Small acts of kindness that changed the world

Anne Frank once said, "How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution toward introducing justice straightaway. And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!"

We often get caught up in the idea of being one person in this great big world, so what can we actually do to impact and create change? I'm reminded of an episode of Fuller House when Max is feeling discouraged and asks DJ, "How can one little kid make a difference when our problems are so big? We're doomed. The whole world is poisoned, polluted, and way too hot." Even as adults, the overwhelm can feel the same; what can we do?

The truth is, there are so many small acts that we can do every single day and if you find yourself doubting that truth, here's your proof.

The one for one movement

Whether or not you're a fan of the shoe, we all know TOMS as the company to really launch the idea of One for One, where every product you purchase in turn helps someone in need. Every pair of shoes you buy from TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need, but it doesn't stop there. Every pair of sunglasses helps restore sight; purchases of coffee provide water; bags provide training for safe birthing procedures; backpacks provide training to help prevent bullying; everything leads to change.

We may all know TOMS now, but it's important to remember that the company was launched from a relatively simple idea to provide shoes to children in need. As their website states, "TOMS humble beginnings happened unintentionally. While traveling in Argentina in 2006, Blake (Mycoskie, Chief Shoe Giver and Founder) witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. His solution to the problem was simple, yet revolutionary."

At its inception, TOMS was a project to Mycoskie; he could never imagine the growth that would occur in such a short amount of time. In just over a decade, TOMS is a well recognized brand that has sparked a whole One for One movement and business model that many companies have successfully duplicated. If there's one thing you take away from this, aside from feeling inspired to do a bit of shoe shopping, let it be ingrained that even what we may first see as a small project has the capacity to be so much more; don't give up on that dream, desire, and idea to make an impact.

Celebrities rebuilding after disaster

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005 and devastated the city. As is the case with many natural disasters, people from all over came together to help support and rebuild the city. According to their website, the American Red Cross "launched a disaster response larger than ever seen before. To this day nothing has reached the magnitude of the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina relief operation." When Brad Pitt visited the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, he "was shocked by the lack of rebuilding progress in this historic, working class community." From this moment, Pitt committed to helping rebuild the hardest hit part of the city and led to the creation of the Make It Right organization which builds homes and communities for people in need.

After the Tennessee fires in 2016, Dolly Parton and the Dollywood Foundation launched the My People Fund, which would give "$1000 each month for up to six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires." You could argue the celebrity stature in assisting these two in making a change and you wouldn't be wrong, but we all deserve a safe and comforting home.

While we may not be able to single handedly rebuild homes, there are numerous ways to get involved in helping in these efforts through organizations like LowerNine, a "nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward." I have personally had the opportunity to meet their team and see the amazing work they are doing to bring families affected by Hurricane Katrina back to their homes, but if you're looking for something closer to home, you can always check out your local Habitat for Humanity chapter and see how you can be of service. As Dolly Parton said, "I've always believed charity begins at home and my home is some place special." It's likely we all feel that way about our own home and let it be known, we can all do something to help others get the homes they deserve.

It's as simple as a sticky note

Just imagine walking into the restroom at work, the gym, or even your local coffee shop to find a sticky note on the mirror that reads "you are beautiful" or some other uplifting and inspiring message. How would you react? Most of us would likely smile and go about our days, but for some this could truly have a deep impact. That was exactly the point Caitlin Boyle, founder of Operation Beautiful intended.

"The goal of the Operation Beautiful website," Boyle said "is to end negative self-talk or 'Fat Talk.'" She said her hope was that if her blog could only do one productive thing, it would be to help readers realize how toxic this "negative self-talk" can be. "It hurts you emotionally, spiritually, and physically," she says on the site. Negative self-talk is human nature and something we all likely participate in on a daily basis, maybe without even realizing it, but as Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Meg Doll, states, "It's time we stop hating ourselves and our bodies. It is time we stop fighting who we are and wishing we were someone different. It is time we stop resisting the person we were meant to be and embrace the beautiful soul we truly are. It's time to let go. It's time to be free. It's time to love. And it's time to heal."

The process of switching our mindset may not always be easy but it is simple. Joining in the Operation Beautiful movement is just that, all you need is a sticky note and a pen, but just imagine all the good it can do for you and others. You'll be smiling imagining all of the people who may run across your unexpected note, they'll be smiling when they see the note, and soon enough so will everyone around you because as we know, smiling is contagious.

Using the internet to spread goodness

Robby Novak, more widely known as Kid President, is known for his inspiring messages and straight to the heart pep talks. In one of his videos, Kid President talks about how good spreads. Spoiler alert: show up.

One way he showed up was by teaming up with his brother-in-law, Brad Montague, and sharing Montague's cause, Socktober in his viral Kid President videos. Socktober began in October 2011 after Montague realized "there was a large homeless population in his hometown, and he wanted to do something about it." Montague began researching the needs of the homeless community and learned that socks are the least donated items to homeless shelters. From there, he began handing out pairs of socks on the streets and sharing videos of himself wishing people "Happy Socktober" on social media.

You don't have to be a viral YouTube sensation to make this change, you just need to show up. Maybe this means finding your local shelter and asking what items they may need, donating socks, clothing, or personal care items; maybe this means volunteering with your local Salvation Army center during the holidays as part of their red kettle program; or maybe this means finally stopping at your local food bank with some non perishable items after driving by every single day and seeing their "please consider donating hot and cold cereal" sign. Just show up.

Plant a kiss

"In this gentle tale about hope, kindness, and sharing, see how one small act blooms into something grander than anyone could have imagined." Plant A Kiss is a simple, yet powerful story by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Her book launched a movement in 2013 by a group of bloggers, "each doing something we thought would spread a little extra joy, color, connection, poetry, or magic in the world." For one blogger, this meant delivering snacks, flowers, donations and creating a "take what you need" tearable flyer while for another blogger, this meant a day with her grandparents and the gentle reminder, "to sit on more benches, talk to more strangers, and always look back on my life – including the busiest of days – with loving eyes."

Rosenthal passed away from ovarian cancer, sparking another round of the Plant A Kiss movement. One blogger chose to buy a copy of each of Rosenthal's children's books and donated them to a local elementary school, but the options here are endless. Maybe you leave a plant with a nice note for your neighbors or randomly send your mother flowers. Take this as an opportunity to ask yourself what kind of impact you want to leave on the world and how you want to make others feel.

Education changes lives

So many of us are lucky to have had a great education and thus be provided opportunities we take for granted every single day, but so many others in the world are not given these same luxuries and opportunities.

Hilde Back was a school teacher living in Sweden when she decided to sponsor the education for a child in Kenya. For about $15 a month, Back was able to sponsor the education for Chris Mburu. Mburu would not only go on to graduate high school and the University of Nairobi, he would attend Harvard Law School and start the Hilde Back Education Fund (HBEF) in honor of his benefactor. HBEF "is a Kenyan charitable organization that assists children from poor families complete secondary school education in Kenya. HBEF'S focus is promotion of education as a fundamental human right."

You don't have to look abroad though to see students in need of educational support. Even closer to home, there are organizations like Teach for America, whose mission is "to enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence." You can apply to be a part of their program or choose to donate to the cause. There is no need to feel helpless when there is so much we can do to help provide education to those in need.

Wear a key and give a key

When we rent a new apartment or buy a new home, we're handed a set of keys, throwing them in our purse or pockets and going about our day, but for many people, that key means a safe and warm place to sleep at night that is off the streets, something they may not have had for quite some time. That key, which we often take for granted, is their sign of hope. This is what sparked The Giving Keys line of jewelry and keychains.

The Giving Keys is a social impact, pay-it-forward company. As their website states, "we want to inspire the world to pay it forward, so we've built it into how we do business." The company utilizes that they call a social impact employment model, which for them means that every purchase "supports job creation for people transitioning out of homelessness."

The Giving Keys Director of Community Impact, Bentley Coplin said, "Think about the word I'm wearing. Love, hope, courage, how am I embracing that word? And who around me might need it?" The idea is that you wear the key with the word that speaks most to you or what you need, and when the time is right, you give the key away to someone who you now believe needs to hear it more. The cycle continues as that person then gives it away when the time is right. Words are powerful so imagine how one word may change the life of someone around you.

Hands-on and grass roots efforts

Then Senator John F. Kennedy spoke at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in October 1960 on a campaign tour stop that would ultimately spark the launch of the Peace Corps, a global initiative and "service opportunity for motivated change makers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation."

In his speech, Kennedy asked those in attendance how many were willing to devote time to helping others? "How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?" he asked. "Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?" Kennedy went on to say that their willingness to do that goes above and beyond merely serving a year or two in the service, but that it would lead to contributing part of their own lives to the countries they were helping. The Peace Corps is still around today and making great change every single day all across the globe.

I've witnessed firsthand how the Peace Corps impacts others because my sister was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal for two years. Those experiences and the community she was a part of in Africa truly impacted her life as well as the lives of people living there. My sister's friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer captures the hospitality of her assigned country, Senegal, in her video where she explained, "Teranga is about more than hospitality, it's about love." When I spoke to my sister about this video she said told me that "teranga" is regularly translated as hospitality, but it's more than that. "It is the love, caring for strangers, helping or protecting someone in need, and more," she said. "It's the 'there's always food for one more person,' no matter how poor or stretched a family may be. It's 'come on in, take a seat, have some water, how are you doing my new friend?'" Whether you join the Peace Corps or not, there is so much to learn and take away from that one seemingly simple word: teranga.

Now it's your turn

With so many inspiring ideas, it may still be overwhelming to know where to start. These amazing stories all stemmed from a single idea and became something much greater, likely much larger than their respective founders ever dreamed possible, but as comic strip creator and business commentator Scott Adams said, "Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end."

So what can we do today that can start this ripple? Buy a coffee for the person behind you in line, chances are they'll buy one for the person behind them, maybe today or maybe another day; keep granola bars and bottles of water or gatorade in your car and next time you spot someone who is homeless, provide them with a snack; donate food or gently used clothing to your local shelters; choose to purchase from companies that give back to your community or the world; pull up a site like GoFundMe and donate to a stranger's pursuit; wait an extra few seconds to hold the door open for the next person coming inside; or simply look a stranger in the eye next time you're out for a walk, smile and say "good morning." Even the smallest acts can create the biggest change.