What makes a community? While it's a fairly broad concept, most of us have a pretty good idea of what it resembles. For Rosemary Smith, the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF), a compassionate, caring, and connected community is like "one of those neighbourhoods where everyone knows each other, everyone says 'hi,' and everyone helps each other out."
While it is well known that human interactions are a major component of functional communities, these days it seems like they are increasingly marginalized to the businesslike, superficial, or in the spirit of self-interest. "The fact is we get busy, we forget that we have neighbours, and we forget how nice it is even to say 'hello,' and 'how are you doing?'" said Smith.
For the KWCF, a day for citizens to engage each other in small acts of kindness and generosity is important for bringing the community closer together. Random Act of Kindness day, which launched last Friday, November 4th, supported this vision. The event's motto, "pay it forward," encouraged citizens to do kind things to others and ask nothing in return except that they then do something nice to somebody else.
The event kicked off at 7:00 a.m. in Conestoga Mall. Over 200 early risers were in attendance, eager to demonstrate the significance of positive and meaningful interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and, most importantly, fellow community members.
Perhaps one of the biggest demonstrations of kindness was at Conestoga College, where volunteers handed out free cotton candy. According to Smith, the lineup was enormous, but not just for the tasty treat. "Volunteers at Conestoga College were encouraging people to write down what they had done for Random Act of Kindness Day, and the impact they thought it had. Then, they made a display with different people's
stories about their random acts of kindness," said Smith. Here on the University of Waterloo campus, the Environment Students' Society Coffee Shop helped to "pay it forward" by handing out free goodies to unsuspecting customers. Kat Curwin, who has been a volunteer at the coffee shop for three terms, facilitated its generous commitment to the event. "We had people come in and leave money to prepay for all of the baked goods for the rest of the day, so everyone that came in got a free baked good. We [also] gave out some free coffees," said Curwin.
Random Act of Kindness Day was not restricted to the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. Since its startup in 2008, the event has spread to involve 25 different communities, including Cambridge and Guelph.
Users on Twitter accounts broadcasted their random acts of kindness from these various municipalities. "There's been some wonderful buzz, and more than 600 tweets…It's amazing to see so much support and participation from all the different communities," said Smith.
A rapid spread to neighbouring communities is analogous to the central theme of Random Act of Kindness Day. The simple yet meaningful initiative to be exceptionally kind towards others has a rippling effect thatresonates not only with the individual, but reverberates to those who are often constrained by the reclusiveness of everyday living.
While it only occurs once a year, Random Act of Kindness Day seeks to positively change and shape the way members of a community interact with each other.
When Smith went to the fire department with her "Kindness Krew" to drop off some cookies, she unexpectedly experienced the exact behaviour the KWCF was trying to promote: "I was carrying a big heavy box, and a gentleman came forward, took it from my hands, and carried it for me. He had no idea that it was Random Act of Kindness day… selfless acts like these are exactly the sort of thing we're trying to encourage this community to do," Smith said.
The KWCF improves the quality of life in Kitchener-Waterloo and area, now and for generations to come, by building community endowment, addressing needs through grant making, and providing leadership on key community issues.
Evan Gravely, Reporter Features, November 11, 2011