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Paying it forward

We’re about one week out from Valentine’s Day, and if I can offer any suggestions for the one day that brings everything from uneasiness to happiness within the masses, I’ll do my best.

I’m actually looking forward to Feb. 14 this year.

Sure, I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum of this romantic and agonizing holiday. In my younger days, I remember passing out valentine greetings to my classmates, adding extra hand-drawn hearts to the boy I had a crush on that year. That might not have always been reciprocal. Admittedly, I was a little boy crazy.

The “I love (with a red heart symbol) boys” bumper sticker in my locker may have been a dead give-away.

In adulthood, there have been the universal red roses and chocolate candy to show the love on Valentine’s Day. Both smell really nice, and the latter is not ever something I can turn down at any time.

Especially if caramel is involved.

I’ve also been as single as Kenny Chesney on Valentine’s Day. This has prompted me to either do stand-up comedy to joke about my dating life or gorge myself all night with leftover chocolates from my Christmas stocking. I’ve been lucky to have girlfriends who knew I was down and out on the most romantic day of the year and gifted me with cheesy romance novels and funny cards.

There’s a lot of humor that comes from this day.

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day happens every February. At least that has been the case since 18th-century England, according to Wikipedia. So I say embrace it. Don’t think of Valentine’s Day as just a romantic holiday requiring chocolate hearts, a dozen roses and dates at a fancy restaurant to show the love.

Let’s take Feb. 14 and turn it into a universal love day.

One of the easiest ways to spread some happiness on Valentine’s Day is the popular trend of paying it forward by doing good deeds for others. My friend Janelle has done this on her birthday to share in the joy of her celebration. This can be as simple as paying for coffee for a stranger behind you in line or shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk.

When there’s actually snow to shovel, of course.

Sending anonymous flowers to a friend, cooking a casserole for a busy co-worker or donating money to a charitable cause in a community member’s memory are all great ways to pay it forward on Valentine’s Day. Maybe become a mentor at YouthZone — I know personally they are particularly looking for male volunteers to help make a difference in a young boy’s life. Offer to read and tutor those needing grammar help for Literacy Outreach. Walk dogs and help keep the kitties company at C.A.R.E. Donate personal women’s items, gift cards and cell phones for Advocacy Safehouse Project, which provide assistance and support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

These are just a few of the valley’s nonprofits that need our love.

For those lucky in love with partners who enjoy helping others, encourage him or her to join in the pay it forward mission. They say two hearts are better than one, and by they I mean jewelry commercials this time of year, and if they are combined to help the community, I couldn’t agree more.

I’m a total believer that there’s power in numbers.

Plan a fun day together visiting nonprofits and delivering surprises to unsuspecting people before celebrating with a romantic dinner and dessert. Maybe make an entire weekend of it. Power couples and proud singles can join forces and pay it forward as a group with a good deed scavenger hunt — also a Janelle birthday idea. Pinterest offers a host of Service Scavenger Hunt pins of lists that include delivering cookies to a family, leaving an uplifting note on someone’s windshield, cleaning windows, reading a book to a child, singing a love song to a stranger, helping unload groceries or return shopping carts in the parking lot and more. I’m a big fan of the singing to strangers idea. Maybe even telling them a fun joke.

Dressed as cupid, possibly.

The service scavenger hunt could end at a bustling downtown restaurant or at a Valentine’s Day dinner party to help take all that pressure off making Feb. 14 perfect. Not to forego romance, couples can break off and go their separate ways after the scavenger hunt fun to celebrate alone with their valentines. If a dozen red roses and gourmet chocolates aren’t in the budget, make a bouquet with a few single white tulips and a gigantic handful of baby’s breath, print out or draw homemade coupons of love and order Chinese take-out to enjoy at home in pajamas.

Sounds like love and happiness to me.

April E. Clark envisions red velvet cake in her future. Or at least red velvet Oreos. She can be reached at aprilelizabethclark@gmail.com.


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