It was Easter Sunday 2013, and rain was pouring from the gloomy sky. As Franklin Elementary School teacher Leon Lewandowski was making his usual trip to CVS that day, he came across a strange situation — one that did not seem to represent the cheery Easter spirit.
Outside of the drugstore sat three young adults huddled together underneath the store’s awning. Each of these individuals had a unique look: Tattoos and piercings covered their bodies, and a coat-hanger-like piercing hung from one man’s nose. Although they appeared somewhat intimidating, he wondered what their stories were and why they were stranded in the rain on Easter Sunday. As he shopped, he could not shake this bleak image from his head — it was Easter, after all. Rather than going about his shopping trip and neglecting the individuals outside, he decided to embrace the holiday spirit by purchasing each of them a chocolate-covered Easter egg. When he presented them with his purchase, their faces lit up with gratitude.
“The Easter Bunny had difficulty finding you this morning and asked me to deliver these candies if I saw you,” Lewandowski recalls saying as he handed each of them a chocolate egg. One of them responded to Lewandowski’s act of kindness with “God bless you,” but their true sense of appreciation came from their beaming smiles. Lewandowski prided himself in the fact that he had made a difference, no matter how insignificant, in these people’s lives, and from that point on, he was hooked. Doing a good deed for the individuals outside of CVS on Easter Sunday was just the beginning.
Lewandowski, who is also the author of four books under the pen name Leon Scott Baxter and founder of the website SafetyNetters.com, has devoted himself to writing successful parenting stories and articles for the Santa Barbara community. Since his Easter encounter, he has challenged himself and others to complete one random act of kindness each day during the month of April. This mission, which he has coined Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) Month, is a grassroots movement that seeks to change the world one person, one family, and one group at a time.
“When families share kindness, families grow closer,” said Lewandowski. “When kids practice RAOK, they are strengthening their soft skills. It makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves, which leads to confidence. Confidence leads to effort, which leads to improvement. We want compassionate, kind, perseverant, confident kids because those are the qualities we want in the adults who will be running this world.”
Lewandowski’s RAOK mission has grown considerably since its beginnings. In 2013, Lewandowski made a simple post on his Facebook wall, challenging his friends and family to complete one act of kindess each day for the month of April. He also challenged his students to post their RAOK on their classroom “Kindness Board,” and by 2015, several other classrooms at Franklin Elementary adopted the RAOK lesson plan. Using the Ripil app, students recorded their acts of kindness online, and by the end of the month, Lewandowski’s 8-year-old students had surpassed a group at UCLA in being “The Kindest Group on the Planet” on the app’s leader board.
Aside from Franklin School being an active participant, Lewandowski’s RAOK Facebook page now reaches nearly 400 individuals. Sororities and other organizations at UCSB have expressed interest in taking on the RAOK challenge, as well. By handing out cold drinks on State Street, leaving daffodils on cars in parking lots, putting quarters in low meters, and baking treats for the area fire department, Lewandowski and his family work to fill others’ lives with the simple acts of kindness.
It is Lewandowski’s ultimate goal to make April RAOK the new Movember — a month where completing random acts of kindness is as common as growing facial hair during November. According to Lewandowski, “If enough people in Santa Barbara, in California, in the U.S., or in our world choose kindness for 30 days, there’s a good chance we’ll like the results and maybe continue for the year.” He hopes that by spreading kindness, individuals can combat the evils occurring in our world. This April, spring into action to make Random Acts of Kindness Month a reality.
To join the RAOK Month Facebook group, visit tinyurl.com/raokmonth.