After a series of losses, Sather Gowdy withdrew from the world, but the law student, and founder of Heal Spokane, got back on a positive path by helping others.
- Posted on Oct 25, 2018
Who he is: Sather Gowdy is a law student at Gonzaga University, a lifelong resident of Spokane, Washington, and the man behind Heal Spokane, a movement and nonprofit focused on improving his community. “Heal Spokane is dedicated to serving our city through acts of kindness,” he says. “I’m just a regular guy who is passionate about helping others and serving my neighbors.”
What he does: “Heal Spokane is all about grassroots acts of service that support our most vulnerable populations,” Sather says. Over the past year, he has spent more than 500 hours doing everything from cleaning up trash and mending fences to buying food for food banks and building relationships with neighbors.
Why he does it: In October 2017, Sather felt as if his world were falling apart. He went through a bad break-up. He totaled his car. Then two close friends passed away within weeks of each other. Sather withdrew, avoiding going out.
Everything changed one day as Sather was returning home from class.
“I was ready to lock myself inside,” he says. “Then an elderly woman yelled from across the street, ‘Could you help me?’ She was tiny, gray-haired and standing by her car—the trunk was open and full of groceries. I helped her get them inside.”
His neighbor was originally from Germany, and the two chatted for a bit about World War II. (Sather is something of a history buff—especially anything that’s related to Winston Churchill.) Then they said their goodbyes.
“As I walked home, I realized my heart felt lighter for the first time in weeks,” Sather says. “I wondered if I could turn all the negative energy in my life into positive energy.” He made a decision: He wasn’t going to close himself off from others anymore. He committed to performing at least one act of kindness every day for someone in his community. “Once I stopped focusing on my own pain and started focusing on serving others, I experienced an immediate difference,” Sather says. “I was no longer waking up angry. Instead, I woke up wondering who I could help today.”
Friends suggested he start a Facebook page to document his journey. He was asked to speak at his old high school’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day assembly. Sather challenged the more than 2,000 students there to commit to creative acts of kindness and service for seven days to see if this healed some of their own hurt. The movement has spread through Spokane as hundreds have taken the kindness challenge and pledged to serve their community.
How he does it: Sather started small. He noticed a neighbor’s fence was damaged. He wanted to fix it but didn’t know how. “I didn’t let lack of knowledge stop me!” he says. “I found a YouTube video on mending a crossbeam wooden fence, bought a hammer and nails, and repaired it.”
As the movement has grown, so have Sather’s responsibilities. He dedicates a few hours each day to “getting my hands dirty,” finding ways to personally serve others—usually by helping clean up areas of the city or assisting elderly neighbors with yard work and other tasks.
“Nowhere does it say that serving others will always be fun,” Sather says. “It’s hard work to remain committed to spreading kindness through serving others, even in the face of unkindness, skepticism or hate. But even on the toughest days, it’s worth it to see the smile on my neighbors’ faces.” For inspiration, he turns to his hero Churchill: “The task which has been set before us is not above our strength…. Its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable willpower!”
How you can do it: Sather says one of the amazing things about serving others is that anyone can do it. It’s as simple as walking outside and picking up a piece of litter or helping a neighbor carry in some groceries.
“Think of something that everyone complains about, that everyone also has the power to fix…and then go do it,” Sather recommends. An alley near his house, for example, was constantly filled with trash. Neighbors talked about how much they hated it, yet no one did anything about it. One of Sather’s first multiday acts of service was spending a few hours daily for two weeks cleaning up the alley.
“When I was done, I saw a visible reaction in people in my neighborhood,” Sather says. “Joy that the alley was clean. And increased pride in our neighborhood.” More than seven months later, the alley is still clean. Sather often sees neighbors checking on it, picking up lingering garbage or cutting back overgrowth.
Says Sather, “Start small. You’ll be amazed at the size of your impact.”
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