YMCA day campers learn that spreading kindness can be contagious

The day campers at Truman Benedict YMCA Childcare Center gloved up to hand out sandwiches for those in need as part of a summerlong, pay-it-forward initiative posed by YMCA of Orange County called “100 Acts of Kindness.”

“It was fun and I felt that I would make someone happy,” third-grader Kennedy Moore, 8, from San Clemente said, regarding her day helping the homeless at the YMCA site in San Clemente. “I learned how to help the homeless and not just the homeless, other people too — like people who need things.”

The Christian nonprofit organization expects 3,300 youths to participate in the June through August program across its 20 campus sites countywide, including Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Santa Ana and Mission Viejo.

“Children are often our best examples in spreading kindness to their community, and I relate to that on a personal level,” said Jeff McBride, chief executive of YMCA of Orange County.

“There’s so much negativity we experience in our lives, especially if we watch the news too long — I’ve been feeling that,” he added. “But when I come to the site and watch these kids doing acts of kindness, I can’t help but be inspired.”

YMCA provided participants with a list of 100 acts ranging from simple tasks like “pick up 15 pieces of litter in a day” or “leave a kind letter in a library book” to offering humanitarian aid at local shelters and senior centres. Even completing common household chores counts, as long as they are completed “without being asked.”

“I want to make someone’s day by saying, ‘I like your shirt,’” Kennedy added. “Or just giving random compliments, recycling and being nice to other people.”

Though 100 may seem like a challenge, Kennedy said she believes she’ll meet the end of summer with a completed task list. The first item on her list: trash pick-up at the beach.

Tricia Quinn, director of operations at YMCA of Orange County, noted the duality of benefits shared on both ends of the relationship.

“When a child is doing an act of kindness for someone else, it’s teaching empathy. It’s teaching that child to be more accepting of others, teaching them to accept differences while increasing gratitude for themselves and what they have,” she said, noting the rise in media coverage of childhood bullying. “By bettering someone else’s life, they’re bettering their own.”

Kindness is not only teachable and contagious, but it’s scientifically backed to relieve anxiety, lower blood pressure and reduce depression, according to cumulative university studies.

Second-grader Joseph Iglesias of San Clemente has a few off-list items to check off.

“When someone falls down, (I want to) help them back up,” Joseph said. “Or help my brother with his math questions.”

His plan is to start from scratch, catalogue 100 acts, then cross them off as he goes, tackling five a day.

“I thought, ‘We are making these for someone else, so we better make them good,’ “Joseph said about the sandwiches. “(After helping someone) I feel good because it feels like I’m a hero.”


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