When Natali Heuss's daughters, ages 7 and 8, asked what she planned to do for her birthday, which was this past weekend, she originally didn't have an answer.
"I've not really done anything in years," says Heuss, who lives in Menomonee Falls. "However, we always try to do things for others during this time of year and I remembered seeing a post about a woman that did Random Acts of Kindness for her birthday. It all just clicked."
So Heuss and her daughters, in honor of her birthday and for the holiday season, planned a Random Acts of Kindness Birthday Weekend. She announced it on Facebook and welcomed suggestions from friends for places and ways to donate.
"We want to spread as much love as we can this weekend," she wrote.
Heuss and her daughters weren't messing around. They came up with this list of 12 ways to reach out to others in one weekend. "We might squeeze out a few more," says Heuss.
- Cards for the troops (25 being sent through Red Cross).
- Cards for the Veterans (25 being given to Dry Hootch. I am also going to do some pro bono PR / marketing and web work for them, which I'm really excited about).
- Cookies and thank you notes to the seven custodial and kitchen staff at the girls' school.
- Bag of stuffed animals to Children's Hospital.
- Four bags of clothes, jackets and toys to the shelter for battered women and children.
- I bought a couple of random Visa gift cards to hand out at Salvation Army
- Several cards with random "YOU ARE AWESOME! HAVE A GREAT DAY!" notes to leave on cars and such.
- Though it'll be a bit warm for it, travel mugs willed with cocoa for local bell ringers.
- Thank you notes and cookies for the other people that live in our building.
- Pictures for the nursing home around the corner.
- Thank you notes and cookies for all the staff at Community Memorial's Cancer Care Center.
- Thank you note and cookies for the guy down the street who does an amazing job with the Christmas lights every year. He goes all out and it totally makes us happy.
Heuss says she disagrees with the Salvation Army's stance on LGBT, but chose to donate to the organization anyway.
"I know and disagree on their stance on LGBT. Anyone that knows me knows that is a huge cause for me. But, this isn't about them, it's about the people shopping there that can't afford to shop elsewhere," she says.
Unfortunately, Heuss came down with walking pneumonia in the middle of completing the list, and yet, amazingly, she and her daughters finished almost the entire list.
The 12th item on the list – give a thank-you note and cookies to the guy down the street who does an amazing job with the Christmas lights every year – turned out to be surprisingly one of the most meaningful for Heuss and her daughters.
"Turns out the guy's name is Mark and he and his family are amazing. He was so touched that we stopped that he got teary. Which made me teary. And that is when my girls got it. Walking up to the door, Grace was all, 'Mom, this is kind of awkward.' Walking back to the car she looked at me and said 'OK, I get it now. Awkward can make someone's day,'" says Heuss.
Two years ago, Heuss, who is a single mom, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She has undergone radiation, but she continues to fight the battle. Kindness and gratitude have always been important to Heuss – qualities she has passed on to her daughters – but they have played a new role in her life since her cancer diagnosis.
"I do think, no matter how conscious you are of others and how much you try to give back, that lovely little c-word does manage to snap things into perspective differently," she says. "We are all on this crazy, wonderful ride called life together."
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