What started as a project to help stop bullying in the Provo School District six years ago, has now been adopted by the entire city and administration.

Now known as Kindness Week, the idea is to bring focus and attention to cultivating community understanding, according to Jennifer Partridge, co-founder and committee member.

Partridge, a member of the Provo Board of Education, says her involvement with Kindness Week goes beyond her role on the school board.

“There is a difference between being nice and being kind,” Partridge said. Partridge added that she is the chairperson of the program.

Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and the city have joined in to support the Kindness Week program in a variety of activities and discussions.

“Kindness matters more now than ever,” Kaufusi said. “I truly believe kindness has the power to unite communities, but we all need to do our part. Kindness Week is all about sharing the message that kindness really does start with each of us.”

When people hear the word kindness, they often think of a thoughtful word or gesture, perhaps an organized service project or even shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk. The newly established Provo Kindness Initiative wants us all to expand our definition of kindness beyond these single acts and into a culture of kindness that helps us all connect better as neighbors, friends and even strangers,” according to Nicole Martin, city spokeswoman.

“While serving on the Provo School District Board, I saw the success of school Kindness Clubs firsthand and knew that our community would be greatly served by following the example of our kids,” Kaufusi said.

Provo Kindness launches on Wednesday with its new website, provokindness.org, and a social presence on both Facebook and Instagram.

“The timing of the Provo Kindness initiative could not be more important as studies report increasing depression rates with one in three adults in the U.S. reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. In comparison, from January to June 2019, more than one in 10 (11%) adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, according to Martin.

“We dedicated Fire Station 22 on September 11 with a Patriot Day remembrance for those we lost,” Kaufusi said. “During that tribute I was reminded of the unity we felt as a nation after that horrible day and saddened in contrast by the national and local division we feel today. What we learned then and can replicate now is that kindness has the power to unite communities.”

Partridge said the city recognizes the need to connect with people, and people to people and to help them feel welcomed and that they belong in the community.

“Across the country, the culture of civility and respect is eroding. We are losing our sense of connection and obligation to the well-being of others, especially those whose views and life experiences are most different from our own. It doesn’t have to happen here,” said George Handley, Provo city councilman and Provo Kindness Committee member. “In this time of deep division, the Provo Kindness initiative is a timely effort to promote respectful and vigorous deliberation and to encourage more commitment to inclusion and love in our community.

“I am a strong believer in the value of diverse opinions and of seeking out and listening to a wide range of opinions on an issue so that I can be more informed and make better decisions. We need each other to be better together,” Handley added.

The idea is to build community through stories, according to Partridge.

“We want to share stories of a wide variety of Provo residents to help the community understand that we have more in common with one another than the perceived labels that we allow to divide us,” Partridge said. ”We hope to overcome stereotypes and labels and help everyone recognize that we’re all on the same team.”

A couple of years ago, Partridge felt like the whole city, the adults, needed something like a kindness program. Kaufusi jumped onboard and the idea grew.

“When you hear people from different backgrounds, it broadens your understanding,” Partridge said.

“By focusing on the overwhelming good in our community, we are hopeful it becomes an online refuge for those of us who need a shot of positivity from time to time. And honestly, who doesn’t during this uncertain and contentious time?” Kaufusi said.

Partridge said the Kindness Committee will look for opportunities to hold in-person small group conversations.

“As our reach expands, we hope to be able to survey our community and find other ways to assess the needs in our community. We will then plan specific activities to improve kindness in those areas,” Partridge said.

Whatever your personal definition about kindness, the Kindness Committee is here to challenge that definition and expand it.

“Kindness is so much deeper than the surface actions we perform, as good as those may be. Kindness is about the inner attitudes.”

Partridge said kindness is like a big umbrella. Under that umbrella you’ll find: desire to understand, inclusion, welcoming and appreciation of differences/diversity.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter

@gpugmire

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