Jim Kenyon: In Praise of Good Deeds

The holiday season is a prime time for people to put their talents and interests to good use to benefit others who need a little boost. Think of it as giving with a personal touch. Here are a couple of examples:

Hanna Royce is a third-grader at Disnard Elementary School in Claremont. This summer, while waiting to get a haircut at a Claremont salon, Hanna happened to meet Nick Coombs, a young man with an array of disabilities, including autism and epilepsy. Nick, who was nearing his 20th birthday when I wrote about him last October, also suffers from a growth disorder. At 41/2 feet tall and weighing 60 pounds, Nick appears to be about 10 years old.

“Hanna just fell in love with Nick. But who hasn’t?” said her mother, Kate. “There’s something special about him.”

“He makes me smile,” added Hanna.

Last year, Janette Coombs and husband, Alex, decided she should quit her job as a customer service representative with a propane company to spend more time with Nick. Janette started the Elf Shelf (www/facebook.com/theElfShelf), which, among other things, makes and delivers customized gift baskets.

This fall, Hanna’s parents, Kate and Craig, arranged for Janette and Nick, dressed in his elf costume, to deliver her a birthday gift basket at school. “He just likes to make people happy,” explained Janette, when I asked her about Nick’s “elfing.”

Shortly after receiving her gift, Hanna learned through Facebook that Nick was going to have to stop spreading good cheer for a while. During a severe grand mal seizure in late October, Nick suffered a broken femur that has required two surgeries.

Hanna told her mother she wanted to help Nick. As a hobby, she makes colorful rubber band bracelets with her Rainbow Loom kit, which is apparently quite popular with kids her age. To benefit Nick, Hanna has made more than 100 bracelets, each one taking about 20 minutes to put together. “My mom helped a little,” she told me.

She’s been selling the bracelets ($3 each or two for $5) at Maple Lanes, the bowling center in town, and Shearly Unique, the hair salon where she met Nick. Between bracelet sales and cash donations, Hanna has raised $346, which she recently gave to the Coombses. “I was speechless,” said Janette. “Hanna told us that she wanted to make sure that while Nick was recovering, the Elf Shelf didn’t go out of business.”

After Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last month, Liza Fredrickson fielded a lot of questions from concerned co-workers and people who exercise at the Witherell Recreation Center in downtown Lebanon. Fredrickson, 43, grew up in the Philippines and most of her family still lives in the South Pacific island nation.

Although there were a couple nerve-racking days when she couldn’t reach her mother because of downed phone lines, Fredrickson reported that her family and friends had survived relatively unscathed.

But that didn’t mean everything was OK.

Typhoon Haiyan has been the focus — and understandably, so — of relief efforts. The monster typhoon affected more than 12 million people, leaving nearly 6,000 dead and 1,800 still missing, according to CNN.

But a smaller typhoon that hit in October had a more direct impact on the part of the country where Fredrickson is from, and has received little attention in the U.S. On Oct. 12, Typhoon Santi “ripped off roofs of homes and buildings, toppling trees and triggering flash floods and landslides,” according to the Red Cross’website. Thirteen people were killed.

Fredrickson, who has lived in the U.S. for 11 years (her husband, Larry, is American), told me that north of Manila, where she’s from, is largely farming country. Typhoon Santi “swept away” the season’s rice crop, while also destroying mango and avocado trees in the Nueva Ecija province.

Many families lost their livelihoods, said Fredrickson. Their homes, often made of bamboo and coconut leaves, were wiped out.

“I wanted a way to help the people I grew up with,” said Fredrickson.

To do so, she’s set up nearly an entire day of fitness classes to benefit typhoon victims in her homeland. The fundraising event takes place this Sunday at the Witherell Center. Back to back one-hour spinning classes start at 11 a.m. A pair of Zumba classes will follow, beginning at 1:15 p.m. The cost is $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

The Carter Community Building Association is donating the space and other fitness instructors will be volunteering their time. “Lots of people are reaching out,” said Fredrickson, who is an accountant by day. On evenings and weekends, she teaches fitness classes and works the front desk at the Witherell Center.

“Her work ethic is unbelievable,” said Denise Holden, the nonprofit recreation center’s member services coordinator. “She doesn’t believe in idle time.”