As 2016 draws to a close, the Born This Way Foundation team has been reflecting on everything we have accomplished this year – with support from you and from individuals and organizations around the country who have been more generous than we could have ever asked for.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done over the last 12 months (and so excited for the next 12!) but we couldn’t do it justice by summarizing it here. Instead, below is a special note from Born This Way Foundation Executive Director Maya Enista Smith sharing her reflections on the Share Kindness Experience, our amazing partnership with TODAY that took place this month at the iconic 30 Rockefeller Plaza. We hope it inspires you to be kind in your own communities this holiday season.
2017 is going to be even bigger for Born This Way Foundation, but we need your help to make that possible. If you want to help us make the world a kinder and braver place, donate today.
On the way to Rockefeller Center yesterday morning, I checked in for my return flight home. The last leg of five round-trip, cross country flights in the month of December and my last flight of the year. After this morning’s flight, I will have flown more than 150,000 miles in 2016, chasing the sun across the country all in the name of building a kinder and braver world.
When the Share Kindness Experience at 30 Rock opened for the last time on Friday morning, I was somewhere over Minnesota on my way home. As I reflect on why what we did in that space matters and how #ShareKindness and our partnership with TODAY helped further our work at Born This Way Foundation, I think about the wise words of one of the best ambassadors of kindness out there: Tom Tait, the Mayor of the City of Kindness, Anaheim, CA.
Mayor Tait spoke during our Kindness Conversation about kindness as an action word; pointing out that you need to actively be in service to another person without the expectation of anything in return to be kind.
The most beautiful part of the Share Kindness Experience was the activity happening in the space:
- A young mother bending down to lift her beautiful three year old daughter up to the Loose Change Donation Station and reading the description of each non-profit to her, adding her own commentary on why their work mattered and patiently answering her many questions (We raised $2,000 for the Ali Forney Center, the Food Bank of South Jersey, the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Team Rubicon, and charity: water.)
- The groups of school children from local elementary schools throughout the city who filled the tables of the Kids’ Food Basket station and helped to decorate more than 3,700 bags for an incredible organization that works to combat childhood hunger. I told the story of the little boy in Michigan at least a thousand times this month: he was living in difficult conditions and during a site visit from the organization, they found that he had wallpapered his room in the beautiful bags that volunteers from around the country had decorated. The staff member turned to him and asked him why he had kept them all, and in a house filled with very little, he innocently answered “because they are mine.”
- The energetic and uplifting music that was pumping through the speakers, curated by Lady Gaga and Born This Way Foundation and provided by our partners at Apple Music.
- An older couple sitting at the MINTED station, where we wrote over 3,400 cards for the men and women serving in our military and children hospitalized over the holiday season. The couple reflected on their own sacrifice as a family during World War II and shared their words of wisdom with today’s veteran’s through the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign. They had gotten lost on their way to the NBC Experience Store, stumbled into our space and spent more than 45 minutes writing beautiful cards and reading them out loud to one another.
- Loud, large groups of energetic teenage girls lining up to take GIF after GIF in our photo booth. When asked to sign our Kind Monsters Pledge, they told heartbreaking stories of meanness among their own friends online and in school, while waiting patiently in line to commit to “I will be conscious that what I say online has an impact, and lead by example by using my online presence to encourage and empower others.”
The school children from PS109 will never meet the students in Grand Rapids that will receive their beautifully decorated lunch bags. The older couple writing well wishes to service members will never get to shake the hands of the brave men and women who will read their cards. And yet, despite that and perhaps even because of that, almost 26,000 people poured through the doors of the Share Kindness Experience, taking a break from their own busy, overscheduled lives to be in service to another person without the expectation of anything in return.
I have two beautiful children and a wonderful, accomplished husband with an equally demanding job but I travel more now than I did before earning the titles of mom and wife. Traversing the globe to talk about kindness, encourage acceptance, celebrate diversity and inclusivity and learn from people in big cities, rural towns and everywhere in between is so much more important because of (and for) the other members of the Smith family. So, here’s to another year of kindness and thank you to each and every person who made this truly incredible Share Kindness Experience come to life.