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A Pledge to Smile

Denise Parks and her daughter Max have launched Give-and-Take, a monthly 'Swap of Kindness'

Bed-Stuy resident Denise Parks believes people should re-think the way they give.

Parks, by nature, is a serial giver. But most recently, she had grown conflicted about the best ways to give: She felt, in her mini-world of philanthropy, that the price of giving had become either too high. Or too low.

Parks used to donate large bags of clothes and other items regularly to the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift stores... until she started noticing how expensive their prices had become.

“I thought, ‘Wait, this isn’t the purpose of my giving my things to sell at Goodwill,’” said Parks, a second-grade teacher. She had always assumed she was donating her items to provide for those in financial need.

“But these thrift stores are now re-selling items for more than you would pay for in a regular store—$30 for a jacket, $35 for a pair of pants,” she said. “’I’m not sure who their target market is any longer, but it had become less spiritually satisfying for me to give to those places.”

So Parks, along with her nine-year-old daughter, Max, decided to just give away the items from in front of their house. However, in that decision, they started having conversations about whether or not people truly value what is given for free.

Parks recalled how when she used to run free reading workshops for children at the Macon Branch Public Library, some of the parents placed less value on her volunteering efforts, as long as they didn’t have to pay.

“It was like the parents started treating it like I was baby-sitting – like they would only take it seriously if they had to pay for it,” said Parks. “I offer things for free because I know that many of us are struggling. But the value isn’t always seen if there’s no monetary value attached to it.”

Parks and little Max thought about it… And thought about it…

“And finally, my daughter said, ‘Well, what we’re doing is kind. So why don’t we ask for others to do something kind as well?’”

Parks agreed. They both decided, it would be better if, instead of just giving items away, they required everyone who took an item give back something in exchange: an act of kindness.

And in May, the dynamic duo launched “Give-And-Take,” a monthly swap of gently used items, where residents can shop for things they want or need, and in exchange, either donate an item of their own or make a pledge on one of the Give-And-Take hand-made pledge cards (design, courtesy Max) of a future act of kindness.

“It can be a little act that means an enormous amount: A genuine smile, for instance, can pull someone up out of a dark moment they might be in,” she said. “A kind word, giving up a seat; lending someone a hand if you see they need it… things we have the power to do, but we’re in a rush, living our lives and we often don’t.”

So far, the mother-daughter team has held two Give-and-Take workshops, and they have been a big success. “Each one leaves the participants with a wonderful feeling,” said Parks.

She also launched two web pages around the exchange—one with information on Give-and-Take, and another, reflections from the Give-and-Take.

“And we learned on the reflections page that there’s always a handful of people who don’t feel comfortable with not paying,” said Parks. “We think it’s interesting how some people only see the value of something when there’s a monetary exchange.”

The Give-and-Take exchanges take place at The Incubator, located at 1771 Fulton Street on the corner of Utica. The next exchange is Sunday, September 9, from 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

“The goal of Give-and-Take is just to recognize constantly that we have the choice and the power in every given moment of our life to do something kind.”

“And it can cost nothing.”

For more information and/or to get involved with Give-and-Take, contact Denise at dparks@brooklynfriends.org.

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