They start at one end of the balcony overlooking the Cedarcrest High School commons, and work quietly along the wall hanging the colorful “kindness” chain like bunting over the lunch crowd. There’s no announcement, no presentation, but by the time the chain reaches halfway across the commons, heads are turning and students are elbowing each other.
It creates a brief ripple, as students notice the addition but then go back to their lunches. Maybe some of them smile when they see the chain, each link representing an act of kindness someone did in the school that week. Or maybe not. What matters is they saw it, and some may find inspiration in it.
That, essentially, is how the Random Acts of Kindness Club, or RAK which coordinated the making of the chain, operates. Do something good, watch what happens, do another good thing.
“A lot of the stuff starts in the club, but hopefully permeates school wide,” explains health teacher and RAK advisor Peggy Filer.
She’s talking about club accomplishments like the annual personal products drive to collect items for Hopelink’s food bank, a recent fundraiser to build a well for a village in Kenya, the “busting” of students and teachers caught in the act of being kind, and the club’s pay-it-forward lunches at Ixtapa, when the group pitches in to buy lunch for a randomly-selected table. More than the club’s actions, though, she’s also talking about the basic philosophy of just being nice.
“When one person is nice to someone, that person is in a good mood, and they’re nice to someone else,” is how freshman club member Lakota Wills puts it. “It’s like a wave.”
Club president Maggie Gronberg has had an especially busy week, since RAK has been responsible for the events in the first week of the school’s March Magnanimity. She and her fellow officers have planned the daily events, coordinated a dance, met with a visiting group of students from Edmonds to share ideas and suggest ways to increase participation in their own RAK club (Cedarcrest’s club started 13 years ago with five students and has grown to more than 100 members at meetings, more at activities), and has spent most of her lunch periods encouraging people to create links in the kindness chain she still needs to hang before the end of lunch.
Still, the first thing she says about RAK is how much more she gets out of it than she puts in.
“I like having an effect on the world,” she says, and because of the diversity of students attracted to the club, she’s made friends with people she might not have met anywhere else in school.
“I feel like the more involved you are, the more opportunities you have to expand your horizons and become a better person,” she said.
Involvement in RAK is what each student makes it. Wills wishes he could go to more meetings and events, but they often conflict with his sports practices. Junior and club officer Chad Klingenberg goes when he can, regardless.
“Sometimes, when I’m going to an activity, I don’t even know what it is,” he admits. “I find out when I get there.”
That’s part of the appeal of the club, says Filer. “One of the things that’s beautiful about it is that we are random… So many kids, as they get older and they get busier, they don’t come to meetings, but they’ll support everything we do.”
Freshman make up a large portion of this year’s club, which delights Filer. “I have a heart for freshmen,” she says.
Students, in turn, have a heart for Filer. Gronberg, Klingenberg and Wills all comment on how she’s one of the nicest people they’ve ever met, and one of the main reasons people join the club.
Gronberg also thinks it’s the random nature of the club.
“A lot of the population of our club is freshmen, because it’s something they can be involved in without necessarily…. having their whole future planned out,” she says.
The club changes every year, depending on the members, Filer says, but the basic goal behind its creation — which is not anti-bullying — never has. RAK started 13 years ago when two girls, after watching “Rachel’s Challenge” about a girl killed in the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shootings, took the challenge of creating an environment in which kindness can flourish, to a teacher they knew they could count on.
“My personal view is you can’t scare people into kindness, and you can’t scare them away from bullying,” Filer says. “You have to make them realize how good it feels to be kind.”
Draped in yards of paper kindness chain and sporting a “Kind People Rock” T-shirt today, Filer has lived up to their expectations.
• You can learn about the Cedarcrest Random Acts of Kindness Club here.
Photos by Carol Ladwig
RAK Club President Maggie Gronberg, center, holds part of the kindness chain with Valerie Koch, left, a Cedarcrest sophomore who was one of Gronberg’s “best customers.” Koch was one of many students who wrote down acts of kindness they’d seen on slips of paper to add them to the chain.
Kendall Koch ‘helps’ Brett Young carry the kindness chain by draping loops of the links over his head.
Links in the chain describe kind acts both large and small.
Hanging the kindness chain over the Cedarcrest commons, from left: Brett Young, RAK Club Advisor Peggy Filer, and club president Maggie Graonberg.