Acts of generosity and kindness: An opportunity for positive youth development

Performing acts of kindness helps youth to incorporate qualities of service, kindness and gratitude as a part of their character.

Hand holding a sign saying practice kindness

Research demonstrates that through participation in quality youth development models, such as the Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program of Michigan State University Extension, young people gain valuable knowledge, skills and competencies that help them succeed in many aspects of their lives. This positive youth development is fostered through “eight essential elements” of quality programming, as identified by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

One of the eight essential elements is that youth have the “opportunity to value and practice service to others.” Michigan 4-H promotes service and acts of kindness through annual events, such as the Michigan 4-H Dare to Serve Challenge, which is held in conjunction with the National 4-H True Leaders in Service initiative, and through many organized service opportunities at the club, community and regional level around the state.

In addition to planned and organized group service and volunteer activities, practicing generosity and taking simple actions to spread kindness is something that can be incorporated into everyday life. A wide variety of websites and resources are available to help people come up with new ideas and fun ways to practice generosity and kindness.

One such website is Channel Kindness, a platform featuring stories of kindness as documented by young people from around the U.S., which was developed by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. The Born This Way Foundation was launched by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world. The Foundation supports the mental and emotional wellness of young people by promoting youth voice through action-oriented programming. Tools and resources are available to youth to solve problems and affect change through their creativity and boundless potential.

In addition to sharing powerful and inspiring articles written by youth about kindness, the Channel Kindness website also includes recommendations of books and movies about kindness, and resources related to kindness in sports, school, the community and other settings.

Another organization that is helping to promote kindness is Lifevest Inside, which is dedicated to inspiring, empowering and educating people of all backgrounds to lead a life of kindness. Lifevest Inside provides leadership for a variety of initiatives that help people spread kindness. An example of one of their initiatives is Project Hope Exchange, a worldwide digital database of anonymous audio messages of hope that are shared from individuals who have survived some kind of adversity to others who are currently facing that same adversity.

Lifevest Inside has also created “Act of Kindness (AOK) Cards," which are decks of cards with different acts of kindness printed on each card. The cards prompt anyone to perform the act of kindness listed on the card and pass the card forward to someone else.

Another website featuring ideas and resources for young people related to kindness and generosity is Kind Spring. According to an article in yes! Magazine by Nipun Kehta, the founder of Kind Spring, the website was launched after he and a cousin came up with the idea to play “kindness pranks” on people. Kehta and a group of like-minded volunteers printed 100 “smile cards” in order to encourage anonymous acts of kindness. With the launch of the website, smile cards can be downloaded or ordered online and left behind following an anonymous act of kindness in order to inspire others to pay-it-forward by offering an act of kindness to someone else in return.

Using the resources on the Kind Spring website, an individual youth or a group of young people could set a goal for completing an anonymous act of kindness for a certain number of consecutive days. For instance, the members of a 4-H club could pledge to each complete 21 days of kindness. After completing the challenge, the 4-H club could meet to reflect on their experiences and share ways to continue incorporating acts of kindness into their daily lives. Completing a “21-Day Challenge” might also be a good way for the members of a 4-H club to identify the needs of others in their community in order to plan and lead community-based service learning projects in the future.

Though each individual act of kindness may be small, youth can begin to practice gratitude and service to others and develop character traits that will have a big impact on their lives, and the lives of those they serve.

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