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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Larson Defeo, right, hands a candy cane to Jackson Werner (with mother Andrea), part of a
random acts of kindness program that Larson's mother Courtney is practicing this season.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 4 years ago

Celebrate the spirit of giving

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Random acts of kindness
by: Sarah Wilson Staff Writer

Lighting up the community for the holidays is about more than carefully hung Christmas lights and meticulously placed menorahs in windows, Baldwin Park mom Courtney Defeo says. It’s about lighting up faces and internal faith through giving — rather than getting — to create a happy, healthy holiday season.

A neighbor coming home to a freshly swept porch and message of Christmas scrolled on the sidewalk, the garbage men getting a small gift card and sign waiting for them on the curb, overworked mall employees handed a candy cane and card by a smiling preschooler – it’s the little thank-yous during the holidays that are the least occurring and the most appreciated, Defeo says.

She started a blog out of her Atlanta home in October of last year — it’s garnered more than 150,000 unique visitors so far. She started thinking of shopping ideas for the holiday season, ideas of toys, treats and wants swirling through her two toddlers’ heads, and she got an idea she deemed “Light ‘Em Up.”

It wasn’t revolutionary – Random acts of kindness had been promoted and performed for years. But marketing the idea toward moms and with a strong dose of faith, she watched as her 50 ideas to light up a community with kindness took off across the country.

To read Courtney’s Lil Light O’ Mine blog and find more information about her Light ‘Em Up holiday program, visit lillightomine.com. On the site you can find her 100 ideas for random acts of kindness and printable materials to help you “light up” your community for the holidays.

“It gets so addictive you almost don’t want to do anything else,” Defeo says with a laugh.

A new neighbor in Baldwin Park, Defeo is now gearing up for Year 2 of her Light ‘Em Up holiday give-back project, and she’s excited to share her light and cheer with the Orlando community. This December, Defeo expanded her list with 50 additional ideas and more free printable tips and tricks for families looking to light up the holidays.

“Of all the people we’re trying to focus on, it’s about who we think we usually forget to thank,” Defeo said. From the mailman to mall workers, firefighters to the homeless, this year’s blog has ideas for ways to make an often-unappreciated neighbor’s day brighter.

“It can be as little with no budget, or as big as you want to go,” she says. You can pay for a stranger’s layaway purchase at K-Mart, or the order for the man behind you at Starbucks. You can place gift cards in mailboxes, or just offer a sincere smile and card to workers.

This year, Defeo has armed her car with an on-the-go box of feel-good surprises. There are umbrellas to hand out to strangers caught in the rain and granola bars to give out to the hungry man on the corner.

  1. Stage an early morning chalk attack. Pick a street — yours or another! — and write a “good morning” or “have a great day” message on every driveway.
  2. Find someone that is homeless and deliver them a warm blanket.
  3. Visit an inner-city playground and bring a surprise picnic lunch for as many kids as you can. Think coolers of drinks, sandwiches and Christmas cookies for all.
  4. Single moms rule. Find one and lighten her load.
  5. Stand outside your child’s classroom and give each child a single flower as they walk in. Then, as the children enter the classroom, have them hand the flower to their teacher. By the time class begins, he or she will have a vase full of flowers.

Always along for the ride are her two daughters, Larson and Ella. And watching and participating in these acts of giving and kindness, Defeo says, is more of a gift to them than any Barbie doll or stuffed animal could ever be.

“I want them to know how good it feels to put other people before themselves. … Even last year, they caught on to how contagious it can get. We can’t wait to get up to see what the next day holds,” Defeo said.

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