In 2012, Kim Stemple, a special-education teacher, found herself tethered to an IV in a Boston hospital being treated for one of several diseases she had been diagnosed with, including lupus and lymphoma. The normally ebullient Stemple was naturally getting very depressed. And then a friend gave her a medal. Make sure you’re aware of the silent lupus signs you shouldn’t ignore.
Before she got too sick to exercise, Stemple had been a marathon runner. The medal came from a racing partner who had just finished a half marathon in Las Vegas and hoped the keepsake would act as a kind of vicarious pick-me-up. It worked like a charm—and then some.
After Stemple hung the medal from her hospital IV pole, other patients said they wanted medals too. That got Stemple thinking. “A medal is a simple way to give a positive message,” she told pilotonline.com. And so was born her charity, We Finish Together, which collects medals from strangers—runners, dancers, swimmers, singers, and even spelling bee winners—and donates them to all sorts of people in need. Talk about meaningful acts of kindness that don’t cost a cent.
Recipients have included hospital patients, residents of homeless shelters, and veterans. Part of the process involves the donor writing a personalized note on the ribbon. “This gives them a connection to someone,” says Stemple. “If they receive a medal, they know someone cares.”
Can a simple medal really make a difference? Yes, says Joan Musarra, who suffers from pulmonary fibrosis. “I opened my package containing my new medal and the notes of positive, warm thoughts. I was overwhelmed,” she wrote to Stemple. “At that moment, I was sitting on my couch breathing through an oxygen cannula because my lungs have deteriorated so badly. It means so much to me to feel that I am not alone.” Read on for more moving stories about the kindness of strangers.