It's starting to spread..!
"Today I was so humbled and felt so connected to humanity by my extraordinary dear friend Linda Durham. You see Linda entrusted in me recently the task of handing out a bundle of money from the World Wide Women of Wonder project..."
Read on about Susan Crowe who responded to the call to go out into the world and make this small but positive difference in the life of one of our sisters.
When you drove by, I was praying that things would get better...
I was on my way to a meeting in a rather shabby part of town when I noticed a young woman sitting on the sidewalk next to two large boxes of food. I had a bundle of WWWW dollars on the passenger seat of my trusty old Outback and I decided that she would be a perfect recipient of this small gift of dollars, tied with gold ribbons. She was momentarily alarmed when I approached. When she saw the money (and maybe my smiling face) she relaxed. I gave her the ribbon-wrapped gift of twenty-five dollars and asked if I could take her picture. She agreed. Then she hugged me and thanked me. She asked if I would driver her and her cartons of food to her home which was nearby. In the car, she told me that she was twenty years old; that she had two children who were in the custody of her mother in another part of the state. According to this young, soft-spoken girl, she was finally getting her life together, after a rough start. “When you drove by,” she said, “I was praying that things would get better and that I would be able to be with my children soon.” We hugged again at the parking lot in front of the place she shared with two friends. I watched as she carried the boxes of food to the door. When she unlocked the door she turned and blew me a kiss.
I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make it...
Aline Brandauer volunteered to take a bundle of dollars and find a recipient for this cash gift composed of small donations from generous women. This is what she wrote about her experience:
Sitting with her baby in a sling on the curb in front of the Santa Fe Youth Hostel on Cerrillos Road, she begged, “Please don’t take a picture of me. I’m afraid that he will see it and find me. I am trying to raise the $25 that I need to stay here tonight.” The day was cold and windy. Twenty-five dollars! Here you are! The World Wide Women of Wonder project has gifted you twenty-five dollars to use for whatever you need— and each bill has special markings imbued with love and solidarity.
And she began to cry and hiccup as she thanked me. The little girl wailed right alongside her mother. The one-dollar bills wrapped in a gold and red ribbon had sat in my purse for a month or so. She had hitch-hiked from a small town in Nebraska where her abusive husband was in league with her religious parents to try to break her of her independence. She was afraid that they might track them down and force them to go back.
“Thank you. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make it. Now I know that I can keep going — one day at a time.”
“I gotta go. Here come the cops!”
She was standing next to the trash receptacle at the entrance to Walgreen’s Pharmacy. I was in my car, in the parking lot, organizing some papers in my handbag. I watched as she spoke with a few people who were going in and out of the store. I thought she might be panhandling-but I wasn’t sure. After a few minutes, she started walking towards my car. I rolled the window down as she came near.
“Would you happen to have any spare change?” She had her hair tied back neatly and she was wearing some clean, casual clothes---not unlike many Santa Feans outside on a hot afternoon.
“I can do better than that” I said, knowing that I had a bundle of WWWW dollars with me. I got out of the car and offered her the be-ribboned bills: twenty-five dollars—in ones and fives. “I am working on a small project to help women in need. These small gifts of money come from a variety of everyday women (and a few men!). I am supposed to take a picture of you for the website or—if you don’t want your picture taken then I can just take a picture of your hand holding the money. Is that okay?”
“You can take my picture. I don’t mind” She seemed a bit nervous or preoccupied. Her eyes kept shifting this way and that.
So, while I was fiddling with my iphone, we talked about her current situation. She said she was homeless and broke. She was estranged from her family in El Paso. We talked about the Shelter on Cerrillos. She had stayed there in the past but now it is closed. I asked if she was using drugs or alcohol and she said no.
Suddenly she said, “I gotta go. Here come the cops!” And she darted off across the parking lot. A police officer appeared and began running after her, calling her by name. She stopped when he caught up to her. I followed.
“The Walgreen’s manager called the station again and requested a patrol car. They told you not to go in that store again. They said you wouldn’t leave.” he said and he said her name again.
She said, “I left when they told me to.”
“Officer, I think this is my fault,” I said, interjecting myself into the conversation, making the incident my business, thinking I could help her out of a bit of trouble. “I was just asking her if she could help me with a project.”
He ignored me and spoke directly to her.
“Where’s your baby?” he asked, calling her by name. A baby!!! Oh, my God! She didn’t mention a baby!
“With foster care.” she squinted her eyes and looked away.
“Look, Officer. Let me help her out. Let me give her some more money.”
She said, “I don’t want any money.”
The officer told her to go away and to stay away from the area. And, she walked off.
I can’t stop thinking of the baby…and the sense of hopelessness that I could not alleviate…certainly not with a bundle of dollars; twenty-five “measly” dollars.
“This is a magic lantern. I’d like you to have it. "
She was filling a bowl with water for her assistance dog in the shade of the portal, just outside Everyday Center for Spiritual Living. Her old car was completely packed with stuff and the cracked rear windows were criss-crossed with wide white tape. She told me she was on her way to see her sister in Kansas and was looking for a friend named David who might give her gas money. “I can help you with that.” I said, removing a be-ribboned bundle of dollars from my handbag. “This is from the World Wide Women of Wonder project.”
”Wow, thank you.”
“What does your assistance dog do for you?”
“He helps calm me down. I have had some anxiety problems. I’m not in a good situation right now."
“How did you get in this situation? Drugs? Alcohol? Bad relationship?"
“Well, not drugs. Alcohol, maybe. But, yes, a bad relationship. And I wasn’t really an alcoholic until after I started living with this guy who made moonshine. Moonshine was a part of the problem. But I got some help and I’m feeling better now, and I’m excited about seeing my sister.”
While we were talking she opened the passenger door, reached in and retrieved the bottom part of a kerosene lamp. She offered it to me.
“This is a magic lantern.” she said. "I’d like you to have it. "
I thanked her. She took a picture of me with her cell phone and I took a few pictures of her with her dog. We hugged. “Drive safely.” I said.
"This is a good sign."
World Wide Women of Wonder: January
For days and days I have been carrying around the most recent bundle of “WWWW” dollar bills tied with bright red ribbons—twenty-five dollars, each one marked with “wwww” and initialed by twenty-five donors. Each woman who joined this tiny movement gave one dollar to a simple angel project designed to surprise and please a woman on the street (perhaps with a child or children) somewhere in Santa Fe—a woman who might find that bundle of money to be a small miracle; a welcome gift from a strange and unexpected source.
Last week, I did see a woman walking with a baby---both Mother and child all covered up, walking in the cold, grey afternoon. I turned my car around and parked and caught up with her and offered her the money…I totally surprised her and then she surprised me by telling me that she didn’t need it. She was
a financially comfortable young married woman with a lucky baby---just taking a walk. She said, if I gave it to her, she would give it to Planned Parenthood…Well, that was not the point. I already give to Planned Parenthood…and this money---collected from a variety of friends, a dollar at a time, was definitely for a woman ( old woman alone/young woman with children) for whom those few dollars would be helpful.
Today, I saw that woman. She was waiting for the bus on a major Santa Fe thoroughfare. She had a big bronze-colored shawl wrapped around her torso, covering what I thought must be a small baby. It was hard to negotiate the necessary turns to get back to the bus stop and by the time I did, the bus was pulling away with the young woman on it. So, I followed the bus. Each time it stopped, I stopped behind it. I watched people getting on and off. Before long, the sweet bus-riding woman with baby disembarked. I turned right onto a little street and watched her go left across the highway. More car maneuvers. I parked hastily at a gas station and crossed the street and called to her. By now I was actually waving the beribboned money in the air. She smiled, listening to my short explanation about World Wide Women of Wonder. She thanked me. She told me it was a very welcome surprise. She
said that she and the baby’s father had no money---that they had just moved back to town after some difficult financial misfortunes and were starting over. “This is a good sign,” said the beautiful young woman with the equally beautiful baby!
NOTE: The Wonder Institute began this project with the fanciful notion that millions of women might participate and that it would result in small, loving, valuable financial surprises to women for whom such amounts would be truly helpful…Our dream is that other women will start this simple, loving action in towns across the country…If you or your group would like to participate, please contact us.
"Will I Get In Trouble?"
She was pushing a supermarket cart across a busy thoroughfare. In the cart was a young child as well as a few skimpy plastic bags of groceries. For two days I had been looking for her. Not this particular woman…just a woman who looked like she might need what I had in the glove compartment of my car: the collective generosity of twenty-five women who had participated in my nascent philanthropic idea: "WWWW"
She continued along a narrow walking path, through a weed-filled empty lot. I followed her. I turned at the light, made a quick left turn into an apartment complex and parked my car. I got the small bundle out of the glove compartment, grabbed my I-phone and walked toward her from the other end of the path. She had abandoned the grocery cart and was walking, hand in hand, with her little girl who was wearing pink pajamas, her silky brown hair in a casual pony tail.
For some time, I had wanted to come up with a way of charitable giving that had no administrative costs attached to it. Absolutely none, just pure giving. I was looking for an idea that would help women in need, an idea that would be easy and possible for almost every woman to join. "WWWW" As the idea began to take shape, I imagined it spreading by way of the various social networks and becoming a national project. Maybe even a world wide project. The four "W"s stand for World Wide Women of…the final "W" could be Wisdom, Wealth or Wonder. I never quite decided.
"Excuse me, my name is Linda. I want to give this to you." And I handed the woman a bundle of dollar bills, tied with a pink ribbon.
"What! Is this a joke?"
"No, it's not a joke. It's a gift from a new organization of women helping other women."
"Will I get in trouble?"
"No, not at all."
I gave her one of the Wonder Project Post Cards. She said she'd look up the web site when she went to the library…
I have been collecting these dollars from friends, slowly, slowly. In candor, I didn't know until recently that I had actually begun a real project. For a long while it was just a topic that came up every now and then when I was with friends. Every time it did, someone said, "I'll give you a dollar." And they did. And they followed my idea/instructions by writing four "W"s on the bill, initialing it and then tearing off a small corner–on which they had also written four "W"s—and putting the corner in their wallets. The corner is "proof" of membership.
The woman and I stood and talked for a few minutes. I asked if I could take a picture—not of her face but of her hand and the package of dollars.
"This is a miracle," she said. "I can't believe it. Are you sure?"
Yes, yes, I'm sure!
And then she started to cry…and then I started to cry.
She told me that she was really concerned because she only had four diapers left for her daughter and she didn't have enough money to buy more.
We hugged each other. I took a picture.
She thanked me. I got in my car. She and her little girl walked to their apartment. I drove away.
It was Good Friday—for both of us.
by Linda Durham
Women (everywhere) are both powerful and hard-wired to help and comfort others. They know that many of their “sisters” are in need of help, extra cash, and encouragement.
WWWW is an idea that will raise money—dollar by dollar—in order to make small, positive differences in the lives of those sisters who struggle.…and I have imagined it working! The idea definitely makes sense to me. I wonder if it will make significant sense in the world outside of my imagination. This began as a wondering exercise from this confessed compulsive wonderer. I believe there is power in a good bout of free-floating wondering. So, not too long ago, I wondered how one might create an organization that all women could embrace.
In order to make this philanthropic program grow beyond New Mexico and to make it possible for most women to join, it cannot cost much to join. Hence, the membership fee is one dollar. The core idea must be easily understood and able to be run by anyone, anywhere. The straightforward goal is to assist women in any way which is deemed helpful by the various women who participate. Okay…it's like this:
TO JOIN: Take a single dollar bill, write "wwww" on it, initial it and tear off* a small corner of the bill and write "wonder" on it. Put the small corner in your wallet where your identification is kept. It can be affixed to a business card or secured in the compartment where your driver's license is kept or just save it somewhere. This is proof of membership! The (very) slightly defaced one dollar bill is collected by a volunteer member–anyone can be a volunteer member! When a significant amount of dollars has been collected ($25, $50 or $100) the bundle is tied with a beautiful ribbon and given (by the collector/volunteer) to any woman in need.
I picture a woman struggling with little kids in a shopping mall, in a distressed community…or coming out of a social services office…or sitting in an emergency room…or standing in line at an unemployment office…on sitting alone at bus stop…or wandering on a lonely street.
In my fantasy, I envision millions of women participating. I imagine that every woman who knows about the project will be moved to give one dollar and only one dollar (there are no tiers of membership) to become a participant in the World Wide Women of Wonder. Anyone can be a Donor or a Collector or a Gifter or a Receiver. Soon there will be those generous (wwww) dollars floating through all communities—reminding people of, well, of the love and compassion and generosity of all women towards all women.
If you like the idea, please collect membership dollars from your friends. Make sure they keep their tiny membership corner*. Tell your friends to become members or collectors and let's make small but positive differences in the lives of our sisters—regardless of their ages, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) political persuasions.
* NOTE: Many people do not like to deface U.S. currency---so, the project seems to work quite well without tearing off the corner of the bill. That part is totally optional!!
"This makes my day!."
The parking lot at the shopping center was a jumble of cars looking for places to park, cars trying to pull out of tight parking spaces, and more cars simply blocking everything. I was maneuvering my Outback slowly and carefully towards the street, attempting to leave the shopping center, having completed my one urgent errand, as I saw a woman shepherding two small boys toward the relative safety of the sidewalk. The bundle of WWWW dollars in the “sunglass compartment “ of my dashboard had , for several days, been waiting as I looked for a woman with children who might have good use for the twenty-five One Dollar bills. I stopped my car in front of a few parked cars and pressed my emergency flasher. I rolled down the window and beckoned to her. She must have thought I had a parking or traffic issue and she and the boys kept walking. I got out of the car and crossed to her.
“This is for you”, I said, offering the beribboned cluster of dollar bills in her direction. She stopped. The boys hid behind her.
“You’re giving this to me? Why”
I’m part of a group of women who contributed one dollar each to the World Wide Women of Wonder project which gives surprise cash gifts to mothers with children. We hope it makes a positive difference.
“Oh, yes! This really makes my day!“ She embraced me. Her kids, Lucas and Mateo, emerged from behind her.
“Thank you” she said. “We’re on our way to the Dollar Store.”
"Now we're rich!"
The small bundle of money, tied with pink and orange ribbons is in my handbag. It's been there for several days—awaiting its future recipient. The money and I are on a gentle, intuitive search for someone special…a woman for whom the money bundle might make a positive difference, a woman whose path would surely cross mine. Soon. I notice her on a warm and sunny Sunday morning while driving, somewhat impatiently, from one place to another. She and a young child are sitting close together, on a bench, at a bus stop shelter, waiting.
I drive by. I have a moment of laziness or procrastination. I think, "Oh, there'll be someone else for this World Wide Women of Wonder gift.* I really can't turn around very easily and I don't see a convenient place to park near the busy intersection. And the bus will probably show up before I can get back there." I think again.
"This is the woman, Durham! Go back!" I admonish myself.
And so, I slow down. I make two U-turns and then a right turn into an empty parking lot. I check that there is no bus in sight. I get my camera and the ribbon-wrapped dollars and approach the woman and the young boy sitting on the shaded bench, in the hot sun, waiting for the bus.
It turns out that the woman is both deaf and mute. When I offer the money bundle, she acknowledges, with hand gestures and wide eyes, that she doesn't understand. And then I become fully aware of the small angelic boy cuddled next to her. He begins to sign for his beautiful Mother. He is remarkable. Six years old. He explains the gift to her. Her face lights up. We have a wonderful three-way conversation filled with open smiles. We converse about where they live, about the little boy's brother who lives far away with his father (somewhere)
…We can't stop smiling. He holds the money close to his heart and says, "Now we're rich." He shows me how to sign "I love you."
And we all sign…I love you.
Last Sunday, I encountered an amazing Angel…waiting for a bus with his Mother.
**The bundle consists of twenty-five one dollar bills. They were lovingly donated, by twenty-three wonderful women and two equally wonderful men, to the World Wide Women of Wonder Project. Each woman marked her dollar bill with four "W"s. The men wrote: "WWMW." All the dollars were initialed by their contributors.
"This Is My Son."
From a distance, all I can see is a woman pushing a big stroller across a busy thoroughfare. She’s wearing a blue blouse. It's a particularly hot day and, as I drive closer, I can tell that the woman is laboring with considerable difficulty to maneuver the heavy stroller through the traffic and heat.
Who or what is she pushing? I can’t tell while driving around scores of cars and trucks and a lone motorcyclist with no helmet. This is the major north/south artery on the west side of Santa Fe. I'm curious so I circle the block. The woman is heading south, pushing the carriage along the sunny, uneven sidewalk. Now I see that the big stroller is occupied by a very big person with legs twisted like a pretzel, head bent to the side, eyes closed, motionless.
I pause. Yes! I've found the next recipient of the “money bundle” from the World Wide Women of Wonder Project (WWWW). This modest bundle of cash represents twenty-five one dollar donations from twenty-five kind women; members of a budding philanthropic organization of women helping women with no strings attached.
While approaching the woman and her passenger in the rolling chair, I feel a sudden wave of deep loneliness—something I either intuited correctly or simply projected upon her. I drive past them and park uphill in a shady spot where she and the stroller appear to be heading. From the zippered side pocket of my handbag, I retrieve my iPhone and the bundle of dollars–tied with a long length of pink curly paper ribbon. I walk up to her.
“Hello!” (I smile) “This is for you.” I hand her the money bundle…I glance at the sleeping soul in the stroller; an overgrown boy wearing short black pants and an emerald green t-shirt.
“What…what is this?” she asks with surprised confusion.
“This is a gift from an organization of women helping women. It’s a gesture of love, support, and sisterhood from twenty-five anonymous women.“
I nod towards the person in the chair. He seems entirely unresponsive.
“Is this your brother…your friend?”
“This is my son.“ She smiles towards him—a beautiful, loving smile (her son..her son!). "He is nineteen years old. He is totally disabled. He cannot do anything,” she offers, continuing to smile, Madonna-like, in his direction.
“Do you take care of him by yourself? Do you have a husband?”
“No, my husband rejected him. It is just the two of us. I do everything for him.” she explains, gesturing to her big sleeping child.
She does everything for him. Everything. It's obvious that he needs everything done for him…every day, day after day, year after year. She’s Arabic, she tells me. “From Morocco.” She smiles at me and glances at her son. Her face is full of love.…full of love…
For two days now, ever since my exchange with this woman, I've been thinking of the many ways in which we humans handle our burdens…with Joy? Resignation? With a sense of opportunity? Obligation? Guilt? Fear? Love? What marvels, surprises and challenges Life gives us at every turn. I picture my strong, healthy children and my gifted young granddaughter and I wonder…what would I do? I'm thinking of the grace that emanated from this young Mother. Initially, I thought the proffered bundle was just a small gift to her—unexpected—from the women of The Wonder Institute—but I see that I had it backwards: the encounter was a gift to me.
Her loveliness, the grace that radiated from her, the clear commitment to her life, her love, her son…a gift for me to behold.
Oh yes, the phrase, “There but for the Grace of God go I,” ran through my mind. Clearly, the true grace is hers, all hers. The lesson, the gift, however is mine.
"Wow! What a great surprise."
With a pink, ribbon-wrapped bundle of twenty-five dollar bills in my hand, I approached a young woman who was wheeling a toddler-filled stroller on an uneven sidewalk and grasping the hand of an energetic boy of about four who seemed determined to break free of his Mother's grip.
The bundle of money had been donated by various thoughtful women in support of a nascent philanthropic program to surprise women with small, no-strings-attached monetary gifts. Each bill had been marked with four "W"s and initialed by the donor. The project was our answer to the question, "How can we create a philanthropic project with no administrative costs, in which (virtually) any woman could afford to participate and that would help women (who might be struggling) in a personal and bureaucracy -free way?"
She was wearing old jeans and a grey sweat shirt. I passed her twice while searching for a parking space in a semi-trendy shopping neighborhood. I had the bundle of be-ribboned money, in the sunglasses compartment of my car. I found a parking place and crossed the street to offer the money.
"Hello. This is for you." I said, handing her the packet of dollars.
"What's this about?" she asked (seems like the first impression, in this part of the project, is always suspicion:
"Is it a trick?" they wonder. A come-on? A scam?).
"No, no, I'm part of a woman's organization that gives cash to women—mainly women with children. I saw you as I was driving by and I thought you would be the perfect young Mother to receive this modest gesture."
"Wow! What a great surprise." she said, while gently admonishing her little boy from picking up stones and tossing them into the street."
"I hope you can find a special way to spend it." I offered.
"Oh, yes, wow…this is amazing. I was just trying to find some way to get a pre-paid phone so we could call their big brother in Texas. I have a son who lives with his Dad. We miss him. We were trying to figure out how to get–Timmy, stop it–a phone and wow…this is really great."