Local organization launches kindness campaign to help community

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LEAD Greater Williamsburg's WMBGkind initiative to rely on social media to spread message. COURTESY PHOTO / LEAD Greater Williamsburg

This February, the current class of LEAD Greater Williamsburg is kicking off its newest campaign, WMBGkind. From a Feb. 1 kickoff event to a community race in May, LEAD will use social media platforms to draw attention to acts of kindness in the Greater Williamsburg area with the hopes of improving schools, businesses, neighborhoods and the local government.

LEAD, a leadership immersion program sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, consists of 29 leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Members of the 2018-19 class include pastors, educators, lawyers and architects. Each class is charged with choosing a project that will have a positive impact on the community. In past years, LEAD has installed benches at Williamsburg’s bus stops and run indoor plumbing through homes that needed it.

Following a two-day retreat in September 2018, the current class of LEAD settled on WMBGkind, using kindness as its project to create change in Williamsburg.

“Each class has to find what’s passion for them,” 2019 LEAD Class President Matthew Williams said. “Our class had two different sessions at the retreat … let me tell you, it was very difficult. People had hundreds of ideas. It wasn’t something that was fleshed out overnight. It took about three or four weeks to come up with a general idea, and something that came out of the retreat was that everything led back to helping people and being a good steward to the community and being kind.”

When researching kindness campaigns, members of the 2019 LEAD class found Tom Tait, who ran on a platform of kindness for his two terms as Anaheim, California’s mayor. While in office, Tait led a challenge within the city’s elementary schools to perform “A Million Acts of Kindness,” and is credited with decreasing disciplinary actions within the schools by almost 50 percent.

Because each LEAD project must be measurable, WMBGkind will be evaluated using social media metrics. Already, the class has taken to social media pages to highlight community members committing acts of kindness in their daily lives.

“We’ve already highlighted quite a few,” 2019 LEAD Ambassador for Community Engagement Heather Hall said. “One particular post that got a lot of likes and shares was a gentleman that made the decision to help pick up trash in the community. As a result of the government furlough, trash pickup has been really sparse. We always, as people, by nature, are doing things to better ourselves, to better our community, to better our neighbors, and those are things we are trying to highlight. We are taking the time to look around and see who might be in need.”

Like Tait, LEAD will be working with schools and other community organizations that already focus on service. Hall said that the kindness campaign was chosen in part because of how much community actors already do to help those in need. Because the 2018-19 LEAD class comes from a diverse background of occupations, each member will be responsible for working with their employers to spread the message.

“Well, all in all, we are trying to spread kindness and bring the community together,” Hall said. “There is a lot of division, not necessarily just in our community, but everywhere. Regardless of your political opinions, how conservative you are, what your priorities may be, kindness can really make a difference in people’s lives. It creates a ripple effect across the board, and it makes you, the person acting in a way of kindness, feel better about yourself and is incredibly impactful on other people and those who witness it.”

Beyond using social media, LEAD also worked to gain statewide support. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a proclamation establishing the week of Feb. 10-16 as Random Acts of Kindness Week to promote positivity and encourage random acts of kindness. Northam’s proclamation cites studies that say kindness is a contagious action that decreases stress, boosts happiness, lowers blood pressure and releases serotonin and oxytocin in the brain.

“We feel like it’s a continuation of support for our campaign for him to identify the week of kindness, it’s pretty remarkable,” Williams said. “It speaks a lot to the feeling and the sentiment of what’s important to the governor that he’s making that known. He’s putting it out there for us, which is huge. It’s a better way to connect the state and start with Williamsburg.”

“We feel like it’s a continuation of support for our campaign for him to identify the week of kindness, it’s pretty remarkable. It speaks a lot to the feeling and the sentiment of what’s important to the governor that he’s making that known. He’s putting it out there for us, which is huge. It’s a better way to connect the state and start with Williamsburg.”

The official kickoff event for WMBGkind is Feb. 1 at Legacy Hall. Tait will be a guest speaker along with United Way CEO and President Steven Kast, who oversees United Way’s mission as an organization that works to improve health, education and financial stability within the Virginia Peninsula. WHRO Executive Producer Barbara Hamm Lee will be the event’s mistress of ceremonies. According to Hall and Williams, the kickoff event will be a chance to introduce the campaign to different groups within the community and to introduce later initiatives.

In May, the 2018-19 LEAD class will graduate and formally hand the project off to United Way. United Way volunteered to indefinitely continue the campaign. Prior to the LEAD class’s graduation, there will be a race, unofficially titled Miles of Kindness.

“[The campaign] has made me slow down in the day-to-day, pay a compliment to someone, pay closer attention to someone who may not seem in the best mood,” Hall said. “I have two children of my own, I have a busy, demanding job and this LEAD program, but the importance of slowing down to realize that the impact that you make on the people that you are surrounded by, has changed my outlook.”