PARKLAND, Fla. - A volunteer firefighter from New York has made it his mission to make people smile, even if only for a minute, to honor those who can't do that themselves anymore. That mission brought him to Parkland.
“Kindness is the common thread that sows us all together," said Tommy Maher of South Hempstead, NY.
Last year, Maher traveled 9,500 miles across the country doing random acts of kindness in the hometowns of the 58 victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
"There’s no better way to remember than to honor by doing good things," he said.
When the shooting happened at Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, he knew what he needed to do.
“Honor them as best I can because they didn’t deserve what happened to them," he said.
Maher got in his van, which is aptly labeled with the phrase "pay it forward," and he started driving south.
On the way down to Florida, Maher gave out gift cards, paid for gas and groceries and even paid for a veteran’s hotel room.
Every act of kindness is accompanied with an "#honor17" bracelet and a card that has the name and picture of a victim who inspired that act of kindness.
“You never know how someone’s day is going and then a moment like that can just completely shift and change how they’re going to feel the rest of the day," he said.
Since being in Parkland, Maher has left soccer balls and basketballs at parks, given gift cards to deputies, delivered boxes of chocolates to librarians and more. He shares pictures of all of the acts of kindness on the Facebook page Honor17.
"It all just depends on the dynamic of where I am, what’s around me," Maher said. "Sometimes I’ll just be driving and I’ll think of something and I’ll just do it."
While buying gift cards to put on car windshields in Coral Springs Monday, Maher spotted the car of the Coral Springs Fire Department's chaplain in the parking lot. He went inside the neighboring restaurant where the chaplain was eating lunch and paid for his meal.
“I was very honored and touched," said Ron Perkins, chaplain for Coral Springs Fire Department. "It’s the first time that anything like this has happened to me.”
Maher also gave Perkins' waitress, Letizia Atwell, a $40 tip.
"It’s amazing when people can shine a little bit of light in a dark time," said Atwell, who works at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza. "Everything is appreciated."
Maher said he initially funded his random acts of kindness himself, but people in his community in New York now help him out.
He plans to head back to New York this week, but he hopes he’s inspired others to keep the chain of kindness going.
"Hopefully the kindness continues and I like that phrase, 'Just be the good,'" he said.
People around the country have been posting pictures of their own random acts of kindness in honor of the 17 Douglas shooting victims with the hashtag #honor17. You can follow Maher's journey at Honor17.