Three hundred and nineteen days ago Chicagoan Ryan Garcia made a New Year's resolution as ambitious as it was simple: Commit a random act of kindness for a stranger, friend or family member each and every day of 2012.
A first-time dad, Garcia was inspired to do good by his daughter, Isla. On December 31, 2011, he launched 366RandomActs.org, a blog to document a good deed for every day of 2012 (including Leap Day).
"So tomorrow the journey begins," he wrote that afternoon. "My daughter is 3 months old. She is starting to become more and more aware of her surroundings every single day. [I] want her to appreciate what she has and strive to give back to those around her. There are a ton of people out there who have worries both big and small. I know I can't solve every problem for every person, but I am going to try to do my part."
Since Jan. 1, Garcia has been doing more than his part, helping those both near (cleaning the entire house for his wife) and far (sending a letter to a soldier in Afghanistan). He's gotten out of his comfort zone, donating blood for the first time, and out of his neighborhood, helping job-seekers in New York City improve their cover letters and résumés.
He's cheered people up with hugs (Day 17), compliments (Day 10), conversation (Day 103), gas money (Day 165), toll money (Day 139) -- even with a loan for hog-raising (Day 143).
He's had a lot of fun while spreading kindness -- passing out cheeseburgers (in Paradise) to hungry concert-goers at a Jimmy Buffet show and playing in a charity volleyball tournament. He's also had to do good in the face of sadness and loss, writing the newspaper obituary for his wife's father when she and her family struggled to capture his life in words.
An avid sports fan, Garcia has called on athletes and teams through friends and via Twitter to help with acts of kindness on several occasions.
On Day 33, he took Army Staff Sgt. John La Giglia and his family to a Northwestern basketball game. The Wildcats donated the tickets and made La Giglia, a soldier since 2000 and a veteran of two tours in the Middle East, an honorary captain.
On Day 225, Garcia took two young men from a local Boys and Girls Club to Bourbonnais, Ill., for Bears training camp. A week later he rode his bike to raise money for World Bicycle Relief and Chicago Cubs Charities.
Later in August he took a young boy with leukemia and his family to a White Sox-Yankees game where the boy got to go on to the field and meet Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson. A few weeks later Garcia collected autographed items from local athletes for the silent auction of a bowling tournament held to raise money for a young boy with liver disease.
In October, Garcia gifted tickets to a Bulls fan event to a duo from Best Buddies Illinois, an organization that forges friendships between volunteers and people with intellectual and development disabilities. And just a few days ago he volunteered to hand out awards and medals at Special Olympics Illinois.
Some of Garcia's acts sound pretty fancy ("Day 111: Adopted an Emperor Penguin Chick," "Day 213: Named a Star For my Wife"), but he said most don't take long and don't cost much.
"I haven't taken a lot of time out of my normal day [to do the random acts]," Garcia said. "I wanna show people, 'Hey, I have a full-time job, I have a family, I have things I want to do outside of work but it's still kind of easy to do this kind of stuff throughout the course of your day.'"
Garcia estimates he's spent no more than $1,000 in the first 300-plus days of the project, proving it doesn't take a lot of money to make life better for people. Some days it's just about shoveling a snowy walkway for an elderly neighbor, playing with lonely dogs and cats at the local animal shelter or becoming a pen pal to a sick child.
Garcia has also gotten help from friends and strangers alike, who donate goods and acts for him to pass along.
"A lot of the random acts that I've done have been because somebody's either emailed me or sent me a message on Facebook asking me to do something on their behalf," Garcia explained.
One of the most rewarding examples was the case of Myrna M. (Day 30 and Day 119). Myrna facilitated a random act in January and Garcia got to repay her kindness a few months later.
"[Myrna] reached out to me and said she wanted to donate to the cause," Garcia explained. "She gave me 20 heavy-duty winter blankets and a bunch of food and asked if I could pass it out to homeless people in honor of her mother.
"Someone who worked for the Bulls saw that post and reached out, giving me tickets to give to her for a Bulls-76ers playoff game [in April]. Instead of bringing a friend she brought a former coworker's son with autism who had never been to a Bulls game before but was a giant fan. It was like a huge pay-it-forward situation."
Over the past 11 months Garcia has been featured on a number of big-name websites and some local news broadcasts, but he prefers to keep the focus on the doing and not the doer. His goal is to prove anyone can commit to kindness.
"One of my rules from the beginning of doing this was for it to in no way benefit me," Garcia explained. "Obviously I've gotten warmth and thanks from people and I've changed because of it, but outside of that I didn't want [people to think] I'm doing this for myself or for publicity. The message is to be kind to people and that there are a lot of things you can do."
That message has gotten out; throughout the year readers of Garcia's blog have emailed to share their own acts of kindness. A class of students in Kansas has even followed along, forming their own "random acts team."
"I got an email from a teacher and he said he and his class have been following me all last school year and this year," said Garcia. "They go out and try to do as many of the [acts] that I do as possible. Last week I got a giant envelope in the mail with a bunch of thank-you letters from the kids and some more random act suggestions. That was really cool."
On Tuesday, Garcia celebrated his 31st birthday by doing 31 random favors for strangers. He made even that day, his day, a day about others. He's hoping to welcome a member of the military to his home for Thanksgiving next week and he says he has a mysterious act planned for the final day of the year, something so top-secret he hasn't even told his mother.
There are just 48 days left before the 366 Random Acts project ends, but after all he's seen and done over the past 11 months, it's not likely Garcia will stop committing his random acts of kindness when the calendar flips to 2013.
"I just notice things more now, things that can be done," Garcia explained. "I probably won't blog about it every day when this is done, but I'm going to keep doing things. It's changed the way I look at things and look at life."