In early 2017, pro basketball sensation Jimmer Fredette was living in China when he became friends with Greg Cook, one of the founders of the essential oils company DoTERRA. Fredette told him about his anti-bullying initiatives that he had already helped foster in both Provo, Utah, and in Idaho, and they decided that it was time to expand the initiative with a focus on schools. Together, they gathered school principals, business leaders, and community leaders to form the Choose Kindness organization in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Teaching Kindness in Schools
Charlene Day took over the Choose Kindness organization in 2019 and has worked closely with various schools and their Parent Teacher Associations.
“Each school does things a little differently,” she says. “Usually, they prepare a monthly lesson to promote kindness and have an activity throughout the school year, such as creating a kindness paper chain.”
For these chains, students and staff write down kind things they have done for people on a slip of paper. They then staple the ends together in a loop that can be added as a link in a growing chain. By the end of the school year, the chain wraps around the entire school. Each school also created an official Kindness Club to help coordinate charitable efforts. Currently, every school in Pleasant Grove is participating in the Choose Kindness initiative.
A Community Effort
Brooklin Burns was Miss Pleasant Grove in 2019 and continued her role in 2020 because of the pandemic. As part of her public outreach campaign, she created a nonprofit organization called The Ripple Effect, which is focused on promoting acts of kindness. (To learn more, visit thepositiverippleeffect.com or follow the.ripple_effect on Instagram.)
Burns teaches a kindness lesson to the high school clubs, and then the high school students teach these lessons in local elementary schools.
“The high school kids see the impact they make on these younger kids,” she says. “They are getting those good feels.”
At the high school level, the Kindness Club holds assemblies at elementary schools throughout the school year and organizes monthly events.
The assembly is called “Kindness Is Our Superpower,” and members of the Kindness Club come dressed up as superheroes. For many of these assemblies, Fredette makes an appearance to inspire the students. The assembly focuses on strategies to promote kindness, such as encouraging students to enlarge their circle of friends and finding lonely kids so they can be included.
Many of the students love to be involved. Lydia Gabbard, a student at Pleasant Grove High School, says, “I love how the Kindness Club is so involved with the community as well as the high school! I love going to all the elementary schools and seeing the big smiles on everyone’s faces as we teach about spreading kindness.”
“Kindness Club is amazing because it gives me multiple opportunities to spread and teach kindness in ways that work with my schedule! There are enough activities we participate in that everyone gets a chance to help often. I’ve liked being able to help with some of our school’s blood drives and even donating in it myself, making a difference to someone whether they knew it or not,” says Alexandra Harding from the Pleasant Grove High School Kindness Club. “One of my favorite memories is when we went to an elementary school and taught about the power of kindness. It was really fun going to different classrooms while wearing superhero capes as we discussed some of the many ways you can be kind. You don’t have to be in a club to be kind, but it’s nice to be surrounded by other people who are being kind!”
Making an Impact
Day has seen firsthand the impact that these assemblies have had on students.
“There was one girl, Katelyn, who was mute by choice when she came to school,” she recalls. “After Brooklin came to teach lessons, she started to warm up and started to stand by her and started to talk to her. The first time they went to the assembly, she just stood there. The second time, she sang the song they were learning. It helped her to share kindness with others even though it was hard for her. It was a sweet little miracle.”
Day adds, “Kindness can impact people in individual ways, and they don’t have to look the same from everyone.”
Burns approached the mayor and Pleasant Grove city council to propose the idea of a month of kindness. They thought it was a great concept, and the mayor made it official. Together, the Choose Kindness organization and the Ripple Effect created several activities surrounding Choose Kindness Month and spearheaded school assemblies to teach students about kindness. There is a different invitation or challenge for each day, which the schools announce on a daily basis. Members of the community can follow along with the calendar posted on the Choose Kindness website.
A Month of Kindness
The Choose Kindness Month begins with a kickoff event for the community. This year, Cosmo the Cougar, the Brigham Young University mascot, made an appearance, as did the local fire department with their fire trucks. At the end of the month, they wrap everything up with a community service project.
One year, the Kindness Clubs at the high schools collected donated socks for people in need, such as refugees and the homeless. Last year, they made blankets and cards for hospital patients. This year, in conjunction with the organization Housing Connect in Salt Lake City, local schools did a service project for refugees. This entailed putting together packages for refugee families, including personal and cleaning supplies for the adults and books and games for the children. They then bundled everything together in baskets and distributed them to refugees who are trying to get on their feet.
Several local businesses and residents have joined in as well. Zeke Perry, owner of Zeke’s Daylight Donuts, saw the announcement about the refugee service project from last year and came to a donation site with a big box of games and books and a $100 bill. During Choose Kindness Month, local resident David Hartle, with the help of Choose Kindness, wanted to make a visual reminder that everyone in town could see. Together, they backpacked up the mountain and created an enormous red heart out of solar lights that shone all month long.
The ideas that Pleasant Grove has put into place are starting to spread, and other Utah schools have reached out to ask how they run their program. Recently, Bountiful High School held a kindness assembly, and afterward the high school launched a kindness week and a program of kindness clips, where students write something nice on a clothespin and then pin it on a backpack of another student. The hope is that this trend will continue to grow, creating not only a community but an entire state that has kindness at its core.
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