THE ISSUE: Creating positive culture.

LOCAL IMPACT: The United Against Violence Committee of Otoe County is working to create a positive culture at area schools and beyond with its Random Acts of Kindness program.

Toxic environments tend to breed violence and social isolation often leads to dark thoughts and darker actions. Wednesday’s tragedy in Parkland, Fla., serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a positive culture.
The United Against Violence Committee, funded through a grant from the Catholic Health Initiatives, is trying to create a positive culture for youth and create a momentum that will carry through for all of the residents of Otoe County.
Traci Reuter of United Against Violence said the observance of February as Random Acts of Kindness Month is something that has been going on for the past three years. The program promotes the idea of making positive impacts on the lives of others through thoughtful actions.
Students from the Nebraska City, Lourdes, Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca and Palmyra schools are all taking part in the county-wide effort.
The group’s motto, “Throw Kindness Like Confetti #BEKIND,” can be seen on billboards and on yard signs all across the county.
Students get involved in a number of ways and have a chance to be part of doing something positive instead of avoiding something negative.
Negative actions like bullying are obviously being discouraged. But rather than telling students no, this initiative works on ways to give the students a yes.
By encouraging positive actions, the effort has the intended effect of eliminating negative actions.
What are some random acts of kindness?
It can be as simple as sharing a positive message with another student, paying someone a compliment or listening when another student talks about what makes them excited.
You could hold a door or help a student pick up a book they accidently dropped on the floor.
The possibilities are as vast as a student’s imagination.
Encouragement for those actions comes through activities. At Palmyra, students are participating in a sort of Bingo game where Random Acts of Kindness allow the student to fill in a square. If a student fills in enough squares, they get a small prize, like a free bookmark for instance.
At Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca, high school students are writing notes with positive messages for other students who are not in their friend circle.
Reuter said, at one of the other schools, students are putting notes with positive messages into books in the library so that the next student who gets that book will have a positive message.
Reuter said she has been encouraged to find that the effort toward having positive impacts on the lives of others has spread beyond the walls of the schools.
“I have heard some great things,” Reuter said.
She has heard reports of people having their order paid for at a drive thru, or kids bringing flowers home to their parents “just because.”
Area church congregations are running with the message as well and have been encouraging congregants to do random acts of kindness.
Reuter said she is hoping as the county continues to embrace kindness, a tradition can be established and the culture can be changed for the better.
A group of folks from all walks of life all around the county make up the United Against Violence Committee which meets once a month, predominantly during the school year, to brain storm ideas for creating a positive culture.
The meetings happen at Syracuse and have been being conducted on Fridays. Anyone who is interested in being a part of the committee can contact Reuter either at CHI Health St. Mary’s, 402-873-8920 or by email at treuter@stez.org.

Rewarding positive behavior
Without a concerted effort to be more positive, one would think that there would be much more negativity.
That’s not the way that Nebraska City Middle School Guidance Counselor Katie Meredith sees the issue. Placing an emphasis on doing Random Acts of Kindness, Meredith said, actually serves to reward those who already doing it.
“I have the joy of seeing the student body in a different way and I see it all the time,” Meredith said. “I see kids doing good things at the middle school everyday. I think a lot of that kindness goes unnoticed,” she said.

Kindness Kits
One of the initiatives at the middle school, thanks to the work of the student council, is to give students positive action kits. Meredith said the kits include positive notes and candy that can be shared by students with other students who might need a little boost.
The kits have been used a lot, Meredith said. In total, there have been somewhere near 375 positive action kits created for students and staff members at the school.

Student thoughts
Alivia Self and Emilyn Argumaniz are two students at the middle school who really feel like the positive energy created through Random Acts of Kindness makes the school a better place.
Self said she enjoys putting positive notes in the lockers of students. Just a simple message like, “Have a good day,” or “You’re awesome,” can make a big difference, Self said.
Argumaniz said she the idea of getting to know other students can create positivity and unity instead of negativity and an us against them mentality.
“It definitely brings a more positive attitude and mood,” she said.


AUDIO: In the included audio clip, Traci Reuter of United Against Violence describes the idea behind Random Acts of Kindness.