CARMEL, Ind. — As a long-time teacher for Carmel Clay Schools and the sister to an adult with Down syndrome, Heather Stephenson is committed to stepping in and promoting kindness.
"I've seen firsthand what bullying can do to kids of all ages," Stephenson said. "There's a lot of social media things going on right now and a lot of kind of unkind things being done and said, and we just have to be vigilant and have our eyes open and do our part to make the world a better place."
Stephenson believes kindness is a remedy available to everyone, and she's willing to lead the way.
"The world needs more kindness right now than I can ever remember us needing it," she said.
In early January, Stephenson created BE KIND bags full of supplies to help young people with a 21-day kindness challenge posted online. The response was immediate.
"I got 85 kids within 24 hours because everybody was looking for something like that to do," Stephenson said.
Her niece Maryn, 12, and nephew Theo, 10, are accustomed to seeing their aunt in action and happily signed up.
"I painted kindness rocks, and I had two of them and one of them says 'kind' on it," Theo said.
Stephenson runs Sam's Wish. It's a not-for-profit organization named after her brother, Sam McNew, who has Down syndrome.
Sam's Wish raises money to spend where there's a need. Over the years, it's provided accessible bikes, food, Christmas gifts and Easter baskets to those in need. The organization has also hosted more than 800 students in summer Kindness Camps.
But with camp stalled during the pandemic, Stephenson revamped and created a list of 40 acts of kindness instead.
"It was hard to come up with COVID-friendly ideas," Stephenson said. "I also wanted to have ideas for the 5-year olds that were doing it, but then also for the 18-year-olds."
The students could pick the 21 acts they liked most. For the first, Heather provided every student with a bouquet of fresh flowers to share.
"I gave flowers to my teacher. I wrote a letter and made him smile. I picked up trash around a car and I brought cookies to a fire station," said 7-year-old Jack Farr.
The students report grateful feedback and a boost in self-esteem.
"It just is really fun and exciting, and it makes you feel good. And it just like puts you in a good mood for the rest of the day," said Maryn, Stephenson's niece.
The challenge officially ends Sunday, Jan. 31, but some students said they plan to keep going until they've completed all 40 tasks. Stephenson hopes by then, being kind is a habit.
"I think a Best You is that you like yourself, that you take care of yourself, that you love others and that you never ever, ever treat others poorly," Stephenson said.
Learn more about Kindness Camp, Sam's Wish and be the first to know what Stephenson comes up with next here.