In the past three and a half months fifth-graders at Allendale (Mich.) Christian School have mailed cards and letters to more than 150 organizations, businesses, charities, politicians, and churches to spread kindness.
Calling it the Choose Kind → Spread Kind initiative, teachers John Vanden Berg and Jessica Kirchhoff came up with the idea last November after reading the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio with their students. In a letter to introduce the initiative they wrote, “During a time when a contagious virus has caused stress, anxiety, and some negativity, we want to focus on the contagious nature of kindness.”
It started with thank-you notes to teachers and school administrators, then expanded in government class. Vanden Berg and Kirchhoff encouraged their 29 students to write letters and cards to local, state, and federal political leaders. The local mayor, law enforcement, judges, and state governor responded. Governor Gretchen Whitmer wrote, “I know that your efforts have and will continue to inspire others as they inspired me, and the ‘domino effect’ of kindness that you have set off will continue to unfold and spark great things.”
The responses were encouraging.
“That’s when it started to snowball,” said Vanden Berg, who is a member of Cottonwood Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Jenison, Mich.
The students expanded their recipient lists—naming local organizations, leaders, and churches they wanted to encourage. A parent volunteered to supply the stamps, and the project kept going. Students searched for the addresses online, addressed the envelopes by hand, and added their personalized notes to a letter printed by Vanden Berg and Kirchhoff.
The letter is clear about why the students are doing what they do. “At our school we hold true to biblical principles and know that kindness comes from a servant heart that always is pointing towards Christ. We have been learning how to be loving communicators to others, and that’s what this initiative is for us.”
The expressions of thanks, blessing, and helpful ideas for spreading kindness have landed in the mailboxes of local nursing homes, fire departments, homeless shelters, and many more. Many area CRCs are recipients of Allendale Christian School’s letters as well as the fifth-grade classes of 50 different Christian schools in 48 states.
Student Eden wrote, “I hope you learn new things this year. Remember to be strong. I hope our kindness is as contagious as Covid-19!” and signed off with a P.P.S. suggesting ways to be kind, including opening a door for a stranger, donating food or clothes, and “Remember to smile under your mask!!!”
The classes are collecting responses on a bulletin board, hoping to track how the kindness spreads.
A displayed card from one community leader reads, “Thank you for praying for me! Please keep me on your prayer list as I continue to learn the responsibilities of my new role in our community. I paid it forward and shared the kindness you showed me by helping a few people with medical appointments, by refusing re-payment for a small debt, and requesting that the money be used to help someone else.”
The next stage is for students to continue taking kindness out of the classroom: think of one person they value, write a personal thank-you, and deliver it on their own.