“Be Kind” signs continue to travel at warp speed across the nation.
Teri Hansen of Fanwood, N.J. contacted The Progress-Index after her father shared one of my stories with her.
“I just read your article about the ‘Be Kind’ movement and wanted to share that here in New Jersey, I am starting the same sort of project of spreading Gini’s message.” wrote Hansen in her email.
The story was about how Crystal Phelps began producing “Be Kind” signs in her Colonial Heights garage with the help of loved ones and volunteers.
Gini Bonnell of Richmond started making “Be Kind” signs a few years ago as a way to cope with all the negativity and polarizing messages around us.
“Gini handed them out to friends and neighbors which spiraled into many others following her lead as a way of making someone smile,” said Phelps. “Her idea exploded into schools, front yards, porches, and businesses across the world.”
Over 300 miles away, Hansen’s sister encountered many “Be Kind” signs and thought it was such a beautiful and positive message that she reached out to Gini and got one for herself.
“I moved to the Forest Hill neighborhood last year and started to see ‘Be Kind’ signs on walks and drives around the area,” said Gudorp. “A friend posted a picture of her ‘Be Kind’ sign on social media with Gini Bonnell’s contact information, and I had to reach out to get my own.”
Gudorp met Gini in late April and has made multiple trips back to her home for additional signs to share with her local contacts and relatives in New Jersey.
“Gini let me know that she has painted 19,000 signs so far and encourages others to make their own,” said Gudorp.
According to Bonnell who is in her 60s, “Be Kind” signs are displayed in every state in the U.S. and in 38 countries.
“Lee Ann knew immediately that I would like a sign and sent one to me shortly before COVID-19 hit,” said Hansen.
“After COVID quieted down a bit, we decided to take a road trip to Richmond to visit my sister Lee Ann Gudorp with our three kids,” said Hansen. “The first day we arrived, she took us on a scenic tour of the neighborhoods around her, and…yard after yard…we saw the ‘Be Kind’ signs hanging in gardens and on front porches. It was overwhelming in the best of ways.”
After returning home, Hansen and her husband took down an old shelf in their garage and wondered what to do with the wood.
“I was like…honey, here’s this wood that we’re going to actually put to the curb. If you cut it up and help me sand it, I’ll paint them,” shared Hansen.
“I literally went into my basement and took out paint that had been sitting down there for years and just started doing it,” said Hansen. “I just copied the same design that Crystal and Gini were doing.”
“I am thrilled that my sister is working on painting her own signs with my niece as her helper,” said Gudorp.
The Hansen siblings Grady, Curtis, and Gwen, their parents, and volunteers mass-produce signs.
“When dad found the Progress-Index article and sent it to me and my sister. I was like…oh my gosh that is so cool. The picture of neighbors in the driveway painting signs all at the same time,” said Hansen. “I can think of a whole bunch of teenagers and young girls in the area who are totally into crafts that would love to come help paint.
I interviewed two of the siblings and asked them how they like helping make the signs.
“I like painting the white part and the heart,” said three-year-old Gwen.
“It’s cool and feels good. It’s about just being kind,” said eight-year-old Grady. “They’re fun to make, and we give them to our neighbors.”
How have people responded to being presented with “Be Kind” signs?
“People are like…’Oh my gosh, it’s so kind of you to do this.’,” said Hansen. “It’s just really cool how it’s developing.”
Phelps’ mom Shirley Eichler is proud of her daughter’s mission and helps paint and share the signs.
“The world needs this now. As I give out signs, people say, ‘This is for me?’. They are so surprised and are loving it,” said Eichler. “We are doing God’s work together. ‘Be Kind’ is for everyone and the way it should be.”
Hansen knows the popularity of the signs is a natural progression.
“I just know any minute now I’m going to get a phone call, an email, or a knock on the door saying, ’Hey, can I have one of those signs?’,” said Hansen. “I just know it’s brewing, and I’m trying to be prepared.”
Both Phelps and Hansen have shared “Be Kind” signs with schools.
“I dropped signs off at both the Colonial Heights Middle School and High School as well as Tussing Elementary School,” said Phelps. “I’m working on others since school is reopening.”
At the same time Tussing Elementary received a “Be Kind” sign, they had started a kindness week.
“We really emphasize kindness during kindness week in what teachers and students do. We have bulletin boards and different activities that highlight kindness. Our kids at lunch share things they’ve done to be kind to others or kind at home,” said Tussing Elementary Assistant Principal Tanya Elliott. “We really try to promote kindness…not just that week.”
The Hansen family was delighted to see the “Be Kind” sign they shared hanging over the School One Elementary School’s entryway even though students will be learning virtually.
“The kids thought that was so cool,” shared Hansen. “I’m on the PTA. Here it is…the end of summer and Principal Fiory is writing emails giving us updates going beyond what he is called to do. We parents appreciate it, so I gave him the little sign in his mail slot. He went later in the day to get it since we’re still social distancing.”
“I had never seen the ‘Be Kind’ sign before, but when I received this as a gift from one of our School One parents I was overtaken with emotion. The kind words that she included in this gift and the story behind its origin brought me to tears,” said School One Elementary School Principal Justin Fiory. “I immediately hung it above the entrance of our school [in Scotch Plains, N.J.] as a reminder to all of our students and families of the impact we can have on each other in how we treat them.”
More: ‘Be Kind’ founder sends thousands of positive messages out into the universe
The “Be Kind” message is especially important right now during the pandemic.
“We’re going to get through this pandemic. Everybody is pulling together and doing what is best for our kids,” said Elliott. “I think that’s the bottom line. We want to do what is right for our kids and our parents at this time. We’re going to do what we have to do.
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“We’re all in this together and all working together to be kind and do what’s right to make sure that everybody is safe and everybody is educated and everybody is getting what they need emotionally and educationally at this time,” added Elliott.
“The message is a reminder to all the kids and parents…who are all struggling during this time to be kind,” said Hansen. “We all have our own issues that we are dealing with, but it costs nothing to be kind. That’s Gini…Thank you, Gini.”
Hansen has all kinds of ideas on how to use the “Be Kind” signs as a learning tool.
“Maybe we can keep a tally of how many people we’ve been to. Let’s walk around and count how many houses there are in the neighborhood. Let’s note their reaction,” said Hansen excitedly. “The ideas are endless. Let’s take a picture. Let’s print out the picture and put it near our ‘Be Kind’ sign.
“We’ll have a photo of everybody that we’ve given a sign to so that when we’re having hard times, we can look at these pictures and say…look at all this happiness that we’ve brought to these folks,” said Hansen.
While writing this story, I was also in the midst of putting together one about philanthropist Bill Nicholson who treated both the entire Petersburg Police and Fire Departments to free meals this summer at a local eatery in Old Towne.
More: Philanthropist feeds first responders in a city he believes is a ‘diamond in the rough’
I mentioned to Nicholson how the “Be Kind” sign movement has gone global and he responded, “I think a lot of folks around us should adopt those two great words ‘Be Kind’. Think it. Say it. Do it.”
The media helps spread positivity.
“Thanks so much for spreading the love and positivity of the ‘Be Kind’ sign,” said Hansen appreciatively. “It was so great to read the article and know that we are all ‘picking up the torch’ from Gini and are not alone in spreading the message.”
Wait a second…let me reread that. Ha!
“I’ve only made about 50 signs so far,” added Hansen. “But, It has been so enjoyable to put something positive and tangible out there.”
“The response since the article has been amazing! I have heard from people all over the country, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Washington state, several in New Jersey, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and across Virginia seeing the article on different sites,” said Phelps. “I’ve had signs go out this week also to Japan and Missouri.
“I love how these simple signs are making such a huge impact across the country,” added Phelps. “It’s very humbling to have this story shared with so many. We are better together.”
For more information, send Phelps an email to [email protected]
You can reach reporter Kristi K. Higgins at [email protected] Follow her @KristiHigginsPI.
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This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: “Be Kind” signs continue to travel at warp speed across the nation during the pandemic