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Woman on nationwide mission to perform random acts of kindness stops at ESNKY in Covington

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

At a time when the nation is struggling to understand the senseless violence of two mass shootings, Chris Lowe is traveling the country on a quest to provide random acts of kindness.

Chris Lowe waves through the window of the Fall Forward Across America RV as she pulls into the parking lot of the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky Monday (photos by Mark Hansel). Click on photos to enlarge.

In 2017, Lowe’s 20-year-old son, Hudson, committed suicide.

“He was the kind of person that wanted to change the world,” Lowe said. “He spent his spare time picking up trash and giving money to homeless people, doing random acts of kindness himself.”

Since that time, Lowe has searched for a way to provide a lasting legacy for her son, while doing good for others.

Earlier this year, a plan to do just that came together. 

On July 26, she took off from Orlando, Florida in an RV to perform random acts of kindness across the country. The mission of the trip is simple and grandiose, at the same time – to honor all of the souls lost too soon and to raise the kindness quota in the world.

She has dubbed her journey the, “Fall Forward Across America Kindness Tour.”

Kim Webb, executive director of ESNKY, greets Chris Lowe in the parking lot of the facility Monday.

“My son did a speech called “Fall Forward” in high school and that’s where this came from,” Lowe said. “He said ‘never, ever give up, be the change in the world, don’t let the world change you.’ The speech is so inspirational, we played it at his service and it has become his legacy.”

Lowe’s goal is to perform 22 random acts of kindness a day, for 22 days, in 22 states. 

Is it coincidence, or is it fate?

Monday, her journey brought her to the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY) in Covington, through a remarkable string of coincidences.

Scott Gerke founded Hipsy Headbands eight years ago in Cincinnati, and experienced a life changing event a few years later.

Gerke’s best friend, who died three years ago, had been homeless and was, at one time, a guest at ESNKY. Since that time, Gerke felt the need to do something philanthropic, but didn’t know what.

Lowe hangs a placard with her son’s name on a tree filled with inspirational messages outside of ESNKY Monday.

“I told my staff I wanted to do something for charity,” Gerke said. “I’d love it to be in an RV and it would be great if it was someone from Florida, because we could take the headbands around the beach.”

Gerke had met Lowe briefly several years ago at an event in Florida, and didn’t really know her, but was friends with her on social media.

“The next morning,” Gerke said, “she writes on Facebook, ‘I’m leaving Orlando and taking an RV across the country to spread kindness, does anyone want to sponsor me?’”

Gerke immediately reached out and Lowe shared her story.

Gerke agreed to sponsor her for $2,000 a month, but Lowe still didn’t have transportation. Fate again intervened.

A sheriff from Orlando and his wife knew Lowe’s son because he was in the high school marching band with their son.

Webb gives Lowe a tour of ESNKY, as Scott Gerke, who’s company, Hipsy Headbands, is sponsoring “Fall Forward Across America,” shoots video.

“They said they wanted her to take this RV across the country on her journey,” Gerke said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Lowe had a trip to Cincinnati scheduled to hand out care packages Sunday through the Maslow’s Army organization in Cincinnati 

Gerke’s sister-in-law, Cara Brooks, works in community relations at Duke Energy/Northern Kentucky and was familiar with ESNKY through her days with Leadership Northern Kentucky.

“I knew that Scott was working with Chris and when they decided they were going to come through Cincinnati I reached out,” Brooks said. “I contacted (ESNKY Executive Director Kim Webb) and she was excited about it. We put it on Facebook a week ago, to start raising money and then $1,000 dollars later, we put together care packages to hand out today.” 

Brooks hope “Fall Forward Across America” sparks a permanent effort to help the homeless in Northern Kentucky.

“I want this to not stop here, she said. “To really create a ripple effect, to start making a change in our community, just with kindness.”

Lowe adds her handprint and a note to a blackboard containing inspirational messages at ESNKY.

Gerke also got to speak with the woman who was one of the last people to see his friend alive, as a result of the visit.

“Now I’m meeting this woman (Webb), who took care of my friend,” Gerke said. “She told me that the week that he died, he came in and thanked her for everything, so I know he was still himself at the end.”

Tour of ESNKY is eye-opener

Webb greeted Lowe in the parking lot of ESNKY shortly after noon Monday. While touring the facility Webb explained the role ESNKY plays in assisting the region’s homeless.

The experience was eye-opening for Lowe.

“In the summer we are men only at night, but in winter we are men and women, and then our showers and laundry are men and women during the day,” Webb said. “If you need an address for a job, or for a birth certificate, this is where you’re going to come. We’re the only place doing that in Northern Kentucky.”

Last year ESNKY provided 1,700 showers for almost 300 individuals in the summer and sheltered at or over capacity throughout the winter.

“When you talk about sheltering, this is what we have right now in Northern Kentucky,” Webb said. “We have excellent community partners around us that do sheltering, but it is program-based and it is very much needed. But tonight, in Northern Kentucky, if you need an emergency shelter bed, you’re not going to find one, except us.” 

“Guitar John,” a frequent guest at ESNKY, performs the song “Simple Man” for Lowe Monday. Unbeknownst to anyone at ESNKY, the song was a favorite of Lowe’s son, Hudson, who’s suicide became the inspiration for her journey.

Roughly 10 percent of homelessness is chronic, so the great majority are the working poor. 

“An emergency for us, means that you don’t have to technically be homeless – we’re not doing background checks, or drug screens, just offering somewhere safe to go at night,” Webb said. “In the end, a large percentage of individuals self-resolve, so they do not need intervention, beyond a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, and they they move on. Our average is about 18 days.”

In the winter, the goal of ESNKY is to be that first bed for homelessness in the community.

“That’s why we call them our guests,” Webb said. “They are not a client, we know their names, so that we can welcome them when they come in. They are an amazing community to be involved with.”

‘Simple man’ unknowingly pays tribute to Lowe’s son

One of the more poignant moments in Monday’s visit took place when “John,” a frequent guest at ESNKY who plays guitar, offered to play for Lowe. A volunteer asked him to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s, “Simple Man, not knowing the special meaning the song had for Lowe. 

“My son was an amazing guitar player and “Simple Man” was one of his favorites.,” Lowe said. “At his service, they asked what song they should play for him and I said ‘Simple Man.’ They started slow and his entire marching band of about 200 kids joined in. Then the crowed joined in and they all had candles, so it was like 1,000 people singing Simple Man.”

The Fall Forward Across America Kindness Tour stopped at the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky in Covington Monday

Posted by Mark Hansel on Monday, August 5, 2019

The Fall Forward Across America Kindness Tour stopped at the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky in Covington Monday. The stop is part of Chris Lowe’s journey to perform 22 random acts of kindness in 22 states, in 22 days, in memory of her son, Hudson, who committed suicide.

Hearing that song out-of-the-blue, a thousand miles from her home, convinced Lowe she is where she is supposed to be now.

Lowe and Webb prepare to hang placards on a tree outside of ESNKY displaying the Fall Forward Across America RV and the ESNKY logo.

In the weeks before Lowe left Florida, she was working on a movie script about her life that ended with a girl driving off in an RV emblazoned with the words, “Fall Forward Across America.”

Three weeks later, she was on the road.

“It was happening without trying to make it unfold,” Lowe said. “Right away, I wrote ‘and she wins the lottery,’ because I’m thinking, why not,”

Lowe left ESNKY headed to Dayton, Ohio for an impromptu visit to the Oregon District, in the hope that she could offer some comfort to those impacted by Saturday’s mass shooting.

She plans to take a northerly route that will lead to the state of Washington, then go south through California. She will head back east through Arizona and Texas on her way back home to Orlando.

“If I had the funding and a big sponsor, I would just keep driving around, have a fleet of RVs, just spreading kindness everywhere,” Lowe said.

For more information on Fall Forward across America, click here.

For information about the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, including how to become a donor, or volunteer, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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