Helping Children to Walk a Path of Kindness

By Linda Commito

I grew up in easier times. Although most of us never talked about kindness, we lived by The Golden Rule, treating others with respect and caring. It was a simple life where neighbors knew and helped each other, we were safe at home and at school, and we felt cared for, with a roof over our heads, enough food to eat, and someone to turn to in times of trouble.

Fast forward to today’s world where it’s sometimes difficult to feel positive and hopeful – especially after reading the daily news.  How can we create a more loving world for children who may not have the support systems that we grew up with? We can each make a difference in our own unique way. In fact, most often it is the simplest things that people have said or done for us that have changed the focus or direction of our lives.

I realized that if I truly wanted to make a difference by getting a message of love and kindness out into the world I needed to take it up a notch, and what better place to start than with children?  I had already been working as a part-time volunteer at Alta Vista Elementary School, a Title One school in Sarasota, Florida, where Principal Dr. Barbara Shirley and Assistant Principal Dehea Smith foster an environment that emphasizes the qualities of caring, responsibility, trust, honesty and family. Here was a perfect opportunity to do more.

Alta Vista’s students come from diverse cultures and backgrounds and have multiple challenges, yet I found them to be engaging and open to learning. I proposed doing a kindness project at the school, which we called Kindness Starts with Me.            

Kindness Starts With Me

“What does kindness look like? How are you kind at home and at school?” I asked some students sitting in a circle on the floor, hands waving as they eagerly offered to share what they were doing to be kind.

“Kindness is helping someone to sound out words that they don’t know,” said one student.  Others offered: “Kindness is not calling someone Kindness starts with me project at Alta Vista Elementary Schoolnames.”  “I am kind when I let someone use my eraser, or give someone a pencil.” “Kindness is inviting a new student to play at recess” or “Helping someone with a broken arm to carry their tray.”  At home: “I am kind when I share my toys or read to my little sister,” or “I am kind when I help my mom to cook.”

“What about kindness to animals?” I asked. Many had pets at home and loved talking about them. “I am kind when I play ball with my dog” or “when I feed my hamster.”

But most of the kids were stumped when asked, “How are you kind to yourself?” So many of us, even adults, have a difficult time finding ways to be kind to ourselves.  When I noticed their blank faces, I reminded them that being kind to ourselves allows us to more easily be kind to others. The students decided that eating healthy foods, exercising, and talking nicely to yourself, even when you made mistakes, were all important ways to practice self-kindness.

As part of the project, Mrs. Colgan, the head of the media center, and I met with 500 students, one class at a time, over the course of five weeks.  Each student was invited to create a kindness portrait – a picture of themselves being kind. Numerous volunteers had previously cut and glued colorful construction paper borders to frame the student’s artistic images. These profiles of kindness were then mounted to form “Kindness Quilts,” which were showcased in a month-long public exhibition at the Marie Selby Library. These creative, colorful profiles are now hung in the hallways of the school as reminders of the hundreds of ways to express kindness.

Kindness starts with me project at Alta Vista Elementary School

The Kindness Starts with Me program at Alta Vista Elementary School was a school-wide project that found expression not only in the kindness quilts, but also in smile cards that students filled out to acknowledge each other for the kind things they did. These cards, color-coded by class, were then put onto a large Kindness Tree in the cafeteria where students could see how quickly and easily kindness could grow.

Alta Vista Elementary School Kindness TreeAt a time when so much attention in the news has been focused on the detrimental effects of bullying, at Alta Vista daily acts of kindness are reinforced to inspire the students to become good citizens, but more importantly, to create a kinder, more loving, and accepting world.

According to Principal Dr. Barbara Shirley, “Our students have become noticeably kinder in their thought processes and we’re seeing a higher level of respect and caring about what’s going on in their classrooms and in the school.”

Future Plans

I’ve noticed that passions often have a life of their own, and I am captivated by an ongoing flame. These children and this kindness project have made me feel much more hopeful and positive about the future and I am inspired to do more.

My goal now is to put together a kindness book for each child at Alta Vista and for each classroom and office—about 650 in all. Using the children’s own artwork, the students can feel proud of what they were a part of and helped to create. It will also offer an opportunity for them to share with their brothers, sisters, and friends the ways that they can create and live in a kinder world.

And coming soon will be a “Kindness Starts With Me” website where kids can read about hundreds of ways to be kind, whether in story form or in pictures. They can then make their own unique contributions by sharing their ideas, stories, and artwork.

Here is the best part: YOU can participate! There are numerous opportunities to help – contributing personal stories for children on ways to be kind, filming, puppet skits, sharing this information and website with others via the internet, liking us on facebook.com/kindnessstartswithme, sharing blog articles on kids’ kindness, or financially helping with the costs of the books and website.

I need your help!  Please forward this newsletter to friends who have kids or grandkids.  Go to www.loveisthenewcurrency.com or the Facebook page: KindnessStartsWithMe to be updated on the latest developement of the kids kindness project. Be the first to know!

Together we can create a better world by helping more children to walk a path of kindness!

Note:  This article was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Transformation Magazine.

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Love Is the New Currency – What does it take to feel hopeful and inspired in uncertain times?

Linda Commito author of Love is the New Currency

Staff Reports
Redstone Review  
Lyons, Colorado
August 14th/September 18, 2013 edition

No matter where we turn, we hear stories about how bad it is “out there.” Linda Commito’s award winning Love Is the New Currency is a book about how good it is “in here” – inside the circle of love, compassion, and human connection that is created when we open our hearts to each other. The author has been on a passionate quest for the past three years to document stories of people who are making positive changes in simple, yet extraordinary ways.  In this book, she explores what everyday people are finding hopeful in their lives and what they are doing to create it.

Ms. Commito is passionate about her vision to leave this world a kinder, more loving, and interconnected place.  She believes that she can best do that by working with children.  In the past few months, she has met with over 500 children at a Title One elementary school to share ideas about what kindness looks like.  The results were the creation of 500 individual expressions of kindness – to people, to the planet, to animals and to ourselves.  Most of these profiles were mounted onto “Kindness Quilts” and displayed at a library during the month of April. They will soon be adorning the walls of the school’s lab rooms and hallways.

Linda is currently working on a kindness book and web site for children.  To find out more, please visit her website at www.loveisthenewcurrency.com. You are invited to sign up for a monthly uplifting newsletter.

Love Is the New Currency is available for purchase locally at The White Lion in Lyons, Distant Harbors and The Old Gallery in Allenspark, Colorado.

 
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A Good Guest of the Planet

Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we can’t eat money.– NativeAmerican Cree proverb

good-guest-of-planetWhy is it that we tend to value people, places and things more when we are at risk of losing them? It seems that when there’s plenty, we’re less likely to appreciate and take care of what we have. And for many, it’s only when we see the rivers drying up, the dead fish encased in oil on the shores, the dark brown cloud on the horizon, and the birds falling from the sky that we take notice.

While it’s hard not to be aware of the negative impact that we’ve had on the Earth—air and water pollution, deforestation, etc.—imminent loss makes it more likely that we will take action to preserve what we have and to prevent further depletion of our natural resources.

Each thing that we do matters, especially when multiplied by the millions of people sharing this planet.

Our decisions to recycle, to conserve water and natural resources, to drive less, to hold corporations who pollute accountable, and to support organizations and people who are leading the way in environmental consciousness and actions are all acts of kindness, not only to the planet and its current inhabitants, but to future generations as well.

Being a Good Guest

Recently, my friend, Jessie, and I were invited to stay at the beautiful home of a couple, whom we had literally met the night before, although we had close mutual friends.

I always feel a responsibility to be a good guest,which for me means bringing gifts of food or flowers, helping with cooking and chores, and being respectful, unobtrusive, and appreciative. And I try to leave someone’s home in the same way, or better, for future guests to enjoy.

At the end of our stay, I expressed to Jessie my hope that I’d achieved “good guest status.” She said,

“You have. In fact, you’re a good guest of the planet!”

The comment made me think about my temporary stay on Earth. Was I fully valuing the gift of living here, taking care of the earth and its resources as best I could? Was I taking no more than I needed, or more than I could give back? Was I leaving it in at least as good a state as it was when I arrived? Was I being respectful to its other inhabitants and sharing resources equitably?

While overall I think I’m doing an okay job, there are many people who garner my utmost respect fortheir extraordinary efforts to care forthe environment. I hope that I can follow in their footsteps as an honored guest of our planet and be an inspiration to future generations.

by Linda Commito – Published in the April, 2013 edition of Transformation Magazine

How are you a good guest of the planet?  Share your ideas for taking care of planet in the comment box below:

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Conversation with Linda Commito on Forest Call

ss_logo_darkMany of us grow weary and heartsick—if not hardened—by all the news of violence and greed that seems to infiltrate our lives. So it was for Linda Commito. And about three years ago in this state of discouragement she wondered where in the world she could travel to for some relief. It prompted her to ask a fellow guest at a dinner party, “Where would you go to escape all of this?” She was surprised when the response was not some island destination with travel tips. Instead the guest simply gestured to his heart. And with that gesture, something stirred in her own heart. Then during a meditation a few weeks later she very clearly she received a message: “Love is the new currency,” creating an even stronger desire to explore what these messages meant.

Linda is passionate about connecting with people. She has done so in many guises over the years as an elementary school teacher, entrepreneur, facilitator, consultant, author, and speaker. And her book, Love Is the New Currency married that passion with the inspiration of that small gesture and her insightful meditation. She began to meet people and ask them what touched them, what they found meaningful in their lives, and how they might have made a difference in others’ lives. Their stories of were so moving that she wrote them down, ultimately turning them into this book.

“Once someone shared their story with me I felt it was such a gift that there was no way I wouldn’t share it with others. And so writing the book seemed to be the best way to go about doing that,” Linda said. Of course, asking the right questions was part of that process as she learned along the way. Many were reluctant to share with her, feeling embarrassed by the attention. But as they came to realize, the very act of sharing those stories was inspirational to others. As Sheetal, one of the interviewers for this Forest Call, remarked, “If I ever doubt the Universe, this is one book I can pick up and know that everything is right.”

For Linda this journey has been transformational. She now approaches people with more openness, prepared to believe that some amazing story dwells within them, regardless of what they may seem like on the outside. She learned this while witnessing a friend’s act of generosity one day. At a farmers market, a man clearly down on his luck and wheelchair bound was ranting at the crowd that they didn’t care. You can imagine such negativity would drive most people away from him. But for Rachelle, it was an opportunity for compassion. Linda observed her friend as she walked over to the man and engaged him in conversation for a while. His whole demeanor changed by the time they parted. A few months later, Linda saw him again with a sign reading “God loves you.” This gave Linda the courage to speak with him every time she met him since, and he is obviously gratified to have people now see and hear him as a whole human being, participating in the community at last.

Even in challenging times, and we all have them, Linda writes three gratitudes daily, because “practice makes permanent.” She believes fervently that there is a purpose for every situation in her life. In once instance, she was in a long-distance relationship with a man who broke up with her when he picked her up at the airport. The experience was painful, and she wrote in her journal, “Thank you for the clarity I had been asking for in this relationship…but couldn’t you have waited a couple of weeks for this?” But not long after she had flown back home, she attended a party where she met a wonderful new man and realized how perfect the timing really was!

Linda was also blessed to hear the story 95 year-old Gordon shared with her. He received her book as a gift and was eager to meet her. His daughter arranged the visit. He was living in a retirement home, receiving hospice care when they met. As Gordon reviewed the events of his life, he punctuated each memory with, “I’m so lucky!” Everything was beautiful and wondrous to him, even though this man also knew tragedy. His attitude inspired Linda to create a program for children called “I’m So Lucky” in which students in very challenging circumstances can still speak to what is good in their lives. She plans to publish a book about this next year.

Additionally, she promotes other programs in schools serving underprivileged children. Here they are inspired to help others. In one story she related how James, an 11-year-old boy learned to make pillowcases from his grandmother and donated them to children in hospitals. The principal was inspired and invited all the children in the school make fleece blankets for child cancer patients to distribute. Although they were given the chance to decline, not one student opted out, so contagious was their enthusiasm for helping others despite their own misfortunes. Starting in January 2013, Linda will launch the Kindness Project for these children. She wants them to express something positive, and each week she will present a different theme for doing so. Stories like these create ripples, and we can never know for sure how far out those ripples reach, but as you can see they seem to be a catalyst for more and more gifts and acts of kindness.
While generosity and kindness make the world go round, Linda pointed out it can be oh so difficult for us to receive a gift from another. And yet “without receivers, there can be no givers.” She told a story which emphasized this point. We need to be careful not to diminish the gift of others by trying to repay them. We can’t—and shouldn’t—balance things out all the time. Sometimes we just need to accept things with grace because our joy is then a gift of pleasure for the giver.

Linda mentioned ways in which we could all participate in sharing gifts. Florida has The Commonwealth Time Bank (part of a movement called Time Banks USA) which allows people to share their service with others hour by hour rather than dollar for dollar. Benefit Corporations are offering a way to create value for communities and employees, not just shareholders, by competing to be the best for the world, not just in the world. And of course, visit Linda’s website Love Is the New Currency to participate in an online gratitude journal and share your own stories. Encourage your children to participate as well by submitting their stories and pictures!

This conversation was a journey of hope for all of us who participated. Linda summed it up best when she said, “I don’t want to go to that island anymore. I want to stay here and be part of the shift and change toward positive consciousness.”

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Where Are They Now?

Local author seeks, provides inspiration

By Mark Ashton –Staff Writer

Linda CommitoSOUTHBRIDGE – The first time Linda Commito (Marianhill Central Catholic High School) left Southbridge, the town was still bustling every Thursday night. Having recently celebrated its Sesquicentennial (150th) birthday, it was rich in diversity, with a strong sense of community. TV staples of the day included Lawrence Welk, Mister Rogers, Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh In,” and – very shortly – “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” with such already established co-stars as the ever-enduring Betty White.

Meanwhile, the Beatles summed up the tenor of the times with “All you need is love!”

The last time Commito returned to Southbridge (give or take a family visit) was just under a year ago, for a book signing – and reading – at the Quinebaug Valley Center for the Arts & Humanities (QVCAH).

She was introducing her first book, “Love Is the New Currency,” and sharing some of the “incredible and uplifting” stories that inspired her to write it. The book includes dozens of modern expressions of love, appreciation, and gratitude, along with suggestions for how to practice random acts of kindness – for the benefit of both lovers and lovees.

Linda CommitoCommito considers the book a collection of life-altering – for some people even life-saving – tales, which is why she chose to compile, write, edit, and share them with the rest of the world. On page 225 is the thematic reflection: “All you need is love!”

Since that last visit to Southbridge, Commito has been busy promoting “New Currency,” largely at gatherings and book-related events in Florida, as well as via her own website, for which she writes a monthly newsletter. Following an International Book Fair in Venice (Florida), she also recently agreed to speak at the local Rotary Club in Sarasota.

“The journey of writing this book has been a huge gift for me, providing so much hope and inspiration,” she says. Her “New Currency” was recently named one of the Top 12 Valentine Picks by “Spirited Woman” magazine and has also proven “very popular” with mothers, says Commito.

The author (slash speaker, entrepreneur, consultant, and teacher) returned to Southbridge again in April (“I’ve been wanting to spend more time with family,” she says. “I try to come in the spring and fall”) and spoke a bit about both the sequel she’s writing to “New Currency” and some other projects that have kept her creative juices flowing.

“Each book is like a child,” she says. “I have a few books in me, and I hope to give birth to them all.”

She’s currently in the process of collecting stories for the sequel (“It’s taking a little longer, though I’m hearing from a lot of people,” she says.) but is also working on a kids book that, ironically, was inspired by a series of conversations with a 95-year-old friend in the final stages of hospice care.

“He was so inspiring to me,” she says of her visits. “Every time I saw him, he would say something like, ‘I am so lucky I was raised on a farm; I am so lucky I was in the service and able to meet Stalin and Roosevelt and Churchill.’ He truly believed his was an incredibly happy life – not that it was always without challenges, but he was always able to turn the trials around.”

Commito acknowledges that her friend helped her appreciate her own life even more, especially when one day he greeted her with, “I am so lucky I was able to turn over in bed last night and get some sleep.”

Her new plan, then, is to create a children’s book – dedicated to her nonagenarian friend – based on kids’ completions of “I am so happy (because) … .” The kids’ thoughts will be accompanied by their original artwork. Commito has already been volunteering at a school in Florida, collecting kids’ notes (and pictures) in appreciation of their families, their friends, and their pets. Uniquely touching, she adds, are the responses from youngsters who write about appreciating “a safe home.”

Commito hopes to complete the kids book project fairly soon, perhaps this year, but in the meantime she’s also working on another project – one chronicling childrens’ “acts of kindness,” which she finds inspiring, and which she hopes will inspire other kids to want to do likewise.

“Unlike all the anti-bullying efforts,” she says, “this one is aimed at teaching kids the joys of positive thinking. It all starts with children. If we can change even one child’s life for the better, then we can take advantage of the ripple effect.”

Which, of course, leads to yet another discussion – of her next next book, one dealing with that “ripple effect,” whereby one person’s good deeds encourage and inspire someone else’s kindness and generosity – along the lines of the “pay it forward” concept of both book and movie fame.

Commito’s website, meanwhile (www.loveisthenewcurrency.com), continues to highlight her suggestions for dealing with the storms of modern living, and continues to solicit stories of “giving and receiving” that support her belief in the powers of positive thinking. The website’s next newsletter, she says, will deal with “aging – but from a humorous perspective.”

Speaking of good humor – and good memories, Commito recently recalled her childhood in Southbridge, growing up on South Street, with a couple of brothers, in and around Art’s Variety – their father’s store – and enjoying the excitement of Thursday night excursions downtown.

“It was at Art’s that I learned the importance of community,” she says. “I worked there and it was a second home for me – and for a lot of people, so I grew up with that sense of community and belonging.”

As for the community of people who have grown to appreciate “New Currency,” Commito says she’s still “expanding” her education about online promotion but is thus far thrilled with the support she has received from friends, family, and at book fairs, book signings, and all her speaking engagements.

Whenever she’s back in the area, Commito enjoys reminiscing with old – and frequently lifelong – friends. After graduating from Marianhill C.C.H.S. and then Stonehill College (in Easton), which she says has been “very supportive” of her book, she returned to Southbridge to teach second-grade at West Street School, just around the corner from her childhood neighborhood, and then went through a series of comings and goings that included some time in Boulder, Colorado.

“I have some friends I’ve known since I was seven,” she says of those who’ve remained in Central Massachusetts. “I am so lucky that we’re still good friends.” It’s as if she’s already writing the introduction to her kids book on the “I’m so lucky …” theme.

“Good and bad things happen to all of us,” says Commito. “It’s how we respond, it’s how we choose to look at things that makes the real difference.” Her own choice of perspectives seems to be as upbeat as the stories in “Love Is the New Currency.” And in its pending sequel – and in the other “offspring” whose births she is anticipating.

At a book signing last fall, where Commito first learned that her book is “extremely popular among moms,” an 80-year-old Mississippi woman informed her that her book was not only enjoyable, but “better than Betty White’s new book.”

The TV comedienne may have a 30-year head start, but Linda Commito seems finally to have found an audience of her very own!

If you have a suggestion for a “Where Are They Now?” profile of a Southbridge native or former resident, please contact Mark Ashton at: mark@stonebridgepress.com; or call 508-909-4144.

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