Mike and Mary McConnell have been inviting strangers into their Boston home for nearly 30 years.

First, they hosted a man and his son who had traveled to Boston from the mountains of Ecuador in hopes of getting medical care at some of the top hospitals in the country.

"It was Christmas time. They helped us decorate our Christmas tree," Mary remembers.


Later, a Hungarian family came through Boston and stayed with the McConnells, sharing Thanksgiving dinner and their home.

"That was fun because they didn't speak any English, and of course we didn't speak any Hungarian," Mike said. He and the father both knew a little bit of Russian, so that was the only way they could communicate with the people living in their guest room.

Mike and Mary McConnell. Photo used with permission.

Since 1989, the McConnells have participated in a Boston-based program that matches families traveling for medical care with hosts nearby who can offer a free place to stay.

The nonprofit, Hospitality Homes, was founded by a group of medical professionals who were deeply moved after seeing so many people forced to sleep in hospital waiting rooms or in their cars while waiting to get care (or shelling out huge sums of money for hotels).

No one should have to spend more than a night sprawled out on one of these. Photo via iStock.

The medical professionals started opening up their own homes to families in need. And soon, others followed.

"Families come to us and volunteer out of the kindness of their own hearts," says Shanon Heckethorn, the organization's vice president of development and communications. She compares it to a free Airbnb. Guests stay with the host families for up to three months, free of charge.

She says it won't make everything easier for families going through a difficult time, but it is one less thing — and one less cost — to worry about.

Visitors often try to find housing at more well-known organizations like the Ronald McDonald House first.

But frequently, and especially in cities like Boston, they find that everyone is full or that they don't meet certain requirements (lots of places specialize in pediatric or cancer patients, for example).

Hospitality Homes serves all area hospitals, people of all diagnoses, and all ages. While the organization only operates in the greater Boston area at the moment, they plan to take their project nationwide soon.

Having a cozy place to go after a long day of appointments, medical tests, or surgeries means a lot to the guest families.

Check out this note to Mike and Mary from one of their recent visitors:

A thank-you letter to the McConnells from some recent guests. Photo used with permission.


Most of the folks who volunteer know what a little extra support can mean during a time of crisis. Often they are cancer survivors or medical professionals who have seen the struggle up close and just want to find a way to give back.

The hosts "get back more than they give," Heckethorn says, noting that a lot of families keep in touch for years after the experience with text messages, photos, and emails.

"A human connection doesn't happen every single time. But when it does, it's magic."

The McConnells say hosting isn't always easy, but it's usually well worth it.

With some guests, Mike and his wife simply offer a place to stay and a few pleasantries when they cross paths in the evenings. With others, though, the relationship evolves over the course of the stay.

The couple who stayed with the McConnells most recently, for example, watched "Game of Thrones" with their son and his wife (who also live in the home) every Sunday night over their three-month stay.

Still, Mary says opening your home means "you have to be willing to share your privacy. We've encouraged a lot of our friends to try [hosting]. Not everyone can do that.""

"It's just something we can do," Mike adds. "We have this big house and most of our family has left. We've found it to be immensely rewarding."

It's amazing to see such a powerful, intimate example of people helping other people in their greatest time of need.

As some of the McConnells recent guests wrote in their thank-you card: "You have all showed us that even in bad situations there is always someone willing to give love and friendship. We can never repay you for your kindness and only hope to one day be able to pay it forward to others."

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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