As a child, I thought a birthday during Christmas season was unfortunate. It was usually spent driving to a family Christmas gathering out of state or celebrating a week before or after because friends were always busy with their own families. The worst part, though? The dreaded, “This is your birthday and Christmas present,” people would say with a big smile. As a 10-year-old that meant: One gift. For an entire year. No birthday present.

Fast forward 19 years, and I’m fortunate enough to celebrate the last year of my 20’s. And somewhere in those 29 years of life I came to be known as “The Scrounger.” Some call it cheap. I call it “financially aware.” And what does a “financially aware” twenty-something do to celebrate his last twenty-something? He spends the day before his birthday researching which places in town offer free stuff on your birthday. Drinks, food, discounts… It’s not so much the free stuff as it is the thrill of feeling like businesses are rewarding you simply for having been born. And well, yeah, I suppose it’s largely the free stuff.

After sifting through the best of the best birthday deals in Fargo/Moorhead, I decided to start early, and Shane and I rolled into Denny’s at 7:30am where a full birthday breakfast costs you nothing. Not a cent.

We sat awaiting our server and the menu’s chocolate peanut butter milkshake caught my eye. Just then our server, Leagha, approached and in her casual and personable style began to explain why peanut butter needed to be Jif brand. There was no question. It didn’t matter if you were on your last couple of dollars, you must always spend the extra few quarters on Jif. We laughed. The ice had been broken. She was good.

In just seconds, we learned she was a mother and had spent time in Sudan volunteering. She missed it and would love to get back someday, but money and time are especially precious as a mother. Little did Leagha know, my own sister-in-law is Sudanese, and she and my brother had arrived in town from Singapore just the day before. The connection was immediately apparent and Leagha’s kindness endearing. We watched her interact with Denny’s regulars.

An older couple took a seat in a booth nearby and were greeted by first name. Leagha had a natural ability to make customers feel welcome and clearly cared about being the bright beginning to their chilly winter day. We couldn’t help but notice her charm as she hustled around the restaurant wearing her Santa hat.

We finished our breakfast and agreed we needed to recognize Leagha. It felt only right: Sudan. A birthday. Christmas. Everything just seemed to fit. We wrote her a quick note and attached an extra Christmas tip.

Leagha looked up after seeing her tip and reading the note. “Are you serious?” We assured her we were. “I’m going to have to head back to the kitchen before I start to cry!” she said with big eyes. “I mean it’s your birthday; why are you giving to me?” Our answer? It just felt right.

Giving is a gift in itself. #ProjectWildness #LiveWildness #GoodInspiresGood

To Rhonda and Ken… You asked us to use your donation to brighten the day of a young mother with children and Leagha seemed like the perfect fit. She worked the early morning shift to provide for her and her child and does an incredible job at it. The two of you have been big parts of our lives. From the early days, you were at every basketball and football game showing your support. And not to mention, you raised some pretty great kids yourselves! Thanks for being great people in our lives, and thanks for your support of Project Wildness!

To Brooke D… You sent us on a mission to brighten the day of a young mother (or someone with a broken nose). It just so happens that we found that young mother while celebrating Nate’s birthday – breakfast style. Thank you for sending us on this search and for supporting Project Wildness. Keep doing good and inspiring others!