When strangers come calling with gifts of kindness: Helping hands and full hearts


On more than one occasion in my life I have had the unexpected kindness and generosity of a stranger come to me at a time when I most needed it.

Strangers who came forward to lend a helping hand along the road, offer some warm and comforting words during a time of personal crisis and stepped forward to lift up and care for members of my family.

In the job I have held at Spare Key, www.sparekey.org, for soon to be six years, I have seen the unexpected generosity and kindness of strangers thousands of times over.

I see it in the donations that are made to support families with a sick and injured child in the hospital.

A donation that provides the opportunity for Spare Key to serve a family by providing a housing grant on behalf of a family so they can focus on their child’s care and recovery.

Or, to give them the grace of time in the last days of a child’s life here on Earth.

I saw it again this past week when a husband and wife came into our Spare Key Office and let us know that they had nominated us to be considered by American Family Insurance to be one of 90 non-profits throughout the United States to receive a $3,000 donation.

From 17,000 nominations Spare Key was chosen to receive a $3,000 donation.

What is more remarkable about this surprise gift to Spare Key was the story of the family who took the time to make it a reality.

This was a family who Spare Key was able to support in 2007 at a time in their life when hope seemed lost and the light had turned to dark.

But, from the night of their life they rose to see a new day and their children gain the strength they needed to become healthy, happy 10-year old’s today.

To learn more about their journey please feel free to go to our Facebook page:

Mark graciously submitted Spare Key and on Wednesday Mark & Wendy stopped by the office to share the good news, that we have been selected from over 17,000 nominations for a $3,000 donation!

Thank you so much, Mark & Wendy for thinking of Spare Key! We are honored you submitted our charity and we’re grateful to have helped your family back in 2007.

In honor of this generous donation, we’d like to share their story…

“Our triplet boys entered the world at 27 weeks when Jake refused to go along with the Dr’s plan to delay labor. Our super preemies weighed in at 1 lb 15 oz, 2lbs 3 oz and 2lbs 7oz. Jake became our angel protecting his brothers Marley and Anthony from the deadly infection he briefly battled. Marley and Anthony spent their first 10 weeks at Children’s hospital learning to eat breathe on their own along with growing. We were warned about so many possible struggles like re-hospitalizations and special needs but Marley and Anthony had a mind of their own and never looked back and are now are thriving 10 years olds. Spare Key’s grant helped take some of the worries away and allowed us to spend more time with our sons.” – Mary & Wendy Schermerhorn


I am surprised, and encouraged, every single day in the job that I do at Spare Key.

Not just for what people do to support our mission, but what others do to support the mission of other organizations and people.

We have been privileged to work closely with the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association (LEMA), www.mnlema.org, an organization that is committed to serving the members of law enforcement and their families at a time when an officer dies in the Line of Duty.

Most recently their powerful mission came forward to support the family of Wayzata Police Officer William Mathews after he was struck and killed by a car in the Line of Duty.

Words, prayers, thoughts and offerings of support poured into LEMA from across the state, and the nation.

Donations from those who wanted to help in some way came forward in both monetary form, in-kind and time to help defray the costs of services intended to honor and respect the life’s work and memory of Officer Mathews.

Throughout this great country of ours when tragedy strikes, those created by man and by nature, the people from every corner of every neighborhood of every city of every state of the United States come forward to say, “How can I help?”

It is not, of course, just the tragedy that occurs in this country that stirs the hearts of Americans.

Nations near and far have seen the generosity that is fundamentally so American, and so typical, that I fear we often lose sight of the unique nature of the human spirt that has been instilled in the hearts of my fellow citizens.

There is no government that demands our generous spirit.  No institution that forces us to look upon one another, those next to us and those thousands of miles away, and ask, “How can I help?”

It’s not just individuals, either.

It’s the companies that exist in this country that make an impact, as well.

On October 7th Spare Key held its first-ever gala in Fargo, North Dakota.

In doing so we took an enormous risk to create and produce an event that required the support of hundreds to be successful.

Big companies, small ones and those in between raised their hands and said, “We will!” when we asked if they could help us build an event to help expand our capacity to serve more families in the region.

Associations, with thousands of members, stepped forward and didn’t just help raise money, or donate the money but also helped do the work that was necessary to make it all work.

Here, at home where I live, there is no shortage to the exceptional generosity of Minnesota companies that have made a difference for Spare Key and, by doing so, in the lives of over 3,200 families we have been able to support.

ASI Signage, TitleSmart, US Bank, Bell Mortgage and KleinBank are just a few of the Minnesota companies that have raised their hands time and time again when Spare Key needed their support and assistance.

Most recently a name that is familiar in Minnesota, SuperAmerica, www.superamerica  came forward to support Spare Key in another way – with the financial resources necessary for us to create our 2018 Spare Key Superhero Calendar.

This calendar was also made possible because of donations from Anchor Paper, www.anchorpaper.com Impressions Incorporated, www.i-i.com and a photographer named Alyssa Boldischar, www.alyssaboldischar.com

The front cover of the calendar of this post shows one of the most remarkable pictures I have ever seen of a child that is not my own!

That joy, and the generosity Spare Key could provide to her family, simply does not happen without the thousands of people who opened their hearts, and their pocketbooks, to support Spare Key.

I invite you to learn more about this powerful calendar here:  https://www.sparekey.org/store/calendar

Those who humor me by reading this blog know that sometimes I simply sit down and write.

Sometimes it is a stream of consciousness because I have something on my mind and just write.

Other times I have spent hours and hours reflecting on what I want to write before I sit down and do it.

This post is a combination of both of those approaches.

There is, of course, the hours and hours of reflection I do throughout the course of any given day about how fortunate I am to lead an organization that has a kind and generous Board of Directors, Advisory Council and thousands of donors and volunteers.

And, a staff that works long hours, weekends and evenings to raise awareness and funds to accomplish the work we want to achieve to support families in need of a gift of time.

Then, of course, there is the reminder that I needed this past week on a day when frustration was more prevalent in my mind than the generosity and kindness that moved me to once again remind myself about why I do what I do when I could be doing just about anything else in my life.

My job is to help people Bounce and not Break.

Standing behind me, beside me and many times in front of me are thousands of others who silently, through their words, and through their deeds make it clear to me:  We got this.



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