I have heard it said that dreams are gifts that stretch our capabilities and reflect the contribution we are called upon to make in this life. One night I had a dream that did change my life. Never in a million years could I have imagined where this dream would lead me.
In the dream, I was holding a wooden coin with the image of an angel, and a simple message: “You are never alone.” I woke from the dream with a start, and looked for the coin. I flipped over the covers and patted the sheets. It was not there. As I sat on the side of my bed and thought about the angel and the message “You are never alone,” I realized that I was feeling very alone. I wondered how many others might be feeling alone too. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried to forget the dream but it kept coming back. Somehow, I knew the coin and its message was not meant just for me, it was meant to be shared. I had to do something with this dream.
I asked an artist friend to draw an angel, spiritual, not religious. They had to be made of wood and crafted in Vermont. I found a woodworker in Northfield, Vermont who could burn the coins. He thought I was crazy when I told him these little coins were going around the world. He did craft 100 coins which weren’t consistent but did get the point across.
At that time, my mother was in the depths of Alzheimer’s Disease. No longer the amazing matriarch of our family we all knew; she was now frail and frightened. She didn’t know us. I put a coin on the siderails of her bed. Each time she looked at one she smiled. The coin did what words couldn’t do…it calmed her. I knew then that there was something special about these little coins. When Mommy died, I shared the coins with our family and friends at her funeral. I was sure that was it, that was what I was meant to do with the coins. Now I could put this dream to rest. But I couldn’t…It kept coming back.
I searched for someone else to craft the coins for me. Someone who would understand the meaning of the coins. I found a stone worker in Springfield, Vermont, who had a laser machine. He connected with the message and his wife loved angels. We were a match made in heaven. I decided to call the coins “Caring Coins”.
I started sharing the Caring Coins randomly, with people I met on the street, at the motor vehicle place, wherever… My nurse friends shared them with their patients, whose family members shared them as well. Then, one Tuesday morning I heard on the radio that 650 Vermonters were going to Mississippi to train to go to Iraq. I thought it be great if they could receive Caring Coins before they went to Iraq. I contacted their Commanding Officer and asked what he thought…he loved the idea. 650 people signed cards were attached to Caring Coins and sent to the troops for Christmas. I received many emails from them saying how much it meant to have something from home, something made of wood with a card from someone who cared. Many were wearing the coins with their dog tags.
When Katrina struck, I once again invited people to sign cards to attach to coins that would remind the survivors that someone cared about them. A college music professor from Tulane who came to Vermont to be with his wife’s family just before Katrina hit brought 2,000 Caring Coins with signed cards back to New Orleans. I personally brought 2300 Caring Coins to Houston. “Someone cares about me, I must matter”… these words of one of the survivors along with the stories of so many others remain with me to this day.
When I returned from Houston and shared many stories and pictures, people wanted to join me in sharing the Caring Coins and the message. I formed the You Are Never Alone Foundation, (YANAF) a Vermont 501 (c) (3) non-profit, non-denominational organization that fostered caring, connection and hope with the Caring Coins as little “gifts of hope.” I was so blessed to find a wonderful Board of Directors who shared my vision for the Caring Coins. A group of totally amazing “seniors” found us and offered to assemble the coins and cards that would be shared. They met every Wednesday without fail, even in the snow, for coffee, goodies, conversation and assembling.
Initially we attended the Pre and Post Deployment Events throughout Vermont for the troops going to and returning from Iraq. It was so touching to meet and talk with these troops, their spouses and their children. Some of the troops could have been my son or daughter. We had a special program for the children where they could be with other kids who were going through what they were going through. Everyone loved the Caring Coins. The troops wore them with their dog tags and the families wore them with the raffia ribbon attached to the coins. The Post Deployment Events had a huge impact on each of us. Many still had the coins around their necks. It was very sad to meet with some of the troops who were suffering with PTSD and could barely tell us their name, something I will never forget. Thousands of coins were shipped to our troops through the VA Hospital in White River Junction which sponsored many battalions. Others went through the Veterans Home in Bennington and thousands of others through bases and organizations around the country. Students visited with the veterans offering Caring Coins as a “thank you” for their service. One Viet Nam Vet said, “This is the first thank you I have ever received.” There were tears in his eyes. There are so many more stories of bravery, caring and coincidences.
We met with and asked over 700 students what could be a positive approach to bullying. The students came up with questions that were incorporated into the “I Matter, You Matter, Let’s Start the Conversation Program.” The “Me to You” Caring Coin with two little figures reaching out to each other and the message “I Matter, You Matter” were designed for this program. It was implemented in schools at all levels in Vermont and Rhode Island.
Some students created their own anti-bullying programs like Abby who wrote “I was bullied, and I always felt alone. This feeling of being alone was the hardest part…. Just one person could have made such a difference.” Abby and other students shared her program along with the Caring Coins at schools in VT. Students in VT and RI connected with students in Bangladesh and immigrants at the Mexican border by signing cards printed in Bengali and Spanish, attached to Caring Coins and hand delivered by YANAF to students in Bangladesh and immigrants on the border and in Mexico. Our children and youth “get” the importance of caring.
500 Caring Coins accompanied signed cards attached to woolen blankets with the “I Matter, You Matter” figures were given to homeless adults and children in Vermont. Caring Coins continue to be shared in shelters and soup kitchens. My friend Joseph Wooten, the keyboardist for the Steve Miller Band joined YANAFs efforts for the homeless. He is an advocate for the homeless as he tours the country.
Caring Coins and hand signed cards have been shared with the families of the Sandy Hook Tragedy, survivors of hurricanes, of fires, of mudslides and others.
And are shared with people like you and me facing everyday challenges, which can be overwhelming, like the police officer who was outside the center where I received my COVID shot. I forgot where I had parked my car and asked him for directions. We chatted for a bit. I then offered him a Caring Coin. He looked at it, read it, rubbed the coin and then said “You don’t know how much I need this today.
These are but a few of the stories. Over 150.000 Caring Coins have been shared with people of all ages around the world.
What is it about this coin that touches me and so many others?
Is it the angel? Angels represent caring, connection and hope.
Is it the words “You are never alone” and “I Matter, You Matter”? Each one of us can feel alone sometime and perhaps question if we matter.
Is it the circle? A circle symbolizes life, community and connection which is the thread that resonates and gives us hope. Our desire to connect with ourselves and with others is a basic human need.
Or is it the warmth of the wood that connects us with the earth and symbolizes rebirth, new beginnings and hope?
Perhaps, it’s the combination of the figure, the words, the circle and the wood. Together they represent caring, connection and hope.
I dissolved YANAF when my husband, Bob, was diagnosed with ALS. After he died, I moved from Vermont to Providence, RI to be closer to my children and my grandchildren. But I still continue to share the Caring Coins with people I meet. I just may share one with you one of these days…
In the meantime, keep sharing a smile, a wave, a hug, a text…
They make a huge difference too!
Caring is Contagious!!!
To learn more about the Caring Coins go to www.thecaringcoins.com