Woman traveling nationwide to compile uplifting stories of good
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Energized by two shots of espresso and the stories she was told in Wichita, Mary Latham drove into Lawrence on a recent evening.
Latham, 31, has been on a two-year journey crisscrossing the country on a mission to collect stories of human kindness from all 50 states. After leaving Wichita with a story about an amputee who overcomes daily challenges to help other amputees, Latham was betting that she could find some stories of extraordinary kindness in Lawrence. If so, they may end up in a book that she hopes to put in hospital waiting rooms across America.
Area residents may have spotted Latham. The words “More Good” were emblazoned across the front of her T-shirt. It was also on the back of her mother’s 10-year-old Subaru Outback, along with stickers from the 34 states she visited since beginning the project in October 2016.
Latham is inspired by her late mother, who taught her that tragedies and terrible things are inevitable in life, but there will always be “more good” out there if people only look for it.
When her mother was dying of cancer, Latham sat with family members in the hospital waiting room.
“It was such a hopeless, depressing time,” Latham said. She said she felt the waiting room needed something uplifting and hopeful to read.
So she began a mission to collect the good stories from across the country and compile them into a book, which she plans to donate to hospital waiting rooms.
Not only is she telling the stories of kindness, but she is also experiencing it firsthand. She was anxious starting out, worried where she would buy gas and with whom she would stay.
“Now I can get from one town to the next, driving around cities I don’t know and figure it out,” she said. She has come to depend on the kindness of strangers and social media to find people who will take her in and give her stories to record.
She posted on social media, “If you have an aunt in Texas or cousin in California or a friend in Pennsylvania who would let me crash on their couch or their guest room on my way through, let me know.”
Word spread. Not only did homes open up, but so did the stories of good. She started an online fundraiser through GoFundMe for gas. People she stays with or meets along the way often give her $20 for gas or buy her a meal.
Latham said she has discovered that people are not as divided as they think.
“Supposedly the world is riddled with fear right now, and yet strangers open their doors and hug me,” Latham said.
People tell her stories about a kind act that happened 30 years ago and they never forgot. Or she meets people like Julie Dombo, who walked into a store in Derby that was being robbed and was shot three times. Her hands and feet were amputated following complications, and now she uses prosthetic limbs.
“She told me she basically has a choice every morning. She can pull the sheet up over her head with her motorized hands, or she can buck up and help other people who have to go through this,” Latham said. “So she goes to the hospital and talks to new amputees. She is a super incredible woman.”
It was a stranger who wrote to Latham after seeing a news segment about the “More Good” project, telling her about Dombo and Paxton Burns, a young Wichita boy who has created Blessing Boxes. Then the stranger also invited Latham to stay with her while in Wichita.
Paxton told her how he started the boxes to help out people like him and his mother who might not have enough money to go to a store. The box is filled with jars of peanut butter and oatmeal and other dried goods, for people who might be hungry.
The stories she hears and the people she meets have come to shape her life. She uses a tape recorder and takes pictures of the people she interviews, and then journals about them. Many of the stories are posted on her webpage, moregood.today. Her plan is to write the book after she reaches every state by this summer.
She lives simply, traveling light with several shirts that say “More Good” and several pairs of jeans, boots and sneakers — just the basics, packed into the Subaru.
Midway through the journey of finding the good, she was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Though her joints ached, she forced herself to keep going with the project. From Lawrence, she was headed east to Missouri and then to Tennessee, where she plans to park the Subaru and head back to New York for the holidays.
A professional wedding photographer, every few months Latham finds a place to park the car and heads home for wedding assignments and a visit with her father. She calls him every night while on the road.
She says the journey has deepened her ability to empathize with others. She enters the homes of Republicans and Democrats, Trump supporters and Hillary supporters, atheists and people with crucifixes covering the walls.
“They are good people and they are letting me in. For me there is no divide,” Latham said. “I don’t even know them and it’s like coming home all over the country.”
To share your story of an act of kindness, email Latham at email@example.com.