For goodness sake

Charlestown resident captures caring nature of community in booklet about random acts of kindness

Created date

April 27th, 2020
Betty Jackson, who lives at Charlestown, published a booklet about the many different random acts of kindness that occur at the Catonsville community every day. She's seen here holding the booklet in front of a fireplace at Charlestown.

Betty Jackson, who lives at Charlestown, published a booklet about the many different random acts of kindness that occur at the Catonsville community every day.

Technically, Random Acts of Kindness Awareness Day was February 17, but for residents who live at Charlestown, a community located in Catonsville, Md., kindness is in season every day of the year. 

Take Jeanne Mewshaw for example, who anonymously leaves small bouquets of flowers on the shelves outside of her Charlestown neighbors’ doors. Or Vernon Gaffney, who noted a nail in the tire of the car next to his and placed a note on the windshield with simple tips for getting it fixed. Then there was the Charlestown shuttle driver, who saw a resident struggling to back her car into a parking space, so he parked her car for her. These stories, along with 82 more, are found in a booklet titled Inside Charlestown, Our Home for Life, written by longtime community member Betty Jackson.

“When you live in a community as great as Charlestown, you can begin to take for granted and overlook all of the wonderful things that make it great, including the people who live here,” says Betty. “I wanted to highlight all of the random acts of kindness that go on that people may not be aware of. I was also hoping to raise money for Charlestown’s Benevolent Care Fund at the same time.”

The Benevolent Care Fund is an endowment that allows Charlestown residents in need to remain part of the community, regardless of their ability to pay. More information is available in the Residence and Care Agreement. Volunteers like Betty, as well as Charlestown staff, help secure donations for the fund through planned gifts, donations, and a variety of special events so that residents are assured a home for life. 

Labor of love

“It took me about a year to compile all of the stories and information. We didn’t have any trouble finding stories. Some of the ideas were given to us by other people through word of mouth. I really enjoyed hearing the stories and talking to people,” says Betty.

Research shows that the benefits of altruism are far-reaching. Studies conducted by Cornell University show selflessness and compassion for others seem to counteract the negative effects of stress on the body by increasing the level of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, as well as the production of feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, which also relieve anxiety. 

Dawn and John Strumsky were featured in the booklet regarding the outpouring of heartfelt condolences they received from their Charlestown neighbors after the passing of their long-time companion Twinkie, their toy poodle. 

“Betty asked residents to submit their personal acts of kindness,” says Dawn. “I think the book truly exemplifies living here, so many daily kindnesses extended.”

Four hundred copies of the booklet were printed and sold for $3 each. The booklet sold out in a little over two weeks. Betty was able to donate $1,500 from the proceeds to the Benevolent Care Fund. 

Betty relied on contributions from Charlestown staff and residents to help make the book a success. 

“I had never worked on a project like this before, so I relied on quite a few people to help make the book a success,” says Betty. “My computer skills were somewhat limited, so I turned to a resident who is good with computers. I also had the help of a very talented resident who is a photographer. Mary Evans, the manager of the resident life department, was a great resource when it came to helping me determine what it would cost to produce and print the book.”

Rich history and little-known facts

A brief history of Charlestown makes up the second half of the book. Included are tidbits about the property, such as the large underground tunnel that once provided heat, hot water, and electricity to the former St. Charles College and Seminary, as well as stories about Charlestown’s pioneer residents.

“One of the things that make Charlestown unique from other Erickson Living-managed communities is the rich history of the land and the community. Many people expressed to me that they have lived in the community for years and never knew some of the things that were featured in the book,” says Betty.  

Father Leo Larrivee, a former pastor at Charlestown’s Our Lady of the Angels Chapel and now a community member, provided historical information and photos. 

“He was so enthusiastic and supportive,” says Betty. He was a tremendous help.”

As Betty enters her sixteenth year as a resident of Charlestown, writing the book brought a fresh perspective to life in the community. 

“We have such wonderful people and such a rich history here at Charlestown,” says Betty. “I learned a lot about the people who live and work at Charlestown through this book. I appreciate everyone who helped make it happen. I hope it will encourage other Erickson Living residents to do the same thing at their community.”