Acts of generosity and kindness: an opportunity for positive youth development.

Practicing “random acts of kindness” is a way for youth to incorporate qualities of service, kindness, and gratitude as a part of their character.

Research demonstrates that through participation in quality youth development models, such as the Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program of Michigan State University Extension, young people gain valuable knowledge, skills and competencies that help them succeed in many aspects of their lives. This positive youth development is created through “eight essential elements” of quality programming, as identified by the National 4-H Headquarters

One of the eight essential elements is that youth have the “opportunity to value and practice service to others.”   4-H Youth Development clubs and programs have a variety of ways to incorporate elements of service into their activities.  In addition to planned and episodic service and volunteer efforts, generosity and taking action to help others in need is something that can be incorporated into everyday life.  There are even social media websites that provide excellent tools, resources, and support that youth can use to practice kindness and gratitude.

One such website is Kind Spring.  According to an article in yes! Magazine by Nipun Kehta, the founder of the kindspring.org, the website was launched after he and a cousin came up with the idea to play “kindness pranks” on people.  Kehta and a group of like minded volunteers printed 100 “smile cards” in order to encourage anonymous acts of kindness.  With the launch of the website, smile cards can be downloaded or ordered online and left behind following an anonymous act of kindness in order to inspire others to “pay-it-forward” by offering an act of kindness to someone else in return.  The website also includes a community of people who share ideas about acts of kindness people can do for others, stories of kindness, and a “kindness-in-action” contest that awards $100 to one winner each month.

Using the resources on the Kind Spring website, an individual youth or a group of young people could set a goal for completing an anonymous act of kindness for a certain number of consecutive days.  For instance, the members of a 4-H club could pledge to each complete 21 days of kindness.  After completing the challenge, the 4-H club could meet to reflect on their experiences and share ways to continue incorporating acts of kindness into their daily lives.  Completing a “21 Day Challenge” might also be a good way for the members of a 4-H club to identify the needs of others in their community in order to plan and lead community-based service learning projects in the future.

Though each individual act of kindness may be small, youth can begin to practice gratitude and service to others and develop character traits that will have a big impact on their lives, and the lives of those they serve.

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