The Impact of 12

How much of an IMPACT can you make in 12 Months on the road?



12 Florida experiences that didn’t involve my stomach dropping…much

Landing in Orlando for my first stop, I knew there were a number of theme parks in the area, but I didn’t realize just how many are here. After a month in the city and many miles on I-4, I learned that there is a theme park for pretty much everything in the city. At some point during my stay, I heard that Orlando was called the “theme park capital of the world.” This is not a joke. There are a TON of theme parks here. There is even one called The Holy Land Experience that is Christian themed. I didn’t manage to make it in, so no review. You can get in free one day a year because of the religious affiliation though! If you happen to be in Orlando on February 24 and don’t mind standing in a line…like a long line, this could be a good option. If you want to also try a few other non-roller coaster experiences, here are a few experiences I will never forget from my time in the Sunshine State.

12 Florida experiences that didn’t involve my stomach dropping…

  1. Florida Hiking. Most of the hiking I’ve done has been in the Midwest or in the mountains. I had never experienced anything quite like Florida hiking. The trails here are in the swamps and often covered with sand or across boardwalks to stay above the water.
  2. What color is the #3 and #11 ball in pool? Answering this question correctly was one of my few contributions to the trivia team during my two week run. The trivia was held in what can only be described as the “perfect” town. White picket fences everywhere. The town of Celebration is certainly a unique experience. It doesn’t really feel connected to the rest of the world…
  3. Oh we aren’t done… My stomach may have dropped a little during the Toyota driving experience at Daytona International Speedway. Don’t worry, as the commercials suggest…it was a closed course. After whipping me through some turns, my professional driver had one more backwards drifting trick up his sleeve.
  4. Peanut Butter on a burger. This one is associated with a theme park I will admit, but no roller coasters were involved. My dad happened to be in town for a conference and we went to Universal City Walk to eat at CowFish. In addition to creating your own digital fish (or 3 if you are me) and watching it them swim on the screens around you while eating (never too old to be a kid…), we took down a 1 pound burger with peanut butter, bananas, and bacon on it.
  5. Premium Bowling. Bowling is that inexpensive way to spend an evening with some light physical activity, but in Orlando it is a whole different ball game.
  6. Imparting Knowledge? Great chance to catch up with one of my favorite professors on a visit to Stetson University. I was reminded of my Missouri State days in the three different classes I took with Dr. Goss while sharing my story and trying my best to provide some value to his class.
  7. Swimming in January. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure in Orlando, Wekiwa Springs needs to be on the radar. The springs are “cold” springs at 72 degrees year round, but even on this day there was a lady swimming.
  8. You can’t bike here! I only got the bike out once on my first stop…to bike to the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve, and once I got there I learned I had to hike on the paths. The paths were very nice, but I still didn’t see the elusive river otter I was looking for…
  9. Hope you aren’t a Penguins fan. I have never walked in to a sporting event later than the Lightning-Pens game in Tampa. Down for a few nights and looking to visit with friends first and foremost, we picked up some cheap tickets midway through the game and caught the third period from some nice seats, promising the Season Ticket Holders we were not Penguins fans.
  10. Can I collect my prize? I got the chance to act like a kid again at the Harry P. Leu Gardens. I successfully filled out my sheet with my crayon after identifying all of the bugs correctly! I was reminded of my Longest Day campaign when I saw a sculpture of a dad and child fishing.
  11. The I-4 Parking Lot. The highway that is a parking lot. This was an experience just on its own. It doesn’t matter what time you hop on I-4, there will be backups. I spent a little too much time on this highway…
  12. The Ocean. Officially made it to the Atlantic Ocean. The Pacific seems a long way away, but after how fast the first month went, it will be here before I know it.IMG_1893


How doing laundry with those impacted by homelessness expanded my vocabulary…

12 Words I have OFTEN used to describe laundry in the past:

Boring. Time-consuming. Inconvenient. Worst. Long. Hassle. Annoying. Overdue. Frustrating. Bothersome. Nuisance. Chore.

12 Words I have NEVER used to describe laundry before Thursday:

Expensive. Fun. Efficient. Costly. Enjoyable. Well-Organized. Luxury. Pricey. Treat. Gratifying. Systematic. Rewarding.

On Thursday, I was in a laundromat for the first time. One word you may be using to describe me: spoiled. Over the years, I have always been lucky enough to live in a place that has a washer and dryer. The “chore” of doing laundry is one that I often put off for as long as possible, but it has never been because I simply didn’t have the money to do the laundry or because I felt that was something I could skimp on to save some extra cash.

As part of this journey, I will look to put myself in places I have never been and experience situations that are unfamiliar to me. Thursday was a great opportunity to do both of these. My first experience in a laundromat was eye-opening, entertaining and enjoyable.

You couldn’t help but catch some of Bri’s energy…except for Big Show of course.

This was the final step towards my goal of completing 12 hours of community service in Orlando. I found out about the opportunity through Volunteer Match. The site is a great way to find new and exciting opportunities to volunteer in your own community. After a few emails with Brianna (the incredible leader of the Movement), I was locked in to join the Street Team Movement on Thursday morning. Armed with good intentions and an open mind, I showed up at the laundromat a little before the 8:45 AM suggested arrival time. I walked in and sat down. The one patron in the laundromat asked if Bri (Briana’s more common name as I would find out later) was going to be there today. Either it was the fact that I had no laundry in tow or the fact that I looked out of place, but he knew I was there with Street Team Movement. I knew the name from the email, so I gave a quick yes.

My vision of throwing quarters in machines was not even close…

Bri would walk in a little later with Big Show carrying a well-organized box of supplies. I immediately realized my vision of just throwing quarters in machines was well off. They had this operation down to a tee. Bri was the fearless leader (she gives 30 hours a week to the movement on top of her job!) of the team of 3 others, a volunteering photographer (pictures to update website), and me on this day. This was operated like a true business. An individual had to make an appointment with the Team for Tuesday evening or Thursday morning. Although there was a grace period of 15 minutes, they had to make their appointment to get their laundry done that day.

Bri off gaurd
Bri tried to catch me off guard…I told her that is a pretty typical picture face for me. Of course the volunteer photographer was ready for the pic…

When the individuals showed up with their laundry they were logged into a binder with separated tabs for the different days and a history of all records. I was quickly reminded of previous treasurer days when Bri explained how important it was that every quarter used was recorded. After checking in with Carrol, their name was put on a dry erase placard(s). Two was the maximum number of loads the individual could do. Marie then took the name and searched for an open washer to clothespin the name to the swinging door. She also provided the individual with laundry detergent. The Street Team Movement even has their own Laundry Detergent! Big Show was the money man and had the bag of quarters. He helped the individual set the time, temperature, etc. to get the load started. He shouted back across the room to Carrol who recorded the amount of money used for that individual. This was carefully recorded in the binder. A similar process took place on the move from the washer to the dryer. Everything was down to a science and there could be no open washer/dryer time in order for the Team to keep all of the appointments.

The Street Team Movement does an average 0f 424 loads of laundry every week.

After learning the process, I hopped in wherever I could. With a limited number of washers/dryers, my main goal was to make sure there were no open machines. When a washer was done, I found the correct individual and helped them move to an open dryer. Bri was free to go grab coffee for the individuals doing laundry as they waited for it to finish or waited for their turn on a machine. This was much appreciated by all and one man even shared a packet of hot chocolate that he had in his backpack. As I looked around, I soaked it all in. Everyone knew Bri and most of the other volunteers. The interactions were that of friends. There was joking and laughing. Birthday wishes were given to one lady who happened to be celebrating her birthday. She also deflected attention to another lady who had celebrated her birthday the day before. This was more than just laundry. I was witnessing interactions among a community. I was affectionately referred to as the “New Guy” on multiple occasions. That is pretty close to acceptance…right? Regardless, I felt accepted and enjoyed my experience. Laundry will never be the same for me again.

UPDATE: This was a recount of my first experience with the Street Team Movement, but I returned the following week. My second Thursday back with the Street Team Movement allowed me to connect more with Carrol and Big Show as they shared stories and advice. I was in charge of the markers and monitoring the machines with Marie and Bri not able to make it in.

450 cantaloupe cups in 12 minutes…if you can’t handle it…press the Red Button

“If it starts going to fast or you get behind, just hit the red button.” -Ang

Who knew making lunch could be so fun? You would think the more lunches you have to make, the less fun it would be, but over the past two days I have helped make upwards of 4,000 breakfasts and lunches as part of my goal to complete 12 hours of community service each month in the city that I visit. This is only a small segment of the amount of meals the Second Harvest Food Bank has helped provide since 1983.


I found the opportunity by searching for local soup kitchens and landed on the Second Harvest Food Bank website. They made it very easy to sign up for a shift and show up to volunteer. I volunteered in the Meals for Good section of the Food Bank. “Meals for Good is a service that provides freshly prepared meals to early childcare centers, children’s after school programs, group homes, senior feeding programs, and private and charter schools.” On Monday when I came in, I was one of just a few volunteers…I had to scrape my car that morning (in Orlando!) and the consensus was that the cold weather kept some of the other volunteers away (apologies to the parts of the country that actually couldn’t get out of the driveway on Monday…). This provided me a great opportunity to fill a variety of roles and meet some of the people that work in the Food Bank and learn their story. I have met some amazing people over the two days of work.

My first day, I was placed on a shift under Ang. She put me right into the action. When you have a volunteer for just 3 hours, you have to get them up to speed quickly. She quoted my long arms as the reason to place me in the role of placing the cups in the machine to be filled first. Easy enough I thought. Nope. Within a few minutes I was hitting the “Red Button of Defeat” as I called it. This was a way to stop the production when I got behind. During that first experience, I was consistently hitting the “Red Button of Defeat.” I wondered how I could keep up with this and wished it would move just a little slower, but I was determined. It quickly turned into a game for me….and I’d have to say I got much better.

The infamous “Red Button of Defeat.”

When I arrived the second day, there were many more volunteers and it looked like it was going to be a productive day. I knew exactly where I wanted to work though. Luckily, Ang saw the progress and welcomed me back to her team the second day in the same role. My second day on the job, I only hit the “Red Button of Defeat” because I was behind a couple of times. It was my long arms that initially earned me a spot filling the sealing machine, but this was not enough. It took careful precision and the avoidance of any mistakes. Dropping a cup was costly. Ang made sure everyone was put in a position to succeed and she would not hesitate to move you, so I was proud to keep my position as the machine filler.

Although I turned the job into a game and received a lot of enjoyment from doing this, the real enjoyment was from the people I met working. I probably learned the most about Zola, notably because as she would admit, she did most of the talking. Whatever you do, don’t let her drive through the mountains as she will not exceed 34 MPH and may have a few tears on the way. Her family has 5 generations living! She cares a great deal about her daughters and her son. She certainly spoils her grandkids as any good grandma would do.

After mentioning my journey and the blog, Zola was pretty camera shy.

Just as I was, Shannon was a little quieter than Zola. She was more than happy to poke some fun around and I was happy to poke fun right back. She even helped me with suggestions for my workout plan as we somehow landed on the topic of lanky tall guys…wonder how that happened. She could immediately place any song on the radio to a movie and I think I was about 0 for 5 before she decided I was probably never going to get one right.

Ang was the leader of the area where I worked most of the time. She was as hard working as they come and she was very good at her job. Her efficiency was second to none. She truly enjoyed the task of filling all the meals each day and made my volunteering very enjoyable. Ang was always quick to share compliments across her team and constantly focused on others. I learned about her youngest son who is playing both sides of the ball in football and wants to be a quarterback. After telling me this, she said “see Matt I do know about sports” as we had talked briefly about my job and my love of sports earlier.

I hope the thumbs up meant I did a good job…

Could not have asked for a better experience for 6 of my 12 Orlando community service hours! You should know that for my final action as a volunteer on Tuesday, we ran the cantaloupe in the pyramids pictured. I did not hit the Red Button of Defeat once in this string of 450+ cups in under 12 minutes!

Is Disney World in Orlando or is Orlando in Disney World?

When I decided to live in Orlando for a month, I knew Disney was here, but halfway through my 30 days in the city, I realize Disney is more than just here….

Disney dominates.

I should note that my apartment is on the southwest side of Orlando, so I am much closer to the Disney attractions. If I had found a place in the heart of the city or on the northwest side of Orlando, I may have a different perspective.

Early on in my stay, I noticed multiple people walking back and forth to their cars in very interesting attire. Colonial outfits were commonplace around the complex. I soon learned that these were Disney employees. Shortly thereafter, I learned most of the people in my complex work for Disney. Even my roomate for the month, also works under the large Disney umbrella. If you live in this area, you can’t escape Disney. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Each time I pass the Mickey Mouse telephone poles (I have passed them numerous times now), I contemplate how Disney has managed to do this. They have taken over an entire section of a city. They have coined numerous slogans over the years such as “Where Dreams Come True” and “The Happiest Place On Earth” that suggest nothing can go wrong in Disney. In graduate school, we looked at Disney case studies on a number of occasions attempting to explain the phenomenon. I can say it is not all perfect inside the park. Not all employees are always smiling and not every piece of trash is picked up before it hits the ground, but they come pretty close.

The 12 moments that proved even at 25, Disney is magical….

  1. Conquering Tower of Terror. My 11 year old self didn’t make it on this ride and now was my time to finally experience the Tower of Terror. SPOILER ALERT: I survived.
  2. Highway in the Sky. A normal train by all accounts, but on the ride in I learned this one was different.
  3. Chip and Dale. It took some convincing, but I finally got my friends to pause our pursuit to hit all the rides to take a picture with one two of the characters. At 11, there was no greater pursuit for me than getting the autographs of as many characters as possible.IMG_1754
  4. Dreams never expire. Nothing beats using a ticket your parents purchased for you in 2001 to get in the park almost 15 YEARS later.
  5. BUZZ. What was your score? First question from my brother about Disney.
  6. The Other Guests. Fun side game at Disney…see how many different sports teams or schools you can spot. (NOTE: It took some time, but I did find MO State!)
  7. It’s a small world after all. The night before we went to Disney, I ran up to the box office to figure out a ticket issue and through the power of Disney, the guest relations staff cast (never staff, always cast) member was from St. Louis. My only explanation is they must have some high tech facial recognition software and just switched this person in when they saw me coming. Classic Disney.

    Making St. Louis connections on the road!
  8. The Kids.  Seeing the reaction of kids as they see characters for the first time is an experience just on its own.
  9. More than just a ride. The buildup for a ride at Disney helps you believe this is far more than just an attraction. You become immersed in a mission.
  10. Christmas Lights. My goal for this trip was no snow. I have already failed because at 62 degrees in the middle of Disney, it was snowing. I’ll be honest…for a half a second I thought it was real. I guess by 9 PM after 12+ hours in the park, Disney had me believing anything.

    The glasses turn all lights into snowflakes! I wear them all the time now. And this was a pic in honor of the 4th roomate. I haven’t completely lost it…..yet.
  11. Fireworks. Every Night. The Star Wars ones (new) are a must see.
  12. Space Mountain. You didn’t think I would miss this one did you? Forever cemented in my mind as my favorite roller coaster.



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