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Cats deserve kindness, too: Lake Park woman to use ‘kindness grant’ to build catio for Marshmallow Foundation

MKRO kindness grant recipient Connie Hammes, Lake Park, cuddles with Kalani, one of the 80-plus feline residents at the Marshmallow Foundation where she currently volunteers and works part-time. Hammes plans to use the $250 grant to help build a 'catio' for their cats to enjoy the outdoors. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 2
Margo is one of the 80-plus feline residents at Detroit Lakes' Marshmallow Foundation who are awaiting adoption. The cats spend much of their time "behind bars," so to speak, living in cages far from the sunlight that they so love to lounge in. A new catio would allow them to not only enjoy the outdoors safely, but also spend more days in the sun. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 2

"Every act of kindness is like a pebble thrown in a pond, sending out ripples far beyond where the pebble entered the water. When we're caring and kind to our neighbors, our actions send rings of kindness that spread from neighbor to neighbor to neighbor." — Angela Artemis

Though most Detroit Lakes area residents know about the Humane Society of the Lakes and the wonderful work it does to help rescue abandoned animals — its sister animal rescue nonprofit, the Marshmallow Foundation, doesn't have quite the same name recognition, so when longtime Marshmallow volunteer Connie Hammes learned of an opportunity to apply for a grant that would help raise their profile, while at the same time making life a little better for some of their four-legged residents, she took it.

"One day when I was searching the web for some positive news (to counteract all the negative stories), I stumbled across the website for (nonprofit organization) Matt's Kindness Ripples On," said Hammes on Thursday. "I saw that they were looking to give away these grants for random acts of kindness, and I thought, 'Gosh, Marshmallow could really use a 'catio' (i.e., a patio for cats), so I applied and they emailed me back saying, 'We'd really like to help fund this project.'"

In her application, Hammes wrote, "I've volunteered at the Marshmallow Foundation for the last three years, and currently work in their office part time. Marshmallow serves as the local pound and rescue for area dogs and cats. My main focus here is the cats — we have over 80 cats at the moment.

"As a nonprofit, Marshmallow depends on donations to stay operational. That said, there are seldom extra funds for special projects such as the one I'm going to suggest: I'd like to put up a 'Catio' for all of the cats at Marshmallow to enjoy."

Hammes said on Thursday that she thought of the catio project because Marshmallow currently has just one window in the cat room.

"Knowing how much cats love to lounge in the sun, that's just not enough," she said. "There's only space for one or two of them to sit in front of the window at a time, so it's prime territory."

By building a new catio adjacent to that window, it will not only give more cats the opportunity to lounge in the sun, but expand their recreational space as well, Hammes added.

"It's hard enough seeing the cats in cages day after day and in the summer months it's even harder," she said. "Cats can feel high anxiety, exhibit bad kitty behavior, lethargy and 'fat cat' symptoms from the stresses of indoor confinement." Matt Kurtz was a young man whose life inspired Matt's Kindness Ripples On (MKRO), a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that was established after his death in 2017.

According to his mother, Jackie Kurtz, Matt was "a young man whose personal philosophy was to live an honorable, compassionate and non-judgmental life — to give for the sake of giving, to expect nothing in return, to be aware of the world around him, and to step in to help others without being asked whenever he saw the need.

"Matt believed in the ripple effect of a simple act of kindness," she added. "Like a pebble dropped in water, it goes on and on."

Kurtz said that she and the others at MKRO felt Hammes' act-of-kindness project at Detroit Lakes' Marshmallow Foundation was a perfect example of the organization's motto: "Making the world better, one kindness at a time."

"Matt Kurtz was a huge believer in the Humane Society — he got his puppy from the Wisconsin Humane Society — so we knew he would be happy to support this act of kindness," said the press release announcing the award.

Though the plan was to give one $250 kindness grant each year, Kurtz said, they were able to fund two this year, thanks to a generous gift from a donor in honor of her mother, Pat Mertens, "who made giving a way of life."

The other inaugural MKRO kindness grant was awarded to Maryland resident Jude Al-Hamad, who will use the gift to support one of her favorite local charities, Believe In Tomorrow.

"It is an amazing organization that brings comfort, hope, and joy to children and their families, renewing their spirits, by providing exceptional respite housing services to critically ill children and their families," Al-Hamad wrote in her grant application. "For the past two years, I have initiated a project to collect items and needs for the Believe in Tomorrow House By the Sea. We have been able to collect and donate $1,230 worth of summer necessities. With the $250, I would make care packages or fulfill the wants of a child staying at Believe In Tomorrow. It is such an amazing organization and I would love to spread kindness and help them out."

"We think this is a wonderful way to touch the lives of such children," Kurtz said. "Matt's Kindness Ripples On believes in encouraging acts of kindness. We know that kindness is never wasted, it's contagious and can have profound consequences. Everyday small acts of kindness matter. They have a ripple effect — while you can't always see the consequences, they ripple out and touch so many lives.

"There are compassionate people everywhere who may have wonderful ideas for kindness projects, and are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to carry them out, but lack the funding to follow through on their ideas. That's where the Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant comes in. We encourage anyone with an act of kindness idea to apply for our bi-annual grant; we want to help you spread kindness and compassion in our world."

For more information, or to apply for a kindness grant, please visit the website, https://mattskindnessrippleson.com, and click on the "Get Involved" link at the top of the page.

We at the Detroit Lakes Tribune thought this story would be the perfect opportunity to revive our series, "Pebbles in the Pond," which details the random acts of kindness — some little, some large — that local individuals and businesses contribute to the community, purely for the sake of putting a smile on someone's face. If you have a story to tell about a person, group or business in this area that has embraced the idea of 'giving back' to the community, please contact Vicki Gerdes at 218-844-1454 or vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454