kindness activist

kindness activist

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Springtime Kindness

We live smack dab on a busy corner.  We have traffic pretty much 24/7 and people biking, jogging, and walking by a lot.  To some people this location might be a bit too noisy, too busy, and annoying.  To me, it is LOVELY!  I like to eat breakfast and look out the window to see people walking by.   I like to have dinner on the front porch on warm summer nights and see cars driving by (though the occasional fire truck that blares past the house can be a bit loud…).  In short, this is a great location for us.

Another reason that this corner of two busy streets works so well is that it means I can use our little piece of the world to SPREAD KINDNESS.  I often have what I call “front gate projects”, especially when spring and summer weather hit.  I have done front gate projects asking people to examine what Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy meant to them ( Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy link ), in winter I giveaway warm clothing ( Warm Kindness link ) and lots of other things.  I express creativity and kindness on our gate!  😊 

So, when the weather started warming up last week, I started planning my newest front gate project – PROJECT SPRING!!  I got some plastic Easter eggs through our local Buy Nothing group (Buy Nothing is a cool concept – the sharing economy.  Here is a link to a story about Buy Nothing - Washington Post Buy Nothing story link.  Check and see if there is a Buy Nothing group near you, and if there is not, set one up!!)  So anyway, with Buy Nothing, you list things that you have that you want to GIVE AWAY for free, and people contact you if they would like them.  Someone listed a big bag of plastic eggs to give away, and I picked them up.

Each egg has a ribbon on the top and TREATS inside!
I cleaned them, sorted them, and glued ribbons onto each of them.  Then started the FUN PART:  filling them!!  I put treats in each egg – candy, bubble gum, super balls, little toy cars, stickers, change, 1 egg was larger and I fit a little bottle of bubbles in there, and 2 of the eggs had dollar bills 😊.  Each egg also contained a little slip of paper wishing people a happy spring and telling them about Kindness Activist, so they can join in the movement!  I also made a sign to hang on the gate so people would understand that these eggs were for SHARING, not just for decoration.

Then I HUNG THEM UP!!  I tied them with ribbons carefully to the fence on the Saturday before Easter.  Oh, I should point out that I wanted to make sure that these eggs were not seen solely as gifts for those who celebrate EASTER.  I mean, the egg is traditionally a symbol for Easter, but I have Muslim neighbors, Jewish neighbors, and I am sure many who do not have any connection to a religion.  So when I posted about the project to my local neighborhood Facebook group and to the Buy Nothing group, I explained that the eggs were for all ages and all beliefs – they are to celebrate spring time!!
Pick an egg, any egg
Celebrate SPRING!

It has been so sweet seeing people come and get eggs!!  The first 2 people I saw stop were teenage girls, and they were excited to get involved!   I have seen families come by and get eggs, couples, and kids.  Everyone left with an egg in their hand and a smile on their face.

Kindness can be super easy to spread.  It just takes an bit of inspiration, an idea, and in my case, a front gate.

HAPPY SPRING.  May the sunshine inspire you to spread kindness.  

(You can follow Kindness Activist on Twitter at @KindActivist and on Facebook at Kindness Activist  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Stuffed Animal Kindness

I parked at Ikea this sunny afternoon and was surprised to find THIS on my walk into the store:

A vehicle with a STUFFED MONKEY on the side mirror.  Isn’t it fabulous??? 

It made me smile.  It made me curious.  It made me so happy!  And it made me wonder…  How did that monkey GET there???  Did someone see it outside the vehicle on the ground and think the people dropped it getting out, so “returned” it??  Did the owners always put a little monkey on their mirror when they went in places, maybe making it easier to find their car later??  Or did someone GIFT it to the people from the car, put it on there while the car owners were in Ikea shopping????  That was the theory I went with – a GIFT!

But then, of course, my mind started wondering MORE…  Who gifted it??  And WHY?  Was it maybe an inside joke between friends?  Was it a gift between lovers??  Or did a complete stranger just decide, “I am going to give these people this adorable stuffed monkey!”???  Such a MYSTERY!

But since I was the one that saw it, and since I got to do the pondering about it and enjoy it, I decided on this theory:

A complete stranger bought this brand new cute stuffed monkey.  They bought it for the sole purpose of surprising a stranger with it, and today was the day! 

And then I became inspired… 

You know, the whole premise behind the Kindness Activist project is this:  if we see kindness in action, if we receive it or are told about it, we in turn are inspired to BE KIND – to go out and spread more kindness in the world ourselves. 

SO THAT IS JUST WHAT I DID!!!  I got everything I had come to get at Ikea (and then some, because that is what always happens at Ikea…).  Then I headed for the children’s section to check out the stuffed animals.  To my surprise, the monkey from the parking lot was NOT being sold at Ikea.  But there WERE lots of other stuffed things to choose from!  (Side note: I often look at Ikea’s stuffed toy collection, and it is bizarre…  I don’t know if you have checked it out before, but they have strange stuff!!  For years they have had a stuffed red heart with ARMS – why it has arms I am not sure – but that one is on clearance now (so if you are really hankering for a heart with arms better rush to Ikea soon…).  They have, I am not making this up, STUFFED VEGETABLES.  Today I saw stuffed BROCCOLI.  I like broccoli as much as the next guy, but I don’t think if I was a kid I would want to PLAY WITH IT.  And they have these little stuffed RATS.  I have always thought they were gross and wondered WHO in the world buys them.  Today I found out – 7 year old boys seem to think they are amazing!  “Mom, look, a little stuffed RAT!”.  Ewwww.

Anyway, I narrowed it down to a stuffed bunny and a stuffed panda.  In the end, the panda won out.  I checked out, put my purchases in my car, and set off with the panda to find the perfect car to put it on!! 

The Ikea parking lot is crowded on the weekends,
so there were loads of cars to choose from
I decided I would choose a car with a car seat in it, because not all adults dig stuff animals but I THINK all kids car seat size do.  So I found this car, and I put the panda on it:

Panda hiding on unsuspecting car...
Doesn’t it look cute??? 

Cute little panda butt
I watched as a couple of people walked back to their cars in the area, but they weren’t the owners of the “lucky car”, so I left.  I put a Kindness Activist card with the bear, so the people who find it would know it was done in kindness and wasn’t, like, some skanky old bear with poison on it or something 😊.  So maybe they will find it and send me a photo, who knows.

What I do know is that was $4.99 well spent.  It was fun picking it out, fun choosing which car to put it on, and fun imagining the people’s surprise when they found it. 

Thanks for inspiring me, stuffed monkey giver

And maybe reading this has inspired YOU to do something kind for a stranger on a sunny spring day.  I hope so!

(You can follow Kindness Activist on Twitter @KindActivist and on Facebook at Kindness Activist)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Books - WE DID IT

My friends, we did it.

I asked for your help, your kindness, and you overwhelmingly responded.  It was the perfect reminder to me that, as Helen Keller said, “Alone, I can do so little.  Together, we can do so much.”

When I heard that the Reading Coach at Gomez Heritage Elementary School, Tanya Becker, had died suddenly at only 48 years old, it moved me.  And as I saw her co-workers, mostly my sister Sherry, grieve for the tremendous loss, I decided that I wanted to do something.  But in situations like that, what is there to DO, right?  Send a card, maybe bake a casserole… Those types of situations feel so overwhelming that it seems like nothing can be done.

Gomez Heritage Elementary School
Maybe it was because I was taking serious painkillers for a surgery I had just had, but I thought of an idea: COLLECT ENOUGH DONATED BOOKS TO GIVE ONE TO EVERY CHILD AND STAFF MEMBER AT TANYA’S SCHOOL.  Reading was her mission, and by giving everyone a book, we could help carry that mission on!

Tanya Becker, an inspirational woman
So I texted my sister and asked if she thought the idea would be a respectful way to honor Tanya and if the school would allow me to do it.  She thought it sounded great, so a plan had been born. 

Only, in my drugged up post-surgery state, I hadn’t considered EVERYTHING…  Most blatantly, I hadn’t asked the critical question, “How many books/people are we talking about here?”.   And now that the project is done and we have succeeded, I guess I am glad I didn’t ask for numbers in the beginning, because hearing the answer – a little over 1,000 books needed to be collected in only one month – might have scared me away!!

I set about DOING.  I looked through my own bookshelves for books in good shape that I could donate.  But the most important thing I did was to write a blog piece that explained the mission, the project.  I posted it, and it started to spread.  People read it.  People contacted me.  People shared the post.  And it grew, oh boy did it grow!!  To date well over 4,000 people have read it!  You can see the original story here:  Your Kindness Needed post

Then, the most beautiful thing happened -  people got involved.  I got emails from so many kind-hearted souls wanting to pitch in!  I was honored to hear from some of Tanya’s family members, sorority sisters, and former classmates and students.  Her co-workers at Gomez contacted me.  Schools contacted me.  Offices pitched in.  Facebook groups of KIND PEOPLE shared and donated. People from all over the country were eager to help out, many (like me) who had never had the good fortune of meeting Tanya.

Books starting arriving.
And they just KEPT ON COMING!

Kemper and Tallis with just a few of the
donated books at their house!

And before long, the books and gift cards started arriving.  It was fabulous!!  We set up 4 drop off points: my house in Arlington, VA for my neighbors who had read the story, my 2 sister’s houses, and my niece’s house (all in the Omaha area).  About a week after I wrote about the project, my phone started buzzing.  Things were arriving every single day!!  One sister would text and say, “A box of books from this person was on my porch when I got home from work!”.  The other sister would text and say, “The UPS man brought another box of brand new books!!”.  My niece would text and say, “My friends all chipped in – we have lots more books!!”. 
This one was great -
Sam I Am becomes Juan Ramon in the Spanish version!
Dr. Seuss books arrived!
We got "Goodnight iPad"

"Goodnight Moon", too

Authors like Mary Amato sent autographed books!
You guys, seeing people getting involved was so inspiring!  Our goal of 1,000 books seemed huge, but as more people pitched it, it began to look more and more doable.  Even AUTHORS donated and were gracious enough to autograph their books!!  A non-profit group in Omaha offered to help us meet our goal if we needed assistance.  And one retired teacher in Omaha donated her WHOLE COLLECTION of books that she had used in the classroom for years – boxes and boxes and boxes of books!  It was amazing!

Mrs. Rohwer's husband delivered her entire collection of classroom books!

A very special in-person book deliver from Mrs. Becker's family 
You might recognize Kindness Activist Brenda,
seen here delivering books she and her
office mates collected!

Author/Editor Megan Scribner autographing two very special books to donate
We got books of every type you can imagine.  We got:  paperbacks, hard covers, Spanish, picture books, adult books, kid books, books of literally every size, shape, and topic imaginable!!!!  And I had some stickers designed to put inside the front covers of each book to remind the recipients how much Mrs. Becker loved them, and of the importance of continuing to READ!

This was the image on the stickers - Mrs. Becker often made her hands into this heart shape
As books continued to pour in, I realized I had to go to Omaha for the delivery.  I mean, the whole project was so inspiring and it was growing by leaps and bounds, so I didn’t want to miss the big delivery day!  I booked a ticket on Southwest Airlines, knowing that they allow for 2 free checked bags and anticipating I would use that allowance to haul BOOKS! 

I flew to Omaha (with 98.5 lbs of luggage, most of which was books!) a few days before the “giveaway” day and we set about ORGANIZING.  We needed 1,000 books, but we got FAR, FAR more than that!!  We ended up getting over 5,000 books!!!  Yes, FIVE TIMES the amount we asked for!!  We didn’t even have to contact the non-profit who was our “back-up” in case we didn’t meet the goal.  It was so inspiritng!!!  It was also exhausting, and took a houseful of family members hours and hours to organize. 

Annette, going through a box of donations

Even the school PRINCIPAL, Mr. Campin, helped out!

At the end of the organizing party - whew there were LOTS of books (this picture only shows a fraction of them!)

Stickers getting ready to be put in
Because we had so many books, it allowed us to not only give a book to each Gomez person, but to help stock a reading area at the school that the PTO Is planning in Mrs. Becker’s memory, and ALSO to help some brand new teachers at the school start their very own classroom libraries!  We know that Tanya would have been thrilled to help with that. 

My sister Sherry and I filmed a piece to be shown on the school news the morning of the giveaway so that each classroom would understand the project.  We wanted to be honest without being too sad, and to speak to the students on their level.  We decided to end the piece by reading a book called, “The Goodbye Book” by Todd Parr, a children’s author that I love.  Let me just say this; we had to practice a few times before filming to make sure we could get through the book without crying too hard.  You can see the Gomez video here: Gomez TV Mrs. Becker story (scroll down until you see us in yellow and blue t-shirts).

The day of the giveaway was overwhelming.  Students and staff were SO APPRECIATIVE.  

We began by displaying the adult books in a teacher work room, and also putting up a shadow box we had made in Tanya’s memory.  As soon as the books were out, teachers and staff began coming in and looking through them.  It was terrific.   

Shadow Box for Gomez

Adult books ready for staff to peruse!
We had pre-sorted the books separated into reading levels, so when the bell rang and school started we were ready to go!  My sisters and I each had a decorated cart piled high with books for the grade level we were going to visit, and off we went!!  We started with the itty bitties, and boy was it beautiful!!

Would anyone like a BOOK??  :)
In each classroom I explained why I was there and then laid far more books than were needed on a rug.  We wanted to make sure that not only did students get a book, but they had a CHOICE in their book.  They.  Loved.  It.  Some kids literally squealed with delight at the idea of getting their very own book to bring home with them!!!  I heard this phrase often throughout the day, “But there are soooo many books, too many to choose!!!!!”  One little boy described the rug full of books to choose from as a “BOOK VOLCANO”!!!!  And one child in a second grade classroom that Sherry visited proclaimed that the book he was given was his very first ever book to keep.  Imagine!! 

The book hand-out crew
We got so many hugs, so many thank you s, and some tears from teachers.  But most of all, we got LOVE.  It was clear that this day of giving, this day of books, meant far more than words on paper.  It was a day to remember Tanya, to celebrate her life and her mission, to grieve. 

So friends, THANK YOU.  Thanks to those who sent books, donations, or gift cards.  Thanks to those who sent encouraging words.  Thanks to those who believed we could do it!  WE DID IT!!!!!!

Special thanks to the on-the-scene helpers:  Sherry, Jim, Annette, Jordan, Zach, Ashlee (who also helped at Gomez), Kemper, Tallis, and Ryker

Lessons learned from this humongous act of kindness:

·         If you ask for help, you are likely to get it
·         In times of sorrow, people want to help but are not sure how to.  If you give them something concrete to do, they appreciate it.  They have a way to help, and their actions make the world a better place.
·         Children are very appreciative.
·         There are plenty of kind people in the world.
·         Don’t be afraid to set a lofty goal – because you just might reach it.

That’s a wrap!  We do not need any more donations, so if you have books to give, please consider donating them to another charity. 

Thanks for being SO KIND.

The end of a very long, very beautiful, VERY SPECIAL day.  There are signs all around the school that proclaim their values, but I didn't notice the one on the door behind us until now:  GRATITUDE.
Yes, gratitude that such a wonderful lady touched so many lives and brought so much love to the world.
Tanya Becker, you are missed.