From a bat mitzvah project to Jewish values, the world could use a little more kindness.
When Jolie Oleshansky, 12, was deciding on a service project for her upcoming June bat mitzvah at Temple Israel, her thoughts kept circling back to one word: kindness. How could she help her friends and fellow students be kinder to one another, at school and in the community?
She found the answer in Samaritans365, a national program designed to spread the concept of kindness in schools throughout the country.
After learning about the program from family friends who started a similar club in their daughter’s elementary school in Boca Raton, Fla., Jolie decided to make West Hills Middle School, where she is a seventh grader, the first school in Michigan to start a Samaritans365 club.
“My mom always talked to us about being kind, so I thought it was the perfect project for me to do,” Jolie said.
Her mother, Melissa Oleshansky, a licensed psychologist and certified yoga instructor, was intrigued. The family lives in West Bloomfield.
“I asked her to do some research and present it to me,” she said. “She did a lot of research on the (Samaritans365) website about what needs to be done.”
Melissa learned she and Jolie would need to complete separate two-hour online programs, one geared toward adults and one for students, to become certified “kindness ambassadors.” They also would need to enlist the support of the school principal and find a teacher willing to sponsor the club.
“It makes me feel good because I know I’m making someone else feel happy and included, because you never know what’s going on in someone’s life.”
— Jolie Oleshansky
Rob Durecka, principal of West Hills Middle School, part of the Bloomfield Hills School District, responded enthusiastically and connected Jolie and her mother to Gary Raines, the teacher who sponsors the Student Leadership Club for grades 4-5.
“I was interested for several reasons in supporting the club at West Hills,” Durecka said. “In our world today, there are times when kindness seems to be in short supply, and any group who aims to grow the level of kindness in our world is attractive to me. As a school, we aim to empower our students to take action, and actions that further kindness seemed to be an excellent connection for our students.”
Raines agreed to partner with Samaritans365, agreeing it would be a valuable addition to the Student Leadership Club.
“At West Hills, teachers work hard to educate students about the importance of taking action to make their community a better place,” Raines said. “Samaritans365 certainly does that by stressing the importance of spreading kindness.”
The program consists of monthly morning meetings for students in grades 4-5. Most meetings feature a speaker, arranged by Melissa Oleshansky, usually a representative from a local nonprofit organization. Speakers educate the students on the purpose of their organization and how it makes a difference in individual lives, families and communities.
“The hope is to start a conversation with the students on how they, too, can be kind, have gratitude, and be of service at school, with friends, family and in their community,” Melissa said.
A recent meeting featured a certified yoga instructor who took the students through a sequence of poses and deep-breathing strategies to help minimize sadness, increase good energy, and induce calm and self-confidence in times of stress.
At another meeting, members of the West Bloomfield Police and Fire Departments discussed safety and explained the ways they serve the community. One West Bloomfield policeman, Officer David McNealy, was so impressed with the concept he became a certified kindness ambassador and is promoting the idea at other area schools.
“It’s (Samaritans365) opened me up to more opportunities. I feel like I’m an overall kinder person; it makes me think about kindness,” Jolie said.
She cited some examples of kind acts that students can do daily, such as inviting someone who is alone to join a lunch table, including students at recess, asking others to join in group projects, and smiling and saying hello to students who may not be close friends.
“It makes me feel good because I know I’m making someone else feel happy and included, because you never know what’s going on in someone’s life,” Jolie said.
Jolie’s brother, Brody, who is in the fifth grade at West Hills Middle School, has been enjoying the club meetings and activities.
“He made flyers about things you can do to become kinder, and he’s become an overall kinder person as well,” Jolie said.
Last month featured a speaker from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and the agenda for upcoming meetings includes representatives from Kids Kicking Cancer, Forgotten Harvest and Easter Seals. The final meeting of the school year will feature a wrap-up session presented by Oleshansky, with tips on how students can continue to spread kindness during the summer.
“We’ve heard all these wonderful things about how it’s motivating the kids,” Melissa said. “I have heard that the students attending the club meetings are having happy and positive days in school and with their friends throughout the day. The kids appear to be more aware of how to be compassionate, kind, grateful and to make a difference.”
Principal Durecka is pleased with the way the club has affected the students and the overall atmosphere of the school.
“Samaritans365 is new this year, but they have already had a positive impact,” Durecka said. “And, importantly, they are regularly sharing with others daily small acts of kindness, which I know has had a positive impact on our building.”
For information on becoming a certified “kindness ambassador” or starting a Samaritans365 program at your school, visit www.samaritans365.org or call (562) KIND-101.
Want to know more about being kind? Check out Rabbi Shares Ideas on How To Be Kinder.