Gifts That Keep on Giving

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Apr 06, 2016 10:58 AM
Stella Michel (right) and Samantha Greene are the miracle makers of Corner Brook, NL.

Last year, Stella Michel of Corner Brook, Newfoundland made an unusual New Year’s resolution. Instead of vowing to kick a bad habit or get in shape, as most of us do, her turning over a new leaf meant focusing on others. 

“Once a week I would do something for someone,” she says. She called her year-long project “52 Weeks for 52 People” and her good deeds ranged from volunteering at her children’s school to delivering coffee and donuts to firefighters, to giving a homeless man a gift card.

“Just little things that don’t necessarily have to cost anything, just your time really,” says the mother of three. “Every week I was going, ‘what can I do this week to top last week?’ It warmed my heart.”

As 2015 came to a close, Stella knew she wanted to continue giving back, but in a bigger way. So in the early days of 2016, Stella launched a new year-long project, which she’s calling “12 Months, 12 Miracles.” Her friend Samantha Greene, also of Corner Brook, quickly jumped on board to help.

In January, the pair made good on their first miracle, hand delivering “blessing bags” - bags filled with snacks and accessories like socks and gloves - to the 19 residents of Xavier House, a personal care home in Corner Brook housing adults with mental illness. Each bag contained a note saying, “Let this little bag remind you that you are worth so much. That there are people who care about you. That there is always hope. That you are beautiful. Have a lovely day! Love, Stella and Samantha.”

“One lady opened up the bag and she was so excited, ‘I got a pair of socks, look, look!’ And she was showing the worker,” says Stella. Other residents were equally enthusiastic.

Samantha shares, “There was one gentleman there who was so appreciative when we gave him the blessing bag he kind of jumped up and he just wrapped his arms around me; he gave me a big hug.”

The experience was so uplifting for Stella and Samantha that they immediately raced back to Stella’s house and planned the remaining 11 miracles.

To fulfil February’s miracle, Stella and Samantha spent Valentine’s Day handing out roses, chocolates and other presents to patients at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook. At Downhome press time they were gearing up for March’s miracle: delivering chemo care packages to cancer patients (which especially hits home for Samantha, whose father is currently battling the disease). And this month, they’ll be donating supplies to the SPCA. They’re keeping the rest under wraps to maintain the element of surprise for future recipients. (In the meantime, they’ve begun a Facebook group, under the name “12 Months, 12 Miracles,” to keep people up to speed with their good deeds throughout the year.) 

“It was mind blowing to see how something so small could change lives and put a smile on their face for the whole day - and it puts a spring in our step as we’re walking away,” says Stella. 

According to scientific studies, their good deeds could be putting much more than a spring in their step.

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Aaron Callahan receives a rose at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

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Heather White and her son, Blake, were touched by Stella and Samantha's kindness.

An ancient piece of wisdom, derived from the Bible, tells us it is better to give than to receive. Now science is bearing that out, but in a surprising way. According to research it is, in fact, better to give - not just for the recipient, as we might assume - but for the giver. 

When performing good deeds, people experience a so-called “helper’s high” - a release of feel-good chemicals (endorphins) in the brain. And the results of several studies argue the resulting boost in mood can be long lasting. 

In a York University study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers asked participants to perform small acts of compassion daily for a week. Afterwards, participants reported increases in self-esteem and happiness - and incredibly, those emotional benefits were still evident at a follow-up six months later. 

Other research goes even further, suggesting that giving back could mean living longer. For example, a five-year study of more than 800 Americans coping with stressful life events found that those who were regularly of service to others were less likely to die during the course of the study than those who were not in the habit of being helpful.

Giving back, it seems, is a powerful drug - a potent treatment for both mind and body.

And for Stella and Samantha, giving back has proven downright addictive. They say that while “12 Months, 12 Miracles” will come to a close at the end of the year, their big-hearted hobby will continue on in some form.

“We have to do something to top 2016, and if we can’t top it we have to match it,” says Samantha. “We’re definitely going to continue because so far it’s just been so rewarding for us that we just can’t foresee giving it up.”

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12 Months, 12 Miracles helped put a smile on patient Tammy Ralph's face on Valentine's Day.

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Samantha has a chat with Mrs. Maloney at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

Besides putting smiles on faces throughout the year, the pair has one more wish for their project - that it spreads far and wide. And Stella says she’s already seeing evidence of that. While Stella and Samantha never intended on reaching out for financial help with completing their miracles, folks have begun offering up funds to cover the cost of supplies. Even better, she says, one woman who joined their Facebook group has taken it upon herself to put together chemo care packages for the Burin Hospital after hearing about March’s miracle.

“I’d love for the idea to catch on…In this world, where we’re hearing about wars and PTSD and school shootings and all this kind of stuff - wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if this caught on and everybody did one thing a week, or one thing a month?” Stella muses. “What a beautiful world this could be.”By Ashley Miller

All images courtesy Tina Randell