunteering at the VA.
With a chair on either side, she welcomes vocal accompaniment—“You don’t want to hear me sing,” she laughs—and conversation. “The vets feel comfortable telling me stories of the war, ones they wouldn’t tell their own families,” says Gascon, 67. “It’s a bit like being a bartender.” She looks forward to playing at the VA too much to consider stopping. “Other than raising my son, there’s nothing I’ve done that I like more than this,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to see the light in people’s eyes when they hear their song.”