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Dumas: Where to find a reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving

As we enter a season of both thanks and giving, it can also be a season of sadness and disappointment. With those feelings at large, I set out to find a source of gratitude and contentment. According to Dr. Rose Moten, clinical psychologist and founder of Bloom Transformation Center in Detroit, there is power in gratitude even when a reason to be thankful feels hard to find.

“Even the mere practice of gratitude releases feel-good hormones and serotonin, which can already be compromised by season changes and related disorders,” said Dr. Moten. “Thoughts have power, and we often think ourselves into despair when we can utilize those thoughts to put us in a better emotional and physical state.”

One proven way of finding nuggets of gratitude is to help those less fortunate. Given the social and economic climate, the opportunities are plentiful. But giving is more than just writing a check. The connectivity to those we help can make a meaningful difference. Just ask Jerry Boykin, founder of I’m A Blessing.

Every Wednesday for the past 12 years, Boykin — and a few of his close friends at first — would make sandwiches, and pass them out along with cookies, fruit and water to those who came to his weekly location in the alley across from the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) in Detroit. When available, Boykin would also include a copy of a prayer devotional, Daily Bread, to provide some spiritual nourishment as well.

“When I was 14, my parents would distribute food and coffee to the homeless in Detroit," Boykin said. "I remember having the privilege of eating and enjoying lunch after one such outing and realizing not only how blessed I was but that there were people still hungry that we were not able to touch.”

The need never went away, and neither did his commitment to help.

The intersection of Woodward and Peterboro comes alive at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays when Boykin pulls his truck up and is met by a larger group of volunteers and an equally growing line of those anxiously awaiting sandwiches, soups, clothing, hope and a hug.  

“It’s the love of people," Boykin said. "The support systems are not always there for others — broken bridges, shattered dreams and they may not have friends or family — no hugs or expressions of love. I tell them that, listen to them. It’s not the money. We show them that we really care.”

Therein lies the power of this connectivity, seeing their eyes, hearing their stories and catching their sincere smiles of appreciation.

Boykin is adamant about the level of respect dispersed with the food and items of help and hope. “We look them in the eye, call them 'ma’am' or 'sir' if we haven’t yet learned their names and make sure they know that they are seen, heard and loved,” said Boykin.

How does this translate into gratitude? Self-employed, Boykin says his days are demanding, and while most people look forward to the weekend to relax or go to the movies, his weekend is on Wednesday.

Treating people with warmth and respect is a lesson Boykin carries with him from his mom, who reminded him that people will always remember how you treat them.

The self-funded effort has also included an occasional home and car donated to needy families. Boykin also opens a warming center in the winter months on the eastside of Detroit.

“Giving is my therapy,” said Boykin. “It is a reminder of my blessings, and that I am blessed to be able to bless others.”

According to Dr. Moten: “Often, our sadness comes and ungratefulness stems from not being present. Focusing on the past fuels depression and focusing on the future creates anxiety. 'What if' and 'if only' can be misleading guides in our lives.”

“The power of gratitude is to be mindful, in the moment, and to show appreciation for what we may take for granted like a simple act of spending time friends, family or even strangers,” Moten said. 

If you’re looking for a reason to be grateful this season, you can at 3:00 p.m. every Wednesday in the alley in front of COTS.

Karen Dumas is a columnist for The Detroit News and the co-host of "The No BS News Hour." Her column appears on Tuesdays.