Thursday, June 11, 2009

Good News Always Finds A Way to Be Heard

The following article appeared in the Daily Herald last Friday. I love that it includes a section about my friend Debbie Nelson and the Random Acts of Kindness Club.

Bad news got you down? These folks find ways to stay happy.

By Jamie Sotonoff, Daily Herald, June 3, 2009

The recession drags on. Friends and neighbors are losing jobs and homes. And then we have to worry about plane crashes or the swine flu.

Yet, in nooks and crannies around the suburbs, there always remains something positive to consider. Acts of goodness take place every day and happy people go about their routines with smiles on their faces.

Health, wealth and mood-elevating medication has nothing to do with it. Instead, these people consciously choose to let the bad news roll off them like Teflon and maintain positive attitudes despite the chaos around them.

Experts believe that focusing on negative things perpetuates the bad, and focusing on good leads to even more good.

Could these suburbanites be reversing our bad fortune?

Bob and Jeanne Pitra's daily coffee date

After being married for almost 57 years, you might think Bob and Jeanne Pitra would be sick of each other. But the Glen Ellyn couple spends every day together, starting with an early morning swim at the College of DuPage's pool, coffee at the Bells & Whistles Snackery in Glen Ellyn, and then a stop at their local church. They bring their own coffee mugs to the restaurant - mugs they won playing bingo there together.

"They're still clearly in love," says Bells & Whistles owner Tracey Kreiling. "They are such wonderful, genuinely happy people."

Jeanne and Bob met while students at Bradley University, and even worked together at the DuPage County courthouse. He was a sheriff's deputy and she was a legal secretary.

"We do enjoy each other's company," Jeanne said. "I wouldn't have anyone else."

Bob, 79 and Jeanne, 77, have visited some of the world's poorest countries on mission trips and consider themselves blessed.

"I tell people, you should get down and kiss the Earth about all the pluses we have in this country. Why look at any down side? You can always find a silver lining," Bob said. "When people talk down about things, I try to give them the upside. Sometimes you can change an attitude."

Random Acts of Kindness Club in Arlington Heights

This fast-growing, new group is dedicated to the "pay it forward" way of thinking.

Facilitated by Deborah Nelson, 40, of Arlington Heights, it grew out of a local Character Counts program at Patton Elementary School. There, with help from a group called DreamWeavers, they found a way to get bunk beds and sheets for a local family with six kids but just one mattress. The family's name was kept secret, and everything was delivered anonymously with a note that said, "This is a random act of kindness. Please pass it on."

The effort snowballed.

"Everyone loved it so much, they wanted to keep it going," Nelson said. "Parents, kids, friends, they kept asking, 'How can I participate?'"

In January, Nelson - an Arlington Heights library trustee, a single mother of two and a full-time fundraiser who also works a side job - somehow found time to get ROAK-AH organized. She started and 100 households have already signed up.

"Every day we get new members," she said. "We don't have meetings or events. No one has time for that. There are groups like ours all over the world ... but we just help people in the Northwest suburbs."

What types of random acts of kindness they do? Well, Nelson recently paid for someone's breakfast at a McDonald's drive-through. The person had let him pull ahead of her. The group also just bought Build-A-Bear gift certificates for two young girls who lost their 40-year-old mother to a heart attack.

"Even if you're down and out, do something nice for someone else and it'll turn your day around and theirs," Nelson said. "Taking on a positive way of feeling pulls you up and gives you the resilience to move on. It's contagious. It rubs off on others."

The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club in Naperville

It's a scene repeated across the suburbs every week: at 6:45 a.m. every Tuesday, Bob Owensby, 83, picks up his friend Chet Rybicki, 93, and together they drive to the Colonial Inn in Naperville for what's dubbed "The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club."

There, roughly a dozen retired men - most World War II vets - happily socialize and talk about everything from the good ol' days to politics.

"We discuss a lot of things. We have a lot of opinions about what's going on," said Owensby, a retired architect and Marine who still has shell fragments in his body from Iwo Jima.

Their weekly routine consists of not just fellowship, but education. Every Wednesday, four of the breakfast club members -Rybicki (who is a former Naperville mayor), Owensby, Dr. Robert Reschke and Joe Ryan take history classes at the College of DuPage. This semester, they're studying Abraham Lincoln.

They've followed this breakfast-and-school routine for the past 20 years, after their friend Jack Oates came up with the idea.

"After you work for 40, 50 years, you want to still stay active," Owensby said.

The friends also provide support to each other through the ups and downs of the Golden Years.

"There are a lot of nice people in Naperville," Rybicki said.

Reese Tirona, 24, of Schaumburg

The marketing student is using the Web to rally people to be kind. Sound silly? In the first three days, more than 700 people joined Tirona's Her new Facebook group, "The Positivity Movement," already has more than 57,000 members worldwide.

"We're all intrinsically good. It just takes some reminding," Tirona said.

Features include a list of 100 kind things you can do (let in a merging motorist, bring cupcakes to work, etc...) and inspirational messages ("Happiness is not having want you want, it's wanting what you have.")

"It's surprising that people think kindness is such a hard thing to do," Tirona said. "A small gesture can brighten someone else's day. Your whole day will be affected by the things you experience."

Ruth Kaiser, author/eternal optimist

To say that Kaiser sees a smile everywhere she goes is an understatement. Her new book, "Spontaneous Smiley Face," is a compilation of everyday images where a smiley face can be detected.

During a recent visit to Chicago (her daughter is a student at Northwestern University), she even found a smiley face in a half-melted pile of snow.

Kaiser's goal is to convince people to slow down and enjoy life's beauty and joy. Her book's available at, and her Facebook group is

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