By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Kindness comes in many forms.
It can be giving a simple compliment to someone, helping someone understand a particular lesson, or volunteering time at a special event.
As a reward for these acts, students, staff members and families of the Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School community are showing their appreciation for kind people outside of the school community by giving them a special wooden coin as part of the Reverend Brown Kindness Coin Challenge.
Since January 2018, students and members of the Reverend Brown community have been handing out wooden tokens, which feature the logo of the school on one side and a saying on the other side that reads, ‘Kindness is our mission. Pass it on!” In doing so, the students and members have to take a picture, then go to Facebook or Twitter and post the picture of them giving the coin with a brief description and the hashtag #RBSKindnessCoinChallenge saying when, where, and why they handed it out.
The goal of the challenge is for students and members to give one coin per month throughout the school year while giving them an opportunity to act out the Reverend Brown mission statement.
“I like it a lot,” Reverend Brown fourth-grade student Ava Duda said of the Kindness Coin Challenge. “We get to give these coins to people who have helped us and have been nice to us.”
The idea of the Kindness Coin Challenge came from Reverend Brown Principal Patricia Klebez, who heard about a similar initiative by a school out in California. Klebez felt that this was the type of initiative that “was exactly in alignment with our mission, the culture of our school and what we teach them on a daily basis.”
“We call it a challenge because our students are very young and we are asking them to be articulate and be confident enough to go up to a person and say you are so kind to me and our school that I want to recognize your kindness,” Klebez said. “In that respect, it helps them be comfortable and confident young citizens while being appreciative of those who have helped them throughout their lives.”
The challenge has been a big hit since its inception 13 months ago, as students and staff members have handed out over 300 coins. These coins have been given to people, organizations and companies all over Sussex County, New Jersey, the U.S., and the world, including people in China and Jamaica.
Duda has been one of the many students who have handed out a coin to someone locally. Two of her favorite memories of giving a kindness coin were to her tennis coach, Steve Calandrillo, a Pope John XXIII Regional High School graduate who works at the Randolph Tennis Center, and to Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior Katie Yarussi.
“My coach went to the same school as me,” Duda said. “He taught me how to play tennis better, hit the ball with the right stroke and on the right sides. ... Katie helped me when we were part of the play, ‘Newsies’. I didn’t land a cartwheel during play practice, but she told me it was OK and that I could do it.”
Klebez has been amazed at how far the kindness coins have traveled and how it has impacted others.
“It has spread a lot,” Klebez said. “It’s been around the county, state, nation and the world. It has received a lot of attention that even one of the local schools in the county is starting a kindness coin challenge, too. I think that is a wonderful compliment to what we are doing here that other schools are taking on a challenge like this and it would be a wonderful thing to see more schools do it. It makes Sussex County a kinder place.”
While the coins are a great thing to give out, faculty and staff members such as Reverend Brown kindergarten teacher Melissa Honig and third-grade teacher Jennifer Brady love the reactions they get from the recipients of the coins.
“They are shocked because they don’t usually expect it,” Honig said. “One time, I gave a coin to a cashier at the Sparta Stop & Shop and she started crying. She gave me extra coupons and I thought it was sweet and thoughtful. This is what this challenge is about.”
“When my family and I were going to Florida for spring break, we ate at a restaurant in Alabama and it went above and beyond for us,” Brady said. “I pulled out the kindness coin and gave it to the manager. She said, ‘This coin completely changed my week,’ because she was having a terrible week at that time. She started to cry. It was one of those aha moments that you were able to change someone’s feelings for the better. It models to others how we should take care of others and live in God’s footsteps of being kind to people.”
As students and members of Reverend Brown keep trying to meet the challenge over the next four months of the school year, Klebez is proud that the school is shining light on kind people in this world.
“No matter how old you are, you have the power to change someone’s life,” Klebez said. “This challenge is making us feel appreciative for all the acts of kindness people do for us and inspires us to be like them.”