Community Stories

Big Ideas and Small Acts of Kindness

March 19, 2024

Big Ideas and Small Acts of Kindness

At 22 years old, Mateo Gabes – who prefers to go by his spiritual name, Rashaad Green – has big goals for his future.

Rashaad is a junior biomedical engineering major at Florida International University and plans on pursuing his master’s in nanotechnology for cancer research. He has two major goals in life: Cure cancer and establish permanent housing for homeless people.

For now, he’s helping two homeless men and working to create a therapy outreach program for seniors. 

“I believe everyone has such amazing stories, and that’s what makes us human,” Rashaad said. “It’s just crazy how you or I could be homeless tomorrow from just the wrong circumstance.”

The Journey to Help

On Jan. 21 around midnight, Rashaad was leaving a kava bar with his friends in Fort Lauderdale and stopped at a gas station on his way home. He noticed an older man in a wheelchair sitting near the bus stop.

Rashaad asked the man if he needed anything. 

The man’s name was Anthony, and he was 64 years old. Anthony caught COVID and was hospitalized for a month, had a ton of medical bills, busted his knee and then got robbed. He lost all contact with his family because he couldn’t pay his phone bill, so he ended up on the street. He had nothing, and he was hungry.

Rashaad bought him a sandwich at the gas station, a drink, healthy snacks and a banana. While Anthony ate, they talked about his life.

“I said, ‘Anthony, here’s what I’m going to do for you. Please stay here and I’ll come back tomorrow. Don’t go anywhere,’” Rashaad said. 

The next day, Rashaad came back around noon with a backpack of supplies for Anthony. It was filled with two sets of clothes – socks, underwear, shirts, pants — as well as toiletries such as deodorant and a toothbrush. 

Anthony was still there. He hadn’t expected Rashaad would actually come back and was emotional upon seeing the care bag.

While they talked, another man, 33-year-old Jacob, caught up with them. Rashaad had met Jacob on the way to deliver the care package to Anthony. He offered to help, especially after hearing Jacob’s story, which also involved COVID and a long hospital stay that upended his life. 

Rashaad stayed the whole day helping the men out. Rashaad got Jacob some food to eat and paid his phone bill so that he could resume his work as a contractor. Jacob was staying at a nearby church, but Anthony still needed a place to sleep. Rashaad called around to shelters. Everything was full, but one shelter had space opening up in two days. 

Rashaad had to go back to school, but Jacob agreed to take Anthony to the shelter when the space had opened up. They helped get Anthony and his wheelchair to the parking garage where a man nicknamed “Ponytail” watches out for the homeless people staying there. He makes sure no one steals their stuff and no one gets robbed.

“I say to Anthony, ‘Before I go, do you need anything?’” Rashaad recalled. “‘No man, I’m good,’ he said. I said, ‘Do you need a hug?’ Yeah, he could use a hug, so I hug him and he starts crying. Then I start crying, and it was beautiful.”

They agreed to stay in touch. 

Empathy for a Neglected Population

People who are homeless hold a special place in his heart because Rashaad knows many homeless people struggle with mental illnesses or with an addiction.

“I understand because I struggled with drug addiction in the past,” Rashaad said. “I was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve shared many of their struggles with abuse and trauma. I think that’s just solidified my role in being a healer to people.”

While he makes sure to take care of his own body and mind first, he loves using his spare time to help people and build communities. He has big ideas for creating permanent housing for homeless people.

Antonella, Program Manager at Heart2Heart, first met Rashaad at a volunteer fair at FIU and was blown away by all of the incredible things he is doing at such a young age.

“When he learned that our organization helps seniors, he just opened up about how much he cares about the senior population, how concerned he is for homeless seniors and all the ways he is already trying to help,” Antonella said.

She could hardly believe that at 22 years old he was already doing such big things to help the most vulnerable communities.

“It’s so powerful when our youth take an active part in their community, but he goes above and beyond,” Antonella said. 

Art and Puppy Therapy

Learning about Heart2Heart inspired Rashaad to begin his newest project – this one specifically to help seniors. 

In February, he formed the club, Gaia’s Garden at FIU, which focuses on personal growth, mediation, meditation, puppy therapy, and art therapy. In the first four days of its formation, it already had 75 members and a new website. He is working with Heart2Heart to bring art therapy and puppy therapy into care centers.

“I’m just building a community now, and it feels good,” Rashaad said.

Rashaad’s own grandparents died when he was young, and he hates that he didn’t have more time with them. He believes it’s important to honor our seniors because they paved the way to where we are today.

He urges people of all ages – especially young people – to volunteer because it will change your life as well as those you serve.

“Spread love,” he said. “Small acts of kindness can make someone’s day.”

Join the Team!

Becoming a Heart2Heart volunteer means that you are dedicated to serving the aging community. It means you want to connect in a meaningful way to a specific individual or to several people. It means you are committed to a consistent amount of time per month – whether that’s several hours a week or just a few hours per month.

Heart2Heart volunteers must be background checked and trained. Our training can be completed from your home on your computer or device, through the online Volunteer Portal. We run fingerprints in our office in Fort Lauderdale, and you can schedule an appointment with us after you finish the training.

The first step is to create an account on our Volunteer Portal. To get started, click here!

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