Lebanon students take on 15-Day Kindness Challenge

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Lebanon - posted Tue., Oct. 29, 2013
Brian Williams, from Think Kindness, tapes a video message aimed at Lebanon middle school students at Lyman Memorial High School on Oct. 24. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Brian Williams, from Think Kindness, tapes a video message aimed at Lebanon middle school students at Lyman Memorial High School on Oct. 24. Photos by Melanie Savage.

"Three-hundred million children can’t afford shoes,” read the statement projected onto a large screen behind presenter Brian Williams in the Lyman Memorial High School gymnasium on the morning of Oct. 24. Williams said, "2.4 billion pairs of shoes are purchased in the U.S. every year.” What happens to the old ones? They go into the landfill, said Williams, or sit unused in the bottom of a closet.

In 2009, Williams challenged two elementary schools to compete to collect as many used shoes as they could. The resulting 8,000 pairs were taken to an orphanage in central Kenya. A young girl named Grace, sold into slavery by her grandmother at the age of 9 after both of her parents died of AIDS, was given her very first pair of shoes. In gratitude, she recorded a poem for Williams. He played the recording for the Lyman students. The entire student body listened intently, as Grace talked of the struggles she’d endured, including the uncertainty of living under her own HIV diagnosis. But she also talked of immortality. If you want to live forever, said Grace, “Live a life worth living.”

Grace tries to complete an act of kindness every day, explained Williams, encouraging the students to do the same. “There are so many adults out there that think you can’t make a difference in the world,” said Williams, challenging the students to prove them wrong. A 15-Day Kindness Challenge, undertaken jointly by the students in both the high school and the middle school, would aim to make a difference within the local community and beyond. “We’re going to spark a massive ripple of kindness throughout your community,” said Williams.

The students’ challenge was two-pronged. The two schools would compete to collect as many items as possible to send overseas to American troops. At the same time, they would receive a card, to be passed onto someone else along with a random act of kindness. Each card had a homepage which could track each transaction, explained Williams.

A child in Carson City, Nev., had bought coffee for a man whose brother was fighting overseas. Having already traveled to New York City, the card was still being passed around. “Your goal is to get the kindness to spread outside your community,” said Williams. “We’re proving to them that you can make a difference in the world.”

The 15-Day Kindness Challenge is part of a “Kindness Through Words” theme being embraced by the Lyman student body during the course of the school year. Williams is the founder of Think Kindness, an organization which continues to sponsor shoe drives, but which has evolved into a movement to inspire kindness among students of all ages nationwide.

“Think Kindness inspires measurable acts of Kindness in schools and communities around the world,” according to the organization’s website (www.thinkkindness.org). “We believe that each act of kindness, no matter how small, has an unforeseeable ripple effect that makes the world a better place,” reads the site.

Lyman students were enthusiastic about the assembly. “The poem that Grace read was really emotional,” said senior Patrick Hurst, a member of the school’s Diversity Club. “Everybody’s walking around with their Nikes, and some kids don’t even have enough money to buy shoes.”

The high school has actively promoted an atmosphere of kindness and acceptance over the past several years, sponsoring speakers and activities that reinforce the themes. According to Hurst, the efforts are bearing fruit. “I think this school has way fewer cliques than any other I know of,” he said.

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