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By NAN BIALEK

 

Peggy Ann of Milwaukee knows that there is plenty of bad news in the world these days. Businesses are closing, jobs are disappearing, families are losing their homes. People are hurting.

Sheís been hurt, too.

The former owner of a family operated manufacturing firm, Peggy Ann experienced a deeply personal crisis that threatened to leave her in despair. Thatís when her eldest daughter gave her a wake-up call.

"My daughter said, ĎYou have everything. Start focusing outward instead of inward,í" Peggy Ann recalls. "I took that as a little bit of a challenge. And when I did that, that was the gift I got back a thousand times. Thatís what started my process."

She began working on her memoir, with help from a Chicago-area writer. Her life story is extensive, she says, and the writer encouraged her to put it down in words.

Writing the book was easy, Peggy Ann says, "because I didnít have a lot of options. And I started doing it after my own heart was torn in a thousand different ways."

She finished the first draft in July. But she felt something else tugging at her heart. "This is not what I wanted to be. If people are going to learn, which was my objective ó to learn from my experiences ó it has to be a lot more."

In a world with "all kinds of stories and all kinds of losses," she says, she wants to focus on people who are "changing lives one life at a time. And they often donít know it and they donít get recognized."

Peggy Ann decided to create a blog where those stories can be told. She is encouraging those who have benefited from the kindness of others, in small or monumental ways, to share their experiences.

"What we hear about is what people are doing wrong, we donít hear about what people are doing right," Peggy Ann says. "What I want to know is, how has that changed a personís life?"

As an example, she cites a "pay-it-forward" story. About 20 years ago, she says, a friend was visiting the Caribbean with his young children in tow. After standing in a queue for a ferry ride, he realized he didnít have enough cash to pay the fare for his entire family. He began to explain to his children that they couldnít ride the ferry after all. Another man in line overheard the father and stepped up to give him the money he needed to climb aboard with his kids.

"My friend never forgot this," Peggy Ann says. "Recently, heís in the Milwaukee airport and he hears a woman in the security line and sheís upset because she realizes she left her ATM card in the machine."

The distraught woman had to decide whether to get on the plane with no money, or miss the flight completely.

"He said, ĎYou know what? Iíve been there before,í" Peggy Ann says. "He said, ĎHereís 100 bucks. You can pay me back or not. But somebody did this for me 20 years ago.í"

Peggy Ann hopes those whose lives have been touched when others have gone out of their way to help them will tell their stories on her blog. She suspects there are many such stories waiting to be told.

"I personally believe we live in a wonderful city in a community of people who give and help others," she says.

Sharing those stories, she believes, "is going to inspire people to keep going."

If you have a story about how an act of kindness changed you, she encourages you to post it at peggyannz.blogspot.com.