Mary O’Donohue is easy to talk to. Warm and genuine, the author and mother of two attracts instantly, and maybe that’s why O’Donohue’s book (aimed at ingraining morals in children) When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, had such a resonating effect on someone without kids.
A Chicago native, O’Donohue’s statements are codified truisms – wishes that I’m sure every parent has for their children but has most likely never vocalized. Read: “I can’t let raising ethical children slip through the cracks.” But the statements never seem lofty, as O’Donohue developed a month-by-month plan to execute to the goal of turning her children into grateful human beings (not just the kind who blurt out “thank you” insincerely).
The introduction of the text has one basic premise: saying “thank you” is different than being thankful. O’Donohue’s assertion reaches more than just the audience looking for parenting advice; when asked if the book’s lessons were supposed to be geared towards wider group, if they were supposed to be lessons for adults as well, O’Donohue responded that she didn’t originally think of the book in that light. But after feedback from readers, “I do now.”
“I didn’t realize what I was starting,” says O’Donohue. “It’s not an exercise anymore. It’s how we live.”
O’Donohue shared a story with me involving her 10-year-old daughter’s passion for charity: “There is a box, you know, a charity box for animal shelters you dump your change in at a restaurant we go to. My daughter is a big animal lover, so every time we visit she drops a quarter in the box. The other day, I noticed she was collecting change on her own. She was raising money on her own to send to a local shelter.”
The text is full of anecdotal evidence gathered from Mary’s two children, Conor and Grace. But O’Donohue’s family-focused projects don’t end there. Her new venture, an online message board and support forum aimed at encouraging people to share their stories of giving back named The Ripple Effect, stemmed from her husband’s side of the family. Uncle Pete, who worked as a church’s custodian and embedded himself as a sort of Chicago charitable institution, is known as much in Chicago’s nonprofit community as in O’Donohue’s own family. “He had a line out the door for his funeral,” O’Donohue recalls. “Twelve priests participated in the ceremony.”
Taking Uncle Pete’s cue, O’Donohue began The Ripple Effect as a way to “carry on (Uncle Pete’s) mission of caring and giving.” When asked if O’Donohue wanted to mention any specific charities to participate in, she replied, unforgivingly, that one should “put energy into whatever speaks to your heart and give back.” Perhaps then we might all learn a lesson from Grace and the animal shelter.
For more information, visit www.maryodonohue.com.
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