Kindness Changes Everything
Reader's Digest Nicest Places Contest
How do qualities of character such as kindness, friendliness, respect and compassion connect to a fun-filled dedication of trees?
The answer and back-story begin in a time of crisis. Like most communities and individuals across the country, Columbians shared the grief of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A small group of Columbians became determined to turn grief into action. Their quest received immediate backing from Mayor McDavid, Christine Corcoran, president of Putting Kids First, and Tara Collier, coordinator of Columbia Public Schools’ home-school coordinators. The group of concerned citizens, co-chaired by Anne Deaton and Suzanne McDavid, envisioned a grove of trees that would symbolize a commitment by the entire community to promote children’s mental, emotional and physical health, happiness and safety. The grove would be a place of beauty and peacefulness, a place for joyful activity and commemoration, and a place to celebrate the love of family and friends — and always acts of kindness.
From there, the passion for promoting acts of kindness took flight and, like a butterfly, moved quickly in different directions.
Mike Snyder, Columbia’s park development superintendent, identified a potential site at Stephens Lake Park. Mike and parks planner Matt Boehner soon developed a landscape plan that was approved by the Putting Kids First Coalition and later by the Columbia City Council. Karen Chandler, superintendent of recreation and community programs, and her staff later ensured extensive program and publicity support for the recreational activities associated with the dedication ceremony. Then through the generous donations of concerned citizens, mental health service provider agencies, local banks, businesses and the Missouri Mental Health Foundation, the funds were quickly raised to purchase more than 40 Yellow Butterfly Magnolia and crab apple trees, the signature trees of the Children’s Grove.
Given the national statistic that one in 10 children will experience a diagnosable mental health problem, Children’s Grove volunteers, from the outset, envisioned the Children’s Grove would serve as a springboard to raise awareness of the needs of youths in Boone County and promote public education on behavioral health. Because this was always one of the foremost missions of the Putting Kids First Coalition (PKF), PKF gave parenthood to Children's Grove as it began its mission. Both are dedicated to greatly expanding access to community mental health education.
One internationally recognized program, Mental Health First Aid, which is designed for the general public (school personnel, health professionals, parents, faith leaders and congregations, and community service groups), is among the community education programs that Children’s Grove is working to promote among businesses, churches and schools throughout Boone County. The Mental Health First Aid program, like physical first aid, trains people in how to offer initial help when someone is experiencing a mental health challenge, crisis or mental disorder. The first aid is given until appropriate help is received or until the crisis resolves.
New branches of the project continue to emerge because of the imagination and efforts of a growing number of volunteers. After the May 3, 2014 dedication, volunteers work to support existing opportunities and create new ones for children and teens to express values of kindness, friendship, compassion and respect through the visual, written and performing arts. University of Missouri Extension is also identifying ways it can be supportive.
One Children’s Grove project invites schools, hospitals, businesses and places of worship to plant on their own property one or more of the Children’s Grove signature Yellow Butterfly Magnolia trees to be linked across Columbia and Boone County by small signs bearing a symbol that reflects their partnership with the Children’s Grove community commitment to the creation of a nurturing and kind environment for young people. MU Landscape Director Pete Millier works with this program to create a single or group planting that is a peaceful sanctuary to contemplate acts of kindness.
Speakers are available to make presentations to local groups and visit communities interested in starting a Children’s Grove project. Our local Children's Grove has a 3-prong approach to "inspiring kindness as a pathway to better mental and emotional well-being for our children and youth." Visual reminders throughout our community such as the Kindness Trees and Butterfly Benches, education about the mental and emotional health challenges that our children and youth face, education that promotes positive mental health such as kindness, respect, compassion and inclusion, and artistic projects that provide opportunity for children, youth and adults to express their inner worlds leading to better health, well-being and understanding.
Success of the Children’s Grove endeavors depends on building a shared vision — of parents, neighbors, teachers, youth/service groups and faith-based leaders, school volunteers and business people all joining together in a firm commitment to support the safety and nurturing of our youths. This vision and commitment motivate us all to act upon the belief that "a single act of kindness can change a life forever" — because it can, at the Children’s Grove and everywhere.