A group of school students pose for a photograph.

Elementary school students in the Bethel Park School District created a Taylor Swift-inspired kindness project this year. | Photo via Bethel Park School District

Children teaching us lessons in kindness

Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski mark World Kindness Day.

When people think of Mister Rogers, they often remember his famous quote about helpers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” That uplifting anecdote served two vital purposes: It calmed the fears of children and reminded adults that in difficult times, helping others is the most important thing we can do

These days, from mass shootings and global war and to poverty and climate change, there are still plenty of scary things in the news. Depression rates are at an all-time high. Approximately half of U.S. adults report experiencing loneliness, while just 39% say they feel very connected to others. This nationwide malaise has a numbing effect, with Americans volunteering less often and giving to charity at the lowest level in nearly 30 years.

It’s hard to imagine what Mister Rogers would say if he saw these numbers. But he might take comfort in knowing there are still helpers working to make a positive difference in the world.

They’re just not who we might expect.

In 2018, two elementary students in Pittsburgh’s Avonworth School District launched a movement that eventually became known as #bethekindkid. Its message is more than a feel-good platitude — it’s a call to action. Printed on T-shirts, the slogan reminds everyone who sees it that kindness is both a choice and an action. The message caught on, with the students having sold over 100,000 T-shirts to other schools and even some small businesses, with the proceeds going to charities of the children’s choosing.

This year, #bethekindkid is growing even further into a new initiative called Kindness in Action. Nearly 4,500 students across Pittsburgh-area school districts are taking part, with students and teachers volunteering their time and energy to support dozens of kindness-focused community projects.Their projects include food drives, raising money or collecting supplies for animal shelters, creating and distributing cards to help brighten the days of seniors at senior care facilities, making and distributing kindness bracelets that serve as physical reminders of the need for connection and compassion, and much more.

Nov. 13 is World Kindness Day, which means you’re likely to hear a lot of positive news stories about people going out of their way to perform random or intentional acts of kindness for others. You may also see more #bethekindkid T-shirts than usual, as the concept of kindness becomes universally trendy for a day.

But on Nov. 14, the world will still need helpers. By putting kindness into action, today’s children are helping to ensure that we’ll have them.

“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like,” Fred Rogers once said, “if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

We don’t have to imagine it. The power of kindness is cumulative, and its ripple effects add up over time. Pittsburgh’s kids can show us where to start.