Interns Serve Lemonade!

Posted by Vishesh Gupta on Sep 10, 2017
4739 reads  
On one fine Saturday afternoon (a couple months ago now), summer interns and mentors collected to share some lemonade with the community (at St. James Park in San Jose)! Here's what happened:

At noon, our crew began setting up. Isabel, Sneha, Selena and Audrey were there at noon with tables and supplies. Priya, Maya, their brother Om, Shyama and her siblings were all there helping and getting the table ready. At 12:30pm, all of us had an opening circle to share our intentions for the day.

By this time about a hundred people had already lined up for lemonade and snacks - I suppose they all knew the drill :)

However, as we began giving lemonade to people, we found ourselves... unsatisfied. After all, the purpose was to use lemonade as a context to connect with those in the park! Someone remarked, "This feels sort of like a handout." And it wasn't just the lemonade - the people at this park were happy to take anything from us. One person even asked me for my hat, and others wanted the empty containers that could be recycled. That was a really shocking moment for me - what I think of as trash, someone else thinks of as a valuable resource. Some would come back multiple times, asking if they could have more lemonade, or more bananas, or more of something else. It was difficult to refuse when all of those things were in plain sight on our table.

After that initial rush was over, we stood in the middle of the park ... where no one approached us. For quite some time, actually.

It was a challenging moment - how do we best serve our original intention? Certainly handing out lemonade to those who wanted it was an act of kindness, but how to create a field for mini moments of transformation? On top of that, it didn't look like the park received that much foot traffic.

We decided to exercise our connection muscles and ask around to find a place with better foot traffic. Shyama went off to ask a nearby policeman, who said there was a great spot a couple blocks away. While we were considering this proposition, Om figured if the people weren't coming to us, why not we go to them?

At about that time, a large group came walking towards us. After giving them some lemonade, we asked them, "What brings you here?" And what an answer we got: this group of people had driven 3 hours to play an "augmented reality" game where they go around and help the community (In ServiceSpace, we just call this a kindness day :P). They offered to bring lemonade to everyone in the park that couldn't come to us - so we handed them some filled gallon jugs and cups.

15 minutes later they came back, with all the lemonade gone! Seems it was very popular. And in the process, quite a few people had come to our station, getting off of their bikes and whatnot.

By this point Shyama had cemented herself as the main lemonade distributor! All those long shifts working at Jamba Juice (sometimes fulfilling 300 smoothie mega orders) was coming in handy :)

Priya and Audrey suggested a new executive plan for the rest of the day - we'd do another half hour of giving out lemonade at the stand, and then fill the gallon jugs of water we brought and take them around and distribute lemonade on the street. And this time, while we gave out the lemonade, we included smile cards with it! Although many people just put the cards in their pocket, some were truly interested in what it was about and were genuinely happy that someone thought to do an act of kindness for another person.

Then began part 2 of our day - giving out lemonade on the street! We split up into two teams: me, Om, Shiv, Sneha and Priya, Maya, Shyama, and Isabel!

Our crew headed out into downtown San Jose with a gallon of lemonade each and a bunch of cups, along with some nice signs and offered our love (and a tasty drink) to anyone who was willing to listen.

Some moments that stood our for our team:

Shyama's younger brother, Shiv, was a rockstar. I would ask someone, "Do you want some lemonade" and more often than not, they'd say no. Shiv had no such compunctions - he went and offered lemonade with a beaming smile to everyone he found, and even if they said no, he'd respond with, "Are you sure? It's really tasty!"

Needless to say, he was responsible for a lot of glasses of lemonade being distributed.

I was offering smile cards after Shiv gave out the lemonade, and Shiv noticed me doing this and asked me for a couple to do it himself. Pretty soon he was the one in charge of explaining what an act of kindness was to everyone. More than his words, I think everyone understood just by his wonderful presence :) One time this was really clear to me was when we offered lemonade to some high schoolers doing a photo shoot in a dog park. Shiv actually went into the dog park, interrupted their photo shoot and began offering them Smile cards, and I sheepishly followed behind him with some lemonade.

It was a big realization for me - I was feeling somewhat awkward about offering people a smile card to pay the kindness forward, but Shiv frankly made me ashamed of my own insecurities - he received time from people willingly and explained the concept completely to each person that he was giving a card to. When done with that kind of heart, it was hard to resist :)

Another moment - Om noticed a person across the street waving a sign around advertising something. He was amazingly skilled at twirling what looked like a really heavy sign and showing it off at all angles, but he looked very tired. It was a really hot day.
He saw our sign, which said "You are loved" and immediately pointed to us and said "I love you too!"

Of course, we had to respond to that with some lemonade! So we crossed the street and said hello to him and offered him a glass of lemonade :) Shiv followed up with a smile card, and the person with the sign patiently listened to him explain the concept. Then he said "I'll take three!"

Two people sitting on a bench behind him said "I'll take some too" - and I'm pretty sure it was the connection they were looking for, not the lemonade.

Sneha also impressed me by receiving the whole spectrum of reactions from people. I was chiefly concerned with giving out the lemonade, but Sneha was holding the "You are loved" sign and was happy to engage with anyone who passed by, including a jogger who just pounded his heart (a 2 second interaction) and a well-dressed individual going to work who stopped by and talked to us for a few minutes. She was also willing to offer to everyone until the last minute - even to some construction workers who were using a crane to lift a bundle of wood. They told her to stay away for her own safety, but the intent was there nonetheless :)

By the time we got back, Sophie had arrived. And it looked to us like she arrived empty handed - but Audrey informed us that her 60 boxes of fried rice had mysteriously vanished 2 minutes after her arriving, and never even made it to the table. Sophie, of course, humbly said "It was more like 5 minutes." :)

Around this time another life mentor appeared - Kozo! He totally set the bar for what it meant to create connection by first bringing cookies (made by Jett and Fox) to offer, and then spending over an hour talking to someone named Terry who was going through a rough time. I was also impressed with how he was able to receive from all directions - I saw him handing out something or another to people on all sides of our table, when my tendency was to make this division of "behind the table is for our crew, and in front is where we offer."

Speaking of connection, Isabel had made friends with an old lady who didn't want lemonade; she wanted the containers the water came in so she could recycle it. Isabel happily gifted her some of our many water containers and spent some time talking to her about it.

Isabel and Selena also made friends with another lady named Carmen, who was relaxing under a tree. We took some lemonade from her, and she wanted to know our names along with what they meant. As soon as she heard Isabel's name, she just lit up - "Oh, it's such a beautiful name!"

Also, the other crew had arrived before us and Priya was leading the interns in writing notes to put on cars! All the cars parked around the park were tagged with a nice note and a smile card!

Audrey was also making connections - specially with Ameen, who was wearing a nice bright blue shirt! In her words:
"One moment that really stood out to me was how the man in the blue shirt asked, "What's the catch?" and when Shyama's brother open-heartedly explained the smile cards, :) and we said, "There's no catch, we just wanted to do random acts of kindness" how his face lit up, and he excitedly said, "I could use a hundred of these! I will pay it forward!" :)

By this time we had run out of cups :(

But my friend Akhil arrived to the rescue! He said hi to everyone and when he saw we were out of cups, he started running to Safeway to buy some, and arrived literally as the cups ran out with a new batch to give to us.

Everything, no matter how good, comes to an end, and our day with the folks at St. James Park did too. But... we had a few gallons of lemonade left over (abundance!) and Kozo volunteered to lead the afterparty, which consisted of me, sophie, akhil, and sneha. Kozo was so happy to offer lemonade to anyone and everyone, and he really went and looked in their eyes and offered to them at 100%. In doing so, he found a Hawaiian brother on a bike, and started talking to him about surfing spots.

I tried taking the lemonade bottle and doing what Kozo did, but I must have offered to 50 people, and all of them said no. Sophie advised me: "You have to be less timid. We're way too timid when it comes to offering this lemonade."

Maybe she was right - as soon as Kozo took the bottle back, we had lots of demand for lemonade again.

Some cops saw us doing this and said "You're killing people with all that sugar." Sneha later said, "So much for that stereotype of cops liking donuts - they clearly are very health conscious these days. Good for them!" :)

Couple more moments - Kozo saw a family sitting by the train station and said, "Those kids need some lemonade - I just know it." He went up to them and sure enough - the mom said, "We were just thinking how nice it would be to have some lemonade!"

We also met a woman on her bike with some dogs in her crate, and she started crying while talking about one of the dogs that she lost. Another person at a bus station received her glass and told Kozo, "My boyfriend of 17 years just died."

It's amazing what's possible with a small act of kindness.

We got back to the park and it was like we'd never been there - Audrey had cleaned up everything invisibly! But I knew I was changed on the inside - and everyone else felt the same in our closing circle.

What a day!

Smiles for reading this! :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :):) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

And a picture of everyone (Audrey is behind the camera):

Posted by Vishesh Gupta | | permalink

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Comments (4)

  • Nilam Chauhan wrote ...

    What a Beautiful day ! Smiles for sharing this :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)
    Love you guys !!!!

  • Kozo Hattori wrote ...

    Love all the smiles--in the story, the pictures, and the text!!! Thanks for sharing this beautiful day, Vishesh.

  • Gayathri Ramachandran wrote ...

    Wow -- thank you for sharing with deep honesty about these interactions. I especially enjoyed how the narrative shifted from folks perfunctorily taking the lemonade in the beginning to the deeper engagement(s) as the day progressed. And the reflections on all the ways one could offer a gift were a real 'drink' for thought -- so much to imbibe here :D

  • Nandini Iyer wrote ...

    Reading this made me smile big. The smiles and connections from this story and the pictures are infectious! Thank you :-)