By Jody Kerzman | Submitted Photos
For the past two years, Mary Latham has been on the road trip of her life. Except this is more that just a road trip. Mary is on a mission, one she calls “More Good.”
“I am going to visit every single state in the United States to collect stories of acts of human kindness. I plan to compile these stories into a book to donate to hospital waiting rooms,” she explains.
She hit the road on October 29, 2016 and exactly two years later, she crossed North Dakota off of her list. North Dakota was state number 30 she’s visited behind the wheel of her mom’s old blue Subaru Outback, which she affectionately calls “Old Blue.”
While in North Dakota, Mary collected stories from Sister Kathleen Atkinson and Ministry on the Margins, Mark Meier from Heaven’s Helpers Soup Cafe, and Jana Maher, more commonly known as Miss Sparkles at the Bismarck Public Library. Their stories of human kindness are what keep Mary going and what inspired this road trip in the first place.
Her life on the road is a far cry from her life back in New York.
In 2012, Mary was living in New York City, working days at a law firm and nights as a nanny for two different families. She spent her weekends photographing weddings. On the morning of December 14, 2012 Mary was reading the horrific news about the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut when a conversation with a co-worker got her thinking.
“My co-worker walked by with a coffee from Starbucks and said I should have gone with him. I told him I couldn’t afford it, and then he told me it was free.”
A man had been buying gift cards for gifts and also purchased a $100 gift card and instructed the baristas to use that to cover the next $100 in orders.
“My co-worker was so happy about this free coffee. He was going through a really rough time, and that free coffee put a big smile on his face,” recalls Mary. “Later I was on the phone with my mom, and I told her that story and then switched over to talk about the shooting. I was just beside myself. I asked her how this could happen. She said, “Mary, you have to focus on the coffee story. There is always going to be tragedies and horrible things will happen in our lives, but there will always be more good if you look for it.”
Two months later, Mary and a friend launched a Facebook page, The Grattitude Project, where they asked people to send stories of acts of kindness they had experienced in their lives. The plan was to post a different story every day. Eleven days after the project launched, Mary’s mother passed away unexpectedly of complications from a surgery.
“It was her second cancer fight, and I just thought she beat it once, she would beat it again. We knew there was a small chance she might not survive the surgery, but we really didn’t think we would lose her. But we did,” Mary recalls. “I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room with my family, my dad, two sisters, and my brother and it was just the worst week of our lives. We were heartbroken.
“I opened my email to send a message to work, and there was a beautiful story from a friend about something good that had happened to her. So then I checked the project email, which was filled with good stories. I read them to my family, and that’s why I realized how lucky I was. My family is very close, but I saw other families in that waiting room didn’t have the same support and maybe these feel good stories would give them some hope.”
That’s when Mary decided to take her mom’s car and drive to every state to look for “more good.”
“It took a few years to get the More Good project started, but here I am, almost done,” says Mary. “Every so often I’ll park my car and fly back to New York and shoot some weddings. Then I fly back to Old Blue and pick up where I left off.”
Mary stays with different host families everywhere she goes. She’s connected with some through her website, but many are friends of people she’s met in another state. She says staying with strangers has shown her, and everyone following the mission, how much good is still out there. It is a reminder to trust each other a little more. A reminder that people are, generally, good.
“Finding people to stay with has been the easiest part of the trip. People have just opened their doors for me,” says Mary. “It seems like whenever I’m running low on cash, someone will come out of the woodwork to help me. The kindness I’ve been shown is another book I’d like to write.”
For now, Mary will continue collecting stories for her first book, one she hopes will soon be in hospital waiting rooms around the country.
“Hearing good stories from people is like gas money for my soul.”
Learn more about Mary’s project, or send in your own story, on her website: www.moregoodtoday.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram