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Kindness initiative makes strides in Silver Creek

HEART and SOLES

Boxes for Sneakers for Africa.

SILVER CREEK– Kindness swept through the Silver Creek Central School District this fall thanks to an initiative that encouraged positivity via an incredible guest speaker, scavenger hunt, sneaker drive for children in Africa, a kindness essay contest and a good, old-fashioned thank-you campaign.

It all began in the spring when teacher Jessica Kardashian was awarded a grant from Maksym’s Giving Tree, a non-profit she had heard about from Janet Decker, a colleague and parent within the district, that fosters compassion in children and strives to inspire lifelong contributors to society. Kardashian researched the foundation and found their Think Kindness grant, and applied through the foundation, which paid for a visit by motivational speaker Brian Williams at the beginning of November. Williams addressed and inspired the students of both the middle and high school to take measurable action.

Williams, who is a fourth degree black belt, has appeared on several different news programs, has a Ted Talk, and is an internationally known motivational speaker and travels all over the country talking to groups about changing the world, presented the students with his Kindness Challenge. The challenge consisted of the students in sixth grade through 12th grade completing and documenting more than 5,000 acts of kindness over a mere 15 days. The suggestions were creative and fun: Sit with a new group of kids; be kind to yourself and eat a healthy snack or drink four glasses of water; Give 20 high-fives; Lend a pen or pencil to a friend; Leave a nice note in a random library book; Learn to say “hello” in another language. Each school was provided thank you notes to fill out for staff, friends and family and witness statements for acts of kindness to be documented between the schools and hung for all to see. The kindness scavenger hunt — which included simple acts such as smiling at 20 people randomly, holding doors open for others, writing a thank-you note to a teacher and even the superintendent and more — pitted the middle school against the high school.

In short order, there was an enthusiastic groundswell of healthy competition.

“We had a ton of students and faculty emailing back and forth with thank-you’s and I was able to help a few of our students craft some,” said Kardashian, a middle school social studies teacher who also advises Knights Against Cancer, History & Culture club and coordinates international trips for the students. “I was so overtaken with joy to see how ambitious the kids were in wanting to thank their teachers. I saw so many incredible responses back from those teachers to the students, and it really made a difference. I can share from personal experience.”

Sneakers collected for Sneakers for Africa.

Amid the Kindness Challenge, Kardashian kicked off a sneaker donation drive via the Think Kindness organization. Members of this group travel to Africa regularly to work with children in orphanages in Kenya and Ghana. Children there have a few requirements, including owning a pair of sneakers to be able to attend school and that is one of the biggest obstacles preventing them access to an education. She then challenged the district to bring in any gently used or new sneakers to help children in Africa get the necessary footwear required to attend school. The drive was beyond successful.

“As a result of the drive, more than 200 children in Africa will now have the appropriate footwear required to attend school and receive an education. When you think about all of the challenges these children are already facing and we can do something about that, we are going to do it.” The rest of the shoes donated will stay behind. Winter boots, sandals and other types of shoes will be rehomed in the district to be distributed to students in need.

As for the kindness scavenger hunt challenge, the three winning classes were Kardashian’s first-period Social Studies class, Ray Graf’s seventh-grade Social Studies class and Kristen Foley’s Advanced Placement Government class of seniors. Each class enjoyed baked goods from Paula’s Donuts of Buffalo as a reward.

Over at the middle school, teacher Ray Graf’s class placed second in the competition.

“They really started getting involved when one of the girls was looking at the list and was thinking about how many she had done, or could do, in the next portion of the day,” said Graf. “She started challenging herself to see how many more she could get done and that inspired some of the other students to really work on trying to at least get one of two of items accomplished.

Teacher Jessica Kardashian of the Silver Creek Central School District with kindness essay winners Hailey Weeks, Gavin Defries and Jaivon Eggleston.

Twelfth-graders in Kristen Foley’s Advanced Placement Government class stepped things up with some senior pride.

“It was a great team-building activity because so many of them worked together to check off as many acts of kindness as possible,” said Foley, who is Kardashian’s liaison in the high school and housed a footwear collection box for the Think Kindness campaign. “Not only was the reaction from the students well worth it, but when they found out they got 1st place they were very proud — especially for Paula’s doughnuts.”

The essay contest proved particularly meaningful. Students were asked to elaborate on the theme of “What does kindness mean to you and how do you display that on a daily basis?” and some of their entries brought Kardashian, who is their teacher and got to see another side of them, to tears.

“Take time out of your day to help, compliment and forgive. Life is really short,” says junior Hailey Weeks, 17, who penned a winning essay. “People have bad days and there’s no time to just, like, hate or dislike anybody your whole life. Try to be friends with them.” Her brother Kaden is in sixth-grade at SCMS and their parents are Amy Weeks of Silver Creek and Wayne Weeks of Erie County.

Sophomore Jaivon Eggleston, 15, has been a student at SCCS since sixth grade, and says Kardashian’s enthusiasm for kindness rubbed off on him. In his winning essay, he notes he was the “new kid” at several schools when he was younger and how that has inspired him to make a difference. He enjoys playing football and is the son of Irving residents Sharon and Norm Eggleston. “Try to see the positive in everything,” says Jaivon, “Instead of the negative.”

It took sixth-grader Gavin Defries, who turned 12 in December, a couple days to write his winning essay. He has five siblings and is the son of Silver Creek resident Christa Defries. His advice for those who want to try being kinder: “Just help people with simple stuff, like holding the door,” said Defries. “Or say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. You are making a difference.”

Each essay winner was gifted a shirt from Kardashian from the Think Kindness store for their efforts.

The most significant result of the Kindness initiative at Silver Creek, however, is a deeper appreciation of how effortless it can be to do or say something positive. It proved to be so popular among staff and students that the district hopes to continue the theme for the coming years.

“All schools should do it, really,” says Weeks. “It’s not that hard to be kind.”

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