Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 1, 1999
Teacher's kindness campaign strikes a chord
By GLEN ARGAN
Colleen Ring can't believe how her little project has grown.
It was five years ago that the Grade 2 teacher at Mary Hanley Catholic School in Millwoods started her kindness program to help her students deal with the shocking murder of neighbourhood resident Barb Danelesko.
Today, Random Acts of Kindness Week is a major event in the Edmonton area every second week of February. For a whole week, people are encouraged to make a special effort to perform acts of kindness to others.
Ring's promotion of the concept has taken her to Japan three times and to Singapore where she met the country's prime minister.
And it all came out of her desire to bring something good out of a neighbourhood tragedy.
Danelesko lived three blocks from Mary Hanley School, was active in the community, had babysat some children in Ring's class and had had others as visitors. She was stabbed to death when she happened on a young intruder in the family home in the middle of a night in the spring of 1994.
The murder shocked all of Edmonton, but few people more than the children in Ring's class.
"They were very traumatized," she recalls. While some people improved their home security and others petitioned to toughen the Young Offenders Act, Ring concluded, "Those things don't help a seven-year-old deal with the loss of a friend."
She launched a "kindness program" that encouraged the children to perform helpful acts for others and to avoid "isolating themselves from a world that seems to be getting worse and worse."
"But I never thought the idea would go outside this (classroom) door."
Other teachers gave her books and materials to help with the project. One book told of a special week to promote kindness and provided a phone number to get more information.
"It went through my mind, 'What a wonderful idea!'"
With her sister Debbie Riopel, a teacher in St. Albert, she tried to get the mayor and city council to declare a Random Acts of Kindness Week. The Edmonton council wouldn't do it because no organization was sponsoring the idea. But St. Albert became likely the first community in Canada to hold such a week.
Ring and Riopel decided to push ahead in Edmonton too. They bought posters and bookmarks and distributed them through Old Strathcona and the U of A campus.
They got some media coverage and the idea snowballed. In 1996, the Edmonton Community Foundation began supporting the project and the city declared the second week in February to be Random Acts of Kindness Week.
The Alberta Teachers Association has devoted a supplement to the week in its biweekly newspaper and the idea has spread to schools across the province.
This year's week will kick off with a celebration Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at Edmonton City Hall.
No one knows how many kind actions are performed because of the week or even how many groups and individuals take part.
Ring only knows that she gets lots of feedback at teachers' conventions and other events. "My reading is that this is like the tip of an iceberg compared with the number of people who do participate."
The activities performed under the auspices of Kindness Week are numerous and limited only by people's imaginations. People send letters of appreciation, make donations to the food bank, pay compliments and send kindness postcards to unsuspecting friends and relatives.
Some schools see the week as the occasion to launch an ongoing project such as a relationship with a school in the Third World or with residents of a seniors' complex.
"It's an idea whose time has come and it just appeals to people. The ripples have spread very quickly."
Does it make a difference?
"It does make a difference in the small picture but also in the big picture," Ring says. One penny in a pond may not change much, but enough of them can change the world.
If nothing else, she says it's had an effect on her. "It's made me more conscious of all the wonderful things I have in my life. It's made me more grateful and, I hope, more generous and more giving," she says. "I have a long, long way to go," she adds.
Three times Ring and Riopel have travelled to Japan, paying half of the cost themselves, for a world kindness conference.
The group hopes to have the first World Kindness Day Nov. 13, 2000.
And when she spoke at a conference in Singapore and met the prime minister, the daily newspaper's front page headline exclaimed, "PM urges 'kindness' revolution for Singapore."
To Ring, it's all more than she'd planned. "We're just so ordinary," she says. "We're not charismatic people."