During the summer of 2009, I did something that we were told not to do since childhood —I talked to strangers. I spent that summer driving from my hometown of Watertown, New York, to Key West, Florida, and every chance I could I’d pull over and introduce myself to a perfect stranger, saying: “Hi, My name’s Tyler. Can I help you with something?”
Like a lot of college students, I found myself searching for a summer plan during the winter of 2009. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do on my upcoming break between sophomore and junior years. Job prospects weren’t exactly the best, even for making minimum wage. And I didn’t want to spend the summer vegging on the couch or at an office internship. I wanted to do something unique and creative that would have a positive impact. And not just for others, but for me, as well. I had gone from a 165-pound, strong, and confident Ironman Triathlete at age 18, to a 230-pound, 20-year-old slug who was eating everything in sight and doing nothing positive for himself. I was depressed and sick of living without purpose. I realized that to find myself, find balance in my life, I had to get out of my comfort zone. So I thought of the toughest thing I could do that would combine two things I love—traveling and helping others. And that’s when I came up with my big idea.
“Hi, I’d like to do something nice for you, are you interested?”
I am a firm believer that everyone has something to give and something to learn. I didn’t want to just give money because I don’t think that helps in the way it should. An emotional donation is way more important and far more effective. I wanted people to feel an emotional connection to the act of “doing good.” When a person just shows up at your door and says. “Hi, I’d like to just do something nice for you, are you interested?” It’s really difficult to ignore the emotion you feel and you get a sense of, I want to continue this.
When I was just beginning to formulate the inspiration for my trip, I came out of my bedroom one evening to find my roommates had ordered Chinese food without telling me. When I asked if anyone had bothered to get me anything, a friend tossed a fortune cookie my way and said, “Yeah, fat ass, this will do you good.” Insulted, I took the cookie. The fortune read, “Your success will astonish everyone, go after your dreams.” I realized that I had been given a sign and thought the phrase “do good,” from my friend’s insensitive comment, had a nice ring to it. It reminded me of Ben Franklin’s penname, Silence DoGood, which he used to first get published as a teenager. It also struck a cord for when I was a kid and my mother would correct me, saying that I was “doing well, not ‘doing good.’ ” So I rebranded myself “Tyler DoGood.”
“One woman looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Yup, you can seal my driveway.’”
The goal I came up with was simple: Make it down to Key West and help 100 random people along the way. I knew it sounded naïve, even crazy, and possibly dangerous. My friends and family were supportive of the idea, though support and warning seemed to go hand in hand. My grandfather helped me take the passenger seat out of my car and replace it with a makeshift bed to sleep in when I couldn’t find a suitable place to camp. I assumed that people would be cold to me, but I wasn’t too worried about any sort of risk—I’m kind of a big guy with a good head on my shoulders. What I quickly discovered? When people realized I wasn’t out to hurt them, I was very welcomed. People offered me food, a place to stay, and, almost always, great conversation and honest heartfelt stories. The most common thing people asked me to do was yard work: mowing, mulching, planting trees, etc. I guess they felt more comfortable when I wasn’t inside their home. One woman in Albany (#13 of the people I helped), didn’t miss a beat once I gave her my trademark question; she looked me in the eyes and said, “Yup, you can seal my driveway,” which she had to show me how to do. One man (#75) whom I approached on his front porch in Georgia, just asked me to talk and listen to him, something no one had bothered to do since his wife’s funeral a couple months before.
The hardest thing I did was on one of the hottest days of the trip. I had just reached Florida and I noticed a guy (# 90), who had clearly been working for hours. I stopped and explained what I was doing and he told me that 20 palm trees were about to be delivered and that he would love some help. It was definitely not something that I wanted to do in that heat, but I had to stick with what I set out to do. So I ended up spending the better part of the day planting palm trees. It was a humbling experience and the man seemed very sincere in his appreciation when we were done.
In the end I made it to Key West and helped 115 people along the way, though I surpassed my meticulous budget by $4 and did have to get my muffler replaced, I saw our country one town at a time and came to the firm belief that changing one person’s world is the way to change the whole world.
2011: The 2,500 or bust cross-country tour
I’ve driven many of my professors mad with countless essays and speeches about my trip over the past year. I’ve also been given the opportunity to speak at all kinds of events about my summer on the road—perfect for a speech communications major like myself. Currently, I’m finishing up my senior year and working with several of my friends on planning a one-year, cross-country, do-gooding adventure, where we hope to help 2,500 random people, as well as speak to students and adults of all ages on the importance of community service and adventure.
Tyler Kellogg attends college at SUNY Potsdam. You can learn more about his philanthropic adventures at www.tylerdogood.com.