With the lightning speed made possible by the use of social media, Ascencia, the city's winter homeless shelter, became the apparent beneficiary of a $2,000 gift from British magnate Sir Richard Branson. It was an extraordinarily simple effort that started with just one tweet from an Aliso Viejo woman's Twitter account.

Before Christmas, Shannon Smith tweeted that she wanted to spend a day in Branson's shoes. The London-based founder and chairman of the Virgin Group responded by sending Smith a pair of his sneakers. On Christmas Eve, she wore those shoes while volunteering at Ascencia's 80-bed shelter in the National Guard Armory on Colorado Street.

A savvy woman, Smith sent Virgin a video of herself, wearing its chairman's size 101/2 sneakers while serving at the Glendale shelter. On Jan. 22, Branson tweeted to Virgin's 18,300-plus Twitter followers that Smith's video was inspiring, and that they in turn could “make a difference too” by tweeting “#shoeathon.” For every such tweet, $1 would be donated to the shelter, up to $2,000.

In no time, there were 2,000 “#shoeathon” tweets, so the pledge will be fulfilled by Branson's nonprofit Virgin Unite and phone company Virgin Mobile. Ascencia, which has found itself turning away up to a dozen people a night during recent inclement weather, will see a little extra cash in its coffers.

Although it would be great if all of Smith's Twitter followers also wrote checks to Ascencia, in this case all they were asked to do was send out the specified tweet, and Branson's organization did the rest. All it really took was a little creativity on one woman's part to engage interest. It's an exciting example of what one can do to help make a difference in others' lives.