By Billie Johnson
On Monday September 21 beginning at 5:30pm our community will experience its first ever large scale celebration of kindness. Although planned within a vigorous and compacted timeframe, the vision for what may transpire at Monday’s Kind Community Kick-Off Celebration has been brewing for years.
Five or six years ago I attended the Bannock County Relay for Life at Davis Field. I acutely remember walking in silence with at 1,000 people during the “luminaria lap.” Through the glow of the candles that lighted the names of loved ones lost to cancer and survivors who have conquered the disease, I could also see those walking with me in a silence barely broken by breathing. There were married couples and divorced parents; former in-laws and grandkids; a republican and a democrat vying for the same office; gays and straights; a team called the “Mormon Moms” and another team who snuck in a flask or two. It was a brief moment of serene and absolute community until I felt a deep frustration build.
In coming together against something so dreadful as cancer, we were giving it such power. Could we possibly come together just because we breathe the same air? Could we give that power to something great? Could the same group of people affected by cancer—which is every group of people—gather to celebrate and remember something beautiful… like kindness?
As the co-founders of Kind Community––together with our supporters, Kind Collaborators and Partners in Kind––we hope the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “yes!”
So what is Kind Community and how did it come to be?
A year ago I began volunteering with the school district’s CAKE award. The award, initiated and funded by the School District 25 Education Foundation, was given to one student a month to recognize Character, Attitude, Kindness and Encouragement. Originally I was asked if I would deliver cupcakes to the CAKE award winner’s class while wearing a cow suit to make it more “memoorable.” I couldn’t resist taking the task a few steps further, and I added a purple cape and matching Converse sneakers. The Cow Crusader for Kindness was born.
As I have seen students from first to twelfth grade react with ‘udder’ glee, I have wished I could share the experience with the whole community. Kids like the cupcakes and the silliness of a cow in a cape, but I think they truly enjoy seeing something so positive be recognized. I do.
That inspiration led me to contact Pocatello’s Mayor Blad last June to see if the City of Pocatello would do something with a similar fanfare to celebrate and recognize kindness—perhaps something to coordinate with back-to-school events. The Mayor was on vacation so I scheduled an appointment two weeks out.
Meanwhile months before, my friends Rainbow Maldonado and Courtney Fisher had approached several school district administrators to secure approval to bring the Kind Campaign’s ‘Finding Kind’ documentary and Kind Club curriculum to students in Pocatello and Chubbuck. The Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized movement, documentary and school program based upon the powerful belief in kindness that brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl “crime.”
After meeting with administrators, teachers and parents repeatedly over the course of several months, a common theme began to develop and crystallize: this endeavor needed to be a community initiative, not just one school assembly. The legwork and logistics of executing the original idea to focus on implementing the Kind Campaign, along with very busy personal and professional lives, was not enough to deter the duo from taking on a project that would soon snowball larger and faster than any of us anticipated.
Courtney remembers, “We were meeting at a coffee shot to hammer out the details of our final proposal to the school district and considering how to get the community involved when Billie happened to stop by. We swapped stories about the different programs we were heading up and ideas exploded about community-wide initiatives to promote and recognize kindness. Billie mentioned she had an upcoming appointment with the Mayor, and all three of us had the same idea at the same time. Billie didn’t hesitate to turn her solo appointment into the three of us pitching our ideas to the Mayor. ”
During that June meeting with Mayor Blad, a whirlwind of brainstorming took place leading to a whiteboard full of ideas. Fortunately our smart phone cameras could simply snap a picture and we didn’t have to transcribe all of the scribbles. We wanted a week-long celebration of kindness surrounding the Kind Campaign’s showing of the “Finding Kind” documentary which the school district had scheduled for this Wednesday September 23. We wanted to have a kickoff event. We wanted to reach out to civic groups, churches, non-profits, businesses and all of the schools in Pocatello and Chubbuck, not just the public schools.
The Kind Community name was selected because we wanted to include both Chubbuck and Pocatello, and when we reached out to Chubbuck’s Mayor England he was on board immediately. Since then, we have reached out to a number of other businesses, non-profit groups and individuals to collaborate under the Kind Community umbrella, and we are riding that momentum as others endeavor to get involved.
Referred to as Partners in Kind, in addition to the Kind Campaign and CAKE program, the Kind Community collective now includes Hitting Hearts, an organization committed to serving individuals with unique challenges in their lives; Mike Sanders and his book Jabbers, Jabberin’ About the Big Bully Curse; Kimberly Paige, reigning Mrs. Bannock County, and her Speak Up Against Bullying Platform; and Derrick Boles’ Stand Up America, a national organization growing its message of “Standing Up” by encouraging people to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and to not make excuses and blame others for their circumstances or situations.
Courtney explains Kind Community like this, “We seek to promote and connect one another working toward similar goals that advocate kindness—whether it’s kindness toward one another, kindness to our bodies, our pets, or our environment. We can practice kindness in any number of arenas.”
Rainbow adds, “We love southeast Idaho. This is our home and we love raising our families here. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The idea of kindness is timeless, especially in our amazing community, and we are working together to bring it to the foreground.”
A spotlight on kindness will shine brightly on Monday evening at the Kind Community Kick-Off celebration, slated at the new wellness complex on Olympus and Chubbuck Road. This free community celebration features mini-clinics and wellness activities for both kids and adults led by ISU student athletes and local businesses, from rock climbing and aerial yoga to paddle boarding, canoeing, and a Ninja Warrior-inspired obstacle course. The evening’s entertainment features a sneak peek of Mystique Theater’s The Addam’s Family, a Musical comedy, performances by the ISU Children’s Chorus and Brindusa Moore Ballet Academy, live music by Kyd J, food for purchase by Efresh, and a Keynote address by Stand Up America’s, Derrick Boles.
Derrick Boles is a former Idaho State student athlete who has come to be recognized as one of the most dynamic speakers in the country. His talks tackle the fundamental character of our culture and he speaks to the core of Kind Community. If we want positive things to happen, we have to Stand Up and be that positivity.
The Kick-Off is a true celebration of Pocatello and Chubbuck and the individuals who live, work, play and go to school here. But the launch is just the beginning.
From a vision about a community that celebrates something as simple and beautiful as kindness, Kind Community has grown exponentially in just a few months because there is a prevailing urgency and motivation among us to create this type of positive, proactive engagement. The Kind Community collaborative has not only grown but thrived through the guidance, feedback and inspiration of our partners and sponsors as well as the administrators at School District 25 and the Mayors of both Pocatello and Chubbuck.
Last week at both City Council meetings, Mayor Blad and Mayor England read a proclamation signed by themselves as well as all three of the Bannock County commissioners that stated, “We, the undersigned, do hereby proclaim September 21 through 27, 2015 to be KIND COMMUNITY WEEK in Pocatello, Chubbuck and Bannock county and urge our citizens to be more than bystanders when it comes to kindness. Make the choice every day to be kind and integrate kindness into your daily lives. “
We are beyond happy to see our leaders making the choice to encourage kindness and support Kind Community. Becoming a part of the Kind Community collaborative isn’t a pledge toward perfection. It’s a commitment to celebrate diverse efforts to uphold and bolster a shared vision for creating and ensuring a Kind Community. Some might say it’s about time. We say, it’s about kind.
Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at www.CowSuitSaturday.com.