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Pay it forward: Aileen's hearts

Guest post by Geneviève Déry, Canadian Red Cross

This isn’t Manon Michaud’s first rodeo with the Red Cross. She joined the organization in 2013 and has since participated in both regular emergency responses in Laval and major responses (Lac-Mégantic in 2013, Saskatchewan wildfires in 2015, Syrian refugee arrival in 2016).

Aileen's glass heartsAileen Park is an artist. Over the last five years, she has made thousands of tiny blown-glass hearts that she gives to strangers in the hopes that they will bring a smile to someone’s face. These small Pocket Hearts are a symbol of human connection and are meant to be shared and passed along. More recently the hearts have been given to people facing hardships or as a thank you for the generosity from others around her. Her little tokens of hope and solidarity are now spread across every continent.

The two women met at the Red Cross office in Fort McMurray. Aileen’s family had been evacuated during the wildfires that wreaked havoc in the area, and Manon was the volunteer who helped them upon their return. They spoke at length, discussing the recent events and the importance of staying strong and united in such circumstances. Before leaving, Aileen, thankful for the help, gave Manon two small Pocket Hearts in the hope that they would bring some relief to whoever inherited them.

Several minutes later, a worker in his mid-30s came up to Manon. He was devastated. Everything he owned had gone up in flames. He had nowhere to go and nobody to turn to. To give him some stability for the days to come, Manon directed him to the operation manager. A hotel room was found for him. As he was about to leave, Manon sensed something was wrong. When she approached him, he burst into tears.

Manon Michaud, Canadian Red Cross volunteer, holding one of Aileen's glass heartsEvery day, whether in Fort McMurray or elsewhere in Canada, Red Cross volunteers offer support and comfort to people in crisis. Manon spent some time with the man, who was clearly in need. She gave him a listening ear, reassurance, and one of Aileen’s two Pocket Hearts. She said, “Keep this heart in your coat pocket. Whenever you feel alone, hold on to it and think of something that makes you smile. Take things one step at a time. When you’re feeling better, give this heart to someone who needs it.” The man left, touched. Manon was too.

A few days later, Manon gave away Aileen’s second Pocket Heart to an exhausted mother. Her entire family had gotten sick after being reintegrated into a smoke-contaminated house. Once again, Manon fulfilled her mission of brightening the woman’s day — part of what the Red Cross is all about.

By making glass hearts, Aileen wanted to demonstrate the power of paying it forward. By joining the Red Cross, Manon, like other volunteers, wanted to help our society’s most vulnerable. In their own ways, they helped give a little hope and comfort to those who needed it, when they needed it the most.

To participate in the chain of caring, find Aileen’s Pocket Heart on Facebook.
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