Connection

Currency: Connection

Tom

What do you do when you turn 30 and you don’t really want to buy that house in the suburbs? Do you dare listen to your heart’s desire to travel the world on motorcycle or do you give in to society and family pressure and settle down? If your Tom, you quit your stable job, sell everything you have, buy a vintage motorcycle and and set out on a new adventure.

Tom was a Project Manager at the largest special effects company in Europe, had a great apartment just outside of London and a fiancé. He seemingly had it all but he wasn’t happy. So, he and his fiancé both decided to leave their jobs in London and get on the road. “We put everything in storage and bought two Honda ct110 bikes,” Tom says. Having a propensity towards nostalgia, Tom chose this type of bike because of its character and it was made the same year he was born. It had to be good luck.

Sadly, after two years of touring around New Zealand Tom and his fiancé split. “I guess looking back this was the impetus I needed to give me the drive and determination to start this crazy around the world trip on my tiny bike!” Having logged countless miles and time in New Zealand Tom felt confident the bike was up for the adventure. To be safe he called Auckland Honda before he left and told them what he was doing. He brought the bike in. “I just needed one part but didn’t have a workshop.” Says Tom. The guys at Aukland Honda took Tom and his bike under their wing and rebuilt the entire bike for free. “They basically replaced any part that was even slightly worn. It was amazing what they did for me.”

When I met Tom in Bali he had covered four countries and almost 14,000 miles beginning his trip around the world. “Solo traveling can be hard sometimes but it's very rewarding. I get a chance to give back to people along the way.” Tom describes to me how he works for room and board, doing anything and everything he’s even remotely skilled at. When we met he was helping a local expat build a dive center.

Planning to travel for years, Tom tells me that he may run out of money but he’s not worried. “Having been on the road a year now I believe that 99% of people on this planet are good and will help you when you need it. And I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. I know I’ll find people who will help me, if I just continue to work hard and be a good person.” I try to imagine his life back in London, him sitting in a crowded, dark office and can’t picture it. He looks so at home in his skin, so happy, like he’s found what he was looking for.

Aaron

What kind of sacrifices have you made in this down economy? Did you loose your job? Did you scale back on your Starbucks visits? Were you not affected at all? These are the questions Aaron set out to ask when he embarked on a 4-month journey across the United States in his Dodge RAM van. Aaron was one of the casualties. He lost his job at a paint shop and after months of searching for what was next Aaron decided to do something big. Hearing about an open art project in Michigan donning a $250,000 grand prize, Aaron decided to drive there, live in his van and collect recession stories along the way. All the while, planning to donate the entire prize to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to stimulate non-profit organizations throughout Michigan that provide economic assistance to individuals and he was going to publicly challenge at least one person from each state to match his contribution, for their respective communities. He already had a name picked out, The Man In A Van Stimulus Plan. He didn’t win the art prize but in the end gained so much more then he bargained for.

“I would hand people a Sharpie and tell them to write their story. Apprehensive at first, they would write, then step back for a moment, let out a big sigh and then turn to me and say, thank you. Just seeing the relief and deep meaning on their faces to have told their story was something I won’t forget.” Aaron also brought along a strip of waterproof Tyvek paper 50 yards long for people to write on.

What Aaron couldn’t foresee was the support he received along the way. “I had T shirts made before I left to give people a way to support my journey. Some people would just give me money and not take a shirt. There was this one time someone actually followed me into the bathroom and slipped $5 under the stall.” Aaron’s tales do not end there. In fact he’ll need a lifetime to really describe his journey, not just physically but spiritually. “It was heartwarming the emotion people would show a total stranger. Some people would talk to me for hours and I would listen.” Wanting to connect and support, people bolstered Aaron’s efforts through 30 states. Breaking down in Colorado, a mechanic fixed his van for free, wrote his story on the van and waved Aaron off to his next destination. A food bank in Georgia not only served Aaron a hot meal but the couple who owned it offered to fill his gas tank and bid him good luck. “If it wasn’t for the support of strangers, I’m not sure I would have made it. I was truly desolate at times, scared of the outcome.”

Resourceful and smart, Aaron knew what to do. Before he even left he set up a website telling people what he was doing. He called some of the news stations to spread the word of his journey. He was interviewed and followed across the states and recognized for his sacrifices. Humble in person, you get the feeling the news release was more for the people and not his fame. He wanted to make this sacrifice to connect and to give people a way to tell their story.

Meeting Aaron myself was one of the highlights of this project. He was not what I expected. Sadly I had preconceived notions of someone who would live in a van for 4 months. I was ashamed of that the moment I met him. He was well-spoken, insightful and incredibly devotional. Seeing him interact with people, who would stop immediately when seeing the van, was inspiring. His voice soft and understanding he would say, “Hi. What’s your name?” opening the door to conversation, metaphorically extending a hand. I have not talked with the people Aaron met along the way. I am sure he will touch upon that in the book he is now writing about his experience. I know for sure that my attitude is forever adjusted knowing someone like Aaron exists. Totally selfless, I think we need more people like Aaron in this world. Because sometimes we all just need a hand.

When Aaron checked in with us this year he had all kinds of good news to report. In the 8 years since I interviewed Aaron, he moved back to his hometown of Oregon, met and married a beautiful woman named Jenn and had an adorable baby girl they call Rose. His smile is a mile wide on his Facebook page where he describes himself as ‘an artist, woodworker, framer, art handler, husband and Papa Bear.’ His ‘Man in the Van’ book has been shelved for now as he’s currently pursuing a dream of making a large scale spherical painting. I’m sure this is not the last we’ve heard of Aaron’s art projects.

Katrina

If you have the pleasure of meeting Katrina you may find yourself at a loss for words, as her beauty just about takes your breath away. Spend a moment or two with her and you realize quickly that her beauty is not just skin deep. Katrina is a Hollywood based make up artist, but will be the first to tell you that she prefers enhancing a woman’s individual beauty as opposed to making her into something she’s not. “Who I am goes beyond just applying make up,” says Katrina. “When I get a woman in my chair, that’s when I can really talk to her, really bring out her confidence.”

Katrina is a beauty guru of sorts – so it’s not surprising why she’s the obvious choice for so many celebrities. Working with a high profile clientele in Hollywood and traveling frequently out of state, Katrina felt the sting of the recession when she lost one particularly big client to Japan. “I’m no stranger to challenges,” Katrina explains. “Even as a child I was faced with some pretty grown up stuff, but it’s made me into the person I am today.” With the uncertainty of the economic slow down, Katrina decided she would have to expand her repertoire.

Being diversified, Katrina had always serviced a hand full of bridal clients. She’d never marketed herself in that particular area, but always welcomed weddings as a much-needed break from the drama and pressure of some celebrity clients. Being there on someone’s special day gave Katrina great joy. “I’m there at the beginning of a new chapter in someone’s life,” explains Katrina. “I’m like the fairy God mother with my wand, making her feel like a princess.” Finding connection with something spiritual and profound, Katrina feels a great privilege to be witness to one of the most important days in a woman’s life. She soon began marketing efforts to gain more bridal clientele, and it seemed within weeks she was constantly booked. “I’m open to the idea of things changing and morphing. I like the challenge of finding new work in unexpected areas.”

Working more in the bridal industry isn’t the only change Katrina’s life has seen because of the recession. “I’m doing a lot more things that I never did before,” says Katrina. “Because I’m traveling less for work, I’ve taken up new hobbies in my home town. I’ve really gotten into hiking. I go 9-10 hours a week and I just love it.” Excited to also try tennis because a good friend of hers plays, Katrina welcomes the added quality time it will allow them both. Being a dedicated volunteer at her church has also broadened Katrina’s feelings on giving back in this time of need. “I’ve been ushering and mentoring more and I got involved in Habitat for Humanity. I have all this extra time to do things in my life I’ve always wanted to do,” says Katrina.

As of 2017, Katrina is still doing hair and make up for weddings and loving it. Her love of all things connecting mind, body and soul brought her to study yoga and wellbeing at the Ojay Valley Inn & Spa. She has temporarily relocated to follow this passion. She also managed to get her real estate license, with that extra time off and now has a second career going for herself. When I contacted her for this update she was in Hawaii. So, I guess this girl is doing A-okay.

Vance

Positive change comes in all shapes and sizes. For this 27 year old minor league baseball player, it came when he started helping other people. A pet project in his garage, Vance began what he calls, “Gloves 4 Troops” after reading an article about what the troops need most over in Afghanistan. “If we just had a ball and two gloves,” the article quoted, “then we could spend the off time playing catch.”

“I certainly can't imagine being in a war situation," Vance says, "but I can relate and I think everyone can, to at some point in your life being away from home, being lonely or feeling homesick.”

Vance started playing professional ball for the Cardinals 5 years ago as a second base man and shortstop. He quickly moved up the latter and signed with the Angels. His stats are impressive for such a young player but what you’ll notice most if you Google his name are all the write ups for Gloves for Troops, describing his “Big League Heart.”

"I wanted to do something tangible. These people are putting their lives on the line defending our freedom so I can go out and be free to do what I want and play baseball for a living." Says Vance.

He first started his project by gathering every spare glove he could find in his garage. His teammates caught wind of what he was doing and donated several more. Vance’s dad helped restring the gloves in need of repair. It started small until the National Baseball league posted an article online about what he was doing. After that people started writing in wanting to donate too. Vance came up with a plan, $20 and he would mail out 2 gloves and a ball to a troop with a note that thanked them for their service. He set a goal of 1000 gloves by the end of his off-season. After the article, his goal was met and almost doubled.

Since the start of this side project, Vance has mailed out over 3000 gloves to troops, getting large donations from companies like Wilson and Mizuno. Every state in the US has contributed either gloves or a donation. ESPN wrote an article congratulating him on his success.

“To me, playing catch means going outside with my dad or going to the field with my brother.” Vance says, “It represents happiness and it’s nice to give that feeling back to someone else.”

About the currency project

The Currency Project challenges us all to see the beauty through the pain, the positive that can come from a negative and the heartbreak that can turn into a new beginning. Life is uncertain but our faith, hope and love can never be taken from us. Our true currency in life is what we make it.