New London is first stop on More Good Today Road Trip
A random act of cruelty — the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 — and a profound personal loss the same year launched Mary Latham’s “project of positivity.”
Following the unexpected death of her mother to breast cancer, Latham created a Facebook page with her friend, Laura Levin, that highlighted random acts of kindness. They named the page the GrAttitude Project.
Today, the 29-year-old Long Island resident is taking the project on the road, driving to all 50 states in her mother Pat’s 2008 Subaru to collect more stories of random acts of kindness. She plans to compile the stories into a book and donate copies to hospital waiting rooms. Her first stop will be New London, fresh off the ferry from Orient Point, en route to Niantic.
Latham doesn’t see herself as a do-gooder; just a young woman trying to make the world a little brighter, a little more aware of the goodness that exists, despite life’s inevitable sorrows and hardships.
“Believe me, there was a time after my mother died that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and watch meaningless television and drink White Russians,” she says.
But it was her mother’s voice, her mother’s positive attitude, no matter how much pain she was experiencing, that got Latham off the sofa and geared up to create the GrAttitude Project.
“People are consumed by Facebook, and they think they have to put on some phony act of happiness,” Latham says. “With all these ways of being connected, we’re more disconnected than we’ve ever been. You know the phrase, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ so if you can’t take people away from political rants and complaining about how they stubbed their toe this morning, at least if they see more positive stuff — blow up their mini feeds — it may change their perspective.”
Latham, a wedding photographer, lived in New York City for five years, 10 blocks away from Sloane Kettering where her mother was undergoing chemotherapy for her second bout with breast cancer.
Latham was shooting weddings and babysitting on weekends to pay the bills when she read about the Newtown school shooting online.
“I was babysitting for a child that night,” she says. “I kept refreshing the Google News page. I was just horrified.”
That night she talked to a friend from work, who had recently lost his mother. He told her a man in front of him online at Starbucks had bought a slew of gift cards and then told the person at the counter to run it out on the customers behind him. Her friend and 10 other people got a free cup of coffee.
“I called my mom and told her about it and then I went right back to Sandy Hook, I was so focused on that, and asked her, ‘How am I going to babysit?’ and she said, ‘There’s always going to be these tragedies and you have to focus on that man with the coffee and these little acts of kindness.’
“Meanwhile, her cancer was getting worse and it was really scaring me,” Latham continues. “I thought maybe if I started searching out these stories, it would help me focus on that instead.”
The GrAttitude Project launched on Valentine’s Day 2013, and the Facebook page was soon flooded with people’s stories of random acts of kindness.
Eleven days later, her mother was hospitalized for what was supposed to be routine surgery to remove excess fluid surrounding her heart, but something went terribly wrong and she was given just a few days, at most, to live.
“I’m the youngest of four kids. We were just sitting and waiting for the results in a waiting room,” Latham recalls. “It’s the worst time of your life. I obviously had no thought about opening up my project of positivity. But I did, and I had gotten a beautiful story from someone. I read it out loud and we were all crying. It was such a nice thing, a little bit of hope, and I remember thinking how nice it would be for other people to have something positive instead of just sitting with their thoughts.”
Her mother didn’t survive the surgery and died three days later, but the idea of turning the stories of random acts of kindness into a book was born.
Hitting the road
Latham says the reason she took the project beyond cyberspace is that she loves talking to people face to face and hearing their stories.
“It’s why I do photography. With all my weddings, I talk to the (couples) and ask them how they met. I love their stories,” she says. “I’ve always been a people person and I think my career has made me comfortable talking with people and vice versa.”
To avoid the cost of hotels on her trip, Latham is lining up people to stay with in each location she visits. She randomly made a connection on Facebook with a woman from Niantic who went to school with her brother.
“She sent me a message saying ‘I’m a nurse in Niantic, Connecticut. I got my shift covered and my fiancé and I would love to have you stay with us.’ A complete stranger, she even asked me if I liked beer or wine and if I had any food allergies!” Latham says.
She already has lined up people to stay with in Glastonbury, Madison, Milford and Colchester.
Latham plans to reach out to newspapers and other media in search of stories in each state. She’s also created a video online where people can learn more about the project. She will offer to meet people who want to share their stories at local coffee shops.
To help pay the bills while she’s on the trip, which she imagines will take at least a year, Latham plans to park her car wherever she is and then fly back home at least three times to photograph weddings she has already scheduled.
To further help finance the project, she is asking for donations for gas, food, a hotel room if necessary and unexpected car repairs.
“I’m trying to do the majority of this on a budget, based on the hospitality of the country and people who will let me stay with them,” she says.
Latham plans to make her More Good Today road trip into a book with photography, highlighting the people she’s staying with along with the stories of random acts of kindness. She will keep her website constantly updated so people can follow her entire trip across the country.
“It’s really awesome and terrifying,” she says, “but I’m very excited and it’s definitely very healing for me to do this.”
“There are so many beautiful things out there, but we have to find them,” she says. “If I really dedicate myself to doing this road trip, seeing the country, meeting all different people, and being able to focus 100 percent on it, I think I’ll be able to find many stories.”
FOLLLOW THE JOURNEY
For more information about or to participate in the More Good Today Road Trip, check out the following links.
Donation page: https://www.gofundme.com/moregood
Call for action: If you have a story of a random act of kindness email firstname.lastname@example.org. No story is too small to share.