Man goes undercover as homeless to spread kindness
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
One Dubuque man braved the frigid temperatures this week to send a message about homelessness and kindness.
Jeff Lenhart has a job and his own place to live, but on Wednesday and Thursday, he spent a combined total of nine hours outside, disguised as a homeless person with a sign that read, "Please help. Thank you!"
Not everybody treated him kindly.
"One guy...was walking by and he had a portfolio, and as he was walking by, he held it up to shield himself," Lenhart said Thursday while sitting under the clock tower in downtown Dubuque.
That, however, was not the reaction Lynette Lisney had.
"I knew that I only had two dollars in my purse, but I didn't care," Lisney said, tearing up. "I took it out and gave it to him."
Lisney is unemployed and was walking to the Iowa Workforce Development office in downtown Dubuque Wednesday, when she spotted Lenhart and gave him the cash.
What happened after that caught her off guard.
"He stopped me and he said, 'Ma'am, I'm not homeless,' and I was like, 'What?'" Lisney recalled. "He told me how he was doing an experiment on being homeless and happiness and giving back and the ripple effect of kindness."
To each person who gave him money, Lenhart gave a coin bag filled with cash or a gift card and an explanation.
"That gift is yours to do whatever you wish," Lenhart read from the letter he was handing out. "Use it for yourself, use it for your family or a friend, maybe even co-worker, or perhaps pay it forward."
Lenhart wrote and signed all his letters of explanation under the name "Trevor McKinney," the character played by the actor Haley Joel Osment in the 2000 film Pay it Forward.
Over the course of two days, Lenhart said, 24 people stopped, giving him a total of $120. All of that money will go to the Dubuque Rescue Mission, a shelter for men.
"I think there's too much stereotyping with homeless people," Lenhart said. "A lot of people think they're on drugs or they're lazy or they could've worked, but the majority of us don't know their background or anything about them."
David Oliver stopped Thursday afternoon to give Lenhart a dollar and was surprised to receive a coin bag in return.
"To know I made a positive impact on somebody, which, hypothetically could've been somebody, but even in a rescue organization, it definitely brightens your day a little bit," Oliver said. "I do feel I changed my karma a little bit."
Lisney was so inspired, she joined Lenhart Thursday for lunch at the Dubuque Rescue Mission to learn about ways she could volunteer there.
"Anybody can help each other," Lenhart said. "You don't have to be rich to help somebody out."
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