A simple smile might impact a person’s day, but a note could impact their life

Have you smiled at someone yet today?

A girl placing a post-it note on a desk.
Danykah Muck placing positive notes on desks after school to surprise students. She put notes on lockers too.

Service learning can be very rewarding, not only for the recipient of the service but also for the one who is providing the service. Danykah Muck from Livingston County 4-H has participated in several community service and service-learning projects in her 12 years of life. Her first projects were with her Michigan State University Extension 4-H club doing group projects such as picking up trash, providing a service at the fair, raising money for good causes and more. On her 10th birthday, Muck decided to make a difference on her own. Instead of receiving birthday gifts, she collected items for deployed service men and women, which was very successful. Now she was hooked! Last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, she donated her hair to an organization that makes wigs for children in need.

This year, Muck was part of the 4-H Dare to Serve Challenge and wanted to do something that she felt was more of a need than ever before. “I noticed that many students and teachers in my school were appearing down and not smiling on a regular basis,” she said. “When I asked if they were OK or what was wrong, they said how hard it has been this past year for so many reasons with the coronavirus and I could relate to that. Our mental health is so important and right now it seems as if most are going through a roller coaster of emotions on a regular basis.”

She remembered a quote, “Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.” Muck started to intentionally smile at those who were not smiling or she would simply greet them in a kind way. She noticed how much of an impact it had on them. In addition, Muck would help her teachers with menial tasks such as stacking chairs and cleaning up after others. She noticed her teachers also needed additional support during this time.

“The teachers have so much more to do now with disinfecting the rooms every day, teaching both online students and in the classroom students and still have to deal with their own personal challenges that this virus has put on us just like everyone else. So I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” said Muck.

A post-it note left on a desk for a student.
A post-it note left on a desk for a student.

Although doing these things made Muck feel good, she wanted to do more to lift everyone’s spirits. She came up with the idea to write positive messages on post-it notes to place on desks, lockers, doors or to sneak into a friend’s backpack. The post-its had words of encouragement like, “You’ve got this,” “You are enough just being you,” “I appreciate you” and so on.

According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve your health. Although Muck didn’t research what type of impact her notes would have on people, she knew how a note made her feel and she could see the impact of the notes on the people around her.

Post-it notes left on a locker.
Post-it notes left on a locker.

She kicked off her positive note project by asking two of her teachers if they could work together to put a different note on every student’s desk in four of their classes after school. The idea was that the students would be surprised when they came in the next day since all the notes were anonymous. After completing this task, Muck gave a complete pack of post-its that were already filled out with positive messages to each teacher to share in the future. She realized that in order to make a larger impact, she would need help in spreading these messages, so she also gave completed packs to some of her friends to pass out.

She was concerned that if a student didn’t get a note that it might have a reverse effect and make them feel sad or left out. With this in mind, she made packs for her principal, vice principal and even the staff that work the lunch line.

“I know that the lunchroom staff can change my entire day with how they greet me, so I felt they were an important group to have messages to share and also be told how important they are to student’s mental health,” Muck stated.

Since Muck’s project was started later in the school year, she ran out of time and wasn’t able to share all of her packs with those she had intended. However, she plans to start the next school year off right and get these packs to them the first week of school so that positive messages can start being shared right away. In the meantime, she will make new packs during the summer and think about others she who will help spread the positivity with to others. She is planning to post positive notes at the county fair on the participant’s stalls, pens and campers to keep the project going over the summer.

Muck would like everyone reading this article to do one simple task towards improving other’s mental health. She says, “Try smiling at people every day. Smiling is contagious and makes everyone feel just a little bit better.”

To learn more about first aid mental health and the efforts MSU Extension is making in this area, visit Mental Health First Aid. To learn more about service learning, community service or other MSU Extension programs, visit our 4-H Community Service & Service Learning website.

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