It's National Random Acts of Kindness Week, and Detroit Lakes is all over it, with its youngest residents leading the charge.
Kids in town have been all over it for about three weeks already, actually, spreading positivity through the school district's "Soaring Kindness" challenge.
In late January, Detroit Lakes Public Schools challenged students to perform random acts of kindness and then nominate other students or classes to do the same. Their efforts have been shared on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #soaringkindness.
Fletcher Nelson's third graders at Rossman Elementary School were the first to take on the challenge. They opted to make cards and drawings to show appreciation for their school staff and also read books to kindergarteners. The kindergarteners paid it forward by making and delivering Valentine's bookmarks around the school.
Also at Rossman, Briana Bahr's fourth graders raised money to 'adopt' two critically endangered animals—an Amur Leopard and a Giant Panda—through an international wildlife organization; it took the kids only three days to meet their fundraising goal.
At Roosevelt Elementary School, kindergarteners from Diana Hedstrom's class made cards with candy bars for their bus drivers and latchkey caregivers. And Haley Weber's kindergarteners made a big basket full of treats for school visitors.
Kids at the Alternative Learning Center accepted the challenge by passing out hot chocolate to students on National Hot Chocolate Day, and also collected donations for Giving Hearts Day.
This Tuesday, Hailey Brevik's fourth grade class at Roosevelt greeted students coming off the bus with signs, stickers and cheers, while over at the high school, ninth grade seminar students donated items to the Detroit Lakes' Everyday Angels Project.
The list of kindnesses goes on, and will only get longer as the challenge continues and spreads to other school districts and states. It has already reached Hawley and Perham.
"Soaring Kindness" originated at Roosevelt, the brainchild of ELL and Wellness Instructor Jackie Quach. Quach said she was inspired by the positivity of the district's students following the Vikings' hard loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 21. Stories of Minnesota fans being treated poorly in Philly made national headlines after that game, but Quach said kids in Detroit Lakes were setting a better example—Nick Alton's fourth graders were getting accolades for their donation to Saints punter Thomas Morstead's foundation, and kids throughout the district were being good to each other even while rooting for competing teams during the playoffs.
Quach explained that a lot of kids were wearing purple Adam Thielen jerseys to show support for their home team—and hometown boy—while others were sporting green Carson Wentz Eagles jerseys (Wentz used to play at North Dakota State University and still has a lot of local fans).
Walking down the school hallway one day, Quach said, "I saw two kids in different jerseys (one purple, one green) and they had their arms around each other, and I just thought, 'That's how it's supposed to be.' I wanted to challenge kids throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Philadelphia to be kind to each other, to teach the fans and adults how to be kind to each other."
After getting the OK from district administrators, Quach made the initial post about the Soaring Kindness challenge on the Detroit Lakes Public Schools Facebook and Twitter pages. She got the ball rolling by challenging Nelson's class, and things took off from there.
"I think on a daily basis we strive to demonstrate kindness in all of our interactions with students and staff and one another," said Trisha Mariotti, principal at Roosevelt. "Jackie put that (the Soaring Kindness challenge) together to show that everybody can get along even if they have different beliefs. We've had teachers nominating teachers and it's just been fun to see things going on in our buildings. It's been exciting to follow."
Local kindness efforts got a boost from outside the schools this week, with Jackie Buboltz and Julie Poore of Essentia Health St. Mary's celebrating National Random Acts of Kindness Week by handing out KIND Bars around town. They brought the popular, healthy snack bars to staff at Lakes Crisis and Resource Center, Bremer Bank, and classes at Rossman and the middle school. The bars were also given out to staff and patients at Essentia that day.
Buboltz said the gesture reflects Essentia's mission and values, which include hospitality, respect, joy and making a healthy difference in people's lives. As she and Poore delivered the bars, they asked recipients to help spread more kindness in return.
Ben Pedersen's fifth grade class was one that got a visit from Buboltz and Poore. He had talked to his students the week before about kindness, emphasizing that acts of kindness should never be done with an expectation of getting something in return. The class talked about community events like Polar Fest and King Isbit's Ice Palace, Pedersen said, and the enormous volunteer effort it takes to make things like that happen.
"Detroit Lakes does a very nice job of putting the idea out there that we're part of something bigger," Pedersen said.
The kids already seem to have a good grasp of that idea. Three of Pedersen's students—Kristina Heinlein, Adia Harrison and Logan Frederickson—all said they've been part of a "pay it forward" chain at local fast-food restaurants (where the person in front of you pays for your order, then you pay for the person behind you, etc.), and they donate clothes they've outgrown to the Boys & Girls Club Thrift Store. Heinlein, who has spent a fair amount of time in hospitals for aural surgeries, even wrote, illustrated and published a book at age six, "Bean's Brave Adventures at Children's Hospital," to comfort other young patients.
Pair those types of efforts with the ongoing Soaring Kindness challenge, and it's clear Detroit Lakes is one of a 'kind.'
National Random Acts of Kindness Week
Observed every February and celebrated this year Feb. 11-17, National Random Acts of Kindness Week is an annual opportunity to unite through kindness. Led by the Random Acts of Kindess Foundation and formally recognized in 2000, this seven-day celebration demonstrates how kindness starts with one—one act, one smile, one coffee for a stranger, one favor for a friend. It's an opportunity for participants to leave the world better than they found it and inspire others to do the same. The last day of the event, Feb. 17, is also Random Acts of Kindness Day.