Santa Barbara, CA (April 1, 2015) – In 2013 Leon Lewandowski challenged himself to do one Random Act of Kindness (RAOK) each day for the month of April. He introduced the idea to his third grade students that year, and started a FaceBook group to get more people involved. This spring will be Lewandowski’s third RAOK Month and he’s using information he learned writing his latest book, to help his current third graders to become happy, successful young people.
April 1st, 2013 was Easter Sunday. Lewandowski entered the CVS in Goleta that morning and saw three young people outside huddled in the rain under the store’s overhang. “They looked to be in their late teens, early twenties. They had tattoos and piercings everywhere. One guy had what looked like a clothes hanger through his nose,” explained the teacher.
Although the three looked a bit intimidating, while shopping Lewandowski wondered what their story was. Why weren’t they home with family on Easter? Why were they outside in the rain? Were they having a hard time? So, he picked up three chocolate covered peanut-butter treats in the shape of Easter eggs.
When he got outside he told them, “The Easter Bunny told me that he couldn’t find you today, so he gave these to me to give to you,” and he handed over the eggs. What happened next changed Lewandowski. The tough features of the three softened into genuine smiles. They thanked him and told him “God bless you.” On his drive home Lewandowski realized that this small act did not change the lives of these young people, but it did change a moment in their lives…positively.
That’s when Lewandowski challenged himself to continue doing these RAOK each day for the rest of the month. He challenged his wife and two daughters to join him, and started a faceBook group to get even more people involved. A week later, he brought the idea into the classroom and created a RAOK Bulletin board for the students to post their RAOK to help inspire their peers.
Lewandowski and his family handed out cold drinks on hot days, delivered homemade cookies to unsuspecting firefighters, passed out flowers to strangers on State Street, dropped coins into parking meters running low on minutes, and left bags of microwave popcorn on Redbox machines for folks renting movies.
In 2014, Lewandowski had his students chart their RAOK for the month (doing something kind, saying something kind, or giving something). Each made a graph using technology, wrote a paper about their experience with the RAOK month, and presented a slide show to their peers.
In November, Lewandowski’s latest book, Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, was published under his pen name, Leon Scott Baxter (available on Amazon.com, Granada Books, Chaucer’s Bookstore, Tecolote Books, Bennett’s Educational Materials, and The Unity Shoppe).
“During the research for the book, I found that the children I studied and interviewed that were happy and successful, all gave back to their community in some fashion,” said the four-time author. “And, it was no accident. Studies show that when young people give back to others they experience a sense of calm, decreased stress, increased self-esteem and self-confidence.”
According to a study by World Volunteer Web youth who volunteer do better in school and feel a connection to their community. Lewandowski wants to capitalize on this newfound information. This year his students will chart their RAOK, write about it, present it as well as use a new app called Ripil, where they can chart their kindness and challenge each other, other classes, and even other schools to join them.
“I’m excited,” said the teacher, “that I have the opportunity to spread kindness in our community and within my class while also building self-confidence and academic success with my students.”
Baxter was raised in a single-parent household with a young mother working multiple jobs. Making ends meet was tough. At times they got by using government assistance and dumpster diving for their next meals. But every Labor day the young Lewandowski was very excited.
“I would watch the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon each year, then go door-to-door collecting donations for ‘Jerry’s Kids’,” recounts Lewandowski. “After, I’d have my mom take me to the local studio and I’d donate the coins I’d collected. It made me feel good knowing I was able to help others, even though we didn’t have much. I think those kinds of experiences are important for young people, and I can’t wait for April to give them the opportunity.”
Leon Lewandowski has been an elementary school teacher for eighteen years. His latest book, (under his pen name “Leon Scott Baxter”) Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, is his fourth and his first parenting book.
He has very high expectations for his students and through some of the very same parenting techniques found in his book, teaches children about finding their passions, perseverance, learning from mistakes, and overcoming obstacles so they don’t become excuses.
Baxter’s FaceBook page is growing and he’d love to have more people join his April movement at his “April Random Acts of Kindness.” He’s has two beautiful daughters with his college sweetheart and wife of twenty-two years.