Welcome to the first “Letter From the Trenches.” Intended to inspire and motivate all of us, these letters are written by activists for activists, and will highlight some of the work that’s making a difference in our world.
Our first Letter is from Stacie, who shares how her 5-year-old is saving the world – one act of kindness at a time. And don’t miss the adorable interview that she conducted of Xander at the end!
SAVING THE WORLD (AND YOURSELF) ONE ACT OF KINDNESS AT A TIME
(AND OTHER LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM MY 5-YEAR-OLD)
Last summer, my son and I started a project called #XandersKindnessProject. It would be poetic to say that Xander’s Kindness Project initially started because we wanted to save the world through small acts of kindness…but I think we started it because WE needed some kindness.
HOW XANDER’S KINDNESS PROJECT BEGAN
Because Xander struggles with some medical issues, we decided to keep him home from preschool two days a week to get him to all of his doctor’s appointments. Filling the time on those days off from school was a struggle at first. It turns out I’m not nearly as “fun” as his rambunctious preschool friends and he has way more energy in his little toe than I do in my entire body. So we needed to find something to do on our special days off together.
Xander’s Kindness Project began small. He loved watching the Sanitation Workers each week and noticed that they always looked hot and thirsty. So one day we threw some drinks and snacks in a cooler and left them out with a picture Xander drew for them. When the truck pulled up that next week, we watched as the guys noticed the cooler. Their faces lit up.
Even though Xander hadn’t been feeling very well that day we quickly threw on some shoes and went outside. The guys were elated. They showed Xander the truck (the best gift you can give a 5-year-old!) and thanked him for thinking of them.
One of them told Xander that he had been driving that truck for 10 years, and no one had EVER left anything for him before. Xander couldn’t believe it and told them he would leave something again the following week.
And we did.
But a few weeks later, Xander decided he wanted to find a way to spread kindness and smiles to everyone who passed by our house. So, a weekly cooler of goodies for the Sanitation Workers soon became a daily cooler with messages from Xander for anyone who happened by. Eventually people even started writing notes back to Xander. He was over the moon.
At that point, I knew that we had found our “thing:” A way to teach Xander about giving back, being responsible, being kind and understanding the importance of service to others.
TAKING KINDNESS WHEREVER YOU GO
After that, things moved pretty quickly. Xander and I talked about different ways we could spread kindness to others and encourage them to do the same. At Xander’s request we “asked Google” and learned about a little girl who spreads kindness by giving away homemade friendship bracelets.
From there, Xander’s kindness bags were born.
Each one of his kindness bags has small things Xander has chosen to put in the bag to brighten people’s day:
- A lollipop
- A friendship bracelet
- A small toy (sometimes it’s even one of Xander’s own)
- A sticker
- A bottle of Bug Soother from Xander’s grandparents who make natural bug spray and donate it to him (Thanks Papa & Grandma Freda!)
- A Kindness Coin – which they can pass along to keep the chain of kindness going
- This note from Xander:
My Name is Xander & I am 5 years old. I like the color green, to sing and to go to ballet class and Tae Kwon Do. When I grow up I want to drive a fire engine, be a doctor for kids & be President of the United States of America.
Today I would like to help you smile by giving you a Kindness Bag. Please enjoy the goodies and pass along the Kindness Coin the next time you do something that makes someone else smile. Ask them to pass along the coin the next time THEY do something kind and so on!
Please help me spread smiles & remind the world that Kindness Counts!
We started leaving a box of kindness bags out along with the cooler. Our mailman, “Mr. Mike” even got into the spirit and started taking some of them to people along his route that needed a smile.
Xander didn’t want to stop at spreading kindness to just our neighborhood. He wanted to spread it around the world. So, we started taking the bags everywhere we went: the library, his school, the doctor’s office, restaurants, etc.
A FIVE-YEAR-OLD CHANGES THE WORLD – WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS
There was lot of hateful rhetoric during the election cycle, particularly focused on marginalized communities. None of it was new, but it certainly was highlighted this year. We have always tried to teach Xander that differences are beautiful and that we should stand up for what we believe in. Even when it’s tough…ESPECIALLY when it’s tough.
As his kindness project continued to grow, we realized that we needed to talk to him about what was going on in our country. My husband and I decided that we would not let the hateful rhetoric define how our son might view the world around him. Instead, each week we would select a group to deliver kindness bags to, and in turn we could learn more about that particular group: Who they were, some of the struggles and challenges they might be facing, and how we could support them.
Since last summer we have delivered kindness bags to groups like PROMO (Missouri’s statewide organization advocating for LGBTQ equality through legislative action), the LGBTQIA PrideCenter, The International Institute of St. Louis, a local Mosque, the ACLU, and a variety of other organizations that support various marginalized and minority communities both locally and globally.
To date, Xander has made and handed out (almost entirely by himself) almost 3,000 kindness bags. Not bad for being 5.
And we’re just getting started.
Through some help from other awesome parents and preschool-aged friends, Xander has recently started “The Buddy Brigade,” a community of parents and friends dedicated to helping kids be “buddies” by spreading kindness throughout their communities.
THE MAYOR OF KINDNESS
I would like to stop here a moment to mention that we are just an everyday family. I am not a parenting or kindness guru; my son is just a typical 5 year old who likes to scream the word “nosepants!” at inopportune times and do ninja moves while I’m on conference calls. I have a dog that obsessively licks our couch until the fabric wears away and my husband and I have been known to argue ad nauseam about which one of us last left the kitchen cabinets open.
There are days when our family gets frustrated. Long days where it is hard to remember to be kind. Sometimes you’re just tired.
Sometimes being kind feels like the last thing on your list.
Realistically, we can’t ALL be full-time activists or even full-time champions on the front line of every battle for betterment, but we can ALWAYS make small differences that ripple into changes around the world. Teaching our kids to act with kindness, awareness and empathy creates the biggest change of all. Xander teaches me that, everyday.
If you ask Xander what his job is, he will tell you, “Well, my job is kindness.”
Through his kindness project he’s had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. He’s had his cheeks kissed more times than I can count. He has fist-bumped, high-fived and shaken so many hands that some people around town have started calling him “The Mayor. “ Throughout this journey he has heard heartbreaking stories – but also stories of hope. He has met people who have been forced to leave everything behind for the dream of a better life in the United States and have been met with fear and ignorance . . . but also with kindness.
Throughout this, Xander has learned that kindness is so important.
That it counts.
That it matters.
Since Xander was born, my husband and I have continually asked ourselves: How can we teach our son to be kind in a world that measures worth by how much you make or how high your test scores are? How can we teach the value of humanity in a world where kindness is viewed as a weakness?
But obviously Xander has found that answer for us. We do it anyway.
XANDER’S INTERVIEW: BE KIND. BE BRAVE. BE YOU.
I would like to share an interview I did with Xander the other day. I told him that I was going to write a story about his kindness project and these are the 5-year-old words of wisdom that he asked me to share.
I have faith that they will give you the same hope that they give me: even when things are a mess, we’ve got kindness – and we’ve got kids like Xander.
Favorite Food: Pizza and Hot Dogs
Favorite Colors: Green and Gold
Favorite Word: Kindness– because I want to grow up and be kind and give people furniture and toys and candy and food and games and cotton candy and magic tricks sets and help people go to outer space. I also want to build stuff for other people like Paper Ranger Robots and I want to make sure they’re not sad.
What does it mean to be kind? – Doing things to make people smile. I want everyone to share their stuff: Beds, houses, pets (but just robot pets, not real ones), food, & toys. People should do kind stuff and just help each other out.
Why is it important to be kind? – It’s important because if you’re not kind to people, they won’t be kind to other people. Sometimes you just need help.
What is your favorite thing about the kindness project? –
I like to give out kindness bags and spread kindness through the land. I really like the PrideCenter. It’s my favorite place to visit because they like to help. They just like spreading kindness. I absolutely like that they love to help. I like that my friends help too and I like the friends I’ve made like Mr. Mike the Mailman and Ms. Cassie and Ms. Janey.
What are the 3 main rules at our house and what do they mean to you? –
Be Kind. Be Brave. Be You.
BE KIND – Spread courage across the land. Send toys to someone who doesn’t have toys. Share breakfast with people who don’t have food. Make people smile. Sometimes you can even just tell them a knock knock joke.
BE BRAVE – Stand up to evil and darkness and bad words. Stand up to bullies and be kind. Maybe they will see your kindness and they’ll stop hurting inside so badly. And they’ll start being nice. You’ve GOT to stand up for your friends and go get an adult to help strangers. Don’t hurt people’s feelings. No, no, no!
BE YOU – Be Yourself Always. Pick the right choices for you. Like, I have a dress I like to wear sometimes and I like it and it looks fine and you should be able to wear what you want and people shouldn’t make fun of you. You wear what makes you comfortable and I wear what makes me comfortable. Ok?
Don’t be scared to be yourself because you’re you and no one is better at being you. If you’re different from someone else it doesn’t mean you should cry, because you’re BEAUTIFUL. I mean, why would you be mean to a rainbow? They’re beautiful and magical.
What made you start the kindness project?
Because I saw the kindness in everybody’s soul. Not like in an x-ray, though.
Be Kind. Be Brave. Be You.
Join the movement to bring kindness to your world by checking out Xander’s Buddy Brigade on Facebook at:
Ahh, friends! Who wouldn’t be inspired by a 5-year-old who sees the kindness in everybody’s soul and encourages us to “spread courage across the land”?
I hope this story helps remind you why we’re doing what we’re doing, and encourages you to be brave, be kind, and be you.
And speaking of you…
I know you’re out there doing amazing things and changing your world. Why not share your story and help motivate and inspire your fellow activists? We’d all love to hear about your challenges, your successes and your “ah-ha!” moments.
Or maybe you know someone with a cool story that you think should be shared.
That works too!
Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get the ball rolling.
If you’d like to sign up to get an inspiring pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here!
And thank you, again, for being part of what makes this country amazing.