Greg Forbes Siegman at the Lexington Visitors Center
The First Thirty by Jillip Paxson tells the story of an ordinary person’s efforts to make a difference through small acts of kindness, and the grandmother whose wisdom guides him along the way. It is based on the story of Greg Forbes Siegman. In 2006, the book itself became the source of a civic project called The First Thirty Elevator Project, whereby individuals and organizations order copies of the book and give them to people they witness committing small acts of hospitality in their communities. In some cases, the sponsors have asked Greg to give out books on their behalf. Since its start, The First Thirty Elevator Project has spread across America and beyond—one book, one kind act, one surprised recipient at a time.
The Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau (VisitLEX) recently sponsored the project. During a visit to Kentucky, Greg selected people in Lexington he saw performing small acts of kindness, and gave them copies of the book.
The honorees, who range in age from a student born in the 1990s to a man in his 90s, illustrate how easy it is for anyone, anywhere, at any time to make a traveler feel welcome. Here, in Greg’s own words, are his thoughts about whom he chose and why he chose them.
He Stood Up
I notice a man on a bench and pull over to ask for directions. Rather than shout at me from his seat, the man, Tim, gets up and approaches my car. It’s the difference between talking “at” me and “with” me. To a visitor, that’s a big difference.
Walking into a reception, I hold the door for two women arriving at the same time. Corinna and her mom, Alvina, both look me in the eye and smile. Without saying a word, they make me feel like I’m among friends.
The apron on a table gets caught in the wind and starts to blow away. Two women, Tracey and Debby, stop what they’re doing to help pin it down. Before I can thank them, they’re already walking away. It’s an act of caring, expecting nothing in return.
My friend and I are unsure what to eat for dinner. A local man, who happens to be a private chef, overhears our conversation. Mark introduces himself and makes some recommendations. It’s a great reminder that it costs nothing to share your knowledge.
While listening to a band, my friend and I warm up near a heat lamp. The other person standing near the same lamp has a decision to make: act like we’re invisible or engage us in conversation. Stephie chose the latter. She shows us videos on her phone, tells us about her work and entertains us with a funny story.
A chance meeting with a veterinarian leads to an opportunity to tag along as she examines some horses. Along the way, Dominique makes a conscious effort to explain what she’s doing. In the process, she turns a serendipitous encounter in a parking lot into an hour’s worth of teachable moments.
When our cars pass, William smiles and waves with a sense of familiarity—as if I’m a neighbor crossing his path for the thousandth time. When asked if he’d mistaken me for someone he knew, he says, “No. Just being friendly.”
My friend, FOX 56 news anchor Marvin Bartlett, meets me for milkshakes at Sonic. At a nearby table, some student athletes enjoy a night out after a game. One of them, Jonathan, approaches to ask Marvin a question about his newscast. Jonathan’s mother and teammates huddle around us and join the conversation. Two tables co-existing instead of side-by-side. For a visitor who likes to blend in, that’s a great feeling.
When Joe learns I have little experience with horses, he offers to show me around Keeneland. For three hours, he guides me around the historic property and tells me about the industry. There are few things a person can do that are more generous than giving his time to benefit someone he’s never previously met.
After Jacqueline helps me map out some directions, she says, “Drive safely.” Even though I’m a stranger, she says the words with genuine care, the way parents express them before their son takes a long-distance drive.
I push the Up button and wait for the elevator. When the doors open, three people are already on board. One of them, Lowell, says, “How are you doing?” He extends his hand to shake mine. The gesture—shaking hands with a stranger who enters an elevator—is such an easy one. And yet, I’ve never seen anyone else do it. It intrigues me so much that I join Lowell and two of his friends for breakfast the next morning. A day later, he is still perplexed by being recognized and given a book. He shrugs and says, “What I did was no big deal. It’s what I always do.”
Other recipients expressed similar sentiments to me—wondering aloud if their actions were actually worthy of recognition. From a visitor’s perspective, there is no doubt. It is because these thoughtful acts are so seemingly small that they have such a lasting impact. In brief moments such as these, an outsider gets a glimpse of a community’s true personality. Its residents are not trying to impress. They are simply being themselves. They are acting the way they would act around family and friends.
Ultimately, I think, this is the approach that offers the best opportunity to encourage repeat tourism—to ensure visitors return again and again for years to come. Even better than treating travelers like valued guests, make them feel like they are home.
The First Thirty is available at selected stores in Kentucky. Online, the book can be purchased at GregForbes.com/store. To learn more about The First Thirty Elevator Project, visit GregForbes.com/elevator-project.